It seemed a cruel suggestion. But she was insistent.
“I want you to make a Gratitude List. I want you to take a pen, some paper and actually write a list.”
I had never heard of a Gratitude List, and given my state, it felt ridiculous.
I was sobbing, after all. I felt my life had become a whirlpool. No matter what I tried, I ended up back in the same place: miserable. I couldn’t fathom how writing out a list would make me feel better. In fact, it would probably make me feel worse. Everything I had – a place to live, food, clothing – seemed to underline how worthless I was to be so unappreciative and miserable. Everything I was – educated, capable, intelligent – seemed to underscore how badly I had failed at making something of myself.
But I was desperate.
I’ve learned since that desperation is a gift. It opens the mind and makes it teachable. And in that moment, I can now say I was eminently teachable. So I didn’t argue. I just nodded and committed my will to making a Gratitude List. I would try it.
I sat down with a pencil and paper.
“1.” I wrote.
At first, nothing came to mind. I blew my nose, and started gnawing on the end of the pencil.
Slowly, a miracle happened. I speak here not of water-to-wine miracles, but of what Marianne Williamson calls a miracle: a shift in perspective. It’s not that I suddenly discovered anything new about my life. All was still the same as it ever was. What happened is that I began to see it all in a slightly different light.
What I had was no longer a sign of worthlessness, but a place to start. What I was was no longer a sign of failure but an asset I could use. The whirlpool waters stopped swirling. I could come up for air. And given my state at the time, that was something I was very grateful for.
The mind is a powerful solution-seeking, problem-solving tool. And for some of us, it has a tendency to get lost on a tangent, chasing its tail. Making a Gratitude List is one tool to gently bring its focus away from the tail and back to the sky – that realm of infinite possibility.
My use of the Gratitude List has evolved over the years. The one I practice with currently contains 4 subsections, and I try to include 3 items under each subsection. Below is an example:
- for warm shelter this winter
- for my friend D and the time we spent together yesterday
- for long walks in the woods with my dog, Mina
Forgiveness – actions for which I have a tendency to judge myself harshly, or which I commit to handling differently
- being curt with the lady in the grocery check-out line
- flipping the bird at the driver who was tailgating me yesterday
- not calling my grandmother (will do so today)
Acknowledgement – there is always room to acknowledge progress, good deeds or a job well-done
- shared the last piece of pie with roomie
- called S to see how she was feeling
- took a moment to smell the blooming jasmine
Prayers – a moment to send healing or love to someone
- healing for S
- for M and her partner – may their move overseas proceed smoothly
- for those suffering in war zones
Today, I trade lists with a small group of close friends via e-mail. It is a simple and yet intimate practice. One lives in California and is a therapist. Another is a librarian that lives in India and I get a daily peek of life in Darjeeling. We commiserate over behaviours and feelings that trip us up. We marvel at how similar our struggles are and celebrate each others successes. Ultimately, we feel supported in our progress toward self-awareness and mindful living.
So tell me, what are you grateful for?