In ordinary life, we hardly realize that we receive a great deal more than we give, and that it is only with gratitude that life becomes rich.
~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer
I was speaking with a friend yesterday who is going through a very rough, very dark patch in her life. She has lost her home and almost all she owned in the floods, her husband died last year, she is living in a caravan behind her daughter’s house, everything is damp and musty, and earlier this week she was diagnosed with cancer.
Nicole, she said, I know I should lift myself out of this slump and be grateful, but honestly, I can’t think of anything because EVERYTHING is shit in my life right now. And if one more person tells me how strong I am I will go bananas, because I don’t feel strong. Can you write a blog post to help me, because I really truly want to find that energy of gratitude again?
I understand. So often New Age and Spiritual thinking would have you beaming out rainbows and sunshine and quoting positive affirmations when the reality of your life is far from that energy.
So, Valerie, this post is for you.
Start off by owning that this is hard. Acknowledge your feelings, and the enormity of what has happened. It’s big. So big.
Then, with the gratitude, start small.
Let gratitude be an act of mindfulness, to bring your attention to the moment.
Look around you, and in this moment find something that is helpful to you, a comfort, or that is a blessing merely because it exists.
Be grateful for the mug you hold in your hands as you drink your tea. Be grateful for your hands as they hold the mug. Be grateful for the teabag or the tealeaves, the sugar and the milk. Be grateful for the taste of the tea, and how it gives your hands warmth, and something to do. Be grateful for the way each sip soothes and nourishes you.
What simple things do you take for granted that are there for you in your life each day, helping you to go on? Is there a simple pleasure, or a simple thing to relieve some of your hardship, that you can look forward to?
When I lived through an incredibly difficult period in my own life, when my husband was working overseas and I was home alone, ill, with no support and a farm in drought, trying to hold everything together, on one awful day I was grateful for a bucket of water I heated over a fire and slung in a canvas bag off the verandah of our half-built strawbale house. As the water trickled down my body I washed myself with a bar of rose-scented soap that had been a Christmas gift from a friend.
The fragrance of that soap was heavenly, and I found that I could be grateful for soap, grateful for a clean towel, grateful for a chair to sink into and rest for a while. I was grateful for sleep, and grateful for the tenacity of the old trees that struggled on with life although conditions were so hard for them too.
To have air in your lungs, to be able to take a breath, to have clean water for drinking, or to wash your body or clothes, to have the connection of a friendship or family, or the kindness of a stranger, to be able to notice the sunlight or the colour of the leaves, or the call of the birds in the early morning, or the love of a companion animal – all of these things are good.
I have been grateful for music, for memories, for books, for poetry. I’ve also been grateful for helpful people, adult diapers, acupuncture, intravenous Vitamin C, toilet paper, vomit bags and pain relief.
Being grateful doesn’t mean that everything in your life is suddenly better.
Gratitude is simply a practice that helps to draw your attention away from your pain and back to the flow of life for a time. Even on the worst of days there can be a tiny glimmer of goodness, if only we can open our eyes and our hearts to find it and take it in. Those small moments help us to cope, and help us find our way back to ourselves when we are lost and everything seems hopeless.
I’m sending gentle love to you today, and holding you in my prayers and meditations,