Thankfully Moving Forward
On June 13th, 2011, I introduced the Thankful pages with this metaphor:
“We are so small and seemingly insignificant in the universal pool of life, but every move we make creates a ripple that grows ever wider, reaching out to and crossing paths with our fellow swimmers. We can float along if we wish. But to keep moving is to continually create these waves of energy, to continually send something out into the world. To swim is to move one’s limbs in a purposeful way. It is also to propel oneself, to move from one location to another, to take yourself to new places. It is to take yourself further.”
And so I had decided that I was ready to stop treading water; I was ready to swim. To be more accurate, I was planning to do a great big cannon ball into the deep end and send plenty of awesome waves out into the world. Then I’d swim with a mighty purpose; I’d propel myself across that pool and intercept some of those same waves that I had sent out.
I would be Thankful!
At the end of the first week, post cannon ball and a little water logged already, I recorded these notes about Practicing Thankful (and yes, I do talk to myself a lot):
“The truth is that I have thankful thoughts all day long…thankful that I got the green light, thankful when I wake up at night that I still have 5 hours of sleep ahead of me. On a larger scale, I’m thankful that I have income, I’m thankful for my family and friends, I’m thankful for this blog and the doors that it’s opened for me, within myself as much as anything. The problem is that I feel these feelings, but I don’t acknowledge them…it kind of ends there. I don’t even acknowledge in my mind that it is a feeling of thankfulness. It’s more of an, “oh, I got the green light, that’s good.” “I’ve got a great family, that’s good. It makes me happy, I’m glad.” But I’m not actively Thankful. I don’t have an attitude of gratitude. I don’t go into my day expecting to be thankful or even having thankful on my mind at all. It’s not part of my emotional and mental vocabulary, almost like the things that I’m grateful for are a given, like they don’t warrant special attention, they’re just a part of the scenery of my life, you know?
So, when Patti did the post for saying thanks, it really opened my eyes to the fact that…and not that I haven’t been told these things before, it’s not new material. But maybe I’m, at this moment, ripe for it, ready to not just hear it but act on it. And in the past year, as I’ve done a little more, I’ve really thought about ways that I want to change my life. These new lessons that become available to me, I really…they are making me sit up and pay attention. And this is one of those lessons, that I’m not actively thankful. I don’t practice, I don’t have a thankful attitude. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one of those people who thinks that the world is laid at their feet, that everything good that happens to them is certainly well deserved. I don’t feel a sense of entitlement at all (At All – I generally feel that anything great that happens to me is totally undeserved and quite possibly a huge mistake). But I am a person who has lived day in and day out without paying nearly as much attention as I should.
Harold suggested doing a thankfulness page, and then he did it! That was a real inspiration, and a spark was lit inside of me that this is something that I need to do, too. So I did it. And the first day or two, it was really…it was brand new, and I was walking into those two days looking for things to be thankful for. The third day, in the evening, I looked back and thought “okay, what was I thankful for today?” The fourth day, the same thing…and I realized that this is the same old same old. I’m still just going about my day, not giving it any attention, and then at the end of the day, I’m basically doing a re-cap. And then on the fifth day, I had a bad day. And believe it or not, throughout that day, I was thinking about the thankful page, and what on earth was I going to pull out of this day to put on the thankful page? And the sixth day…I remembered that’s what I wanted to do, is face the day looking for those thankful moments, looking for the best, looking for the big and small greatnesses.
Being thankful…I don’t know that it comes naturally. Sure we say “thank you” to others and we can feel glad about the good things in our lives. But recognizing that we’re thankful, acknowledging that we’re thankful, making a point to be thankful…for me, those things take practice. And then, it’s like everything that you become good at: when you practice long enough, it becomes natural, you’ve retooled it in the way that you want it to be. Not as an afterthought, not as an “oh yeah, that’s good” kind of thing, but as a real, honest, life attitude.”
