I’m going to let you in on a little secret. I’m not thankful. At least, I’m not thankful for probably 95% of my day. I don’t walk around in a cloud of gratitude and satisfied bliss. For all my talk about mindfulness and the positive spin I work to put on my life, I spend a huge amount of time buried in unimportant details and worrying about the future or the past. I am often investing my thought energy in other people’s business (their thoughts, actions or feelings) or God’s business (things that are fully out of my control), instead of my own business. And none of this makes me feel very thankful.
Sometimes this fills me with incredible guilt. Moms of small children get this a lot from older women who say things like, “Just enjoy these moments because they go by so fast.” Now, not only am I suffering from the barrage of toddler emotions, but also the weight of guilt that I’m not enjoying his cute little hands placed on my face after he’s just handled a public toilet seat. Seriously people! That IS too much to ask.
I shared with my sister a couple of months ago that I made a short gratitude list in my journal. I felt particularly edgy because I only put on there what I was feeling gratitude for in THAT moment. When I told her this, she was unimpressed, “Yeah…so…what?”
Me: “I mean, I didn’t put all the stuff on there that I’m SUPPOSED to be thankful for!”
Sis: “Oh [pause] I guess I never think other people will read it so I don’t really worry about what’s supposed to be on there.”
Of course, then she was the empathetic genius she normally is, and tried to make me feel LESS crazy for writing gratitude lists that no one will read but anyone COULD read because they are complete and thorough and no one is left off. Gratitude felt like a chore for a lot of years (not surprising given this little glimpse into my psyche!). It was something I was supposed to feel but was terrible at summoning, which only resulted in more shame and it’s impossible to feel gratitude when you’re in shame.
I think I’ve learned a little about gratitude this past year. I’ll try to shed some light here incase you are in the same boat as me.
First, stop living in the future. As someone who spent seven and a half years in college and grad school, and THEN put her then-husband through four years of grad school, I know a little about this. I spent a lot of years waiting for my life to start. I held on to the belief that something magical would happen when school was finished. And it would transform me from this limbo state into the rapture of fully formed adulthood. I’m guessing no one is surprised when I say—that didn’t happen. But putting that aside, I spent a lot of years waiting for the next thing, instead of living in the now. When I was always anticipating the next vacation or step in my education, it was impossible to feel much love for the present moment. The truth is, there are different phases in life and they each have things that are easier and harder. Things that I liked more and less. But anticipating the next phase never did anything but litter the current phase with discontent.
The second is to be kind to myself—to give myself what I need to truly feel cared for. Giving that responsibility to others is a quick path to resentment and discontent. Ignoring my own needs leaves me feeling depleted and it’s hard to feel thankful when I’m an empty vessel. So make yourself a sandwich, fit the workout in, go to bed early or stay up late, binge watch The Office, clean off your desk–then let go of the guilt for things that go undone while you do this.
The third is something I’ve been learning from my therapist. It relates to time. There are two types of time. Chronos is the time of the world. It’s the actual minutes and seconds until bedtime. It’s the hours spent crawling in traffic. It’s the two minute time out. It’s the time that passes slowly, that we feel.
Kairos is the time that we don’t feel. It’s the hour that goes by when I’m writing in the flow, where I suddenly remember to look at the clock and realize I’m going to be late for work. It’s the quiet moments floating on the rippling ocean surface watching for the next swell and taking in the sky and the sea. It’s catching up with a girlfriend over the phone. It’s late night pillow talk between lovers that leaves me floating and sleepy in the morning. It’s a long kiss on the lips from the 3-year-old love of my life.
Chronos is always ticking away, but Kairos only visits, often just for a moment. And Kairos is where real gratitude lives—sparkling, warm, immersive, flowing gratitude. The key is to catch it. To notice when I’m in it, or even after the fact, that I WAS in it.
Gratitude is a practice, which means it takes practice. I can’t beat it into myself with shame. I can only hope that as I gently nudge my brain back to the present, I will more readily notice all that I have and all that I am, for which I am thankful. Namaste.
Most humans are never fully present in the now, because unconsciously they believe that the next moment must be more important than this one. But then you miss your whole life, which is never not now. Eckhart Tolle