I’ve been thinking about gratitude lately. It used to be one of those buzz words that annoyed me. I felt like it was the sort of word that people would throw out there to minimise people’s pain and use as a kind of silver-bullet-cure-all for any ailment from depression to the hot runs. I found it to be the domain of the Pollyanna types that lived in a Technicolor world that seemed so far removed from real life. And maybe it’s because in the church I have had many experiences where the message I received was that I should be grateful for areas of my life where things didn’t seem fair. Which kind of felt like someone leading their dayglo tambourine parade past my wheelchair and telling me to get up and dance – invalidating, and insensitive, and patronising.
But I’m seeing things differently these days. The really beautiful thing I’ve discovered is that gratitude has started creeping up on me. Instead of wielding a stick and trying to force gratitude, it’s been tapping me on the shoulder and delighting me with an infectious smile and a warm hug. I don’t think it’s just a spontaneous lucky break that it’s started happening, but as a result of engaging in practices that have taught my mind and spirit to look for the lovely. For the past several months I have been regularly meditating, practicing mindfulness, and becoming more present in my body. As a result of this I’m seeing joy in the small things I once took for granted.
I was putting the groceries away after a trip to the super a while back, and as I was putting food in the cupboard, I was overwhelmed by such immense gratitude that there was plentiful, healthy and delicious food to feed my wee family. I found myself holding the peanut butter in both hands, close to my chest and with tears in my eyes, whispering, “Thank you peanut butter.” (And it winked at me and whispered back, “You’re welcome Ma’am.”). Then I began thanking each item of food before it got stored away. Me of five years ago would be reaching for the barf bag about now, like, seriously, how cheesy can you get? But it wasn’t cheesy, because it wasn’t rehearsed or forced or staged, it was a genuine expression flowing from heart, and it just felt like the right way to respond at that moment.
The more we allow gratitude to win our attention, the more we will become aware of how much there is in our lives to be grateful for. Our brains are super cool – we have a thing called a Reticulated Activating System (RAS) that acts as a filter for the innumerable amount of data that we receive. The RAS is attuned to whatever we deem important, and it will filter out other data, and present to our attention the things that we have trained it to present. A perfect example of this is how when you buy a White Ford Explorer, it suddenly seems that every second car you see is a White Ford Explorer – your RAS has been taught that this particular car is now important, so it filters out all the other cars on the road, and zooms in on the pertinent vehicle. As we become more grateful, we will train our minds that this is important to us, and it ends up becoming an ever-increasing cycle of goodness that adds colour and music to our lives.
Allowing gratitude to become an active part of my life has genuinely brought me so much joy. Genuine gratitude doesn’t try and keep the lid on my grumpy-groozleness, or ignore the despair I feel when my head starts hurting again, but it contrasts those moments with such rich and fragrant and fresh and life-giving joy. I feel like I’m coming alive.
Love you friends,