Gratitude for an Illness

There is something so cathartic in finding out there is actually something physically wrong with you. For the first time in so long, I’ve felt a softness, a tenderness toward myself. Compassion has been streaming from my eyes in the form of hot tears at random intervals for the last few days. Despite all the fear and uncertainty and struggle that still lies before me, there is a sense of sweet vindication.

It might seem strange to feel grateful for external validation of being sick, but it feels so much better than believing you’re just not trying hard enough even though you have nothing left to give. I’m overwhelmed by that beautiful healing break of tension. All of my frustration, and futile efforts finally making sense. The relief of no longer gaslighting myself into thinking I could be better, that I’m lazy, that I’m exaggerating, that I’m just ungrateful, that I should be capable of more than this.

It finally feels okay to rest, to be kind to myself, to acknowledge that I’ve been doing a great job. It’s not just in my head. My years of struggling distress have been real. I’m doing everything I can, even going above and beyond what I should be capable of. I’m not a mentally/spiritually/emotionally broken person. I’m not a bad person. I’m not a failure. I’m just sick. And maybe I can even get better. For the first time in so long, I feel it. I feel that stirring, timid excitement of “maybe I can get better.”

And even if I can’t get better, I’m going to try. Even if I get worse, I’ll still feel better knowing that none of this is my fault. That, in fact, I’m actually quite incredible. There is no shame in feeling tired and overwhelmed. I’ve been overcoming so much every single day. And I am so, so grateful to finally be able to make sense of it all and acknowledge how hard I’ve been working.


Enjoy It

It's time to stop and rest
by the hushed rustling rhythm of
blades of grass alongside the stream

To let this soft cascade of breath
carry away all the sharp edges of this life
and tickle the small hairs on my bare neck

There will be plenty of time to worry and plan
but right now it is spring and I am in love
these are the moments I've prayed for

So hush this racing heart and mind
surrender to the sensation of warm water
slowly submerging supple limbs in thick bliss

There is no where else I have to be
this is it, stop holding your breath
pause beneath the open sky of affection

These tender moments can take away the pain
let yourself have this mindful medicine
that future you've been hurrying to is here 

It's okay to enjoy it

Limitless Knowledge

Despite my general pessimism about the state of the world currently, I have been truly grateful for the internet lately. How incredible is it that we can access unlimited information in seconds from wherever we are? I am able to research anything I choose. I can gain the same amount of knowledge in a few hours of typing, reading, and watching videos as it used to take a lifetime of diligent, full-time scholarship to acquire. I get to learn all day, every day. What an endless delight it is to have the world’s collection of knowledge at the tip of my fingers.

Of course there is also tons of misinformation out there as well. I can’t be certain everything I find online is accurate, peer-reviewed information, but if I put in just a little more effort I can still usually manage to narrow it down to the most credible sources. I can also purchase any book I like regardless of it’s availability in my local area. Not to mention, it’s not just about facts and data. I have access to all of the greatest artworks of mankind. I can listen to incredible music of any style or genre from any period in time as I please. I can experience more in an hour than someone a hundred years ago would have been able to experience through the course of their entire life.

The internet has become so commonplace, that I forget sometimes just how unbelievable it is. It’s something we’ve all learned to take for granted. But lately I can’t help but bask in the gratitude I feel for this wonderful privilege. I am truly humbled by the innumerable benefits that this technology provides me with. What a delight it is to live in a time where all this is possible.

I Have Enough

It's all a distraction
these things I don't have
fly paper fixations that trap

I still have so much
enough to overflow my cup
I can break the illusion of lack

I know all this overthinking
only makes me suffer
it cannot solve these problems

Time to take a deep breath
and tell myself what I know to be true
I can be happy anyway

I have what I need to thrive and succeed
if I allow myself to let that look differently
I'm already right where I need to be

Grateful and kind and gentle and loving
nothing can stop me from spreading
these blessings that I am able to create

In the Moment

Suspended disbelief
that this will all come crashing down
impossible to not surrender
to the small pleasures that
are all I have left in this life

Delightful distractions
don't come by very often
I can't be expected to remain
in emotional isolation

Just allow me to enjoy
this temporary gift of exhilaration
and savor the fleeting sensation
of being young and in love
one last time 

A Secret to Savor

Soft safe haven inside of a secret
a sinful surrender to a fluttering chest
in the tender sensation of suddenly falling
those fine feather tip touches against
barely exposed satin skin

Tasting the salty sun-soaked waves
of a poorly planned, private pleasure
savoring the distorted sounds
diluted vibrations that surround you
and hold you underwater

A place that is founded in suspended disbelief
a charming moonlit waltz with willful naivete
free from the burden of a fast approaching future
the stillness of the open hearted hope as you
first open your eyes in the morning

Shaking off the certainty of decisions to be made
in favor of lingering in this playful love a bit longer
postponing the knowledge that strong feelings
aren't always to be trusted and followed
for a chance to dissolve into bubbling bliss just this once

In Sickness & In Health

For the past week now, I’ve had a sinus infection. When I woke up feeling sick last Tuesday, I immediately tested for Covid, but it was negative. I honestly couldn’t believe it. Although I’m very grateful I’ve somehow managed to avoid Covid so far, what are the chances that someone who hasn’t been sick for ten years gets two unrelated illnesses within two months of one another during a global pandemic? What kind of ridiculous coincidence is this?

