Here begins week two of the A to Z challenge, starting with the letter G, for Gratitude.
Gratitude seems to be one of the few transformational practices that unites people beyond beliefs and words—beyond nation, race, and tribe. It is really this simple: When you have a heart full of gratitude, your behaviour is positive and kind, and when your heart is full of negative emotions, it is because you have lost your gratitude.
~ Max Strom
Several years ago, I began a gratitude practice in a couple of ways. My then-husband and I had both battled depression and witnessed, through family members, the devastating effects it can have. As we explored ways to keep ourselves balanced and to offer our children what we hoped would be preventive measures, we decided to focus on what we were thankful to have in our lives. Each evening at the dinner table, each of us, including our three children (insert rolled eyes of the then teen) said something for which he or she was thankful. I also began a weekly practice of writing thank-you cards for small, lovely things that happened in my life — the extra smile from a cashier, a surprise phone call from a friend. I sent at least one card a week for a year. After that, I let the practice dwindle. The mealtime gratitude lasted until around the time my first child left home. We got busier and busier and it didn’t seem to matter so much.
And then I decided to take a yoga and ethics class. In it, I met Max Strom, first through his book, A Life Worth Breathing, and then in person when he visited the yoga studio and taught there. I picked back up the gratitude habit. I start every morning with a gratitude list. I send the occasional card. I pause during the day when I see or hear or feel something for which I’m grateful and acknowledge it instead of just letting it pass me by.
Its not that I’ve turned into some sort of cloying Polyanna character. Bad shit still happens in my life. People I love leave, die, live at a distance that makes my heart ache. I feel those things fully. I still get up every day, though, and write down just a few things for which to be grateful: raspberry jam and butter on toast, steaming coffee, that fabulous bolster I gave myself for Christmas, the fact that my brother stepped out of a wedding reception to call me back on Saturday because I’d called him twice and left no message and he knew I must really need to talk. You get the idea.
I think we could all use this, but I think it’s particularly important for writers — part of our work is in dealing with the dark side of characters (it isn’t a story, after all, if there isn’t conflict, struggle, the potential for change). We need a bolster when we come up for air. Part of being in this business is rejection after rejection after rejection. We definitely need a bolster for that. Our work is mostly solitary. It can be easy to get mired in the negative. A gratitude practice can help us pay attention to the things that keep us going.
If nothing else, we can be grateful that we are bum-in-seat, pen-in-hand, still able to write, to connect with ourselves, our stories and (hopefully) our readers.