totally grateful for my Ben, Canon Rebel XTI
I know this is a sacrilege to mention on Thanksgiving Day, scandalous to say out loud on any day really, but I have a confession: I’m having an allergy to the word gratitude.
Maybe it’s just been overused, maybe there are too many books abut it, maybe I am just being finicky, but the word is losing its meaning for me. Even more, lately when I hear the word gratitude I feel anxious, then ungrateful, then maybe even a little ashamed. The voices in my head get really loud. My gratitude gremlin picks up a megaphone: YOU ARE NOT GRATEFUL ENOUGH! WHAT HAPPPENED TO THAT GRATITUDE JOURNAL? IF YOU WERE MORE GRATEFUL, YOU WOULD BE HAPPY.
Do you remember the bewilderment of eating dinner when you were a kid and having a parent say, “Eat the rest of your food! There are children starving in Africa!” I remember feeling shame at these moments, then guilt and confusion about how I could mail the food to a faraway land. Being grateful can be yet another way we beat ourselves up, another tool for self-loathing, or a way to explain the upsets in our lives. I wasn’t grateful enough…
How do we find our way into gratitude when this word is often loaded with a lot of old and even new (age) baggage?
When going through (in)fertility I had folks say to me, “You should just be grateful you have a husband who loves you.” How can you argue with this? It is true… and I was grateful for that. I also longed for a baby. To let that longing feel wrong, or to feel unworthy of anything more, was a confusing part of the grief of that journey. Today, when I feel exhausted, frustrated or less than supermom, I feel guilty all over again. After wanting Ben for so many years, I feel extra self-conscious when I don’t regularly gush about how grateful I am (even to myself).
Is there a better way into gratitude? One with a little less guilt involved? Am I the only one with a gratitude gremlin?
I had a realization the other day during a coaching session. I began the call by saying that I had been feeling chronically out of touch with myself, ungrounded, not present. I said that I had this sense that I wanted to feel more gratitude, be more in the moment, not such a doing machine.
We began by just sinking into my body. What did it feel like to stop? to feel the weight of my body on the ground? I noticed that I had a hard time letting go of all of the things I had to do. My list of unfinished things was endless and creating a lot of anxiety. I couldn’t help but think I was wasting time lying there.
After a few more minutes though I sunk in and felt how good it felt to stop. Like that saying about the water settling and becoming clear, I began to see how my mind became more clear when I stopped moving. I noticed how much energy I spend doing things that aren’t really important. I saw how my energy was all over the map, how if I moved more slowly, with more intention, I could be more efficient abut where to put my energy and not exhaust myself. I could put my energy into things that really matter to me.
After our session, I knew I needed to walk, with one simple task: to see, to notice, and to appreciate. I had a blissful stroll in the autumn oranges, yellows and greens (that I posted about last week) and I realized that this is how I do it. This is how I practice gratitude. It is in the seeing for me, the noticing, the appreciating. It’s where my camera becomes a very handy tool, because when I am carrying it, I am also carrying the question: What is beautiful about this moment? What is interesting? What is there to notice? What is there to appreciate?
At the end of that walk, I felt full. I felt thankful. I would have even been able to tell you what I felt grateful for (guilt free). But I had to get there first, to that place of noticing to count my blessings.
This Thanksgiving, I have an assignment for you. Take a minute and stop. Maybe it’s when you are in the bathroom powdering your nose at your in-laws. Maybe you take a brisk walk around the block. Then trade in the word gratitude for appreciation and notice what there is to appreciate. If you were to take a picture, what would you snap? Is it a perfectly cooked turkey? Did someone choose just the right flowers for the centerpiece? What is there to appreciate about your family? Is it the lovely way your mom’s hair curls over her ear? Is it the sweet voice your brother uses with his nephew? Is it the crackle of the fire or the smell of wood smoke?
One of my all time favorite quotes is by Robert Henri from the book The Art Spirit. He says, “It’s not about making art, it’s about living a life that makes art inevitable.” I believe the same can go for being thankful. It’s about stopping every once in a while, being present, and living in a space of appreciation. This might be the closest thing to living a life that makes gratitude inevitable.