As a result of doing a grief ritual about my daughter, i began a daily gratitude practice 21 years ago. Two years earlier she was born not breathing, and was later diagnosed with cerebral palsy. With all the specialists involved in her life, the focus was always on what she wasn’t doing. I did the grief ritual to let go of who I’d expected or wanted her to be, and to accept her exactly for who she is. In the midst of creating this ritual (well, first, I threw away all the developmental charts), I realized I had much to be grateful about her, such as how healthy she is, and that she wakes up smiling each and every day.
I went from focusing on what she wasn’t doing to being grateful for what she WAS doing, and for her inherent beauty, strength, and perserverance. (I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather people focus on my strengths rather than my weaknesses.)
Gratitude morphed from a theory to a life-saving daily practice. Before that, I thought gratitude was some lofty concept – I didn’t realize it was something I could practice as a way to focus on the positive. I know people who write gratitude lists every day, either in the morning or at the end of the day. Me, I’m a verbal gratitude lister: I begin the day speaking my gratitudes aloud (often in my car on the way to work), giving thanks for a variety of blessings.
After years of focusing on all that I am grateful for, it occurred to me how much our culture, and thus us, focus mostly on what’s wrong: what’s wrong with my body, what’s wrong with other people, what’s wrong in the world. Gratitude, then, is an act of love that has the potential to heal many of our ills.
I’m reminded of what I heard the Dalai Lama say when he came to Portland: that he was astounded at how much people in the U.S. hate themselves. He told us that people in Tibet (and other countries) do not hate themselves as a general practice. That was amazing to hear: self-hatred is not natural for humans. It’s learned, and thus, it can be unlearned. I believe gratitude helps us love ourselves.
What if you grew up hearing about all your strengths, wonders, beauty, and gifts? What if no one criticized your mistakes, because we know we all make mistakes. Gratitude is truly vital to our future, because it has the enormous potential to transform our lives from ones of negativity, into focusing on what’s working…and we know that what we focus on grows. I hope you will grow a gratitude practice. If you’re not feeling particular grateful, start with the ability to see and to read.
Today I’m particularly grateful that 20 of my labia sculptures are in Los Angeles at a Portlandia event. They fly home on Monday.