This morning I was writing at my favorite coffee shop when a cute little elderly woman with big, bright eyes and rosy cheeks sat down at the table across from me. She pulled a sketch book out of her bag and began looking around the room. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw her look in my direction, study my posture intently, smile, and begin sketching.
We sat there next to each other for nearly four hours while she sketched and I wrote. And as I shifted back and forth, captivated in thought, I felt a bit self-conscious sometimes. Because I could feel her watching me as she practiced her art.
But I wasn’t too worried because I hadn’t planned on striking up a conversation with her. After all, she seemed absolutely satisfied sketching in silence, and smiling at her sketches and at all the other people who surrounded us. I did, however, glance up a few times just to see her smile. Because her smile expressed a kind of passion and presence I seldom see.
As the clock neared noon, a new customer came into the coffee shop and let a gust of wind in the front door. The wind blew a completed sketch right off the elderly woman’s table and onto the floor directly in front of me. The sketch was detailed and amazing. It perfectly depicted a man who looked a lot like me typing on a laptop.
I looked up at the elderly woman and smiled. “Who’s that good-looking guy?”
She chuckled and rolled her eyes. “I don’t know,” she replied. “He’s just a fairy tale character.” She then handed me a few of the other sketches she’d been working on. One of them was of the barista behind the counter and the others were of different customers in the coffee shop.
“Wow!” I exclaimed.
She sighed, smiled and said, “Sometimes I wish I could capture all of the world’s beauty in my sketches, but I’ve come to realize it’s simply impossible. So, capturing still-frames of beautiful moments is what I settle for.”
I told her that all of the world’s beauty actually is captured in every sketch that perceives a moment just as beautiful. And that her sketches are truly beautiful, just like her smile, because they reveal a presence and a passion to see beauty in common places—a beauty most of us miss.
She chuckled again and said, “My late mother once told me that beauty occurs when time ceases to exist. And if she’s right, then perhaps my sketches are beautiful. Because, for me, time ceases when I try to bridge my perceptions with the moments unfolding around me.”
I smiled wide and then turned my laptop around so she could read the words I had written just moments before: “Time ceases to exist when she engages in this moment, because she wants nothing more than the beauty this moment has to offer.”
“Who is she?” she asked.
“She’s just a wise fairy tale character others will read about… and metaphor for hope to me,” I replied with a wink.
She winked back, as if to prove she wasn’t just a metaphor. And before I could even smile, I suddenly sneezed. She laughed and told me that for just a moment in mid-sneeze I looked like Tarzan, and asked if I could hold that pose so she could sketch me looking like Tarzan.
I told her I didn’t mind holding a mid-sneeze pose for a few minutes. Because as she sketched, I got a chance to see the look in her eyes. You know the look I’m talking about… it’s the look when beauty is perceived, time ceases to exist, and fairy tale characters come to life.
The Presence to See What You’ve Been Missing
Why did I just tell you that story?
Because we all need a good reminder sometimes.
We need to be reminded of the beauty of passionately absorbing oneself into the present moment—into the people, the dialogs, and the priceless little proceedings that exist there.
We need to be reminded of what it’s like to bring “fairy tale characters” to life.
Because too often, amidst the hurry and hustle, we forget.
We forget what’s possible when we pay close attention
We forget to appreciate the gifts directly in front of us.
So, I wrote a story about my morning—just a routine morning at my favorite coffee shop—that brought unexpected beauty into my life simply because I was paying attention.
I noticed the cute elderly woman sketching me. I welcomed her presence. I didn’t resist. I didn’t try to change the situation. I wasn’t in a hurry to get somewhere better… and neither was she.
We were 100% there, in the moment, with each other.
And, as a result, we created a truly memorable story together.
Let Each Moment Open Your Eyes
Where you are and what you’re doing at any given moment is absolutely essential.
Because it is the only moment guaranteed to you.
You are not on your way somewhere else.
You are not progressing to a more important time or place.
The present is not just a stepping-stone—it is the ultimate destination.
This moment is where your greatest opportunity lies.
This moment is your life!
It might seem obvious, but, again, we forget. We all do, far more often than we’d like to admit.
All day, every day, many of us feel like the present isn’t enough—like our life simply isn’t worthy of our full presence. And because of this, we miss out on so much of life’s beauty.
But what if we did the opposite?
What if we accepted this moment, and everything and everyone in it (including ourselves), as exactly enough?
What if we accepted the “bad” with the good, the letdowns with the lessons, the annoying with the interesting, the anxiety with the opportunity, as part of a package deal that this moment alone is offering us?
What if we paused right now, and saw everything with perfect clarity?
Keep thinking about it…
Would we live more meaningful and memorable lives?
Would we have more beautiful stories to cherish and share?
I think we would.
And thus, I think now is the best time to pay attention.
Now is the best time to look around in awe—of our health, our homes, our families, our friends, our work, and our momentary opportunities.
Now is the best time to notice the little fairy tales in our lives—to see what we’ve been missing all along.
Two words: Mindful awareness.
Far easier said than done, of course. But doing so is worth every bit of effort you can muster.
Mindful awareness as a daily practice is the ultimate challenge. It’s a way of living, of being, of seeing, of tapping into the full power of your humanity.
To practice, remind yourself to…
- Be aware of what’s happening in the present moment without wishing it were different.
- Enjoy each pleasant experience without holding on when it changes (which it will).
- Be with each unpleasant experience without fearing it will always be this way (which it won’t).
Ritualize this kind of awareness into your daily routines, and you will undoubtedly change how you see and experience life from here on out. (Angel and I build mindful, life-changing rituals with our students in the “Goals and Growth” module of Getting Back to Happy.)
Closing Thoughts (and, it’s your turn…)
After the elderly woman I met this morning finished sketching me in my best sneezing pose, she held up her sketch, admired it with a genuine smile, and said, “Oh Tarzan, I love it! Why didn’t I learn to open my eyes and appreciate these encounters a little sooner in life, and treat every day like it was the first time, and the last?” Then she paused for a moment in silence as she held her smile, took a deep breath, and with her eyes still locked on her sketch, she continued in a softer tone, “Oh Tarzan, my only regret is how often I subconsciously believed in the significance of tomorrow.”
May we all take her sentiment to heart. And learn from it.
Before you go, let’s revisit a question I asked above:
- What if you accepted this moment, and everything and everyone in it (including yourself), as exactly enough?
How might doing so change what you see?
Leave a comment below and share your thoughts.
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