The Small Things

As if to prove my point about silence, I was walking quietly in the woods last week when I heard a rustling in the undergrowth - I stopped to listen and to look, expecting to see a bird, which is what I usually find when I peer into bushes to find out who is there.  But this time, underneath a piece of rotten wood, there was a vole, a tiny, shiny-backed, quivering creature trying to keep extremely still to avoid being seen.  It was a wonderful thing to behold and I stood rooted to the spot and hardly breathing so as not to disturb him so that I could watch him for a little longer.  He was so close to me!  It was thrilling.  But then I must have moved, I can't remember now, but I looked away and when I looked back again he had gone, although I was quite sure that he was still watching me.

It's often the tiny things that inspire the greatest wonder in us.  I know a lady who marvels at the cobwebs on her box hedges and won't have anyone trim them, so as not to disturb the beautiful webs, which glisten with dew in the mornings even in the summer.  Personally, I am disproportionately delighted when I glimpse a long-tailed tit in the trees around where I live, beyond the joy of their little pink bodies and long black tails, it's their sweet, chattering calls to each other which please me.  Seeing them lifts my spirits and fills me with gratitude.

Swami Muktananda tells us that if we start to practise wonder at the small things, then with time we find that we are full of awe for all of life; that if we can appreciate the beauty of a spider's web, then in time we will learn how to see the beauty in even the most curmudgeonly and difficult human beings and beyond that, in ourselves.  Gurumayi, his student, writes that our intention should be "toward heightening the general level of our sensitivity to beauty.  In that way, every bit of beauty that you encounter will bring you a little closer to a sustained sense of wonder."

And you don't have to be in the woods to experience beauty.  I used to commute daily into London to work in an office job - it's a grinding journey of late trains, too few seats and grey concrete platforms.  But there are Buddleias growing in the sidings and there is perhaps a warm cup of tea to drink, there is the over-hearing of a mother's conversation with her child, or the smile that passes between one stranger and another as they pass each other on a busy platform.  There is one end of the platform at Paddington tube station where you can stand underground but in the sun and glimpse a square of sky, high overhead.  Beauty is everywhere, as long as we are looking in the right direction and with the correct quality of attention. 

That day in the woods, the day I saw the vole, just after he had moved on and I couldn't see him any more, a man came running past.  As he sped by he grinned and without stopping asked me for directions.  He was a nice man, but as he thundered off down the path, red in the face and panting, enjoying himself no doubt and fulfilling a personal challenge, I thought to myself (and remarked to my dog) that he was certainly not going to see any voles charging through the world like that.  And that's a shame I think.



  1. It's good to take time to "smell the roses". Cloud-watching is great - clouds change before your eyes! V.


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