My Lists Of Small Joys: 'Minute Mindfulness'

Living with cancer means more than letting the negative go, it means finding a way to take in the happiness of right now. This cancer survivor calls it "Minute Mindfulness."
PUBLISHED July 02, 2019
Martha lives in Illinois and was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer in January 2015. She has a husband and three children, ranging in age from 12 to 18, a dog and a lizard.

I keep a running list in my mind of the things that bring me joy or make me experience in the immediate now just how much there is to love in life.

In the summer, the list expands ever outward with each walk I take with my sweet and lively dog, Iris. It grows longer with the airport pick-ups of people I love and the bittersweet goodbyes of those I sometimes feel I won’t be able to live without.
           
My list goes something like this:

  • Wind blowing
  • Robin on a rock
  • Iris’ fluffy neck
  • Neighbor’s newly planted garden
  • Peacocks screeching at zoo a block away
  • Strange and large cloud
  • Garbage man waving
  • Boys riding bikes

You get the idea. These are not earth-shattering, life-altering experiences of happiness. One of my daughters recently asked me what I was smiling about as we were walking. I don’t remember exactly what I said — I’ve taken a lot of walks — but I think it was something about how the hot, breezy weather brought back the feeling of lying in hot sand on the beach.
           
The next day as we walked our usual path, she pointed out how nice it was that a neighbor had mosquito netting curtains ready to enclose her very small front patio. As I write this, I realize how much I hope she spots those beautiful small things that we too often walk right past, not only because that means she’s paying attention to life but also because those moments can offer protection from the times when everything seems cold and scary.

I’m well aware of how easy it is to spiral into a dark space when you live with cancer and how hard it is to find a way out. My mental lists of things that make me happy won’t prevent that downward spiral if it’s coming and they can’t lessen my sorrow about my own or friends’ bad cancer news. But allowing myself to silently recite them in moments of fear or anxiety has given me a little extra strength when the dark threatens to shut me down.

These lists are a good mental habit I’ve developed over the past 4 and a half years of treatment. Through Qigong I’ve learned about letting go of negative or pestering thoughts — my teacher constantly used the example of being stymied by the thought that he needed to pick up carrots for his wife. And, while I continue to perfect the practice of letting the negative go, I’ve found it’s much easier (and more fun) to recognize, name and take in the good. I name the action or sight or feeling as I experience it and then I take it in to drift around my mind or give my heart an extra pump of happiness. This is my experience of living in the moment.

Mindfulness on a minute scale.
           
Of course, I have big things on my lists as well:
  • Good scan
  • Sweet and kind oncology nurse
  • Kids piled in my car
  • My parents’ hugs
  • My kids’ hugs
  • Husband laughing at my pretty bad joke
  • Son waving as he rides off to caddy


I notice those as well and hold them in my heart so close and so tight that they are right there whenever I need them, ready to get me through.

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