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 🙂