Resistance: My first response to doing the practice was a judgment about how time-consuming and complicated it seemed as I thought about doing it. When I’d merely written it into the blog, it didn’t seem like I was asking so much of people. But when faced with doing it myself in the middle of a "busy" and short work/holiday week, I felt a bit stymied.
The written expression of gratitude: But embracing a moment at the end of my journaling one day earlier this week, I made the gratitude list. In those wee hours just after dawn, my gratitude list was filled with all sorts of things I hadn’t been conscious of before; perhaps it was the act of moving the pen across the page as fast as I could. I found myself writing detailed gratitudes about attitudes and perspectives, about geographic location, about health and circumstances and about the ability to just be. I listed things for which I’m grateful that include changes I’ve made in my life, behaviors that I have shed, people I help or am helped by, specific features of the natural landscape around me, my work, my service offerings and gifts, the behaviors of people and animals around me, changes in my physicality. I listed items that place me in a position of privilege, ease, and those that offer me daily challenges. Each of the five senses were represented by items on my gratitude list, as were the four directions and their symbolism (south – body, west – emotion/psyche, north – mind, east – spirit). I had some overarching and general gratitudes specific to the moment in which I was writing; I also had some very detailed gratitudes that are general to my life and wellbeing. I am not a stranger to gratitude-list-making. But I definitely encountered some surprises as I did the first part of this practice.
The beautymaking of gratitude: The next day - a bright, warm, late fall day – I decided to adorn the base of a cherry tree in my backyard; that was as much of a “plan” as I had. I began by creating a circle of yellowed leaves beside the tree trunk. I used only natural items from my yard; I simply gathered things that struck my fancy and placed them as I felt inspired. I started with a ring of yellowing leaves, fallen on the grass. I filled in the center of the circle with a thick bed of green leaves, also fallen. I made sure to keep intact and visible the tiny magenta flower that was already growing in that patch of earth near the tree. I proceeded to gather flowers and dried plants that still remain in the yard this late in the season. I made sure NOT to pluck the last purple bloom from the tree where I see the hummingbird go each day; he’d been there just an hour before I began this project. I arranged the flowers and then took a photo before nightfall came.
Gratitude, briefly - offered to the land: I took a few moments to sum up my gratitude list into a single sentence which I quietly whispered as I knelt beside the leafy, flowery adornment at the foot of the tree.
The intention: I then spoke aloud my intention for action, for expressing my gratitude in service to others: I will do a small random act of kindness each day from now until the holidays are over. I believe the seed for this intention sprouted when I was at the grocery store before Thanksgiving day and already could see and feel the growing insanity, frenzy, and obliviousness-to-others that so many of the shoppers exhibited. By the time I was safely ensconced in our little cottage, and the comfort of our small private backyard, I was ready to commit to being more courteous myself…hence, the intention to commit to a holiday season of random acts of kindness. I also decided to do these random acts spontaneously, as I see needs emerge around me. Finally, I will keep secret the specific acts of kindness in order to challenge my human desire to receive kudos from others; I want my intention to remain as purely devoted to the mission of passing on gratitude rather than becoming tainted with my frail need for praise.
* That hummingbird has been back to the purple blossom (the one I did not pluck off the tree) at least once daily.
* The morning after I made the flowery altar I went outside to see how it had fared overnight. The tiny magenta bud around which I had crafted the gratitude circle was wide open: a beautiful tiny pink flower with yellow center. It just felt as if the land itself was offering beauty to the deliberate project I had constructed. Maybe the opened flower was an endorsement of my intention to offer daily, random acts of kindness this holiday season. Or perhaps it was simply the warmth of a late autumn day that enticed the flower to open in a moment during which I could ascribe a more spiritual, higher, purpose.
* I printed out the photo of the natural-items altar, creating a greeting card for the hostess of our Thanksgiving meal. That gave me the opportunity to do the final part of the gratitude practice: to share the experience on the day of giving thanks.
* The breeze has taken a few of the golden leaves from the outer ring of my gratitude altar. I enjoy watching how the land offers to, and alters, the altar.
It is gratitude and a practice of giving to others that will save me from my own self-righteousness. And for this, I am extremely grateful!
All blog images created and/or photographed by Jennifer J. Wilhoit unless otherwise noted.