You’ve seen these kinds of things before #365grateful, gratitude journals, how to be more grateful articles, etc. And while I think it’s a good idea, especially if the practice is new to you, I’ve refrained from participating publically. But for my 43rd birthday, I’ve decided that the time is right, the timing is now.
Noticing things is something that I feel I’ve been aware of for many years simply due to the way my life has unraveled. My father’s untimely death when I was a child jolted me out of childhood dreaminess and brought to consciousness one parent versus two parent households.
In junior high, we moved from tropical Hawaii to the desert of California and I went from having an outdoor playground to finding escape indoors. It was also my first time being a minority. Mililani Hawaii is primarily an Asian population and Barstow California was not.
At this time, I can’t say I was mature enough to understand the concept of gratitude, but these big changes created the kind of inner earthquakes that brought me to my knees.
In high school, a couple of my good friends had close family members (a mother and a sister) in wheelchairs. It was a little strange to walk into a home built for a woman who functioned in a wheelchair. My friend’s sister was not so fortunate to be functioning, her family caring for her every need and as best as I could I mentally held M’s hand during sad moments.
High school was also the time we returned to Thailand after 10 years away. I saw the kind of poverty and neglect that most Americans are never faced with, my 15 year old mind wrestling with the limbless beggars on the street, children asking for money, and the fact that my Thai family received their first refrigerator because my mom just bought one for them. It was green and they still have it.
So, high school was the time when being grateful started to come into focus. I remember feeling grateful for my limbs, walking, eyesight, nice clothes and hot showers especially after experiencing ‘bucket baths’ at my Thai family’s house – and what the heck, even toilets that didn’t require me to squat over a hole in the ground.
During my senior year, I remember having a breakdown of sorts outside my drama classroom. My teacher listened to me as I tried to tell her that I could no longer complain about my problems when there were greater ones. She reassured me that my problems were just as important as others because they were important to me, and that this didn’t make other people’s problems less important. We were out there for a long time, it seemed, and I felt like a baby for crying in the first place, but she was kind and patient.
It’s funny, recently I taught a reading lesson about luck and I asked my Khmer students if they considered themselves lucky. Not one of them raised their hands. I was surprised and then launched into a short speech, “What!? Of course, you’re lucky. You’re in an air-conditioned classroom learning English. You have 10 fingers and 10 toes. You have a house and enough food to eat. You are lucky.”
During my 20s and 30s, I went through self-help, self-development books like candies in a sweet shop. I prayed, read mantras, did guided meditations, had gratitude journals and basically tried to be a more forgiving and enlightened person. But during my really hard days of being a Waldorf teacher, I made the mistake of writing a gratitude journal to counteract the hell I was living through.
It was a kind of denial, really. I mean, yes, I knew there were things I needed to address and even accept, but I foolishly thought if I focused on the positive, then things would get better. I’d have a better attitude. I’d be doing the work. But I stopped writing, I had stopped pouring myself on paper and my gratitude list was just another way of living in dysfunction. It had become the equivalent of writing “I’m happy” over and over again – when I was clearly not happy.
So, I’m a bit cautious of these kinds of things now. Being grateful is easy, especially if you’ve been massaging the message for as long as I have. But feeling the punch behind those words, well, that’s a whole other thing entirely.
I have to confess Cambodia is not an easy place for me to live especially after the ease, convenience and years of living in Thailand. There are regular and frequent power outages here. I know this is something that other places struggle with, my Nepalese American friend said power outages in Katmandu were every day at scheduled times. But in Siem Reap, we are often caught off guard, left literally in the dark wondering how long this one will be.
Expats joke about tubs of ice cream melting, food spoiling and of course, we complain about the insufferable heat when you can even turn on a fan to cut through the humidity. We’ve had 100+ degree days and we’re in the middle of a horrible drought. Folks in the countryside are without water and the expat community has been rallying water trucks and donations to get water to them. Now there is talk about rotating scheduled water cuts in the city.
Blogger Jenni in Chiang Mai recently posted on FB that she feels like she is at ground zero for climate change and I have to agree. All we’ve been experiencing seems apocalyptic. So if I haven’t been online then you now know it’s because of the power cuts and/or the fickle Internet. It’s been hard to be grateful these days and I don’t feel any better knowing that I’m experiencing what many around the world endure silently. Privilege is so relative.
I’ve been on a complaining campaign lately and I don’t like myself when I feel like there is nothing I can do, but wait and endure. I’ve also been getting sick a lot, leading up to my last one that was particularly lasting and horrible. Yeah, so, let’s just say it’s been as challenging as peeling off wet jeans, giving a presentation, and heading to the gym, to be positive, grateful and pleasant behind closed doors.
I didn’t want to do another gratitude list. Although, I do write down something awesome that happened yesterday in my journal (Thanks Tim Ferriss!) everyday. It takes no time and has easily become part of the morning routine.
Then while I was doing my pathetic yoga stretches, I remembered seeing my friends posting their gratitude posts on FB and thought, hey that might be a nice idea for Instagram. It’s not part of the New Year resolutions rush, the holidays, and life is challenging enough where I’ll need to dig in.
I think remembering to be grateful helps you to be in the moment and appreciate what you have. This is especially important in a consumer world and where it is so easy to compare ourselves to other people through the Internet. But honestly, I’m just going to give this a go and see where it takes me. I’ve felt gratitude on an intellectual level, maybe even on a spiritual one, but I’d like to experience it on an emotional level, too.
I mean, can you imagine if you wrote down something shitty that had happened to you for 365 days, how you would feel by the end of that project?
So, everyday (at least I’ll try) I’m going to post a photo with #365grateful in an attempt to honor friends who didn’t make it to see another birthday and in my endeavor to restore balance in my life.
How do you practice being grateful?