Mindfulness, Happiness, and Gratitude, oh my!

Emery Harwell - Ecuador


October 18, 2015

Have you ever been so happy you just wanted to RUN!?  Because that’s how I felt after teaching my first English class on Thursday.

I’ve now been in Pamar Chacrin for one month, and I am still constantly surprised at the small things that make me happy.  In trying to figure out what exactly it is that brings me happiness, I have noticed a theme, and that is mindfulness.  I knew that mindfulness and the practice of staying present would be important tools in combating homesickness and culture shock, but I was not expecting to turn around and use them to find happiness.

The other day I was driving with my dad, Miguel, to the town over to get our TV fixed.  Our conversation revolved around construction.  Miguel is a builder in a large town nearby, and was interested to hear that my real dad works in construction, too.  He asked me questions about my dads work, and appeared surprised but also excited to hear that their work is so similar.  He recounted to me the story of his four year tenure working in construction in New York City.  Despite living in the US for four years, his limited English is all construction related.  I told him that was like my real dad’s Spanish, despite the fact that he works with so many men for whom Spanish is a first language.  He got a laugh out of that.  In this short conversation I was so incredibly grateful for the small connection that Miguel and I had made.  It wasn't until he asked me why I was smiling that I realized I was grinning like an idiot.

On that same drive, as we came through a narrow pass between two high hills, a large rock face become visible on the mountain opposite us, illuminated by the late afternoon light.  The setting sun threw vivid orange and red light off of the bluff, and it appeared that the side of the mountain was engulfed in flame.  Behind us in the other direction, the day’s last light painted a golden band across the horizon, between fading green peaks and a blanket of deep blue clouds.  Again I found myself smiling like a fool, awestruck by raw and natural beauty of my surroundings.

A few days ago I was working with a man named Alfonso, who harvests lumber a couple miles up the river to be used for construction in Pamar Chagrin.  At lunch, while his wife prepared a traditional meal of rice, potatoes, and vegetables, I read on a bench outside their home.  A little boy kept poking his head around the corner, but never for long enough for me to see him well.  Finally, I looked up and he didn’t go anywhere.  It was Alfonso’s grandson Tuto, staring at me with big, brown, curious eyes.  The next thing I knew Tuto was leading me around his grandparents finca (small farm) and directing me to admire each of their neatly tilled fields and modest animal pens.  We played with their puppies and kittens, and whacked lemons of a tree with sticks.  While I had been perfectly content reading, this little tour from a curious five year old with whom I could barely communicate brought that big ol’ smile right back. 

In each of these small yet undoubtedly joyous experiences, the trend was being present.  In being mindful of my interactions and surroundings I allowed no biases, judgements, or extraneous thoughts to cloud my experiencing of that precise moment.  Reflecting on these moments I discovered that gratitude is a supporting factor in finding joy in the little things.  Even if you are present and mindful, a lack of gratitude for your situation will lead to a cynical reflection instead of joyous and appreciative one.  As I continue to grow over the next five months I now know that I will find happiness each and every day, even if it is in the smallest of ways, if I just live in the moment.

And yes, I did run all the way home after English class.

Emery Harwell