I’m so glad I did it! Ha – I make it sound like I climbed Everest or something. Maybe it’s not that big of a deal…but you know what? It is. You wouldn’t think that keeping a record of at least one thing that you are thankful for every day for nearly six months (wow, was it that long?) would be difficult, but it was. There were times when I was terribly frustrated and not feeling particularly great about where I was in the process, times when I did not feel good about myself at all. I wanted so badly to have this desired result – being someone who faced the day with a Thankful Attitude – that I didn’t always give myself the space I needed to achieve that growth. One time, I might be forgiving of myself and make allowances for my missteps. The next time, I was merciless.
To make matters worse, I often lost focus of what it was that I was really trying to achieve. On the good days, when I was noticing and acknowledging the good things in my life, it felt like I knew what I wanted and was heading in the right direction. But when I had bad days, it was all to easy to fall into the circular trap of negative thinking. I was swimming into a whirlpool: “I wanted to face the day with a Thankful attitude, but what does that really mean? How can you face the day being thankful for things that haven’t happened yet? I guess I’m supposed to be looking for the good things that I’m sure are going to happen. Yeah, that’s it. Why can’t I get this right? Wait, what exactly is it I’m trying to get right, again?”
Finally, I had a really, really bad week. Not only did I not think about Thankfulness one single time, but I was just an awful person to be around. I was simply terrible, and I felt rather devastated afterwards. What was wrong with me that I could be so bad right in the middle of this self-improvement project that was all about being a better person? At that point I was forced to take a step back and re-evaluate what it was that I was really trying to do. When had becoming a more thankful and appreciative person morphed into becoming a “better person”? And that’s when I realized that I really wanted more than just a new outlook on life. I wanted to be kinder, gentler, more understanding and forgiving… And I was failing.
I was able to move on from there (thank you, Harold, for your help), and after that it all began to click. I hadn’t given up, which is my natural tendency. Giving up is the easiest thing to do; I mean, how hard is it to just flop back into your little hole? You may not particularly like it in there, but climbing is hard. And you get dirt under your nails. But here’s the thing: you don’t have to do it all in one day. As many times as Harold and I said that to each other (our frustrated periods seem to come at opposite times), you’d think I would have understood it already.
When I reached a point in the December Thankfuls where I had gotten too far behind to fill in the missing days, it was actually a good thing for me. I found out that I wasn’t upset with myself, because I am comfortable with the progress that I’ve made so far. I am paying attention. I drive to work and look at the trees and the clouds and the sky and just everything around me…and I’m thankful. I’m not necessarily thankful to be up early, but I’m sure thankful that it gave me an opportunity to see that sky.
And that’s what it was supposed to be about. It was about approaching the day, approaching my life, in different way. Instead of being grumpy and non-observant and self-involved, I wanted to be looking outside of myself. I wanted to be thankful that I can see and smell and touch and taste all of these wonderful things that populate my life.
“I want to keep moving; I want to send something positive out into the world. I want to find myself in a new place. And when I get there, I want to experience the feeling of my own positive energy lapping back against me.”
And it was a great feeling, to realize that I was not tormented by this blank space at the end of my December Thankful page.
Now… I wanted to start fresh with my daily Thankfuls in January. I put it on my resolution list, but I found it just as difficult to keep up with as before. But I also wonder if maybe I’ve moved beyond that point. As I read back through several months of Thankfuls, I’m feeling that I have accomplished what I wanted to do there. Writing the Thankfuls kept it on my radar. Knowing that I had set a goal to write one every day meant that even when I didn’t do well, at least it was on my mind that I didn’t do well.
Though I’m not where I ultimately want to be, I am in a much more positive frame of mind, a thankful frame of mind. I will definitely continue on, but with a weekly Thankful. It will be easier to keep up with, and I want to see where it takes me. Honestly, I’m not sure what the next stage in the thankful journey will be; I don’t have a clear idea of what I want to gain from Practicing Thankful in 2012. But in the meantime, I’m just going to enjoy the appreciation that I’ve gained so far.
