"This is my favorite thing ever!"
A homespun mindfulness mantra
Hello old friends and new subscribers! I'm David Gasca and this is Mystical Silicon, a weekly newsletter on mindfulness, how to make the world more alive, and a variety of other things I find interesting.
Today’s post is another post on mindfulness. I’ve recently re-found my center and these are notes to my future self to remember what I’ve found.
“THIS IS MY FAVORITE THING EVER”
My sons are very particular about the way they eat. Whereas many kids are picky about their foods, my kids are picky more about the order in which they eat the food on their plate. Instead of eating their food in a semi-randomized fashion, my sons always keep their favorite foods for last. For example, one of my sons loves mango so he will keep every single bite of it to the very end, relishing each bite. Another one of my sons is a chocolate ice-cream lover - if you give him a full cone, he will fully savor every single lick, cleanliness be damned. I’ve never seen anyone eat ice cream with more gusto.
Inspired, I’ve been playing a mental game the last few weeks that goes like this: whatever it is I’m doing, I tell myself that it’s my favorite thing ever and I try my best to believe it. As new thoughts come in, I put them to the side by telling myself that “I will not let these thoughts rob me of the pleasure of my favorite thing.”
Similar to how my son blocks out the world when eating ice-cream, I try to savor every single thing about each activity as much as I can.
“Oh I LOVE opening doors,” I tell myself. “I love every single thing about it. I love everything about doorhandles: the way they feel in my hand, the temperature of the metal, the design of the lock systems. I love everything about doors too: the weight of the door, the way that it sounds when I pull on it, the sound of the click when it locks, the change in temperature on my skin when I move between rooms. Opening doors is my favorite thing ever!”
Now, this isn’t exactly true... I am not actually a door fanatic. But after telling myself for a few weeks that I love everything about opening and closing doors, I am starting to become doors’ #1 fan.
Many years ago, I went to a Zen retreat where the monks asked us to notice when we opened and closed doors to try and use that as a mindfulness event. At the time I tried and failed to do so: opening and closing doors is not that interesting and I told myself other things were more important. I was in a different state of mind back then, but I also think I wasn’t aware of tools that could help me: these forms of internal monologues - these homespun mantras - are techniques that help me transform my perception of the world.
When I start to look at every action through the “my favorite thing ever,” a few things happen:
First, when everything is your favorite things, you need to slow down to really relish these moments. To use the door example, to truly appreciate a door you want to take your time: open the door slowly to really relish the sensation, pause for a beat to feel the temperature and hear the creak, pause for another beat when closing it to admire the beauty of the lock and be grateful. Truly embracing that something is “your favorite thing ever” forces gratitude.
I wrote about a similar mantra in my prior post “This is happiness.” What I like more about this new one, is that I find it a better way to enter slowness. To really appreciate a favorite thing you need to slow down - or at least I find that my mind moves in that direction more naturally with this phrase. “Why would I multi-task while doing my favorite thing ever?” & monotasking follows.
The second thing I notice when I adopt this mantra, is that often other thoughts try to squeeze their way in: “Oh I love drinking water, it’s my favorite thing ever,” I tell myself, but then, right before the water can hit my lips, in rushes a stray thought… Like an uninvited alley cat, the new thought pokes its way in and starts to distract me. If I’m not careful, this stray will take control and I’ll start looping on the thought over and over so that instead of thinking about the sip of water, my mind will go to the topic of the day: “What about this one thing Elon Musk did today? Isn’t it crazy that X thing happened?” and off to the races my mind goes.
When I was young, we were not allowed to answer the phone during meals. This was the days before cell phones so there was one phone line for the entire house. If someone called, the rule was that nobody was allowed to take the call while eating unless it was an emergency. I can still remember people answering the phone saying, “Sorry, we’re having lunch now, can we call you back later?” Sometimes we just took the phone off its stand so it would have a busy signal until we were done. (It’s funny to remember this was an actual thing that happened!)
In a similar way, when I’m enjoying my favorite thing, I tell my stray thoughts that I can’t talk right now. “Sorry, I don’t have time for this stray thought right now. This thing I’m doing is my favorite thing ever. Why would I let this random thought rob me of this pleasure?! Please come back later.” And if I truly convince myself that this is my favorite thing in the world, I find I’m able to come back to the present moment.
