Another Smaller & Deeper Practice
I don’t know the exact moment, but my 14-year-old son outgrew me this month. One day I was just this much taller than him, and the next day he was just this much taller than me. It happened so slowly and much too quickly, all at the same time. Growth, of all kinds, from kids to carrots, is incremental, a slow and steady increase. Suddenly one day, all those small increments add up!
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Someone on a podcast I listened to in the past few months said, “appreciate incremental.”1 It was a phrase that sparkled for me. I started thinking that maybe Appreciating incremental is a smaller and deeper practice.
Appreciate is a verb that asks us to engage actively in “recognizing the full worth” of whatever the subject might be. In this case, it is noticing the incremental, step-by-step, slow, and steady increase of the garden, the growing teen, summer’s abundance, and friendship. Appreciate is also understanding and recognizing the full implications of what we set our eyes to. When I appreciate something, I pause to notice and become aware of and savor a moment, a person, a bird, or an idea.
Appreciation invites me deeper. When I pause for a moment to appreciate, I unfold another layer of understanding and meaning. I practice the art of appreciation when my focus is narrow (smaller!). When I look for the essence, for the joy, it’s often found in the small contours of time and place.
Appreciate incremental is a reminder to savor, acknowledge, and be sensitive to the small, unfolding, gently revealed growth happening around me daily. When I pause to notice incremental growth, incremental forward movement, it can feel like a subversive practice. I’m not waiting for the final reveal, the big, sparkling end product. Instead, appreciating incremental tunes my eyes, ears, and heart to growth, process, and journey. It’s not only a smaller and deeper practice but an energizing one. When I pause to note expansion and growth, that often is not obvious until I pause, the result is renewed energy!
Last week I had my second to last Spiritual Director training. We were introduced to a practice that was new to me. We brought our journals and notes from the winter and early spring when we did the 18th annotation of the Ignatian Exercises.2 Our assignment was to spend some time harvesting our journals. The practice of harvesting is appreciating incremental growth, noting expanding ideas, and spotting patterns. When I finished the exercises in early April, I set my journal aside and moved on with my life. Returning to that journal a few months later was such an interesting experience. I saw collects and haiku I had written with fresh eyes; I was reminded of ah-ha moments that had been forgotten. I was reminded of lessons and could see how I have grown due to that experience.
Appreciate incremental is an invitation to notice small forward movements. It’s a reminder that deeper insights and awareness are ours when we pause to harvest and gather what is right here, right now.
Appreciate incremental is a reminder that growth, awareness, and depth unfold slowly.
Appreciate incremental is a practice of harvesting moments, lessons, joy, conversations, and insights that are ours when we look smaller and deeper.
Appreciate Incremental Blessing
May you appreciate the incremental growth, joy, delight, and progress in your life today and every day. May your eyes and heart be open to fully recognize the implications of the smaller and deeper forward movements and unfoldings of insight, joy, and growth that happen in your own unique, living, breathing days. May the joy of small growth astound you and energize you this week and every week.
Take 20 minutes this week to “harvest” your journal; if you don’t have a journal, harvest your notes (even grocery lists!), underlines in a book, photos on your phone, text messages, or even your internet search history!
What themes do you notice?
What line, photo, message, etc., stand out to you?
Why was that (see above) important?
What incremental growth, lessons, and development do you notice?
How can you harvest this learning and use it in your life?
The Forest of Vanishing Stars by Kristin Harmel
Last summer, I read The Book of Lost Names by Kristin Harmel, so when I saw a new book by her, it was an easy decision. It’s based on historical events, but the characters are fictional. In the forest of Poland, Jews escaped firing squads and concentration camps by hiding in the woods. Several groups lived off the land for years deep in the forests. (According to the author notes, one notable group was 1200 people!) This was a fictional account of one of those groups, based on interviews and research from people who hid in the forest. I recommend both books by Kristin Harmel; they are well written and researched.
“In the times of greatest darkness, the light always shines through, because there are people who stand up to do brave, decent things.”
― Kristin Harmel, The Forest of Vanishing Stars
Think Little: Essays by Wendell Berry
I read this short book of essays on a road this weekend. It was quick but powerful. When I finished the last page, I closed the book, closed my eyes, and let it all soak in. The essays were written in 1970, but are as relevant today, perhaps more so than when he penned them fifty years ago. One essay was reflections on path building vs. road building. He reflected on how the original inhabitants of this land made paths that honored nature, followed the contours of the land, and wove around trees and over hills. He contrasted that with a road-building culture that builds roads through mountains, removes trees, and paves over grass. I think it’s probably one of Wendell Berry’s more famous essays, and I know why. It was so profound in observation, especially reading while the passenger in a car on a road built through mountains and hills. I have a poetry book and another book of essays by Wendell Berry, and I’ll be reading more.
“For most of the history of this country our motto, implied or spoken, has been Think Big. A better motto, and an essential one now, is Think Little.”
-Wendell Berry, Think Little
I’m harvesting phrases from Think Little by Wendell Berry to reflect on. Read each passage slowly. Is there a word or phrase that stands out to you? What is it inviting you to consider?
“We need better government, no doubt about it. But we also need better minds, better friendships, better marriages, better communities. We need people and households that do not have to wait about for organizations but can make necessary changes in themselves, on their own.”
“But the citizen who is willing to Think Little, and, accepting the discipline of that, to go ahead on his own, is already solving the problem.”
“To walk in the woods, mindful only of the physical extent of it, is to go perhaps as owner or as knower, confident of one’s own history and of one’s own importance. But to go there, mindful as well of its temporal extent, of the age of it, and of all that lead up to the present life of it, and of all that may follow it, is to feel oneself a flea in the pelt of a great living thing, the discrepancy between its life and one’ own so great that it can not be imagined. One has come into the presence of mystery. After all the trouble one has taken to be a modern man, one has come back under the spell of primitive awe, wordless and humble.”
Take today for what it is, I counsel myself. Let it be enough.
-Wendell Berry, Think Little
I jotted it down on my phone without taking the time to note who said it. So while this isn’t my phrase, I’m unsure who to give credit to.
The 18th Annotation of the Ignatian Exercise is a 10-week, shorter version of a Spiritual Formation process developed by Ignatian of Loyola. It includes a prescribed set of scripture readings around topics with exercises for reflections and engagement with the text.