October 20, 2010

Revisiting Gratitude

 'Thanks' in Finnish
I am so overwhelmed my the outpouring of condolences, sympathy, and empathy I have received since saying goodbye to Murphy. I feel very fortunate and grateful to have so many friends in both real life and the virtual community who have offered gentle and kind words. It is times like this that we feel gratitude of great magnitude and yet I am left wondering, have I been living a mindful and thankful life. I would like to thank yes, but know I have had some obstacles lately of both the external and internal variety.

When I get bottled up in this way I like to go back and read a post I wrote in June of 2009 titled "An Invitation to Explore a Thankful Life". I am not an expert, I can't say that it is the only way to live. However I do know as gratitude's presence wanes in my life the chaos and frustration rise. Time to regroup, to be still, and just be thankful.

Here is my post from last year:

The other day I was taking my laundry down to the laundry room, and the door was locked. While it should have been open the person in charge of opening the laundry room in my building was running late. I admittedly was frustrated for a moment after hauling the basket with two loads down the stairs and having to go back up and wait. Then I realized I wasn't being thankful. I am fortunate enough to have two full loads of clothing and plenty left in my closet. I am lucky to have washing machines available, electricity and clean water. That's when it hit me...my most treacherous unhappy times in my life have resulted from periods where I wasn't thankful.

I have been thinking a lot about what it means to live a thankful life in the last few weeks and I have realized for me it includes three important elements: Awareness, Economy, and Gratitude.

When I talk about awareness I certainly include the idea of looking outside yourself and being in tune with your fellow humans and the earth but it's more than that. There is a saying that goes "You can't always get what you want, but you get what you need". Whether this sounds familiar because of a Rolling Stones song or something you've heard in a spiritual setting it still holds true.

Sometimes we can get caught up in goals or an idea of a very specific outcome or desire. We lose sight that we may have already been given the gifts and tools we need. In the past year I have changed jobs unexpectedly, moved two times, and had my gallbladder removed. While I won't go into the personal details I can say that I have learned and grown from each of these experiences. At times it all seemed like too much and I thought I had made mistakes. When I stepped away and looked at what I was learning and appreciated the lesson I reached a point of calm, of peace.

No, this isn't about stimulus plans or mortgage rates. It's probably one of the most important things I have learned and it has certainly cost me a lot to learn this lesson. The times in my life that have ended in heartache have come from excess; Spending too much money, drinking too much, talking too much, and going too far physically. Realizing that excess was a trigger for self-pity, depression, and overall unhappiness helped me curtail that behavior. Now I spend less money and enjoy simple pleasures, I listen more and learn more, and I listen to my body. Practicing economy has been a break through in my life. It may not be for everyone but it has been the gateway to happiness for me.

Sure, living a thankful life is naturally going to include practicing gratitude. It's easy to be thankful for what we have, the tangible things, be it family, friends, material things. We touch our possessions, we talk with our loved ones, there is no denying them. However for me the gratitude piece is about being thankful for the intangible and the forgotten.

When riding up a hill (literally on my bike) I sometimes curse my decision to go car free. I may be out of breath and my legs are on fire and the rain drops are starting. Then I remind myself, I have been given an amazing gift, my body. I have the luxury of being able to ride 10+ miles without a second thought. I have a home to shelter me from the rain storm. I live in a country where a woman can travel alone and be relatively safe. Some may consider it a "glass half-full" attitude, and I embrace it. I could focus on the negative but rather I give thanks for what I have.

I know many of my readers are like minded and are thankful for nature and the simple things in life. However I invite you to explore the elements of Awareness, Economy, and Gratitude during the next week. When faced with adversity see if these tools can help you find happiness or at least a peaceful heart to work through your obstacles.