Attending to the Present: Mindfulness Lessons from a three year-old

Originally posted November 2018

Have you ever walked anywhere with a 3 year-old? The distractions are endless. The opportunity to notice and engage with the world are bountiful! Look! a stick! A ladybug! A worm! A piece of chewed up gum! For a 3 year-old, this observing is an opportunity for incredible engagement and learning from the world around her. Most observations made at an eye level that many of us can’t even see anymore. All the tiny little things in the world that call for a moment of undivided attention.


From the age of crawling, we noticed the keen eye for the littlest of details from my daughter. This DNA not likely to have passed from my gene pool! I learned through her, that life was best lived whenever she could spend time noticing, attending to the glitter, or the sparkle or the bug and engaging with her whole body and the world around her. She was the kid who would turn a  spaghetti dinner into a full facial experience! Every day was a discovery in tiny little lost treasures of the world.

At the age of 1 ½ we called her the bug whisperer. As she sat in her little booster seat eating her peas and cut up cheese, we would look over and notice an obnoxious summer fly pestering their way into her space. Apparently she didn’t share our sentiment. Sitting very still she let the fly land on the tip of her tiny finger. Attending to it as if it was the most precious gift given to her, she could keep the fly sitting on the tip for far longer than I was comfortable with. She would chat with it as if a long lost friend. Eventually, she would move it slowly towards her mouth, thankfully not accurately enough to consume it. (At least not that I know of! Protein!!)

All the beauty around me that I miss without accepting the call to attentiveness

All the beauty around me that I miss without accepting the call to attentiveness

For children and maybe also those with the gift of sensing, observing is more than just noticing. It is a pause; an attending, an engagement that the little humans amongst us naturally do with their world. I question, what would it take for me to have such a God-given appreciation for my world? A mindful approach to what and who is near me.

At the turn of the year I ask God for a word for the year. My word for this year was “excitable”. It has taken me most of the year to accept it. Excitable! - not a word that anyone who knows me well would use to describe me; nor a word I'm incredibly comfortable with! Yet excitability is a value I hold deeply in the people around me. It’s a character trait that I love and so appreciate in others primarily because it is so lacking in me! Being excitable takes observation and attending to the next level. It invites one to be present enough to observe and then have a reaction to the world around them. Where for me in the same scenario, I had hardly stopped to notice. “What big green bathtub in the hallway?!” For me, life is often more about efficiency not accuracy and detail.

I’m embarrassed to admit that I would rather hurry my sensate daughter through her day and world to get done the other “important things” that needed getting done. The idea of being excitable, movable and open to being attentive would consume more time and energy than I believed I possessed!

Thomas Merton once said we spend most of our lives under water. Every so often our heads clear the surface and we look around and get our bearings.

I wonder if transition isn’t such a gift of the pause and invitation to look around, take a deep breath and let ourselves be moved by the world around us. I’m challenged by the metaphor Merton uses. If we don’t emerge out of the water long enough to take the necessary breath, the ability to submerge ourselves back into the water of life becomes unsustainable.

If we don’t come up for a breath long enough, we can not submerge back under the water called daily life. For me that coming up for breath is a call to attend to my body, my heart and my mind. I naturally do the latter. But the attentiveness to my body, my heart and all the gifts around me require much more of me. An attitude of gratitude and a daily posture of this habit require me to attend to the many many gifts that exist all around me.

Deep breaths, intentional prayers, attending to my inner world, creating space to unhurriedly walk alongside the world my daughter loves; all my personal invitations in this season of transition.  All a stretch for me, as well as an invitation to be present and excitable! My desire is that by the end of the year the word will be more embodied and maybe even an adjective used to describe me! The action of attentiveness a bit more natural, even desired…one sparkle and one ladybug at a time!

I don’t want to miss the awe of the world all around me

I don’t want to miss the awe of the world all around me