After my second son was born I was more anxious for my kids' safety than usual. I blame the postpartum hormones, but maybe part of it was also coming to grips with how random and indifferent the world can feel.
On more than a few nights, I've lain awake, worrying about house fires or kitchen accidents or bullying. All things that haven't actually happened. Each time I worry like this I try to remind myself that I'm imagining a future that likely won't happen.
The present is typically not a catastrophe, though it's easy to catastrophize a future that doesn't exist. Yet, if I'm caught in a worry cycle, the anxious thoughts keep whirring through my head. It's not until I decided to focus a bit more on the present, that I started to leave that cycle behind.
One day, my kids and I were in the backyard enjoying the spring sunshine. The night before I hadn't gotten a great night's sleep--I had been mentally preoccupied with past events and future imagined events.
My toddler likes to take my hand and pull me toward something he wants to show me. So on this day he led me across the lawn to the large maple, where a single pinecone lay, surrounded by tiny violets.
He pointed at it excitedly and stepped forward and picked it up. He held it in his hands and grinned up at me, wrinkling his nose the way he does when he's proud of himself for finding something.
I paused to notice the smell of lilacs which flowered nearby, how my son's hair still looked more like cornsilk than adult hair, and to hear his voice as he babbled about the pinecone, in words unrecognizable but still heard.
I reminded myself to slow down and be part of his discoveries. To let him teach me how to get back into the present moment. He could do this because he was only concerned about the present. He didn't yet have a concept of future and past.
I try to remember to pause sometimes and pay attention to the things I'm grateful for. I've noticed that the smaller the thing, the more it seems a trivial detail, the more it helps me sink deeper into the present and feel grateful for something very particular.
Like how my oldest son sets his head on my shoulder when he is tired and needs comfort. How he says "car" with a comical Boston accent. How my youngest son still has that impossibly soft skin, that feels like a petal.
These are blessings and they are real. They are already here, right now.
It takes effort to be still and silent, to pay attention. But when I make the effort, I find that it grounds me. It returns me to the earth, rather than letting me spin through a cycle of unproductive worries that are all imaginary.
Gratitude returns me to the present--where anxiety has difficulty thriving and growing. It also strengthens my ability to hope--to remember that good things can happen, because they have already happened to me. I just have to pay attention a little more to see them.
Gratitude also reminds me that sometimes who you're so anxious about--your child--may be just the person to lead you back into peace.