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I stared down in raw, humble wonder at the plate in front of me.
Nothing unusual about it from an outside view. Curry and rice. Looks like lunch.
Except I had just closed a book before sitting down to eat. I don’t remember which book now, I’ve read many in recent weeks that fit the bill. It may have been the one about North Korea, or maybe the American Dust Bowl, or perhaps it was that one about 19th century Afghanistan, or was it about rural farmers and famines in China?
Whichever it was, the pages were full of hunger. Where a single grain of food took on new significance, was prized and fought over, and the people’s minds were consumed all day by where the next grain would come from – however undesirable, weedy, tough, bland, or unpleasant it might be.
And now I set the book and its heavy pages down, and stared at this plate. Tender, fragrant food, full of spices. Enough to fill me and have a bit leftover. All I’d had to do was heat it up. It seemed impossibly beautiful. Miraculous.
I didn’t leave a single grain on the plate. Nothing rinsed down the sink.
As you can guess by my recent reads, I’ve been made keenly aware of what I’m empowered to do because I have food.
The time I have because I don’t have to walk miles to gather it. The mental space freed up by the sheer lack of worry. The enjoyment brought by variety. The energy. The future.
This is not a denial that life always contains a measure of pain and difficulty.
It’s not a way to say “quit complaining and eat your vegetables, plenty of people in the world would be glad to have them” like a 1950s sitcom mom.
It has simply felt like a quiet call: Look around. Consider what has been made possible.
Here’s a simple truth: Our brain manages millions of competing stimuli every day – partly by getting used to, then ignoring, things that are always around us.
Moment to moment, we stop hearing the whirr of our computer, adjust to the brightness of the room, even ignore the sensation of clothing against our skin. We take the presence of our spouse, our parents, our children as a given. Especially if a thing is not changing, it fades into the background, overtaken by more novel occurrences. It’s called habituation.
Habituation is why something like a plate of curry can be consumed with middling appreciation, right up until something – like a book – calls your direct attention to it. And suddenly you see before you the feast it actually is.
What if we tried a small experiment. Just for today, right now.
You may feel pressed for time this week. But take a moment to look around and consider all the manual labor that you now don’t have to spend time on. What are you actually now freed up to do?
Flip on a light switch and consider what that simple act represents and makes possible.
Take a hot shower, maybe even on the second floor of a house (!!), and consider that you are one of a teensy fraction in the history of humanity for whom such a thing – gallons of perfectly-temperatured water pouring from above your head – would be possible.
Chew a little slower. Breathe. Soak.
Once you’ve done that, sit down and begin your work again.
When your brain is drawn to the new and changing, that means it’s inherently going to focus on fresh problems, obstacles, and whatever seems to be standing in your way. But what if you draw its attention to what you already have, and what is made possible for you by the mountain of things you sit on, unnoticed?
Try that, and see if anything goes differently at work today.