One other trick I’ve been using for recurring stray thoughts is to have mental “boxes” for where they should go: “Oh, this is Elon again. Not now Elon, let me put you back in your box.” And I’ll put the thought in an imaginary box I keep in my head for just this category. I can then peacefully go back to enjoying my favorite things.
EVERY ACTIVITY A TEA CEREMONY
Treating every thing like your favorite thing is similar to the sensation I wanted to regain in my post, Beware Busyness. In that post I quoted Craig Mod reflecting on his key insight from his Vipassana ten-day silent meditation retreat:
I realized there were about a hundred discreet actions we performed each day. A sampling: Opening the screen door, closing the screen door, pulling back the curtain of the dorm room, folding the futon, walking up the stairs to the meditation hall, putting toothpaste on a toothbrush, brushing your incisors, your molars, rinsing your brush, applying soap to your hands, then your face, swirling your hands around your face, pulling toilet paper from the toilet paper roll, taking a plate from a stack of plates, opening the rice maker, sprinkling sesame seeds on your rice.
I decided to master them all. Every action. Everything a tea ceremony. I pulled toilet paper from the toilet paper roll with total deliberation, total focus, complete reverence, love, presence. Pulled and folded and pulled a little more, folded once again, ripped perfectly on a perforation. We couldn’t speak to one another but I realized I could speak to the others with toilet paper: I would fold the end into a little triangle, a perfect equilateral triangle, that poked out from the top of the holder, making it ever so easier for the next person to take hold. They would feel my love — what was turning more and more into a true love, a full bodied love — through the folded toilet paper, I was certain of this.
My steps were light, lighter than ever, I made no noise as I tread across the floor or up the stairs. A perfect articulation of leg and abdominal muscles absorbing all impact, creating no sound. I quickly mastered the screen door — silent and then silenter still. As for picking up a plate, I was the best, totally aware, totally present, an economy of motion, the lightest of touch. No motherfucker could pick up a plate like I could. (The more meditative I became, the more gently profane — Kendrick Lamar inflected — became the running inner monologue.)
🎶 THESE ARE A FEW OF MY FAVORITE THINGS 🎶
In her book, “How to Train a Wild Elephant” Jan Chozen Bays includes dozens of activities that one can do to train the mind: “We call them ‘mindfulness exercises.’ You could also think of them as mindfulness “seeds,” seeds to plant and grow mindfulness in the many nooks and corners of your life, seeds you can watch as they grow and bear fruit each day.”
Revisiting the book through this lens of “my favorite things”, I find so many sources of inspiration for new things to try and focus on: “Notice trees," “See the color blue,” “Bottoms of the feet”…
One activity Bays includes is focusing on your hands. If I stop and truly focus on my hands and treat them as favorite things, it’s really astounding. I find my fingers are actively doing things all day! They move, grab, push and bend without even having to think about the details. When I really stop and stare at them when they are working almost look like magical entities. Really noticing them, they quickly have become a favorite friend after a lifetime of neglect.
Another activity I’ve found great joy in through this lens is walking outdoors. Here is my practice: All along your walk, find something on your path, really look at it and say it’s your favorite thing. “Oh, I just love this tree! This oak tree right here on this corner is just beautiful. Look at the way that the light shines on the leaves. I really love this specific branch. Look how cool it bends!” Enjoy the tree and keep walking… Once you pass the tree you then continue with another thing: “I love this bend in the road. I love the way that you can see this exact house and the way that you can see the tip of this roof.” And repeat over and over. Keep going for as long as you want… It makes each walk so pleasant.1
I find that I can also replicate this experience with driving (mindful driving noticing each bend in the road and calling it my favorite), with breathing (“I love this specific part of my breath”), washing hands (“I love the way the water falls out of this sink”), cooking, cleaning, and on the list goes…
As I type these final words, I treat this too as my favorite thing. I write to remind my future self about this magical feeling that is achievable right now. Whenever I’ve forgotten, I hope these words inspire me to stop and focus.
May your days be filled with your favorite things.
Have a wonderful week. 🙏🏼
This is similar to my post on Word Painting, Pattern Languages and Finding Beauty - stopping to describe particulars can help you find beauty all around you.
Thanks for reading Mystical Silicon! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.