Six years ago, as I was preparing to leave my corporate job and struggling to figure out how and when and why it was all going to work out, I was moved to rekindle my life- long love affair with meditation.
In my struggle to have it all, and do it all (you probably know this story: I tried to work full time at a demanding corporate job, commute into the city, enroll the girls in every evening activity going, and have the perfect home and the perfect outfit) I had become so detached from who I really was and what I really wanted that I felt almost numb.
I knew that one of the easiest ways to reconnect with myself was through the peace and presence of meditation and that when beginning a meditation practice, one of the best ways in is through cultivating genuine gratitude. I knew that living in gratitude would open my heart and guide my thoughts through the challenges that lay ahead.
What I had not anticipated was how difficult it was going to be for me to feel grateful…for anything.
So, faced with a troubled marriage, mounting debt, numbing depression and a career crisis (so let’s say it felt like my life was literally teetering on the edge of destruction) I sat and tried to connect with what I was grateful for. And it was so unexpectedly hard. For so long I had allowed myself to focus on what was wrong: wrong with the house, with my husband, with my children, with their school, with the town I lived in, with my work, with the car, with my life, with everything.
I had allowed myself to get into the habit of looking for flaws, and so my life was always full of problems and nothing was ever good enough just as it was.
I rarely experienced the joy of just resting in the life I had built and embracing it with all it’s beauty and cracks. I can only guess how difficult I must have been to live with at this time, for I can certainly see now how miserable I was making myself and probably everyone around me in my carefully honed pursuit of all that was not just so.
As I sat on my meditation cushion, sometimes with tears streaming down my face, wondering how in the world I had gotten so off course, I kept reaching for gratitude, because I was determined that I was not going to live this way any longer.
I started with things that seemed obvious, but which I unquestionably took for granted. I started with simply being grateful that I had a place to call home. That my children were healthy. That we had great neighbors and lived in a safe community. That I had clean water to drink…and coffee. These are things we can so easily take for granted, but for many they are luxuries to aspire to.
And I kept listing and repeating in my meditations: “I am grateful for this…I am grateful for that….” And it took a long time, literally weeks, to actually feel what I could identify as genuine gratitude. I had really gone to the dark side.
I could list the things I was grateful for but it wasn’t reaching my heart.
In truth, for a long time my meditations went like this: “I am grateful for my home…but it needs new flooring and the front door needs painted and my husband hasn’t fixed the railing on the porch yet and here’s another thing about him that frustrates me…” Yes — it was ugly. But still, I was not willing to live in my self-created darkness anymore. Only I could dig myself out of this hole.
So I would replace my thoughts with: “I am grateful for my home, with it’s big windows to let in the sun, with it’s old turn of the century charm, which was restored and renovated by my husband, who worked hard at it and did a good job, and I am grateful for that too.”
And then finally, after weeks, probably months, of working at it, I started to feel the energy of gratitude in my body. It was a gentle hum. It finally reached my heart and opened it to all the beauty in my life. Gratitude slowly lifted me out of the black hole I was in, it loosened the crushing grip of my negative thoughts.
Finally, it was gratitude that gave me the power, the light, and the inspiration to find my way forward.
To realize I already had so much in my life that was so good, and I wanted to cherish every single bit of it.
I tell this story in the hope that it may inspire you, if you are in a dark place, to reach for gratitude. And also to remind myself of the strength and courage it takes to change – to change our thoughts, to change long-standing habits that no longer (or perhaps never) served us, to change our lives. And to assert that no matter how long you’ve traveled in the wrong direction, you can always turn around.