I share my home with my sister and my 93-year-old grandmother, who I call Nani. Every day, just after she wakes up and before she puts her feet on the floor, Nani touches the ground with her fingers and then puts her fingers to her forehead. Later in the day, once she is done with her daily prayer, she walks outside of the house to a spot where she can see the sun, offers it water, and folds her hands deferentially.
Nearly everything she does during the course of a normal day is steeped in reverence and mindfulness. Over the past decade or so, the concepts of gratitude and mindfulness have become popular with millennials like me — and yet here is my grandmother, a living, breathing example of practicing them in her personal way for more than 80 years (without ever making a big deal of it).
Nani is nearly six decades older than me, so naturally, there is a huge difference between her lifestyle and mine. Until recently, I’d been oblivious to my Nani’s inspiring daily practices; it’s only due to the lockdowns in the past two years that I’ve been able to observe her closely.
I’ve noticed that she doesn’t prize multitasking and instead believes in focusing on one task at a time and doing it as well as she can. She also constantly expresses thankfulness. Nani says thanks before she puts the first morsel of a meal into her mouth. And in the evening, just as the sun sets and the first lamp is switched on, she folds her hands again in gratitude for having access to a source of light and warmth.
She’s a deeply religious person and a lot of what she does stems from her beliefs. She considers Earth a goddess and the sun a god. In many cultures in South Asia, you are taught to never put your feet on something that you worship — so her morning ritual, for example, is an act of saying thank you to Mother Earth. There are similar religious connotations to her other acts as well, but stripped of their piety, I believe each of them is a simple act of mindfulness. They are call-backs to the present moment, a reminder to to quiet the mind and observe the natural transitions throughout the day: night to morning, daylight to darkness, or even the transition of food in front of you becoming nourishment for your body. Her actions, linked to these natural transitions in the day, also give her a moment to be grateful for them.
When I first asked her where she learned these habits, she said she has been doing them for as far back as she can remember. Perhaps she picked it up by observing her elders, something that I’m trying to do now as well. The major lesson I’ve taken from observing my grandmother is that we can incorporate mindfulness and gratitude into our lives simply by weaving them into our preexisting daily routines. Mindfulness cannot be enforced; it comes from seamlessly making it a part of your life. It comes from consistency, and if you’re lucky like me, it comes from observing a loved one living their life with intention.