This time of year publications on and off line are full of essays on gratitude, each writer searching for a unique expression that would set the writer apart. Having said this, I too am offering one of those essays.
Some years ago I listened to a speaker on meditation talk about online meditations on various topics including gratitude, and how it changed his thinking. That sounded promising for someone who is often grateful for finding a parking space in Boston or catching the last train out or something else equally pedestrian. I decided to give the meditation on gratitude a try.
The instructions began with a sitting meditation of about ten minutes. After that we were instructed to begin listing the things for which we were grateful, and to keep going for another ten minutes. You might think ten minutes isn’t very long, but it is in fact a very long time, especially when you think you should be able to answer the question and then get on with it. (Obviously I hadn’t yet benefited from the practice of meditation.)
I began the list of gratitudes with the usual–my family, my health, my friends, the colleagues who read the first draft of my first mystery and didn’t tell me to get a day job. Then I scrounged around for things like our garden, the gifts from my family, the quiet streets of my neighborhood, and the like. I kept on going, even though I was feeling a little desperate and telling myself no one would know or care if I quit right then–at the three-minute mark. I passed through gratitudes for having a nice home, enough money to pay the bills, a husband who loved me (he got listed several times in different categories).
The pressure was mounting. I still had several minutes to go. Without thinking (which is actually the same as thoughtlessly minus the emotional baggage), I began free associating. We had a dog, so I thanked him for bringing me close to broken bones every time he leapt to play with another dog. I thanked the person I offered to help when I saw him struggling with a bureau trying to get it into a truck, and he told me what a handsome dog I had. I was thankful for the mailman who came every day without complaint about our old porch stairs.
By the end of the ten minutes I was ready to go for another as I thought about all the people I met and spoke with or somehow interacted with, and the feelings they’d left me with. I was grateful for the human qualities that are so often the source of pain and shame and disappointment. And even those qualities and others like them I was grateful for because they reminded me that I was human, and that was glorious.
Recently I read an explanation of why we have fantasies, daydreams, and the rest of it. The reason is, in that particular person’s view, a way to escape ourselves, that we humans will do almost anything to avoid spending time in true communion with our true selves. I don’t know if that’s true or not. But I do know that if you want to really know who you are, try a ten-minute meditation on gratitude. The discoveries are definitely worth the initial discomfort and awkwardness. Skepticism dissolves and something close to identity emerges.