Focus: A Meditation for the Holidays
by Ardelle Walters, MS, LPC, YTT-200
The luxury of watching the candles in the fireplace on a Friday morning. The soot-covered bricks behind the candlelight. The quiet of the house. The occasional car on the street outside. Our funny little dog Coco asleep on the floor next to me. The books and magazines scattered on the coffee table. The morning light coming in the front window. These were my gratitudes on a November morning.
The therapist said to make a gratitude list and at first I balked. She said you have to. Be specific, she said. It can’t be generalizations like “my family” or “my house.” It is like picking up pearls in the sand, she said. Your mind has spiraled out of control with your worries and anxieties. It is making you weaker for whatever lies ahead. You have to pick up pearls, you don’t have a choice. You have to because they will make you strong for whatever lies ahead.
And so began my journey with gratitude. With gratitude as mindfulness. With gratitude as a way to ground myself in the gift of this moment. With gratitude as a way to walk toward, walk with, the darkness.
Next was yoga. I balked at that too, but then I was desperate. I professionally treated other people for anxiety, but I couldn’t treat it for myself. The year before, I had had two major health diagnoses. But it was the ensuing anxiety that left me falling over a ledge, barely hanging on by the tips of my fingers. And so I went to yoga. Put your mind in your breath, they said. Place your feet on the floor. Hip distance apart. Put your hands on your hips. Put your mind in your breath.
Put your mind in your breath. Put your mind in your breath. Put your mind in your breath. And one day I found I was sitting with my own breath, tending to it like I tended to the breath of my sleeping babies in years past. Like I had watched my child’s chest move up and down in a hospital room before emergency surgery, not sleeping because I was watching her breathe. And now I was watching my own breath, my own life force. I found that it was as sacred as my child’s life force.
If the therapist had said, “Focus,” I would have said “On what?” If the yoga teacher had said, “Focus,” I would have said “How?” But no one said focus, and I did. On this present moment and on the life force that sustains my presence here. Just for a few minutes at a time, I focused. And one day, just for a few minutes, my joy returned. Another day for a few minutes more. And then more.
I had thought focus was an activity, a way to get something done. But instead it was a shedding of untruths by way of gratitudes and breaths. A way to see clearly this present moment, and the beauty and truth in my very own breath. Focus: Verb. Adapt to the prevailing level of light and become able to see clearly. Focus.
Ardelle Walters is a Licensed Professional Counselor. She has extensive experience working with adults on a wide range of issues including anxiety, depression, grief, self-esteem, and relationships. As a clergy spouse, she is particularly interested in the emotional well-being of clergy and their families, and serves as CREDO faculty and Planning for Wellness faculty for Episcopal clergy. Ardelle is a member of Calvary Episcopal Church in downtown Memphis, where she does a lot of brainstorming with the Christian formation committee, and where her husband, Scott, serves as rector.