Tag Archives: attentiveness

How many?

Cleaning out a closet recently, I came across a baseball cap that had belonged to my friend Jim. I emailed his friend Patrick to see if he would want it. He replied that he already has a baseball cap and doesn’t need another. He only needs one? I probably have a dozen baseball caps, so I found his response disconcerting. I have hats in different styles and colors for different occasions. How can he only need one?

I started looking around my house at other multiples—blankets, tablecloths, sweatshirts, shoes, etc.—and asked myself how many of anything I really need.

Like baseball caps, some things just seem to multiply in my house. It’s like a fairy tale where elves are working throughout the night to create more blankets, coats, shoes and so many other things that fill up spaces in my house. But how many do I really need?

Intellectually, I know I need way fewer of most things than I have (for example, I have three metal tape measures, three sewing tape measures and two yard sticks—how much measuring do I even do???)

And then there is my knitting. Every year I tell myself that I am going to knit up the yarn in my stash before I buy more yarn, but then a new baby comes along, and I need to get a specific yarn for a blanket, or another knitter is retiring and plans to travel in an RV, so she needs to get rid of her stash. How can I pass up her treasures?


Fabric is also in abundance in my home, even though I have not done any serious sewing in years. And I have enough cookbooks to start a library.

I remember telling my friend Philip one day that I was going to go through my kitchen utensils to see what I could get rid of—how many spatulas do I really need? A few hours later, he sent pictures of two large trash bags he had filled after going through his closets (I had inspired him, he said). Meanwhile, I had pulled exactly one wooden spoon from my collection of kitchen utensils. Do I really need five spatulas? I know I don’t but getting rid of them seems to be beyond me.

I keep thinking of Patrick turning down Jim’s baseball cap and asking myself how many of anything I really need. I think of people who have so little—migrants, people whose homes were destroyed in fires or natural disasters, women fleeing abusive spouses—and I wonder how I can move things from my home to theirs.

Our local domestic abuse shelter has a second-hand store that supports their work; I will start taking my extras to them.

And, when I am tempted to buy something, I will check what I already have and ask myself how many?

Think of the money I will save, the space I will create and the freedom I will enjoy by living with less.


The gift of a flu shot

“Relax your shoulders,” the nurse instructed me as she prepared to give me a flu shot. I breathed out and let my shoulders drop. But before she could stick the needle in, my shoulders tensed.

“Relax your shoulders,” she said again. I breathed out and let my shoulders drop, and she stuck me.

“I didn’t even feel it,” I said.

“That’s because your shoulders were relaxed,” she observed.

“Wouldn’t all life be less painful if I kept my shoulders relaxed?” I suggested.

She chuckled and agreed.

All that day, I kept coming back to the nurse’s instruction and my experience of a painless flu shot. I thought of images of the flow of life and meditations inviting me to be the tree or be the river.

How many times a day do I need to relax my shoulders? To let go of my resistance? To lean into the flow of life instead of trying to stand against it?

While reflecting on those three words, relax your shoulders, I recalled a conversation from a few days earlier about “reacting” versus “responding.”  I want to respond to life events, from a place of peace—rather than reacting from fear or resistance. Staying relaxed seems key to responding.

A few hours after I got the flu shot, and after I had spent an hour and a half working on a spreadsheet, my computer crashed. I could feel my shoulders tense up, and then I recalled the nurse’s advice.

I stepped away, breathed out my frustration and let my shoulders drop. Yes, it was a wasted hour and a half, but in the bigger scheme of things, it was only an hour and a half and not worth getting too upset about.

I was grateful for the nurse’s patience with me, that she waited until I was relaxed before she gave me the shot, because her example was a reminder of how every event in daily life can hold a lesson, if I am open to it.

It seems odd that a simple flu shot could produce such a deep reflection, but isn’t that the point of mindfulness—to be present to what is happening right in front of me and to learn from everything, even those things that seem insignificant.

Mindfulness, to me, is paying attention to what catches my attention and letting deeper meanings surface. Three little words, relax your shoulders, offered a gift—the reminder that staying relaxed can make painful events less painful.

Who or what is offering you insight and wisdom today?


August flowers

The purple coneflowers

have been blooming for weeks

and are now losing their color in the August sun.

Their petals have begun to drop to the ground,

leaving only the dried-out brown pods.

Summer is passing.

This morning, a bright yellow bird

with a dab of black on its forehead

and splashes of black splayed out on its wings

landed on a pod

and picked out the seeds.


How can something so ordinary bring me such joy?

(Photo from Virginia Department of Environmental Quality)