Susan Gladin: Finding reasons for gratitude beyond grumpiness
I’ve been grumpy lately, and have blamed it on the weather.
Until this week, it has been too cold, too gray, too windy and too wet. The weather has also been too unreliable … with promised sunny days that were obliterated by clouds before the coffee was done.
I am not alone in this grousing. I have heard others moan about doused plans, soggy grass and frostbitten plants. I’ve heard exasperated sighs when we pull on wool socks yet again and curses when cold rain rolled in on yet another weekend.
We don’t trust the weather anymore. We expect that summer will come blazing in on the heels of this lingering winter with few glorious spring days to savor. When I caught myself expecting this dire onslaught I knew I was letting the gray clouds color my world. I remembered that I had a choice in the matter.
Caught in the act of negative thinking, I realized I needed to practice some skills. One of those allows me to put a little space in between my thoughts and myself - realizing that thoughts are not reality. For this, I rely on a character called “the inner Observer.”
The Observer sees the loop of negativity running around in my head and prods me to interrupt the broadcast. “Press the stop button. Take a giant step back (for perspective). Where is your gratitude? Use your tools!”
My toolbox came to me primarily from what is known as a “Wisdom Path,” and was conferred by the Servant Leadership School of Greensboro. Each instrument is called a “practice,” and the goal is to wake up, pay attention and live a life that is centered and serving - and joyful.
For this gloomy situation I turn to a page called “The Daily Examen.” Developed in the early 16th Century, it is a practice to help us get perspective on our experiences and develop deep gratitude and compassion.
Oprah Winfrey has promoted the power of thankfulness. Keeping a “gratitude journal” has been touted so much that it almost seems cliché. But it is a simple and powerful tool that should not be overlooked just because it is popular. The “Daily Examen” is one way of doing it.
At the end of a day, I light a candle and sit quietly for a few minutes. I pay attention to my breathing and rest for a few breaths. Then I think back over the day and write what I am grateful for. Then I ask, and write, “What am I not grateful for?” Next I record what was life-giving for me, and why. Then, “What was draining or difficult, and why?” I ask if there is room for appreciation in the difficulties. I sit quietly again in gratitude and end with “Amen,” which means, “it is what it is.”
After doing the “Examen” last night, I woke up this morning and wanted to complain, right away, about a particular ache. But then I noticed that my whole body was alive, and I felt thankful. I had slept well on a comfortable bed and I felt happy when I noticed the roof over our heads. Peter stirred and I remembered that I live with someone who loves me. Wow.
My mind wanted to feel burdened by all that I have to do today, but the Observer helped me reel myself back into the present moment. Water came pouring out of the spigot when I turned it on. Clean water! Millions of people across the globe struggle without this bounty. I whispered “Thank you,” and felt it deeply.
I can’t maintain this all day. I’ll start complaining again any moment. But if I use these tools and practices they will help me come back to this joyful, thankful place. The sky is gray and I can see the wind whipping around out there. It is a wool sock morning, but for now I am happy to have those socks - and shoes. The tomatoes might be frostbitten, but they’re alive and those clouds are the leading edge of warmer weather.
A CHH columnist since 1998, Susan Gladin is a freelance writer, United Methodist minister, and curriculum coordinator at the Johnson Intern Program in Chapel Hill. She tends horses and a home business on the farm she shares with her husband. Their two grown daughters live nearby. You may e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org, or write c/o The Chapel Hill Herald, 2828 Pickett Road, Durham, NC 27705.