What are you grateful for today? What, recently, has caused you to stop in wonder and awe? What simple little thing has brought a smile to your face in the midst of a busy day?
For me, right now, it's lilacs, the way that they make the air heavy with perfume, even more so when it rains, the way they litter the sides of highways and freeways with bursts of purple flowers. It's hiking with friends in the green woods alongside the winding river, laughing and eating banana bread and stopping for ice cream on the way home. It's reading books that are set in the hilly countryside of Yorkshire so that I can be transported across the ocean over my lunch break. It's time spent with friends who really stop and listen to what's happening in your life, what's going through your head and what can they do to help, to support you? It's Tuesday night at the farm, eating pizza and watching the cow's amble by. It's my favorite garden starting to bloom again.
This spring, I'm learning what it is to practice gratitude—to actively make note of the things that make me catch my breath and pause, that make me feel more alive. I'm working on grounding myself in the present moment, instead of running off down the path of what-if's and when's and how's. And what better way to acknowledge the present moment than to find something you're grateful for right this very minute? It doesn't make life easier, make the path before you clearer, but it does make life a little more joy-filled.
Do you know the concept of "thin places"? It has Celtic origins, and it's the idea that in certain places, the barrier between heaven—the divine—and earth becomes thinner, where the distance collapses and we almost tangibly experience the presence of the holy.
I'm of the belief that those thin places aren't just found in certain locations around the world, but in moments, fleeting moments. And I think gratitude is how we find them.
When thankfulness becomes our default, we start stumbling on those thin places where that barrier breaks down and we start encountering the divine at a closer range, and more often.
Gratitude then becomes not just a fleeting thought of "Oh, how nice. Moving on." but a song of praise for what's in front of you, a gift of grace from the Divine, moments that are too full for anything else. Even if for just a moment, filling up on gratitude means there's no room for fear and worry, no room for sadness, no room for dread. Gratitude breeds joy and contentment in the present moment.
But it does take practice. We can't just decide that we're going to be grateful people and there, it's done, we're always joyful and filled with praise. We must train our brains to slow down and take notice of beauty, to pause and give thanks. I think that choosing to practice gratitude starts a lot like someone doing yoga for the first time. The first go at it, you may only be able to hold a pose for 10 seconds before you collapse. (If you could even get into the pose in the first place. Hi, I'm Amy and I suck at yoga.) But maybe next time you can hold it for 15 or 20 seconds. As your strength and flexibility grows, so does your ability to practice for longer, to do the real pose and not the cheater version, to hold them without your limbs shaking. (And hey, both gratitude and yoga require you to slow down, concentrate on your breathing, and ground yourself in the present moment. Why do you think I chose this analogy, huh?)
I don't think we're very accustomed to slowing down, to taking notice. Our brains are going a million miles a minute and we're busy, busy, busy. And stressed, stressed, stressed. And probably sad, sad, sad. For a long time I believed that I had no control over my emotions—I thought that I just had to ride out the waves of whatever emotions hit me. But as I practice gratitude more, I'm realizing that I do have a choice. I can derail myself over worries about the future, the unknown, work and relationships, or I can choose a better thought, choose a better emotion. I can surrender myself to anxiety, or I can choose peace. I can let anger and frustration wash over me, or I can turn around and choose grace. I can choose fear over what I don't know, or gratitude for what I do have. Most of the time it ends up being a minute-by-minute (second-by-second) choosing and re-choosing of these better thoughts and emotions, but eventually you fight your way out of the fire swamps of those negatives and maybe you only have to choose every ten minutes or half hour, and you can just breathe and be at peace in between.
And in those moments we can remember: There will always be darkness and light, joy and pain, but there's beauty in the in-between, grace in the choosing.