While I was ‘nosing’ around the internet exploring what it had to say about gratitude I ran across the statement about Autumn. I thought about the ‘letting go’ of summer. I thought about me being in the autumn of my life, with winter just over the hill – letting go of middle age. I reflected for a few moments on the ways of thinking that I have let go of over time. I then thought about autumn as a season of receiving. Many times, when ‘we let go’ of something, we receive something else in return. Sometimes, we don’t think, or see, the new thing because we are busy ‘holding on’ before letting go.
I have written on a few occasions about gratitude, primarily from a perspective of ‘thanks-giving.’ Somehow, this time seems different. Let me explain.
I was taught as a young boy to be thank-full. To thank God for what I/we had. To thank others when they did something for me. Being thank-full was important in my family. The lessons were often filled with examples of others who had little. The lessons included actions of ‘giving’ to others who needed help. It is one of the ways we gave thanks for what we had.
Knowing that these examples were the genesis for my own gratitude, I was curious to understand how important ‘gratitude’ was in general. I found out it was a game changer for our physical and mental health. Gratitude enhances sleep, boosts metabolism, increases optimism, and improves emotional resilience. Higher levels of gratitude have been associated with increased brain activity and the release of the ‘feel-good’ hormones, serotonin, and dopamine. Was I stunned by this? No, but I think since gratitude is an integral part of how I think, I never looked that closely as to the science of gratitude. I do remember being told when friends or family were in recovery that the loss of gratitude would drive them deeper into their addiction, and the practice of gratitude was an integral part of them regaining their sobriety. My conclusion: gratitude is important.
Even with all the reflection about the origins of my gratitude, there was something different in my thinking this time around. Then it occurred to me. I/you/we have been through so much emotionally in the past two years; so much uncertainty, so much negativity. We witnessed not only millions of people getting sick and dying world-wide at an incredible rate, but the increased practice of hate and exclusion towards those who were different and marginalized. With that as the backdrop it became harder to practice gratitude. In those moments it was common for us to focus on that we have ‘less than’ not ‘more than.’
As humans, we often get caught up in the busyness of life and don’t take time to pause and notice what we already have and know. That can be particularly true around this time of year (holidays). It takes discipline to ‘pause’ and take note of what we ‘have’ (in the greatest sense of the word). I would invite you to consider that since gratitude is a strong gateway to greater happiness and wellbeing, that you begin to build a small amount of space into your days to ‘give thanks for.’ I would also invite you to consider that your ‘thanks for’ include things you might not consider. For instance, thank you for the diversity of people and ideas that are around me; thank you for the diversity of ideas that are around me; thank you for the ideas or people that I might not like. The invitation comes with the notion that you want to live in a world that is more about inclusion. To do this you may need to make space in your life to recognize the richness of your basic nature to see the purity of your being and let its inner qualities of love, compassion, and wisdom naturally emerge.
These felt like big ‘asks’ at one time in my life, particularly when I became more aware of how I operated out of some of my biases and assumptions, some of the ways that I was unknowingly creating a smaller world, a world with less love, compassion, and possibilities. When I began to challenge my own thinking, I found myself more naturally wanting to include more people and ideas to live better, more fully. I was creating a world of more possibilities not less. Part of that was a recognition that solving for our biggest problems in this world would require more of us working together.
Is this a big ask? I don’t know. That’s why it remains an invitation. I know that change comes from invitation not coercion. We all have some ego connected to how we think, and how we do things. That only changes when we come to want/see something better than what we have now.
Before I started to make my changes, I asked a few questions that were important for me. The first question was, “Will practicing more hate get me more of what I want?” My answer was no. “Will practicing more exclusion help me to solve for our major challenges?” My answer was no. “Will treating people as if they are not as worthy get me more of a world that I want to live in? My answer was no. Is the condition of the world the legacy I want to leave to my children/grandchildren to raise their children in? Sadly, no.
This journey is about my change, my behavior – letting go of some things, receiving others. Might this autumn be a season of change for you – letting go of some things, receiving others? Our neighborhood, community, state, nation, world doesn’t need all of us to change, but it does need enough. Do our current ‘places’ reflect what we want? What needs to change? Where is my greatest opportunity for positive contribution so that my places reflect more of what I want?
These holidays will be a time of reflection and grate-full-ness for all that I am and that I have. It will also be a time of working toward changing the behavior and thinking that does not reflect what I want to see in my places.
Toward a better you…
I can’t help but think about Dr. King’s quote in his “I have a dream speech,” and think that he would expand the “color of skin” to include all those who are discriminated against and marginalized, and THAT dream will still come true for our future generations. I don’t need all, but I do need enough.