I wake up and before I even open my eyes, I am bombarded with thoughts about all that I haven’t done, all that I won’t get done today, why this isn’t good and why that will never get better. I feel like I’ve been knocked out before I’ve even had a chance to get up.
Well..good morning sunshine! Can’t wait to start my day!
Actually, I know this early phenomenon is commonplace for us all. The reality is that most of us awake to that five-alarm fire. It shouldn’t surprise us. It’s just how our mind works. But I’ve found out a way to soften the early morning blow to the head. It takes time and patience, but it’s a great antidote. It’s called in-the-moment-gratitude.
For those of you who are not used to this practice, it may strike you that I’m a lunatic. Right Judy, you retort at me, in the middle of my to-do-list panic, you’re asking me to stop and be “grateful” for all the goodness in my life? What spiritual woo-woo practice are you touting? What good will it do for me? Sounds like baloney.
And so I thought too, years and years ago when I first heard about this on Oprah. But then over the years, as I’ve come to meditate regularly and have gone through my own ups and downs, I’ve learned that moments of being grateful has helped my everyday be more pleasant to live. This everyday practice of in-the-moment-gratitude has spilled over to many parts of my day, including my mornings, where I can actually stop the torrential thoughts and experience the positive. It may only last for a minute, but it’s a minute more of positivity in my life. And these minutes add up to chunks of my day.
Take this morning for example. I woke up with my five-alarm fire and my mind was urging me to panic more. I started down that path and realized I was thinking panic. Wait I wasn’t actually in a five-alarm fire. And so, my panic was a choice. In that moment, I chose instead to experience my little son lying next to me, who had come into our bed at 4am. I listened to his breath. I felt his warmth. And in that moment, I felt my deep thanks for his health and his existence in my life. I stayed with that experience of gratitude for awhile. And you know what? My mind’s torrent stopped. It was just a moment. But for that moment, I experienced love and joy rather than fear. In the course of a day, we have so many moments of choice, like that morning moment I experienced. Wouldn’t that be a choice preferred by us all? No need for a big aha moment or grand celebration. Just simple joys.
We have so much to be grateful for. This weekend we volunteered with Boston Cares to make beds and “dream kits” for homeless children. My 10-year old son has heard of homeless people, but when he realized we were making these items for kids who don’t have their own beds or even a stuffed animal to hug at night, it hit him for the first time what homelessness really means. It allowed him to appreciate all the little things in his life that he assumed was a birthright. Maybe when he went to bed that night and slept in his bed with his stuffed animal, he had a bigger smile on his face and his own sense of gratitude for all that he has.
Similarly, as we were driving to this volunteer event, my husband stopped our car to let a mom and her 2 kids cross the street. They walked across without any recognition that we had stopped for them. My daughter said, “couldn’t the mom just have smiled at us?” This is from my daughter, who smiles at everyone she sees. She not only smiles when someone stops for her, she always says “thank you” accompanied by a vigorous wave when she crosses. She’s done that since she was a toddler. When I watch her in these moments, I can see her joy and appreciation and similarly, I see that joy transmitted to the driver that’s stopped for her.
Finally, I was teaching at a corporate workshop just the other week, about managing annual performance reviews. I discussed how one should navigate the process, how to get ready, how to appreciate one’s own work and thus dare to promote one’s best. Along with this, I recommended that each person express gratitude to his/her boss, noting thanks for the times when (s)he was supportive during this past year. I was clear that the intent is not to be purposefully flattering, but to be sincerely grateful. No boss is perfect, but every person has a silver lining. I asked them to find moments to focus on the positives of the person with whom they spend the most of their waking hours. I believe such a focus can only bring on more positivity.
Like all habits, the habit of gratitude takes discipline, practice and patience. It has taken me years to develop into a person who can appreciate the small things in life that gives me joy. My husband will be the first to assure you that my five-alarm fires are still alive and well in my life. For sure they are still there. But with practice, I’ve counterbalanced that natural tendency to worry with a newly developed tendency to appreciate. And as a result, I truly believe I live a happier life, a more effective life and hopefully, a life that extends more positivity to the people with whom I interact in the world.
Gratitude. It’s a worthwhile pursuit. Who wouldn’t want a practice that ensures us that if we take a moment to choose, we can always experience the warmth of the shining sun?