Friday, March 13, 2009
Facebook reconnected me with an old school friend last year. We didn't hang out much when we were at university. She was busy raising a young family, writing poetry and getting cum laude grades. I was busy raising hell, mostly. I always admired her but felt we lived in different worlds and I was too shy to strike up a conversation with her for fear of sounding stupid. Luisa is now a mother of 4, an associate professor of creative writing and other wondrous subjects at an American university, and continues to write the astonishingly beautiful poetry that is winning her awards at about the same rate I'm collecting love handles and extra chins. My old shyness with her is gone, and we've both discovered to our great delight that we walk large tracts of common ground together.
One day last November we were ruminating by e-mail on the things that draw us to wonder. I decided to tell her about my gratitude bowl. With a few minor alterations to reflect some changes in my life since then, this is what I wrote:
I have an old Igorot wooden bowl with a scalloped rim that holds a ragtag assortment of stones found on beach walks, some of Noodle's bright marbles, a few large, mysterious seeds from Cartagena, Colombia, two sanded glass eggs from a flea market, a small knob of polished turquoise, two tiny fossils from the Moroccan dessert, et cetera. I take everything out of the bowl, and try to put each item back one by one. For every stone/thing that makes it back into the bowl, I have to find something in my life today that I am grateful for. So for example: "Today I am grateful for my health, for the fact it's Saturday and I had a lie-in, for this beautiful Aran sweater that keeps me warm as we try to save on heating oil, for the damp stain on the ceiling because it means I have a roof over my head, for Mia snoring on her pillow, for Skunk and the laughter I share with him, for my dishwasher, for Luisa's poems and the places they take me to, for the back rub Skunk gave me last night that allowed me to sleep deeply, for the cold winter we had because it might mean fewer mosquitos this summer, for the still-warm pound cake in the kitchen that I am trying to ignore, for the kids squabbling upstairs because it means they're not arguing with me for a change, for the smell of this coffee, for the beautiful salt-glazed mug I'm drinking it in and the hands that made it, for the immense healing Jin Shin Jyutsu is bringing to all aspects of my being, for the John Martyn CD playing on the stereo..... et cetera et cetera."
I love doing this because it reminds me how blessed I am and how rich my life actually is. It's so easy to focus on the negative and on what I lack, but it takes real mindfullness to acknowledge what's good. Some years ago, my life was pretty miserable - or so I thought - and I spent all my time feeling sorry for myself. A wise friend, sick of listening to me moan, suggested I find a way to practice gratitude daily. I devised this little game. I began with 10 stones. It took forever for me to find 10 things I was grateful for. But I eventually managed it, so she told me to increase it to 20. I groaned and told her she was nuts. I eventually found 20 things to be grateful for, so she said why not 30? And so on. I think my bowl has well over 50 things in it now. It's literally overflowing, and so is my heart. Legs and Noodle, who are now wise to what this bowl is about, keep adding things to it - a fallen chestnut, a chipped chevron bead, an old Danish coin with a hole in the middle.
Whenever I'm having a crap day, or even an okay one, I take my bowl and practice this simple spiritual exercise. In 10 minutes or less, abundance has banished gloom. Gratitude walks again.
The large round stone at the bottom with the jaggedy lop-sided smile is my Skunk stone.