Today I put a half-gallon of milk in the cupboard, stacking it alongside the mismatch of coffee mugs, some of which date back years.

Fortunately, I realized my mistake and returned the milk to its rightful place in the refrigerator minutes later. This is the sort of cockeyed thing I used to do when my children were toddlers, when exhaustion and stress (their Dad was dying) blotted the simplest tasks.  Where is my water again? I’d say aloud, walking from the kitchen to the bathroom to the bedroom in our three-room apartment. The glass may well have been invisible because I walked by it more times than I care to share without ever seeing it.

It’s different today.  Life feels robust and sweet, and for the most part, I live my days the way I choose (no small feat).  Still, whenever I do something dumb like put the milk with the mugs, my inner siren warns me to stop and pay attention.

I suppose I was mentally multitasking, thinking about one thing (what it is now eludes me), while pouring my son a glass of milk.  This is what we do as evolved creatures, right?  It isn’t easy to distill the moments, and yet some days our brain can expertly maneuver sundry details while on others it just shuts down.

The fact that I mixed the milk with the mugs is proof enough that I need to pare my activities, which for me, means retreating from some of the work pressures I’ve been feeling.  After being hunched over my computer for what has felt like days and nights on end, today I said the heck with it and went to rake leaves. It was a balmy fall day; I needed fresh air and some vigorous exercise.

I got that and more. Because raking leaves is like mindful meditation: before I knew it, I lost myself in the monotony of the job, the way the rake pulls leaves all shades of copper, amber, gold and red into loose piles, crunchy like corn flakes.  Then, dustpan in hand, I knelt into the leaf beds, scooping morsels of color into one, two, three, four garbage-size bags.  As the sun lit me from behind and Bruce Springsteen crooned on my Ipod, it struck me that for the first time this fall I was actually seeing and breathing autumn.

“Drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis on which the world earth revolves – slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future.”

Thich Nhat Hanh

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