It Works!

I had an amazing morning today. When I woke up, my left wrist, my right knee, and my pinky finger all felt fine. I took a deep breath, and let it out. I got out of bed and stood on my two legs, and walked into the bathroom. When I turned on the faucet, clean water flowed out. I hit the light switch and immediately, the room was flooded with light. It was a sight to behold. Stunning.

When I went into the kitchen, I turned on the coffee machine and listened as whirred to life. All at the touch of a button! I pressed another button, and within a minute had a delicious cup of hot, freshly, brewed coffee, made from beans grown thousands of miles away. It was remarkable. And although you might not believe it, all of these near miracles happened within the first 5 minutes of waking up. What a morning!

If this sounds like a relatively normal morning to you, it should. In fact, this is pretty much how most of my mornings look. But imagine for a second that I had been in a car accident the day before. Waking up with a functioning left wrist, right knee and pinky finger might be the furthest thing from my mind. In fact, it may be that those joints were each the source of significant pain and discomfort.

Suppose I could not breathe deeply, because my lungs did not work well. Or, perhaps, the air is terrible and breathing deeply causes a fit of coughing?

Suppose I turned on the faucet, and the water did not flow? I would have been beyond irritated, and immediately become preoccupied with trying to fix the problem. Why wasn’t the water working?

When I turned on the light, suppose the room failed to illuminate. Is the power out? The light bulb broken? Do I have to replace the switch? How long has the electricity not been working? When is it coming back?

We do not generally pause to notice all the things that work. Instead, we take for granted the thousands of things that just happen without any real effort on our part, and focus on the things that do not work. There is some chipped paint on the door. The faucet handle sticks. One of the tiles has a crack. There are some leftover coffee grounds still on the counter.

When the power is out, we think about little else. As soon as the power is restored, we forget about the miracle of electricity. When our leg is broken, we lament the pain and loss of mobility. As soon as the bone has mended, we take walking for granted.

I do not mean to suggest that we ignore our problems, or we pretend like everything is perfect– it never is. There are always problems, always things that are broken, always items that need to be fixed, improved, changed, or adjusted. This is the nature of life. But because our minds focus on the problems, because our attention is drawn to what does not work, our attention is also, by definition, drawn away from what does work. Because our gaze lingers on the defect, it avoids the beauty that surrounds us (see this post for more). Our reminders are on all the problems, and none of the miracles.

What if we paused and noticed the things that do work? It takes active effort and time to appreciate how many things are going our way. Pausing and recognizing the myriad of things that go our way every minute of every day (breathing, anyone?), we can shift our narrative away from chronically feeling less than, and towards feeling like we have enough.

Try it. Take a mental inventory of everything that is working. What in your body works? Your heart? Your ears? Your knee? What, of the things that surround you, works? Your phone that you are using to read this? Your computer? The sofa you are sitting on? Is the roof over your head keeping the elements out? Your house is neither too hot nor too cold? Close your eyes for 20 seconds and just notice how many things are working.

How do you feel?

How would doing this daily change things?


-Dr. Justin

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