Susan L. Smalley Ph.D.

Look Around and Look Within

When the Small become Large

Moments are savored for their profound creativity

Posted Oct 10, 2011

I watched ‘48 Hours' investigate Amanda Knox's arrest, imprisonment, and release with a tiny sense of the horror she and her family have endured over the last four years. Her facial emotions revealed disbelief, curiosity, shock, fear, desperation, determination, and ultimately relief as she endured the murder trial, guilty verdict, appeal and freedom. I felt empathy arise as I watched it all retold in less than an hour of television suspense. Empathy - the ability to feel the feelings of others.

As I put myself in her shoes and then her mother's and then back again, I felt the anguish and elation Amanda and her mother felt, albeit to a lesser degree. The human capacity to experience the pain of another is always slightly ‘less than' if the experience were one's own.

Now Amanda is likely flooded with emotions of joy, joy at the simplest things in life, the things we take for granted when they are not out of our reach.

I read that she wanted to lie down in a field of grass. The beauty of nature is something we forget when we are in our rush to get things done or in the habitual wanderings of our minds or if we are prevented from touching it.

When we are free to experience, released from our external rushing and internal habits of mind, or in Amanda's case, prison......the small become large. The simplest experiences become extraordinary. Like,

A soft blanket
The silence of morning with a family waking up
The smell of shampoo
A warm bath
A hot cup of coffee
A mother's hug
A father's laugh
A brother's smile
A sister's hand
A child's kiss
The freedom to call a friend
The privacy of a shower
The deliciousness of a crisp apple
The luxury of ice water
The joy of a grocery store aisle
The pleasure of an ipod
The excitement of driving a car

Every experience takes on monumental importance; we are in awe at the grandeur.
The small become large. Time changes. Moments are savored for their profound creativity, their newness, their originality; thoughts of the future pale in comparison as the present looms large.

So many voices remind us to value the present, remind us not to take the small miracles of a moment for granted; but most of us forget all the time until our lives are radically altered and the ‘normal' is taken away, through illness, disaster, accident, or in Amanda's case, prison. We are then jolted back to the beauty of the present.

It's why mindfulness meditation and other mind-body practices have become so popular lately. They are tools to remember to attend to the present, to see the extraordinary in the ordinary. They help train our minds to notice our experiences all the time, not just when they are altered or restricted.

In living fully present, in noticing the small as the large, in seeing the extraordinary in the ordinary, is freedom.

For more information on mindfulness meditation, go to

About the Author

Susan L. Smalley, Ph.D., is a professor and behavior geneticist at the UCLA Semel Institute and the Founding Director of the Mindful Awareness Research Center (MARC).

More Posts