Attention to Small

When Stephen and I attended a mindfulness workshop this weekend, we were given a “bio” break after an hour and a half, and told to return to our screens with a bit of fruit. I had just bought a sac of organic Sweeties—those intensely sweet mandarins that ripen during the winter—so grabbed one as we were returning to our Zoom.

Waiting for the screen to populate with the faces of all the participants, I quickly peeled and sectioned our fruit, then popped a segment into my mouth. Stephen did the same. We had consumed well over half by the time the next portion of the workshop began. “Hello Everybody,” the leader greeted us, “let’s begin by picking up your bit of fruit. But don’t put it in your mouth yet,” she cautioned; “just hold it between your thumb and index finger.”

Oh, we weren’t supposed to eat the fruit! We were to be mindful of it. Not a problem. We had several segments left.

“First gaze at your fruit,” the leader said. “Notice as much as you can about it—color, texture, patterns, smoothness, roughness, sheen.”

When I taught weekend writing workshops through UC Berkeley Extension, I opened on Saturday morning by handing everybody in the class a walnut. “This walnut will be your companion all weekend,” I told the writers. “Keep track of it and protect it. You’re going to become quite close.”

For the next two days, I’d ask them to pay attention to their walnut in various ways. First by gazing at it. Next by running their fingertips over it for several minutes. By smelling it. And by exploring it with their eyes closed. After each interaction, they wrote about their experience, and each time, they were surprised about how much they had observed—just by being mindful. By the end of the weekend, each student in her own way, had established a relationship with their walnut. I often received notes from participants months later telling me that their walnut was still on the desk, right in front of them whenever they wrote.

The exercise this weekend went in a slightly different direction: we were, after several iterations of attentiveness—gazing, touching, meditating upon–meant finally to consume our bit of fruit. And I can tell you that it didn’t taste or feel like any orange segment I had ever eaten. In the past, I’ve glanced at the Sweetie I was about to eat only as much as necessary to peel and segment it. But most of my attention has been elsewhere, especially while I was eating the fruit. This weekend, after observing, sensing, meditating on the tiny segment, popping it into my mouth and letting it sit on my tongue, then nudging it this way and that so I could sense all sides, by the time I actually bit into the segment, the orange had come alive, a tiny bit of living matter in my mouth! So alive, in fact, that I hesitated a moment before biting down on it.

All this to share with you readers the value of paying attention to the smallest moments in your life. Not constantly, but every so often. If a tiny segment of orange delivered so much texture, so much sweetness, color and pleasure, imagine what other small moments might offer you.

Berkeley Detritus

3 thoughts on “Attention to Small”

  • I was thinking about that walnut as soon as I started reading this. I still have it–after 21 years! I went to check to be sure and it is till intact although it is getting moldy. But the memory is as fresh as ever!

  • I recently followed a similar meditation — apparently it’s a classic. And somewhere I still have my walnut from many years ago at your house!

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