A return to gratitude.
Today I felt the need to focus more on the positive. Throughout this process, I have been quite transparent about my feelings. So often, I have struggled and felt disempowered. That has not completely gone away – how could it? I am still quarantining (for the most part) and I still feel some anxiety about dealing with other people in more physical ways.
I have maintained this daily practice of posting this series now for 105 days, but I do have another daily practice – one that has gone on much longer. Beginning on January 1, 2012 I vowed to wake up every day and list five things for which felt gratitude that day. I began the practice after following a friend on Facebook for over a year prior to that doing a similar thing.
I decided to then post on my Facebook page every day. I did not choose to make my gratitude list public in order to garner attention nor to make anyone else feel anything specific. Rather, I chose to make it public to keep myself accountable. It’s one thing for me to write in a journal, or to speak words aloud to myself when I’m alone. It’s entirely different to put words out there in the world for others to see.
There are days when I do find myself thinking, “I wonder how others will interpret this?” But I find that I rarely edit myself with my daily gratitude posts. I have kept up the practice every day (except for the days when I have been in silent Vipassana meditation retreats) for over seven years now.
So what’s the point?
All humans have an innate negativity bias. From our ancient ancestors, we inherited a highly-developed “fight or flight” tendency. Back in those prehistoric times, being aware of what could go wrong was a matter of life and death. Pondering the worst case scenario was necessary in order to prepare and survive.
Today, we still have that tendency but it’s no longer – really – a matter of life and death. I can tell you that my personal negativity bias is powerful, pervasive, and sometimes quite overwhelming. I have nearly always defaulted to fear, ever since early childhood. I won’t bore the world with my woeful tales of being bullied and treated like I have no right to be alive. That’s a conversation for my therapist. What I will say, is that I have decades of layered experiences that have strengthened and elevated my bias towards pessimism.
That’s where the gratitude first came in for me.
I like to think of it this way. Yes – another extended simile is coming up. My thoughts are like a dirt path going through a forest. There is a well-worn path that has decades of use, so the ruts in the road are deep. As I drive through that forest, the easiest and most comfortable path is the well-worn path with the deep ruts. That’s my negativity bias.
In order to repattern that – to find a new path – I have to consciously and actively begin to drive in a different direction. At first, this new path felt uncomfortable and foreign. I had to forge my way through all sorts of obstacles. Over time, however, this new path began to smooth out and the ruts began to cut deeper. Now, after all these years of daily gratitude, my natural default is no longer the old negative road. Now, it tends – most of the time – to be this newer more grateful path.
Through repetition I began to forge a new path, then over time I consciously began to choose thoughts that kept me on that path. Sure, I fall back into the old ways – frequently. But now I recognize it and can correct my course.
All of this is a long-winded way of saying that today, I think it’s important for me to be honest when things are not great, but to also be honest when I’m feeling fine. And in both cases, it’s vital that I stop and remember all of the things for which I am grateful.
The list could go on for pages, honestly. Sometimes, when I am feeling particularly low, I challenge myself to start saying out loud all of the things that I can see in my current environment that make me feel grateful. It’s a huge wake-up call. The list goes on and on and on. I am reminded all the time that my life is incredibly blessed.
Sure – I have bad days. Who doesn’t? But overall, my life is good. This pandemic will pass, life will go on in a new direction, social justice issues will continue to move forward in positive directions, the arts will survive and thrive, and I will be just fine.
Just the ability to sit and type these words makes me feel gratitude.
It’s only Quarantine if it comes from the Quarante province of France. Otherwise, it’s just Sparkling Isolation.