On the 17th of August, 2018, we complete 1462 days, or the 4th anniversary of our gratitude practice together!
I tend to get reflective as milestones pass. Four years of gratitude practice may sound repetitive but each new year brings new experiences and challenges. It is the journey through these experiences that, for me, has deepened my practice.
For me, the first year of practice was all about exploring the experience of daily gratitude practice. Like many who begin the practice, I found there were many days when it was hard to be grateful. Many times, I was grateful for the simple pleasures of a bowl of soup and the comfort of a cool pillow. In year two, I committed to 10,000 days, launched this site and experimented with the frequency of the practice. I invited you to find a frequency of practice for you that would be sustainable because 10,000 days is a lot of years. Just prior to our 2nd year milestone, together, I moved across the world, and I was filled with promise and hope and ready for a new chapter.
Major life changes are not easy and that third year was both the best and the worst of times, for me. I had a lot of hopes, and promises were made to me. When those promises were broken and hopes dashed, it was a traumatic time.
During the third year, someone close to me insinuated that expressing my anger or depression over my circumstances and also publicly writing about my experience of gratitude and related practices was hypocritical. I find that to be complete misunderstanding of what it is to walk a contemplative (or spiritual) path in life. My friend, Swami Divyananda, used to say that those who are on the spiritual paths are imperfect, flawed and challenged people. If we were not, we would be enlightened beings and would not be drawn to a spiritual path. We also don’t need to be enlightened beings to put ourselves out there to light the way down a particular path. We simply need to be somewhere further down the path than someone who is at the beginning.
I try not to dismiss what people say to me, outright. I try it on for size and see if it fits. I didn’t think the judgement fit, but I did wonder if I was revealing enough of the reality of my own day to day struggles, in order to be relatable. While this is the place where we come to share our gratitude and not bitch about life, I felt that it might be helpful to focus more on how gratitude helps overcome the hard times. Year 4 taught me that being simultaneously grateful and angry (or depressed) was the opposite of hypocritical. It was, in fact, fundamental to living gratefully through all of life’s ups and downs – it was the practice of being Authentic.
Authenticity is a kind of trendy term among the millennial market at the moment, like kale chips and virtual dating, but it is a crucial practice that I believe deserves to be made explicit in this work. Unless we can be real, and accept ourselves – warts and all – we are unable to be consistently and meaningfully grateful. We start where we are, and we build on it.
As the clocked ticks over to the 5th year of practice, I feel it is also important to make explicit the practice of being real or Authentic, as well as another practice that has been at the foundation of both being real and my approach to grateful living: Mindfulness.
Mindfulness is another kale-chip-and-virtual-dating on-trendy word these days, and I haven’t started being mindful in recent years. I have worked on being mindful and present for most of my adult life. I believe it is essential in any contemplative practice. Mindfulness allows us to notice all thoughts, emotions and impulses that arise within us, without attachment or secondary emotions that can arise from judgement. This lack of self-judgement, over time, allows us to be present with what is and to bring our authentic selves to every engagement. Without presence, we cannot be grateful, notice moments of joy, see chances to be of service, experience connectedness, and live intentionally, with purpose.
Mindful living is essential for all of our practices, including Oneness. Mindful acceptance of ourselves, without judgement and with an open heart, enables us to have empathy for others. Towards the end of year 4, Empathy became a theme in my posts. With empathy and forgiveness we can transform resentments into opportunities for gratitude.
By being Authentic about my real life circumstances, being Mindful and present in those circumstances and using Empathy to take a wider perspective on these circumstances, I’ve been able to experience and process a lot of grief, anger and resentments and move through them to forgiveness and gratitude. I suspect that without these three practices, I’d be carrying those resentments with me like old friends.
I struggled with gratitude in both year 3 and 4, and when I struggle with a practice, I try to see where it is I might be getting stuck and what it is that I need to have in place before I can be firm in my practice. Year 4 was really an opportunity to explicitly tease out some foundations upon which my gratitude practice rests and as we head into year 5, these three practices will become a part of our toolkit. (Kale chips and virtual dating, optional)
I’m grateful for all those who have continued to follow this journey and have been on their own gratitude journey with me. I’d like to hear from you about any challenges you’ve faced in keeping true to the path of grateful living and what tools have helped you.
Thank you for continuing the journey, together. Onward to the 5th Year!