May 4, 2012

A Birthday Frame Of Mind.

The Perspective We Choose Dictates The Nature of Our Experiences.

I love birthdays. At my age, I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I still get a thrill out of all the birthday trappings. I love receiving cards and presents. I love that my far-away family leaves me singing voice messages that I replay several times before deleting. I love that my husband jokingly refers to my birthday as a national holiday and makes a big stink. I love the fanfare of candles, making a wish and eating a slice of cake.

Even more than all this, though, I love the feeling of birthdays. Having a birthday puts me into an special frame of mind. It begins as I wake up – sometimes before I even open my eyes. It’s taking a moment in bed to savor the fact that today is here. It’s instantly feeling a little special. It puts a spring in my step and a smile on my lips. A birthday frame of mind is a perspective. It opens my eyes to little “gifts” from the world around me.

Let me explain. I recently had an especially nice birthday. It was a Thursday filled to overflowing with just this type of little gifts. Forecasted rain held off so that a friend and I didn’t have to cancel our weekly walk. Instead of practicing yoga by myself as I usually do on Thursdays, I had the chance to practice side by side with a new friend. A client cancelled a private lesson at the last minute. While cancellations are usually one of the less pleasant aspects to my line of work, on this day it felt like a gift. I called my husband who immediately offered to take me out for a grilled cheese sandwich at a local luncheonette. It was an awesome morning.

I did not have high hopes for my birthday afternoon, however. My son had his quarterly check-up at the hospital that afternoon. This is typically a grueling five-hour process of driving into the city, waiting, navigating the questions and answers of one doctor’s appointment, waiting some more, having a second appointment, waiting some more and having blood drawn. Yet, I coasted into the high school to pick up my son glowing from the riches of my lovely morning, and I’ll be darned if the gifts didn’t keep flowing my way!

As we made our way downtown, my son pointed out that every single stop light turned green just as we approached. We found a parking spot on the crowded and coveted first level of the hospital garage. We had time to get him a snack, his doctors were not running late and we didn’t have to wait at the lab for his blood work. Best of all, in our conversation with his doctors, they commented that it’s really a miracle that he is so well right now. A year ago, not one of his doctors dreamed this was possible. You couldn’t ask for a better gift than that reminder.

Without my awareness these little Thursday “happenings” may not have felt like gifts. This awareness did not come easily to me. The hours that I spend on my mat are, in part, an exercise in learning how to pay attention. As I move and breathe during yoga, I am learning how to notice little gifts. As I unroll my mat day after day, I get to practice mindfully setting my perspective. I can choose to see all the things I can’t do, all the stretches where I’m still tight, and all the postures I still haven’t mastered. Or, I can choose to focus on all the ways I’m changing, developing and growing. The choice is mine. And (here’s the kicker) my choice of perspective dictates the nature of my experience. Whether I leave my mat feeling frustrated or fulfilled, groaning or grinning, is up to me.

Had I not been in a “birthday frame of mind,” that particular Thursday, I wonder if all the little gifts from the world around me would have passed me by without registering. While I’d like to think the awareness I’ve developed on my yoga mat would have prevented this, honestly, it’s perfectly conceivable that some or all of them could have. I could have focused on the grayness of the day rather than the fact that the rain held off. I could have allowed my cancelled appointment to get me down. I could have slipped into a “woe-is-me” mindset that I had to spend my birthday at the doctor. It was my birthday perspective that made the whole day seem like a celebration.

I know that part of what makes birthdays such a treat is that they happen only once a year. But there is a lesson in birthdays that we can carry with us through the other 364 days of the year. While the world may not conspire to deluge us with a wealth of gifts every day, every single day we do receive some. It is up to us to choose to notice them. When we do so, every day will contain moments that leave us feeling as blessed, special and cared for as a birthday girl. 

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