Mindful. I’m mindful about appreciating life. Mindful of how easy it is to take things for granted. Mindful to be thankful—even for small blessings—because the alternative is the darkness that comes with criticism and complaint. Mindful of relationships, investing in and intentionally making time to nurture friendships. When I pray with my kids before bed I thank God “for each moment of everyday that we are able to live and love and learn and grow together,”—so when we are no longer able to we will remember the blessing of the experience even as we miss it.
A long time ago I decided I didn’t want to have regrets about these most important things and I don’t. However, I guess you can’t make it to 40 without regretting something. Unexpectedly I recently discovered my biggest regret and it is entirely about something I missed being mindful of.
I’ve never been much of a fiction reader. Since high school I’ve mostly read non-fiction and, during my decade as an elementary librarian, kid fiction. A couple months back I started reading regular fiction. As I’ve read I’ve been struck over and over by how detail involved the writing is. From the setting, to the character backstories, to the dialogue, to the internal battles and emotions going on—there are so many sensory details about life included in a fiction story.
Fiction writers are a very different breed of people than I am. I think they must really notice the world around them…seeing the details of the people, environment and experience. When they eat something they really taste the details of the flavor. When they touch something, they are tuned into the texture. When they hear something, they can pick apart the individual sounds. They could describe in detail a hundred different experiences I’ve had but never paid much attention to. As I read I realize…wow…I have missed a lot of the color of life!
Part of the reason for this is simple personality. I’m a big picture person who thinks abstractly and sees themes or connections in life more than concrete details. It’s how I’m wired and I don’t regret it. The regret comes with the other two factors contributing to the missed experiences…fear and control.
Fear…I missed a lot because of fear. The fear of being embarrassed, of being hurt, of looking foolish, or stupid, or slow—the fear of being misunderstood. The fear kept me from trying new things, taking a risk, trusting people. I often felt like there was another me I couldn’t bring to the surface…fear kept her trapped inside. I lived as a much smaller version of myself for a long time.
The fear gave rise to the need for control. Wanting to avoid embarrassment I couldn’t get into situations which may have landed me there. I chose to do things I could do well or where the risk of failure was small. So many things I watched other people do or experience from the outside wishing I could take the step in to participate. Control took the form of having a plan and numerous contingency strategies for every situation. I needed to know what to expect or what people expected from me so I wouldn’t embarrass myself or look stupid. There isn’t much room to enjoy the moment when so much time and anxiety is spent planning for the next one.
You can’t experience the details and color of life while worrying about controlling the result of it. Letting go and trusting—yourself, other people and God—are necessary for full color living.
I wish I would have risked the embarrassment so I would have lived in the moments of silly, stupid and unknown more. Not being reckless or foolish—but experiencing life as it happened instead of worrying what the outcome of it would look like.
My biggest regret is that it has taken me 30+ years to start noticing the details. Going forward I want to be more fully engaged in the sight, sound, smell, taste and touch of the moment. I want to trust God enough with today to fully live it—knowing He’ll walk me through tomorrow when it comes. For the first time, I don’t have a plan or an agenda for my life—I just want to live more fully in it. I want to enjoy and delight in the details of the experience!
What would you see differently if you noticed the details?
Would you enjoy life more if you engaged in the experience of today rather than worrying about tomorrow?
What would you find to be more thankful for?