Culturally, we are so result-oriented that we often forget to enjoy the journey. We work so we can play, we exercise so we can be healthy, we cook so we can eat. There is nothing wrong with planning, having objectives, and looking forward to something, unless it spoils the present moment. One way to become more alert and alive is to develop gratitude.
Last year while in Bali, we went on a small boat to look for dolphins. The moment we spent with them – witnessing them jump out of the water and swim effortlessly – was magical. But I was also grateful for the whole experience on the boat. It was not about how close we could get to the dolphins, or how much time we spent with them. Swimming in the calm sea, looking at the clouds, relating with the local boatman, enjoying each other’s company as a family. Gratitude does not necessarily need to be pointed at anything; it can be for something intangible. In fact, it would seem that gratefulness for the whole is more potent than being grateful for one thing.
We don’t have to be grateful only when good things happen to us. When we are struggling, we can become grateful for the learning process that we are going through. When we are bored, we can start looking around at our surroundings or internally and feel grateful. When we want to be finished with a task, we can pause and feel grateful – and approach the activity with a renewed attention.
Being grateful stops us taking things for granted. As I am writing these lines, there are two house flies trapped on a higher pane of my study window. For some reasons, at the moment, this window has become a sort of fly factory. Every hour more of them appear as they hatch from their winter hibernating place. A bit like newborn lambs wobbly on their legs, it is fascinating to see them take their first flight. They do not take to the air with the same assurance as what we are normally used to seeing. I have stopped writing to look at them. It is warm, and they are quickly maturing and desperately trying to go towards the light. I opened the window to let them free and felt the Spring air on my face. I become aware of the birds singing and the sound of motorbikes in the distance.
The day seems more magical now that I have been brought to my senses. I could be annoyed at my fly infestation, but I am grateful that it has given me the opportunity to pause and to practice mindfulness. It also reminds me of a new acquaintance of mine who notices the wonder and the awe in small things. She is an inspiring lady approaching her eighties, and I appreciate her genuine gratefulness for being alive. It shows on her wrinkled face and radiates from her whole being. (Please note that apart from her palpable humanity, my new friend bears little resemblance to the Mexican woman in the photo).
Gratefulness is an attitude; like a muscle, it can be exercised. It needs to be felt genuinely, though. It cannot be faked. To be truly grateful is not to be looking at the bright side, it is about noticing the brightness whenever and wherever we are – even in the darkest moments.
One sentence journal – day 14:
“My body is stiff, my breath is slow, and my mind is clear; it must have something to do with Ashtanga coming into my life.”
This blog is part of a renewed 42-day writing challenge inspired by Leo Babauta’s Zen Habits Book.
Photo: Ismael Nieto