Life is slippery. And fast. It’s hard to catch and if you ever do it’s impossible to hold for any length of time. The only effective tool for capturing life, at least as far as I can tell is gratitude.
Gratitude is often a step too late. It’s hard to notice the things that we should be expressing gratitude for when we are experiencing them. In general, my default feeling is ‘overwhelmed’. It lives with me moment to moment. It consumes me. I can’t seem to shake it. It blocks out so much that I should be grateful for.
Our family is emerging. It needs constant feeding and tending. We are so consumed by it’s care that we can’t manage to get any distance from it in order to simply appreciate it. We are caught up in the mechanics and logistics of the whole thing. At this point, having managed two full time jobs, two full time toddlers (two full time babies before that) and the day to day tasks that all of that entails we are so negligent of gratitude that it’s hard to find at times. Which is awful. Because gratitude is the key to it all. It provides respite from worry and perspective on life. It’s a feeling you are responsible for inciting. Simply expecting the magnitude of our good fortune (health, family, love, work, companionship, food, warmth, a home, etc..) to bring gratitude to us is a recipe for entitlement, gratitude’s opposite, it’s opponent even. My whining entitlement can obfuscate all that I have to be grateful for.
I’m sitting precariously atop the bell curve and if I don’t find a way to appreciate it I run the risk of missing out on all I can see from here. At this point in my life, unlike anytime before and unlike anytime after I am surrounded by all of the people that will make up the world I’ll have known. The new arrivals and those that preceded me. Every primary player in the story of my life is active in it right now. My children, my siblings and my parents are all here, all full of life and vibrantly available to me.
I’ve experienced gratitude in different ways. There is visceral gratitude, the type you feel in the moment. For me it’s often been while hiking. I don’t have the chance to do it all that much, and it was always a vacation activity and not an integrated part of my life. I’m not a person that meditates, but from what I hear about the peace that comes from that practice it’s similar. Perhaps for me walking in the woods is a form of meditating, focusing on a simple task that requires little thought. Who knows. But the feeling is wonderful. It’s a full appreciation for everything, from the air I breath to the wearying muscles of my body to the beauty of the world I’m submerged in. It’s a feeling of peaceful bliss and I hope to pass the love of it on to my kids once they are able to appreciate it.
The other form gratitude has taken for me is the result of a discipline and can be captured anywhere. At a desk. In the car. Lying in bed in the dark. I don’t practice nearly enough. It’s being put aside for worry and stress and fear. All the things I choose to carry instead of putting in the effort that gratitude as a discipline requires of me. It’s not even a lot of effort, but it can feel like way too much when I’ve tricked myself into thinking I can’t let go of those other things that I am carrying that are weighing me down, becoming heavier for all I pile on top. But I know, if I take the time to appreciate all that I have, and don’t just slide by saying things like, ‘I’m very lucky’ or ‘I really shouldn’t complain, I know I have so much’, but rather actually take five minutes to list the specifics of what I have to be grateful for I can access the peace that gratitude can provide. I can be consumed by gratitude. I can be relieved by the perspective it brings.
It’s a commitment I will never regret but one that’s so hard to stick to. I hope to instill a sense of gratitude as a discipline in my kids. But how will I ever do so if I don’t take the time to practice it myself? If I don’t change it soon they will instead inherit the burden I drag around in the place of peace, perspective and true appreciation for this beautiful life that isn’t permanent but is a gift to be treasured.
It’s a little magical this intentional type of disciplined gratitude. It’s a force field of sorts that can protect you and enrich your experience. Intentionally showing gratitude makes the world around you safer, more vibrant and provides you with both calmness and joy. It’s a practice I can’t afford to take for granted any longer.