I have been working hard at gratitude lately. I know that sounds kind of strange to say. I always imagined that being thankful would come so naturally, given all of the blessings we are surrounded by on a moment to moment basis.
Somehow, it is so much easier to get weighed down by the cumulative impact of daily living…the small hassles, the major Future Worries, the life transitions.
Even as I type, I can feel the running stream of the guy who cut me off in traffic, the start of school around the corner, the patient who is struggling, my kids acting crazy at lunch today, and will I ever write that book, how my left trapezius has been in a spasm for a week and doesn’t want to let go, and how badly I want to travel somewhere, why did I schedule three meetings for next week when I am behind on last week’s paperwork, why is my son all of a sudden getting headaches, I need to schedule their doctor’s appointment, and oh, do I have un-moldy bread for breakfast tomorrow?
The twitter feed in my head is present non stop, and unless I consciously step away from it, I can easily get sucked into the morass of my thoughts. Unfortunately, I don’t follow gratitude on twitter, so I have to look elsewhere for it. Which is why at night, I have been turning faithfully to my journal, my place to work out my thoughts and dreams, my place to digest the events of the day, as now my place to cultivate thankfulness.
I try to write down a list of ten things I feel grateful for every night. And I am ashamed to say that I struggle to come up with ten, despite having a roof over my head, meaningful work, a healthy family, loving friends, money in the bank, and food in the pantry. Despite the fact that I have a journal to write in, and a bed to sit upon while writing, and a life that allows me to dream at all.
But perhaps it is human nature to focus on the negative space, what is missing, what we want more of. For reasons we don’t understand, unless we are intentional, the vacuum of our mind fills with what is wrong, rather than what is right. And suddenly we find ourselves in a place of scarcity, rather than abundance.
Which is why we practice.
I start with the simple things. I am glad I was gifted another day, with a heart that beats, and lungs that breathe, without my even trying. Slowly, my focus starts to shift, my lens widens, and I start to see. I am grateful I was able to color with my daughter, and play ping pong with my son. I am thankful for the quick check in phone calls with my friends, and the little dog curled up at my feet. I really enjoyed my coffee this morning, and the few minutes of reading, and my run out in the neighborhood. The hug from my patient who is finally feeling better.
As I write my list, I can feel the tightness in my chest ease just a bit, and my breath begin to flow in and out again. The list doesn’t erase the things that I still worry about, or miss in my life. No, they are still there, and I suppose they might always be, in different shapes and forms. But for a moment, they pale in the light of all that is good, and I am reminded, that there is almost always, something good.
A funny byproduct of making a gratitude list at night, is that I am more mindful during the day. I notice the little things, and jot down a mental note for later. There is the moment, reminding me…pay attention, and notice, before I slip away. After all, it is all those tiny, glorious moments, that build a life.
Unless I am grateful for them, they might as well have not have happened at all.
So today, and in the week ahead, I invite you to join me in cultivating gratitude in your life. It doesn’t have to be a list in a journal. It can be whatever works for you. Little pieces of paper tossed into a jar, or expressing your appreciation out loud when the opportunity presents. I would love to hear what you discover.
With gratitude indeed, Monisha