Despite years of knowing that gratitude contributes to life, and suggesting to people in my workshops to start a gratitude practice in their lives, it is only in the last couple of months that I was finally able to start my own practice. In the past, using gratitude as a PRACTICE instead of just when it arose spontaneously (which I am blessed to have happen often) just wasn’t working for me. But the times were hard enough in my life, and the draw strong enough that I started.
So, for a couple of months now, during a period that included some of the most challenging times in many years, I end each day lying in bed, breathing fully and slowly, and reviewing my day, looking for everything that could possibly be a source of gratitude. Not as a check list, but really pausing with each one, putting my attention again and again on the mystery, wonder, magic, and awe that is the experience of whatever happened, whoever contributed to it. My primary focus is on the people who contribute to my life. It could be something really small, or it could be something extensive. Regardless, I focus my attention and my heart on really taking in that there was no reason for this person to do what they did, they didn’t really have to do it, they only did it because they are human and we humans do things for each other. Sometimes without even intending to. On a few occasions my focus has been on people I don’t even know, who produced something I was consuming on that day. Slowly, I attempt to open my heart to this person, as if I am trying to BE that person and feel what it’s like to have done what they did that contributed to my life. I find enormous beauty in doing this. I go to sleep more peaceful. I also have an inkling that this practice may have been part of what shifted the inner experience I have into more softness, less anguish, despite the fact that so many challenges remain in my life.
What have I learned from doing this?
Two surprising things. One is that, exactly like Marshall Rosenberg, creator of Nonviolent Communication has said, gratitude is a kind of fuel. Especially on days when I have felt depleted, lacking resources, or particularly stressed, I found the practice to nourish me, give me some energy, release some of the stress. Then I started wondering what other aspects of life act in this way, as fuel? So far I have come up with a few: beauty, love, vision, and inspiration. One morning, in talking with a friend, I also realized that I had used vision as my primary fuel for far too long, and that I was worn out. So I am especially happy to have found other forms of fuel.
The other thing I learned is even more surprising to me. I learned that on the days that were the hardest I usually had more things that I could be grateful for, more people that contributed to my life on those days. Why would that be, I wondered. Here’s my hypothesis: when we are doing well, we require less support, and we can more easily hold on to the illusion of self-sufficiency. When we are faced with challenges, we become more aware of how much of our life depends on the grace and generosity of others. I find immense comfort and richness in this realization.