Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Gratitude Expanded

I'm coming to learn that I'm really bad with gratitude practices.  It's not that I'm not grateful, I just haven't found the right way to work a proper gratitude practice into my daily routine. 

There are many reasons to work with a gratitude practice.  It helps you focus on all the good and wonderful things in your life:  all the things you are grateful for!  By spending time and energy thinking about these things, you are calling more of them into your life.  The more time you spend thinking about something, the more your subconscious mind understands that these are the things that are important to you, and these are the things it should be helping you work towards.

I can definitely use more of the things I am grateful for in my life, but more importantly for me, the more time I am spending thinking about things I love and want more of in my life, the less time I am spending obsessing about bad things happening.  This is something I really struggle with, if my mind is going to wander, most times it goes to worst case scenario options.  Breaking free from those thought trains can be a huge struggle for me.

A gratitude practice can also help wake you up, and this is also something that would be very helpful for me.  Sometimes, it feels like my days are just running together, that I do the same thing over and over.  It feels monotonous, and tedious and I can get into a place where I just want to crawl back into bed and forget about everything.  Stopping and making myself think about, articulate and list things that are in my life (not just things I wish were in my life...) and why they make me happy or grateful can help lift me out of that feeling that nothing matters.

I also find that thinking about doing things I enjoy is infectious!  If I think about a great author I love, I want to read their books.  If I think about a great show that always moves me, I want to go watch it.  If I think about games that are super fun, I want to go play them.  It gives me a direction, a focus, and a desire to get up and actually go do things (that bring me joy).

Two years ago, I did a gratitude sharing project on Facebook.  Every week, for a year, I posted a topic, something for people to share something they were grateful for.  It was a fantastic experience, and I have many fond memories that grew out of it.  There is something very powerful in sharing our gratitude.

There are a couple of things that seem to stop me from keeping up with a gratitude practice, but the main one is timing.  I haven't found the right time for me to work on gratitude.  I've seen a lot of suggestions for both starting your day and ending it with gratitude.  I have this beautiful journal I set aside for gratitude, so that I could write all the things I was grateful for in it, and read back through it when I needed a lift.  And I had every intention of writing three things in it every night.

Turns out every night just doesn't work for me.  I am, by nature, a night owl, but I am also sometimes just mentally done by the time dinner rolls around.  So most nights, my evenings are spent doing easy, relaxing things.  And even though I know I require eight hours of sleep, I don't really want to go to bed when it's time, so having things I feel I need to do before bed, just makes bedtime feel even earlier!

Mornings aren't really great for me either.  I'm definitely not a morning person, and when I first wake up, I rarely want to do things.  Which is highly ironic, because the earlier I do things, the more productive I am!  If I put things off until after lunch, there is a pretty decent chance they won't get done.  But, trying to be in the right mindset for gratitude when I first wake (or morning pages of any kind), hasn't even been something I've attempted.

I also know a lot of people do their gratitude as part of their prayers or meditations.  This is actually something I haven't tried, and I'm not really sure why not.  I tend to tack a lot of things onto my morning and evening practice (which revolves around meditation), and this might be something I need to seriously look into.  The only downside I see is that I kind of really like having a physical record of my gratitude.

Speaking of which, even though I have the fancy, lovely journal, I also started gratitude pages in my calendar this year, since I'm doing a whole fancy bullet journal inspired thing.  Every month, when I do my monthly divination and add in the monthly calendar page and list my tasks for the month, I also draw up a gratitude page.  They aren't super fancy, just a crayon sketch, something themed for the month or season, with enough spaces to jot down a gratitude for every day of the month.

Flipping back through my book, I was pretty good for the first six months this year.  I know that I missed some days in there, but when I did, I went back in and filled in the blanks by the end of the month.  Then, I just sort of fell completely off the wagon.  Though there aren't any months with no gratitudes written, these final six months tend to have only a couple of entries.

This goes back to not being good at doing things in the evening, which is when I was typically adding my daily gratitude.  I started off checking in with my calendar before bed, ticking off anything I had done but not marked off yet, and adding my gratitude.  But I think because I am not going to actually do anything else when I get to my final check, I have just been avoiding it.  As much as I love seeing the little boxes ticked off, when they aren't, it makes me feel a little guilty (especially if I know I was just messing around all day, not legitimately busy with other things).

I recently read another blog, that gave a little twist on the standard gratitude practice.  (You can read the full post here:  My Morning Ritual)  What I found really neat about this is she takes the struggles and challenges in life and turns them into things to be grateful for!  This is a sentiment I have always loved, and have sort of based my life on.

I am who I am, not because of the many blessings in my life (though of course those have impacted who I am), but because of the obstacles I have overcome.  I measure myself in growth and stubbornness, not in things I'm innately good at.  When I think about the bits of myself that I am most proud of, it is the ones I have worked so very hard to achieve, not the things that have fallen into my lap.

I think it is important to look at both sides of gratitude!  To appreciate and honor the things we have received, the gifts we are born with and the fortune that finds us and surprises us with bounty unexpected.  But I also think it is important to recognize and be thankful for every rock that his tripped us...and forced us to pick ourselves back up.  For the pain that drove us to become stronger.  For the tears we cried, and the times our heart broke, and the way that those experiences made us appreciate each breath we take.  For those we have lost and the memories we retain of them.

It is so very easy to take our lives for granted.  Sometimes, we muddle through, not really even awake to what is going on around us.  We may find ourselves shocked into awareness by some great change, whether it is a boon or a bane.  Finding our gratitude, looking for what we have gained and what we have lost and how that impacts our lives, that is what makes us truly alive. 

I think we can all gain from spending some time working with the concept of gratitude.  We are approaching, what for many Americans, is the season of giving thanks.  And yet, for many, this means may not mean more saying what we are thankful for, right before dinner, one night a year.  We may not even really think about what we are saying, we may speak the words and not really let them move us.  But we should be moved, for our lives are fabulous things, in all their glitter and grime and glory. 

So, in this time of thanks, let us truly uncover what we are grateful for.  Let us learn to see the gratitude in every day, and to express that in ways that build us up when we are low.  Let us bind together, and share what we are grateful for, so that the people who touch our lives know how dearly we hold them to us.  Let us whisper our thanks at night, to the stars and the moon and the divinity both within and without, for all the things that we aren't yet ready to give thanks for out loud.  But let your heart be thankful, let your mind embrace the gratitude, and claim the blessings of your life.

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