Look! A Cougar!

Can you name something a significant other has taught you, a gem of wisdom conferred through words or example?

One of my wife’s many contributions to my life can be summed up in a simple exclamation: “Look! A cougar!”

I first heard it on a drive through the San Jacinto mountains of southern California. We were on an early date, prompted by our mutual love for the outdoors. The high-altitude road was bathed in thin sunlight, towering Ponderosas and Black Oaks lining the shoulders.

We came around a bend just as a squirrel scampered across the pavement. “Look!” Donna said, “A cougar!”

“What?” I said. “Where? All I saw was a squirrel.”

“Exactly,” she replied with a smile. “If I said, ‘Look, a squirrel,’ you’d hardly be interested. But a cougar? It made you look more closely, didn’t it?”

And here was her lesson in a squirrel’s nutshell: look at the ordinary as if it is extraordinary. Take time to notice and absorb the beauty in life’s small details.

Cliché? Perhaps for some of you, but it was a lesson I needed, and she knew it. As a cleric, I had often waxed eloquent about the need to live in the present. “Consider the lilies” was one of my favorite admonitions from Jesus.

But my frenetic inner dialogue, fueled by a hyperactive metabolism, compelled me to move too fast. Even my time outdoors was spent cataloging memories, taking photos, “bagging” peaks to add to my list.

Slowing down, luxuriating, settling into this infinity of the present: it wasn’t easy. Sometimes it still isn’t, but inexorably, like drips of water forming a stalagmite, it has changed my life. It’s why I share this age-old salutation with everyone I meet: “Carpe diem, my friends!”

How is your mindfulness of each passing day? Lebanese-American poet, Kahlil Gibran, once said, “In the dew of little things the heart finds its morning and is refreshed.” This dawning can happen any moment, because it contains what we need to know peace, banish fear, and experience this Presence called “God.”

Many of us know the story of Brother Lawrence, son of a poor French family in the mid-1600s. His lot in life was so desperate that he joined the Army just to secure hot meals and a bed. Stationed at a lonely outpost in the winter, he had a life-changing experience. He was gazing at a barren tree standing in a field of snow – no leaves or fruit – but the thought that come springtime it would again flourish with greenery made him realize that our Creator’s grace and promises are with us always.

Lawrence later joined a monastery in Paris, and because he lacked formal education, he was told to labor in the kitchen, cooking, doing dishes, mopping floors, cleaning the walls. There, at the bottom of the pecking order, he resolved to experience – once again – the truth he had glimpsed in a frozen French landscape.

The result? A legacy of mindfulness passed on through a compilation called “The Practice of the Presence of God.” I close with his words, overtly Christian, yes, but followed by a simple summation.

“The time of business does not with me differ from the time of prayer, and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the blessed sacrament.”

Look! A pot! A mop! A cougar! A moment to be seized and savored!

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