I practice yoga outdoors so inevitably I am visited by the occasional wandering ant who has no idea what a yoga mat is, let alone that it's totally taboo and awkward to cross it mid-downward-dog.
Sometimes, when I am not overly intent on getting on with my practice, I do this. I stop, kneel down, and watch that ant. I observe the color of the fragment of leaf that it's carrying or the awesomeness of its strength.
While ant watching is most certainly an interruption to my asana, I'm quite sure it's an utter intensification of my yoga. I could stay focused and determined in my asana, hold tight to my dristhi point and ambivalent to the tiny world at my feet, but something tells me that drawing my awareness to that world keeps me grounded and helps me to appreciate my asana more.
Call it mindfulness or a gratitude practice. Getting on my knees and peering attentively at that little ant for a few moments gives me a sense of heightened connectedness that stays with me after I leave the mat.
We often talk gratitude in big themes: family, friends, lover, health, home, nature, travel, etc. We speak about gratitude broadly, thematically and sometimes passively. Big gratitude has inherent and shared meaning. It’s easy and automatic to recite.
But I’m sure I’m not alone in letting “grateful for” and “for granted” sit too close, too often, in life. The things we are most grateful for can also be the things we take for granted in our daily lives. We tend to get used to what’s familiar in our environment and perceive it less because we live amidst it.
Even though we may always be grateful for our family, our home, our health and nature in our hearts, if our attentiveness is not with gratitude, then we're not experiencing life through it.
The way we experience gratitude, the kind that pulses in our hearts and vivifies our lives, is often itsy and joyfully bitsy. It’s attentive. Gratitude “happens” when our attention kisses the details, fills with the senses, sticks in the cracks, invites surprises and slows down to magnify the beauty of a pure moment, act, word, gesture, exchange, experience, story, or critter. Gratitude thrives on small.
When I let a curiosity for gratitude lead me, when I bring my awareness to the small and subtle, my senses become more heightened to appreciation. I’ll see it in unexpected places. Practicing gratitude of the small stuff is getting better at seeing through the heart and living from it.
You can do it with the experiences of your day, with a person you love, or with yourself. Draw your attention to the divinity in the detail. It takes ten focused seconds to see what's waiting to be seen.
When we repetitively practice attuning our attention towards the small and sacred, our attention starts to stick to it. Practice seeing beauty and more appears.
Appreciation becomes a lens for experiencing life, it becomes the ant that no longer crosses my mat, but instead graces me with a gentle reminder before moving on its own blessed path.
(Adapted from an elephant journal article for Book Yoga Retreats.)