A blackpoll warbler (Setophaga striata) watches from the foliage in Groton, MA.

It’s been easier lately to claim that I’m distracted. Not in the way I want to be though. You see, I like the fact that I’m observant to the world around me and that I look for things that catch my attention. The snippet of a familiar pop song or smell of a croissant on the air or the feeling of cool air on the skin after being outside on a hot day. Lately, with planning a wedding and trying to figure out the trappings of homeownership, I’ve felt like I’m losing that connection.

I feel a bit like Luke in The Last Jedi when in his grief and guilt about letting his nephew, Ben Solo (a.k.a. Kylo Ren) fall to the dark side. While I haven’t watched a loved one choose to utilize the dark side, the loss of a familiar feeling of contentment and the increase of stress has kept me distracted from a few of my favorite things. Since we have been renovating parts of the house, I haven’t had time to practice carving or tidy up the tool shed in anticipation for creating a woodworker’s paradise. My car has decided after traveling from Maine to North Carolina and back again that it doesn’t want to give me the illusion that it works anymore and has on several occasions either stalled while driving or refused to start up altogether. Now, as I sit here in Barnes & Noble’s, I dread that I won’t have time to do the projects and hobbies I like and that I’ll lose my contentment to the grind.

To combat this, I’ve tried to remain mindful of my surroundings in little moments when I can rest and take it all in. There’s a technique called “grounding” that some folks use when they’re having a panic attack to get their bearings and come out of that horrible stress inducing reaction. It relies on using your senses to focus back in and goes something like this:

  • 5 things you can see
  • 4 things you can feel
  • 3 things you can hear
  • 2 things you can smell
  • 1 thing you can taste

I used this technique yesterday. I had the day off from work and used it to refocus after some music I listened to brought up some negative feelings. While I love the song I Will Follow You Into The Dark by Death Cab for Cutie, it’s not the best song to listen to when you’re feeling down. I looked out the window and decided it was time to go for a walk. As Harper the dog escorted me out the door and made a bee-line for the chickens, I focused in. Here’s what I noticed.

Chickens scattering in all directions as the terror known as Harper barreled towards them. I heard the roosters crowing their alarms as they whizzed into the woods. The air felt cool and dry unlike the moisture from earlier in the week when rain had drenched the soil and made the leaves shine with water droplets. I smelled the lilacs that are blooming near our front door as well as the characteristic smell of grass and earth. I breathed an open mouth sigh and tasted cool air.

As I headed toward the back field, I observed the croak of a nearby raven, it’s notes crawling through the trees. An ovenbird reported it’s song from deep in the woods while the crowns of the beeches, birches, and maples swayed gently in the breeze. I saw Harper nosing his way along, curious about every smell, distracted by the very act of discovery. I envied him and smiled and thanked the day. While I didn’t find all the things that the technique inquired about, there was still time to notice and get distracted and get lost in our surroundings. And for that, I’m every so thankful.

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