I have been a bit quiet with my little blog posts recently, and it’s mostly because I haven’t had anything particularly note-worthy to write about 😉 Things have just been “normal” for a while… no big epiphanies about the meaning of life, no profound moments of relational connection and world-saving compassion. Just normal… and today, it struck me, write something about normal 🙂
I often seek those “big moments”, whether in relationships, work, personal growth or anything else. I want experiences that take my breath away, that force me to stop and notice, that challenge and inspire me. Of course I do, we all do. But, most of the time, life is just… well, normal. I was travelling a lot when I first came to Mwanza. Moving around the country to visit different partner organisations, travelling to other countries in the region, and it was great, but also exhausting. I’ve been more stationary recently, and it has been such a blessing to settle in, and find myself experiencing normal life here.
There are things that I have always felt like I just didn’t have time for. Little things like reading good books, learning to bake bread, taking an online course, developing a consistent yoga practice…. and now I have time, and I love it. I love having “my things”, things that I enjoy and find rest and growth in. Ways that I connect with people in simple ways. It’s good, and it’s been a long time coming I think. I have so often undervalued the “mundane”, the “everyday”… and sometimes I do get bored, itchy feet and agitated, but other times I feel settled and at peace, satisfied with what different days bring me and what I fill them with.
One of the things I’m doing is an Oprah Life Course… haha, my goodness, I am embarrassed to put that in writing. But, it’s true, so you might as well know about it 🙂 It’s a Brene Brown course, if you don’t know about her, she is lovely. (http://brenebrown.com/) She did a TED talk a while ago that caused quite a stir and now she’s doing Oprah Life Courses… among other things 🙂
Anyway, the course is an art journal course (if you’re judging me, you can stop now ;)) and each week we do a different activity, following through her book on Wholehearted Living. One of the activities that really stood out for me was the Gratitude Collage. Through Brene’s research on shame, she found that people who were most resilient, who were living “wholehearted lives” were those who practiced gratitude. Now, as I would assume, and as Brene also assumed, people who are grateful are people whose lives are going pretty well. They are grateful because life is good, which makes them joyful as well. We all know those people…. the ones whose lives always seem so perfect, who are constantly smiling and happy and compassionate and kind and etc etc etc. Sometimes those people make me crazy 😉 Especially when I am not feeling particularly grateful, compassionate or kind 🙂 But what the course encouraged me to do, was to practice gratitude and the important part was whether I felt grateful or not. So, I was sent out to take pictures of everyday things that I am grateful for, things I often fail to notice or pay much attention to. I was told that by practicing gratitude, this was a pathway to joy. And a pathway to feeling more grateful. The activity came during a week when I was not feeling particularly grateful, when I was instead feeling quite unsatisfied, struggling to remember my purpose in my work, and feeling just generally irritated with people and things. So… it was a particularly good week to learn about practicing gratitude 😉
And you know what… I found my way into gratitude and joy through the practice. Just in little bits, nothing profound. But by intentionally adopting a lens of gratitude and looking for the little things that I was grateful for, I found my perspective started to shift. I realised that I have a lot to be grateful for, there were many moments in my week when I could take a photo of something that I appreciated. I have many photos of cups of coffee now 🙂 but what I came to understand is that these little things are enough to inspire feelings of gratitude and to take us into experiences of joy. I don’t need the big, profound, life-changing moments… at least not all the time. The “normal” or the “everyday” when I notice it, is enough.
In the course, Brene talks about how people who have experience trauma and loss, especially the death of a loved one, reflect most on the “everyday” moments that they wish they could have just one more time. The cup of tea with a giggly granny, picking strawberries with an excited toddler, going for a walk with someone you love, reading books side by side with a good friend. These are the things we miss, so maybe, these are the things that really matter.
So now the question is how to continue my gratitude practice. How do I make this a consistent part of my life? How do you practice gratitude?