PS: Sorry this is so long 🙂
You are a remarkable example of living a life of gratitude. Your initial metaphor is so appropriate, i still love it as the best I have seen. I appreciate your willingness to witness to how rocky this path to daily gratitude can be. It sounds easy, but living it is not easy, but you inspire me to keep going as you share your journey. I am very grateful for you!
Patti, I’m grateful right back! I have come to count on the wonderful friends that I’ve found here and you are certainly one of those.
I had no idea that it was going to be that difficult. At the beginning, I had an enthusiasm and a hope for the positives that it could add to my life, but I think I really just believed that it would be pretty easy. I would start paying more attention. I would look for things to be thankful for. I would magically turn into a more grateful (wonderful, awesome, transformed, peaceful…) person.
What a dope.
But, you know what? If it had been that easy, I’m sure it wouldn’t have made such an impact. Thanks for sticking it out with me, for reading along and offering so much encouragement. It really means a lot.
“I wanted to be kinder, gentler, more understanding and forgiving… And I was failing.”
But that also includes being “kinder, gentler, more understanding and forgiving” to yourself. Don’t forget that. Everyone has bad weeks where they find themselves being less than the person they want to be. The bigger test, I think, comes in recognizing that there are things we need to work on about ourselves, and then being kind enough to let it go, laugh it off, and start again.
I love that you’re so open and honest about your journey. It makes me feel like I’m not the only one who struggles with these same lessons! For me it sometimes feels like one step forward, 10 steps back . . .
Hi Angela! You’re right about remembering to be kind to ourselves. It really is important, and we can’t grow if we’re mired down with what we’re doing wrong. This self-improvement project turned into something way bigger than I anticipated, but that’s okay. I think that it opened my eyes to some of the negative things about myself that I had never seriously addressed before. It made me aware that, if I am to have the life I really want, then I have to change more than just being thankful. When I saw these negative aspects of my personality against the backdrop of the fact that I was supposed to be improving myself, it was all the more discouraging. And that was hard for me to get past.
But I think forgiving myself, and asking others to forgive my failings, was key. As was talking about it and receiving such great support from you and others. It’s wonderful to know that people are there for you! We struggle together. Just remember that, even at one step forward and 10 steps back, you still eventually get somewhere. It just takes a long time.
Every time you guys say nice things to me, I think, “but you’re just like that, too!” And you are. I’ve been wanting to comment on your post about Turning Obstacles into Words (it’s in my inbox now, so I can do that), but I can’t come up with anything better than “This is great! You are an inspiration to me.” I feel that all the time about the things you write, but it doesn’t seem to be enough encouragement or praise somehow.
You may write your “thankful’s” once a week now but the past year has taught you to see the blessings everyday. I have enjoyed and been encouraged by what you have to say. Thank you. I look forward to what’s to come.
Thanks, Patricia! You are another someone who I can always count on to be there with and for me. I’m looking forward to the future, too.
You probably don’t know this, but your thankfulness posts have been so encouraging and instructional for me. They’ve helped me to remember to see those blessings that abound every day. I still remember the one where you saw the little lizard diving into the grass in the shopping center. And the one where people were complaining about the air conditioning being broken, but not really giving a thought to the poor guy who’s up on the roof, in the heat, fixing the air conditioner. You always have a way of looking at the world and examining how we see things that is refreshing and eye opening. You’re not afraid to ask yourself (and subsequently, us) the tough questions about our attitudes – that is really necessary to truly grow as a person.
You are my hero!…Well, one of them! You have reached a goal of “a much more positive frame of mind, a thankful frame of mind”
I’m not there yet and unfortunately I don’t see it coming any time soon. I still have to look back at my day and even struggle at times to really find anything worth while to be thankful for.To put it bluntly, it is all the other crappy stuff going on that makes me feel like a cloud is hanging over me and I have to struggle and search for that silver lining.
