It all started with a Post-it note.
“Go for a walk,” it said, a no-nonsense command positioned in a prominent place above Katherine May’s desk.
Ms May, a British author who wrote the best-selling memoir “Wintering” about a fallow and difficult period of her life, came under more difficult times during the height of the pandemic. She was bored, restless, burned out. His usual ritual – walking – was gone, along with other activities that brought him joy: collecting pebbles, swimming in the ocean, enjoying a book.
In a recent interview with the New York Times, Ms. May said, “There was nothing in the world that interested me.” “I felt like my head was full and empty at the same time.”
In Ms. May’s latest book, “Enchantment,” she describes how a simple series of actions, such as writing that note, helped her discover the little things that fill her with wonder and awe. She gave – and in return, made them feel alive again.
“You have to keep chasing it until you get that tingle that tells you you’ve found something that’s magical to you,” Ms May said. “It’s trial and error, isn’t it?”
We asked Ms May for tips on how you can do just that.
Commit to paying attention to the world around you
Ms May wrote in “Enchantment”, “We have to find the humility to be open to what we experience every day and to allow ourselves to learn something.”
This, she acknowledges, is “easier said than done.”
“Let yourself go away from thoughts that tell you it’s silly or pointless or a waste of time, or that you’re probably too busy to do it,” Ms May said during the interview. “Instead give yourself permission to want that first—to crave that contact with the sacred, and that feeling of being able to communicate with something that is bigger than you.”
Entering a state of wonder is like using a muscle, Ms May said. Put yourself in that mindset more often and it slowly becomes easier.
First, you must “give in to the temptation” you feel in everyday moments. For example, Ms. May gets “really excited” when she sees a light dance on the surface of her coffee.
Don’t force it though. The key, she said, is to keep looking for things that surprise you — and have faith that you’ll encounter them.
What you find pleasurable may be quite simple: Ms. May often feels awe when examining a small insect in her garden.
“We told ourselves everything had to be this big,” she said. “Actually, we can only exhale and live a very short life.”
ask yourself one simple question
Instead of thinking about what you find attractive, which can be very difficult to answer, Ms. May suggests asking yourself a different question: What makes you happy?
May be going for a walk. Or visit an art museum. Maybe you enjoy watching the changing clouds.
Whatever it is, find a way to do it. Every morning, Ms. May goes outside and sniffs the air “like a dog,” she said with a laugh. She notes the color of the sky and the way her skin feels against the cool air.
For some people, that soothing moment can be found at a place of worship, or while gazing at the moon.
“The moon is very beautiful, and when you look at the moon you can’t help but see the stars and planets in the night sky,” said Ms May, who regularly observes the moon’s phases. “It’s just a lovely, lovely thing to do. Everyday. And it’s so easy.
contemplate and contemplate your way
If you want to spend more time in personal reflection but you’re worried about doing it the “right” way, set that worry aside.
When Ms. May was learning to meditate, for example, she aimed to do it twice a day for 20 minutes, but not before or after bedtime, and never after a meal. Then she became a mother and finding time to meditate became even more difficult.
“You come to a point in your life when you think, ‘This is absolutely impossible,'” she said. “For a long time I thought, ‘I’ve failed. Obviously I should be able to do this.'”
Eventually, he came to a realization: The problem wasn’t that he didn’t try hard enough, it was that the rules weren’t made for him. They were made by someone who had never walked in his shoes.
Now she meditates in a different way. Sometimes she does it for five minutes in the middle of the night, or while taking a walk in the woods.
“For me, it has never been about clearing my mind,” Ms. May said. “It’s all about the slow work of processing all that itching in the back of your brain.”
do it because it feels good
Ms May said people think it is naïve to seek happiness for the sake of happiness. In other words, we are more likely to value things that are considered practical and efficient.
But you don’t need a set of data or any other compelling reason to do something that brings you joy.
For example, one of Ms. May’s hobbies is swimming in cold water. She doesn’t do this to burn calories. Instead, it’s for “the sheer joy of being in that incredible place,” she said, “how sensual it is, and the amazing happy hormones it releases.”
And though Ms. May initially took beekeeping classes to learn how to make honey at home, that goal became less urgent as she became filled with awe as a student.
“I could still, technically, do it, but I’ve realized now that it’s not what I really wanted,” Ms May wrote in “Enchantment”.
The joy of it—the connection with your teachers and classmates, the sensory delight—surpassed any practical ambition.
She wrote of the experience, “I tend to take it slowly, to let my lessons be absorbed through skin and ears, sometimes to sting.” And she described the surprise she found in the classroom: “When they all sing together they’re so loud, and the smoke, the way the whole box vibrates in your hands, with the smell of honey and propolis, it Quite absolute, it’s the interaction of man and bee.