Falling In Love With The World: How A Gum Wrapper Woke Me Up

“When it’s over, I want to say: all my life I was a bride married to amazement.  I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.” –Mary Oliver

Two Fridays ago as I was waiting for the train, I reached into my pocket for my phone. It wasn’t there. I reached into my other pocket. No phone.  I patted myself down hoping to find the familiar shape that would ease all my worries, insecurities and boredom.  Nothing.

(Insert horror movie sound effect).

I am not lying when I say that I felt as if my heart stopped beating for a moment.  What was I going to do?  How would I possibly engage with the world without email, text, Facebook and Instagram? I felt as if I had forgotten to put on my pants (okay, yoga leggings).  I felt naked and vulnerable. Then about 3 seconds later I felt ridiculous.

Come on, Jess,” I said to myself. “You’ve got this.  It’ll only be a few hours and then you will be home to your phone and everything will be okay“.

The train arrived while I chuckled to myself for being so silly.  I sat down and reached into my pocket for my phone.  It still wasn’t there.  The reaching was reflexive, like yawning or scratching an itch.  I sighed and leaned back into my seat, wondering how I would pass the train ride without obsessively organizing my calendar or making to-do lists (much to my boyfriend’s chagrin, I don’t play games on my phone- making lists is my version of Candy Crush).

I decided that this 25-minute train ride was the perfect opportunity to practice doing nothing; to sit in stillness and pay attention to the world around me. So I sat up straight, relaxed my shoulders focused on my breath and did nothing for about 10 seconds.  Then I remembered that I had a pack of gum in my purse.  Saved!  Now, I had something to do!  I dug around in my purse, found the gum and started chewing.

A few minutes later, I was ashamed of myself.  I mean, I call myself a yoga teacher. I teach my students to stay focused and attentive to each breath and each moment, yet here I was grasping for anything to entertain my mind and distract me away from the present.

As I was chastising myself, I began to fold the gum wrapper into tiny squares.  I folded and folded until there was nothing left to fold.  So I unfolded and started to fold it into tiny rectangles.  I unfolded and folded a few more times.  I made about 10 different shapes with my gum wrapper – tiny gum wrapper paper airplanes, tiny gum wrapper cones and tiny gum wrapper pirate hats. A few minutes before my train stopped I smoothed out the wrapper, ironing out all of the creases and wrinkles with my fingers.  It was so thin and soft from all the working.  It was delicate and light and velvety. It had become the most lovely gum wrapper in the world.

Somehow, the beauty of that tiny little wrapper woke me up.

I looked up and saw the people around me for the first time. They were marvelous!  They were interesting!  I wondered what their lives were like-where they were from, where they were going, who they loved, what stories they would tell if they had the chance.  It was pure magic. I felt connected and intimate with them- as if they were all my best friends and lovers.  The rest of the train ride, I did nothing but sit in wonder and reverence.  I felt deep gratitude for my life, gratitude for my city and its people, gratitude for forgetting my phone and remembering my ability to be amazed.

It doesn’t take much to shift from a place of boredom to awe, to bring the mind from complete distraction to full presence. It may be a yoga class that connects us to our bodies for the first time all day or the sun breaking through the clouds on a grey February afternoon; it could be the moment that you see simple object as something extraordinary.

We get to choose what holds our attention, whether it’s our iphones, a gum wrapper or the people in front of us.   I hope we can choose wisely. There is  a world that is right in front our eyes, waiting for us to take it in our arms and fall in love.