A Lesson in Gratitude

I have this rule that with writing, I don’t need to stick to my plan. I’d say that fifty percent of the time I sit down to write whatever is on my blog calendar something entirely different comes out. And that’s okay with me. With writing I don’t force it, because the second I let a schedule supersede my heart, my head, and whatever that impulse is that pulls me toward a different topic or idea, this blog project will have become work. The unpleasant kind. 

I turned 31 a couple of days ago. My plan (for the second year in a row) was to write the quintessential 31 Things I’ve Learned in 31 Years post. I’d started a list before I turned thirty to do the same thing, then decided to launch my blog with my Context post – raw and real. Less cliché. More me. A year later I sat down to write out a list of lessons with their appropriate explanations and realized that after the last couple of weeks, there are only two things that I think are important enough to share, and timeless enough to matter another year from today.

_____

Practice gratitude. Even when it’s difficult.

“Pray” for the peace, love, and happiness of all beings. Because good things happen when your heart realizes connection rather than separateness from everything in this universe.

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A couple of weeks ago I had a “bad” week. Without getting into too many details, one of my rabbits Velveteen unexpectedly died, and I found myself in a sad and self-loathing place. Self-blaming for the accident and digging up tragedies from my past that I feel partially responsible for still. For those of you that may not know, I have another rabbit (Velveteen’s sister) Fleece who I became ultra-concerned about. Having never spent a day away from her sister since birth and for the last five years, I wondered if she’d pull through, or become so depressed she’d die too. Fleece spent a few days in a somewhat catatonic state, eating and drinking irregularly, but enough to convince me she would be okay. I kept her close to us for a few days and in doing so decided to put her in a smaller hutch and let her sleep in the gym (spare room) close by after spending the days in our bedroom. One night after putting her to bed I accidentally knocked the pullup bar my husband keeps in the doorway down and in doing so gave myself a bump on the head, a fat lip, and a fairly sizable cut on my face. 

Potential face scars aside, talking to clients all day at my beauty business was painful physically, but because of the fact that Velveteen had just died and I didn’t want to talk about it, it was emotionally exhausting to spend a week not explaining the full truth of what really happened. I felt not good, I looked not good, but to all but one client who I explained the situation to, it was just a silly accident, “no big deal.” Not a mistake made in a hazy self-loathing sadness. It’s my fault that Fleece is alone in the first place and now my face is bleeding. Perfect.

In writing this, it becomes even more painfully clear that I was making everything about me. 

That one client who I’d told the whole story to is a good friend who is real and non-judgmental. She’s been through more than many of us, and still listens with an open heart, offering a contagious laugh when really that’s the only good option that makes any sense amidst the sadness. I told her that when the universe is literally smacking me in the face I really try to step outside myself, look at the big picture, and try to pull the lesson out of the resistance. She understood, but we couldn’t figure out what the lesson was.

A week, and 1,000 applications of neosporin and anti-scar cream later, my face is looking and feeling much better. Fleece seems to be maintaining a low-key energy but appears to be recovering from the loss slowly. It was my birthday weekend, and because of the holiday (yes, I was born on actual Labor Day, 1988) my husband had several days off that coincided with mine. Having more than a day together rarely happens. And we went to yoga, and brunch, and the movies. We hung out with the dogs, took them to the park, cooked together and just enjoyed our quality time. It was probably the best birthday weekend I’ve ever had. Just slowing down and enjoying each others company. And then Kanan went back to work and I got to spend one whole day to myself – I worked out, read my Rolling Stone and Esquire magazines cover to cover, and then watched Sex and the City for the rest of the day. Something I have likely not done in years.

At the end of our Sunday morning yoga class we spent about five minutes in our final resting pose, encouraged to meditate, breathe, and relax. As I was mentally repeating what has become my morning meditation mantra: “May all sentient beings know peace, love, and happiness” I saw an image in my mind, clearer than a dream, of Velveteen’s body turning into stardust and rising and swirling up into the sky, becoming one with the stars. And in that moment I felt the sadness slip away and be replaced with gratitude. Gratitude for that exact moment, for Velveteen’s sweet soul that she graciously shared with me for five years, for the clarity that comes with letting yourself slip away for long enough to see the big picture, and for the lesson.

As it works out, I had simultaneously been reading Michael Pollan’s book How to Change Your Mind, and I highlighted a quote (that he quoted) that says everything:

“A human being is a part of the whole called by us ‘Universe,’ a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest – a kind of optical delusion of consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”

(Walter Sullivan, “The Einstein Papers: A Man of Many Parts,” The New York Times, March 29, 1972.)

Sometimes it can be difficult to practice gratitude. It can be difficult to see ourselves as part of a much bigger universe. It can be almost impossible to take the selfishness out of situations. But the lesson I needed to see in my “bad” week was to be grateful, and to remember, quite plainly, that it’s not all about me. I needed to spend time reflecting on what Velveteen gave me and taught me, but instead I was focusing on the past, on being sad, on my own guilt and regrets. The cue to slow down and wake up should have been obvious with the smack to the face, but with practice I am beginning to understand Pollan’s idea (and the idea of many before him) that “the loss of self leads to a gain in meaning.”

2 thoughts on “A Lesson in Gratitude”

  1. Thank you for sharing. Gratitude is often forgot and reminding ourselves to ‘stop and smell the roses’ is so important in a world so fast paced and chaotic.

    Liked by 1 person

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