Gratitude Practice

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Over the past few years, a concept has come to me over and over again from a variety of sources. I usually write it down, something like “do gratitude practice,” and then never do anything with it. Some of the most inspirational people I’ve met, books I’ve read, or blogs I’ve come across all seem to mention it at least once.

I recently got a book out of the library called Simple Abundance by Sarah Ban Breathnach. It’s a day by day guide (beginning on January 1st– I found it on Dec. 31st, felt like fate) to a simple life, a more authentic you, specifically for women. “Ah, this is what I need,” I thought, as I’ve been feeling incredibly overwhelmed by all the changes that come with being the mother of an infant. Simplicity, abundance, authenticity. Great concepts, aren’t they?

First thing I discovered was that I have a lot of trouble reading anything, especially something I like, a day and a page at a time. By January second I had almost read to February. “This is fine,” I thought. “I’ll just read the whole book and then go back and do it a day at a time.” Unrealistic as that is becoming, I did discover something halfway through January that stuck, finally. “Your life will not blossom and flourish without gratitude,” the author says, “If you want to travel this journey with me, the gratitude journal is not an option.”

That was about all I needed, the final call. There must be something to this, right? I went upstairs and hunted down a beautiful journal covered in colorful metallic horses with a magnetic clasp. In the back, a poem:

Mystic horses-all grace and beauty,

these elegant beings…

Strong legs pulsating, pounding

rythms upon the earth

like a drum beating in resonance

with my own ancestral heart.

Is there anything more

sensuously beautiful

than the horse?

…I think not.

-Laurel Burch

In the horse barn

Ana and I in a beautiful horse barn- October 2013

I had never written in it because it was too beautiful- it deserved something really special. It deserved…my gratitude. It has been hidden away for six and a half years now, given to me before I moved halfway across the world. Given to me by a lover in another life. All those who truly know me give me journals as gifts.

Every day since, I write five things, usually before bed or in the morning, unless Ana (or while Ana) is screaming her head off. These days she screams until she’s lying beside me. For sanity’s sake, we keep her in the bed- not out of a desire to follow the attachment parenting manifesto, but because it’s the only way she’ll stay quiet enough for us to get a few hours of sleep, me sandwiched in between her and John, unable to shift on our sagging mattress.

Sure, it doesn’t sound like gratitude when I describe it, but at the end of the day as I beat myself up for giving in once again, I realize how grateful I am- for a healthy, beautiful baby, for her daddy, strong and patient, trying to sleep beside me even while he’s missing the days (that will come again, soon I hope!) where we could sleep entangled in each other’s arms, missing the days when he got most of the attention that Ana gets now. I miss those days, too.

But these days are wonderful in their own ways. I sleep sandwiched in between so much love, two beating hearts, two steady breaths. I sleep in a place that is safe and warm. It doesn’t seem unnatural to sleep next to my baby, and I don’t worry about smothering her like everyone warns me of. She grew INSIDE my body. The first two weeks after she was born it was weird to even put her down, because she is a part of me that has been separated. Don’t get me wrong, I like, enjoy, and need time away from my baby- for sanity’s sake. But even though she takes up most of my time and energy, it’s like she’s always been here.

Though since she’s been here, I’ve been to some dark places in my mind. I’ve gone down with a spiral of negativity more times than I can count. As the one who sets the tone for the family, there have been some pretty bad days, depressed days. But this is not how I want things to be.

The idea is that by doing the gratitude practice, your state of mind will change. If you spend so much time thinking about what you are grateful for, it becomes a habit. You may find an endless list of wonderful things in life to write about, and even on the days that you can’t, there are always the basics: to be alive, to have food and shelter, etc. I imagine you can even be grateful for your sorrow, grateful for your anger. All this is is a shift in perspective.

Boy, am I grateful for a shift in perspective!

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