photo credit: Pixabay
Not long ago, I had one of those aha moments. It was the end of the day. I was tired. Just enough energy left that I could hear that still, small voice within addressing me, “I have something to say. Please listen.”
So I did. And here’s what that brimid (that’s a neologism, combination of brave and timid) voice said. “You have everything you need for a really good life.” OK, that’s not such a startling revelation. But then, here’s the question my inner voice asked, “So why aren’t you happy?”
In that moment I realized I’d spent one more day (and I’m not getting any younger), working away, doing things, struggling, stressing, uptight, checking off boxes on my to-do list, angry at technology, off balance, out-of-touch with my heart, funky, fretting and frustrated. In short, I’d just spent one more of my dwindling supply of days, without joy.
BIG MISTAKE. NOT GOOD.
I’d have done better to sit with the feeling, but because I’m a problem solver, I focused on the problem. I looked at how I spent my time, what my priorities were, who I hung out with, where, when and why etc. Quickly I realized I was searching in the wrong neighborhood. Easy to assume that the problem is “out there” when it’s pretty obvious it is “in here.” Not what I was doing, but something about the way I was approaching myself and my life was off. I pulled back, got quiet, focused on my breath, and waited. An answer came to me, and really, I can say it changed my life. That was the day, I began a practice in gratitude.
“Gratitude” is not a new word to me, but it’s the first time I’ve taken it seriously. I set up a deliberate ritual, five minutes a day, two in the morning and three in the evening before bed. I wanted to keep it simple, because I wanted to be consistent, and not have time as an excuse for not following through. I hunched that if I really focused on being thankful for what I have, rather than worrying about what I don’t have, it might change everything. After all, what you notice expands. But I had no idea how totally that turned out to be true. The more I opened up and invited in the joys of my life, the more abundant they became. Brushing my teeth became a moment of joy; getting dressed was a chance to experience so many different sensations on my skin; and, oh, what joy to play with my automatic car lock, to hear it click securely locked and unlocked. These are small things, superficial perhaps, but also very real. (I thought about the deeper issues too, but in balance, maybe it was the accumulation of so many little things that made the difference.)
About that ritual. I created a little form that I use every day now. There are 3 items on the list. I do #1 and #2 first thing in the morning, and #3 in the evening before bed.
Item #1 is my “gratitude focus” for the day. I’ve made a list of about 20 words (Acceptance, Awareness, Bliss, Creativity, Curiosity, Empathy, Faith, Flow, Hope, Humor, Joy, Light, Love, Non-judgmental, Open, Patience, Peace, Silence, Stillness, Surrender, Trust), all of which I associate with the practice of Gratitude. Each day I pick one and that becomes my focus for the day. I think about it frequently, and try to apply it to what I’m doing at the moment. For example, my word today was “Peace.” As I drove to a meeting, I thought about how to drive and observe with peace in my heart. I could feel my heart opening, joy pouring in. At a somewhat difficult time in the meeting, I imagined myself filled with peace. I felt calm and able to inject a spirit of understanding and kindness into the discussion.
Item #2 is “one goal” for the day. I restrict it to one, because I have for years created long to-do lists, that leave me exhausted, never finished, and feeling like a failure, day after day. (I restrict my goals to writing, because that is my work, but could be about anything.) For example, my goal today was “Write a blog post.” Almost done.
Item #3 (written at the end of the day) is a list of some of what in my day I felt gratitude for. I usually have 3 or 4 things, can be as many as ten or more, or can be just one. It’s whatever comes to mind. Knowing that I’ll be writing this at night, keeps me more focused on gratitude than I might otherwise be.
There’s nothing magical about this little formula. Other rituals might work just as well. What I know is magic, though, is the repeated, consistent, dedication to the practice, and the power of acknowledging and expressing gratitude for all that you have.
My time is about up, and this is way longer than most of my blogs, so I’ll close by asking if anyone else out there has a gratitude practice. If so, if you’d be willing to share, what is it? And what is it’s impact?
I credit this little gratitude practice that I’ve just described with elevating my daily joy quotient beyond my wildest hopes. My smile is broader and my heart more open. At times, I find myself barely able to contain the feeling of wonder that courses through me. Nothing quite like it since I was about five.
I invite you to try this or something similar. If you use mine, feel free to use the list of words for #1, or make up your own. Having a focus like one of these words really helps. If you try this approach, I’d so welcome any reports back from the field. What worked? What didn’t? What impact did you notice? Were you able to stick with it? Will you join the gratitude club?
One last word. Hallelujah!