We’re walking the dogs near dusk. The sky is darkening, the sun slanting in a way that casts everything around us in a luminous glow. “Let’s take a picture,” I say. I don’t mean capturing an image on a device. Instead we pause, breathe deeply, let ourselves appreciate this particular moment as fully as possible.
I used to do this more often when our children were small. They’d tumble in happy and tired from play, bringing outdoor freshness with them, clamoring at the sink to wash their hands for dinner. The house was filled by their voices and the scent of food in the oven, and I’d ask them to pause so we could cherish it. A thousand such pictures are stored somewhere in our minds’ eyes from moments when we stopped, breathed in, and nourished ourselves on the beauty happening right then.
Sometimes life calls us to do this. A baby’s first steps, a lost cat found, a brother returning safely from military service, a scholarship awarded, a friend’s biopsy coming back clear. Studies show our lives feel more packed with meaning when we stop to savor such turning points. (Other milestones happen as well, except we don’t see them until they’re past. The last time you’ll hold a child’s hand to cross a street, last time you’ll talk to a neighbor, last time you’ll visit an elderly relative….)
Savoring doesn’t have to be limited to our best moments. Stop to really take it all in when you’re grieving, furious, exhausted, lonely, bewildered. Pausing to let yourself feel what you feel throughout your whole body, anchored in a painful moment, is also a way of honoring your life.
Our lives are stitched together by what we notice and remember. Look back at any particular phase of your life. What you recall is constructed from what you fully noticed. Each moment there are sights, sounds, tastes, thoughts, and feelings unique to your experience. The way you pay attention to those elements forms your memories. The shocking part? Looking back and realizing how few rich and full memories we really form.
Let’s form them intentionally. Whenever possible, pause to take a mental picture. Let everything flood your being until the moment you’re in fills your very marrow. It’s a way of wakening.