Thursday, November 27, 2008

Shift happens

At this time of the year, particularly on this day, we take a moment to give thanks for what enriches our life. And in recent times, thanks to folks like Oprah, we are more in tune with our blessings. But for me, it was many years in the making before I accepted the transformational powers of gratitude. Born a Virgo, always a cynic, it came more naturally to complain than be thankful.

Growing up I suppose I was taught to say "please" and "thank you", and we said Grace before special meals or when our Baptist cousins were visiting, but I don't remember ever being taught the spirit behind those gestures.

Right out of college I lived in Atlanta, early in it's boom years, and still harboring a lot of southern charm. I remember having lunch with a co-worker and as we returned to the office she stopped and said, "Thank you. I enjoyed that." I can still take myself back in time and feel the way my brain cranked to low gear as I tried to process her comment. I was new to someone graciously displaying gratitude for such a trivial event.

Many years later I was out with a new friend after recently returning to St. Louis. Over coffee we were talking about our lives and he asked me quite pointedly something like, "Are you happy?" I'm not sure how I responded, but it must have been half-hearted, because he came back with, "Well, you know it's a choice."

There go those brain gears down shifting again. Was it really that simple? Happiness was a choice we made?

With that powerful morsel tucked away in my psyche, a few years later I was more directly introduced to gratitude. I was doing some "work" with a friend who is a dream counselor. While going through a rough patch in my life, she wisely directed me away from the stumbling blocks and taught me to focus on all the good that surrounded me. Suddenly and remarkably the concept of count your blessings established firm footing.

In making the shift, another old adage came into play...practice makes perfect. Every night before I went to bed I wrote in a journal ten reasons to be thankful. No cheating, I couldn't repeat the same things every night. And at one point, my friend gave me an exercise that substantially magnified the ten. I don't remember the details of the process, but I had pages and pages from yellow legal pads scribbled with good stuff.

That down shifting brain finally shifted up a gear. Holy cow. How did all this bounty find its way into my life? Had it always been there?

I don't want this recollection of my gratitude process to become a platitude. Nor was it a miracle to be sanctioned by the Vatican. I suppose I like to think of it as an unfolding - a simmering consciousness that finally found a joyful voice. And it was the repeated application of "counting" that gave it such girth.

I am not, nor will I ever be, a Pollyanna. But it is so much more heartening to see the rose rather than the thorn. To hear joy in the song rather than the sour note. To enjoy the playful abandon of your dog rather than worry about soil on your carpet.

It may take a while, but thankfully shift happens.

1 comment:

James said...

Hi, enjoyed your post on this important topic /perspective. Lots of the best lessons in my silly time on earth thusfar, came from the mouths of folks full of gratitude, but who had very little in what I perceived as "a decent life."

In even the worst personal circumstances, gratitude of any sort must be sustained. In the midst of difficulty, it is often not recognized--but a re-awareness of gratitude jumpstarts a positive process to emerge from da bad-juju.
Cheers! --JK