I had a decision to make. I could continue to be stuck in a place of self pity, of feeling like I’m not one of the chosen who gets to have a peaceful, abundant, and joyful life. By no means was this an easy decision to make. I struggled on and off for more than 20 years with a core belief that people like me do not get to have an easy, peaceful life.
A charmed and privileged life of knowing what one wants, how one wants to contribute to society, and for this to effortlessly flow into one’s experience. No, as much as I tried to affirm the opposite of that belief into my consciousness; I found the “people like me don’t get to have it that way” belief still lurked in the dark hidden crevices of my mind.
I’m not one of those who knew as a child what she liked to do and stuck to it, no matter what. In fact, I have no memories of any interests or leanings during my childhood. In my mind’s eye all that I see or remember are like snapshot photos, like a polaroid instant photo. I don’t remember my childhood as if it were a movie with the scenes replaying in my mind. The things I do remember are frozen in time.
Having a gratitude practice has been the shining light during times when it seemed there was only darkness. Many times it appears as if I have nothing for which to be grateful. With practice, I have learned to dig a bit deeper than what seems to be happening.
On the days in which my mind is swirling with the heaviness of circumstances; I can bring my will power to the table, allow myself to feel the heaviness, and then move into that for which I have to be grateful. There can be a seemingly never ending stretch of time between moving from feeling the heaviness to a gratitude practice. Yet, it’s worth the wait for me to do it in this way.
I can look around me and find dozens of things for which to be grateful. The clothes I’m wearing, the furniture in the room, the laptop I use to pour out my heart, the food in the kitchen, indoor plumbing, toilet paper, a comfortable bed.
Then I can shift my gaze to the window. I am grateful for the window itself so that I may see and have nature within eyesight. Gratitude continues for the trees, and grass, the fresh air, the warmth of the sun, the shade of the clouds, and the delightful bird song.
This is just the beginning. I then close my eyes and bring to mind more images for which I am grateful. My two kids come to mind. I see each of their faces, their smiles, and my heart swells with love and overflows with gratitude. These two wonderful beings have brought deep lessons and incredible joy as they were the catalyst for my arriving at a different destination than I had imagined and shifting my entire view of this thing called life. You bet I’m grateful for these two.
When my daughter, Lillian Darnell, was 3 years old, she was diagnosed with a rare chromosome condition called 18p-; which affects 1 in 56,000 people. Was I grateful for this diagnosis at the time? Absolutely not. I cursed the harshness of it, I cursed life, I was angry and I felt betrayed. Do I feel the same way 14 years later, with a 17 year old Lillian? Absolutely not. …….. Well, let’s be honest. Yes, I do at times. That’s where feeling the emotions and then the gratitude practice shine their amazing light and lend a hand.
In the past I did, in fact, bypass allowing myself to feel the cruddy stuff that called for my attention. I went straight to the gratitude practice without first acknowledging and embracing the unloveliness that had risen to the surface. These days I only bypass when I can’t possibly focus on what needs to be released or I just don’t have the energy or will power. Otherwise, I dive into the abyss and hope I come up for air some time soon!
This gratitude practice and connecting with emotions works best for me when I pour my feelings and emotions into my digital journal. First, I get it all out. Feel what I need to feel as I’m writing, from numbness, to anger, hopelessness, and despair. While at the same time either sobbing or laughing at the ridiculousness of it. For me, this is a critical first step before even entering the gratitude practice. If I did not take this first step, I’d simply be stuffing the unlovely feelings to resurface later.
In all honesty, I forget many times to come back around to gratitude. I am in a hurry, I don’t have time to sit reminding myself of all for which I have to be grateful. By allowing myself to first feel what I need to feel, I can then experience a pivotal shift by acknowledging that for which I am grateful.
At 13 years old, Lillian’s younger brother, Thomas Darnell, is in the throes of puberty and has his own set of challenges. This single parenting journey of raising two kids who each have challenges has been a wild ride. I turn to writing in my digital journal and following with the gratitude practice.
I am not meaning this to sound as if my challenges are any more important or deeper than another’s challenges. At this point I have come to realize each one of us has shadows and struggles. Some of us have perfected bypassing all this jazz, living life seemingly to the fullest. Some of us have perfected diving into it and living life to the fullest. And, some of us are patiently making our way through the diving in part and doing the darn best we can at living life to the fullest. We’re all in this together. Just in a different way.
Having a gratitude practice has been an integral part of this journey for me. I am blessed to remember to appreciate life’s delights, nature’s art and beauty, the kindness and compassion of others; balanced with diving deep into the unlovely feelings and emotions that rise to the surface, ready to be embraced, loved, felt and released.
Breathe in, Breathe out, Feel it …. One breath at a time.