I can be light-hearted and sing in the rain and forget that I am being soaked by that rain. But the reality sets in sooner or later that it is raining and the cloud and I’m wet and the struggle starts again.
I keep looking for the rainbow and clicking my heels three times, hoping the sun comes out tomorrow, for a better 2012 than 2011. A more thankful filled year!
Harold, I don’t visit you nearly enough, but you’re very often on my mind. I don’t know you in person, but I just feel that you are a wonderful man. You’ve certainly been encouraging to me and you’ve made a difference in my journey here. When I read your blog, I can feel that you are a good person. You love your family. You work hard. You are an ethical and a moral man.
Please don’t take this the wrong way, but I worry about you sometimes. I know how much effort it can take to hold on to the vision of that silver lining. Those dark clouds are so overpowering. At one point during all of this, a friend of mine talked about the Devil’s role in keeping us down. At the same time, my aunt and uncle mentioned something about that, too, that I had to be careful of that. They said that he liked nothing better than to get in my head and multiply those negative feelings, just swirl them into a frenzy. That was the first time in my life that I really started thinking of the Devil as a real and actual being, who was trying to keep me down and out. I don’t know why I just felt the need to share that, but I did.
I do feel that I’ve reached a kind of goal, sort of, but also not really. I feel more at peace with myself than I have in a long time, but I also feel that I’m on step one of something like infinity steps. My thankful frame of mind is not what I thought it would be. That’s part of what I really struggled with, is not really understanding what I was reaching for. I’m still not sure what it is I thought I was going to achieve – certainly something more profound. What I’m feeling though, is a quieter thing. I don’t wake up every morning with joy in my heart and a song on my lips. But I do notice God’s hand in my life more, and in the world in general.
What makes me worry is that you have a harder row to hoe than I ever had in this. It sucks to continually get smacked in the face with the cold and the wet, as you say, every time you try to be positive. It would be easier to just stay wet and miserable – at least then you’re unhappy all the time. It’s almost worse to enjoy those happy, carefree moments only to have them rained on again. But that’s what makes you so amazing and strong! You keep going, you keep singing in the rain no matter what. That is a hero, Harold! That is a person worth emulating.
I think being thankful requires us to pay attention; and that can be hard when we are trying to make it through the day, meet deadlines, and fulfill obligations. It’s a discipline of sorts and takes time and effort. The record of your thankfulness helps both you and your readers. We all need to be reminded and encouraged to be mindful of the goodness all around us, and the need to express our gratitude for it.
You’re so right about the paying attention part! That was part of what upset me so much about myself, is that when I was feeling (and acting!) so ugly, I was totally in tunnel vision mode. Thankfulness didn’t cross my mind – not once. It bothered me a lot that I could be working on this for so long and then to just let it all go, just like that.
Once I got past that, I had to refocus to get back on track. Like you say, there are obligations and disruptions and distractions vying for and taking over our attention all of the time. Sometimes I feel very overwhelmed and maybe there is a part of me that doesn’t want to feel thankful. Letting myself feel resentful or angry or whatever seems to validate my feelings – it feeds my need to be right, my inner view of myself as put upon or misused…it basically validates “poor little me”. Making a point to acknowledge the things I’m grateful for, even in the midst of bad times, has helped me to put those other feelings in perspective. It has shrunk them down into something more reasonable, and therefore more easily overcome.
this one is one of my favorites. It’s hard not to stagnate. is that even spelled correctly — oh well, you know what i mean
I do know what you mean! I am already behind in writing up my February weekly Thankfuls. I have them in my recorder, but not written and posted. That’s one of the bad things that makes me stagnate, is getting behind or finding the time to keep up with something. Then the further I get behind, the easier it is to let it slide, then the next thing you know it’s completely off my radar. I really didn’t want that to happen with this.