Since my symptoms felt so similar to how I felt in November, I assumed I’d be better in a few days again. I was aggravated at even that. However, now that it’s been nearly 7 days with little to no improvement, I’m starting to feel pretty silly for being upset about losing only a couple days. Apparently sinus infections last a lot longer than other colds. I’ve never had one before, so I’m at least learning a lot. I have a whole new appreciation for the people I’ve known who seem to get them all the time. I had no idea they were suffering so much. I feel even worse, because for some reason, I always naively assumed a sinus infection was less serious than a cold or flu.

The only really good thing about being sick is it makes you so much more appreciative of being healthy. It’s wild to realize I took those ten years of good health for granted so easily. Even after having quite a lot of sicknesses as a child, I hadn’t spent hardly one moment being grateful for a decade of impeccable health. And mixed within my anxious fears about how much longer I’ll feel sick and if I’ll need to end up going to the doctor’s for an antibiotic to get better is a tearful, humbling sense of gratitude. At least I can be fairly certain that I will ultimately feel better again. Now that is something to be thankful for.

There are so many people who have never known a day free from physical discomfort or illness. There are so many people every day that get sick and live with the knowledge that they won’t get better again. And despite how upset I am by the idea that I may have to go see a doctor, I’m so glad that I am able to do that if I need to. So many people don’t have access to even the most basic care. There weren’t even antibiotics a little over a hundred years ago. And soon enough, due to egregious overuse in factory farms, they will not work anymore.

So even though I’m frustrated and tired and uncomfortable, this illness has still given me something precious: perspective. It could be so much worse. It is so much worse for millions of people in this world. And one day when I get sick, I won’t have even a hope of getting better. For these reasons and many more, I am so grateful. I am so grateful for this body, for access to medical care, for medical science, and for all the countless moments free from pain and discomfort that I’ve already been able to enjoy.

Private Polyamory

There are many reason I identify with polyamory
primarily the science that explains it's our nature
but also because it allows me to love again
even though my love for you has never faded

Monogamy proclaims I cannot love more than one
in this model my life would have to be spent alone
or else in a horrible, shameful sham of love
because you will never again be mine to hold

Polyamory is something I am able
to practice quietly within my own heart
the alter I still gently tend for you in my soul
need not be torn down or take up all the space

I can share my love with others
without letting you go
which is a true blessing because
that's a choice I am unable to make

The feelings I have for you
are probably the best part of me
and it would be a tragedy
to discard them all together

What a relief to be reassured
there is no need for me to be alone
just because you no longer love me
while I will love you forever

What a gift to get to keep you
nestled close to my heart no matter what
to never have to lose the vivid color
of all that you still are to me

My True Nature

I truly believe I can choose to be happy
my younger self was always so
there was innocence and joy in each breath
I loved everyone and the world at once
my heart was full of gratitude

But somewhere along the way
my soul got bogged down with disillusion
bitterness encroached upon my heart
like blight creeping through late fall crops
all of life turned sour for awhile

Now I struggle with these separate shades of self
I know deep down that pure love and light remain
still it feels like a denial to turn toward it
and away from who I've known myself to be
as I've grown into the person I am today

This anger and violence I've harbored for so long
grip me so much tighter than childhood pleasures
to let it go feels like a refusal to acknowledge my own pain
to surrender to a delusion that it never existed
to favor a false sense of all pervading peace

My precious passion has turned to poison
through years of focusing on the wrong things
an all-mighty wave of indignation rises up to consume
the small voice inside that pleads for the path
towards gentle gratitude and humble happiness

Can I really learn to reconcile these two opposing forces?
Can the soft thread of unconditional love truly overcome
the violent force of white knuckled hatred?
I'm afraid of who I will become if I am unable
to turn from my current path, led by self-righteous ego

Still there is a quiet hope that stirs within
that there is still time to reclaim my one life
and use my precious gifts to create light
instead of adding to the choking darkness
that tempts me and ties my hands

When I succumb to the swirling torment
that tells me happiness is not my nature
I will strive to remember my soul's complexity
and call out for the small child that once embodied
the brave wisdom of a wide open heart 

When Gratitude Stops Working

It has been over six years since I started practicing daily gratitude. I have journals upon journals filled with lists of things I’m grateful for. After all of this, after so much time spent training my brain to find gratitude, how can it be that I still feel like a terminally ungrateful person?

The main issue I have with a lot of mindfulness practices is the way my clever brain figures out ways to get around them after awhile. It’s ironic that most of the “mindfulness” I have incorporated into my everyday life isn’t done very mindfully at all anymore. Whether it be meditation, journaling, or mindful eating my brain seems more adept at learning to avoid the conscious effort rather than learning to be more present like I had intended.

Finding Novelty

If you can relate to this issue, you’re probably already asking, “How can we solve this problem?” While I don’t yet have a definitive answer, one thing I’ve noticed is that of all the self-care tasks I do every day, the one that never seems to get stale is my yoga practice. The only difference between yoga and my other practices is that the yoga flows I do are ever changing and evolving. I don’t practice the same poses in the same order everyday. If I did, I’m sure that would just as easily become a mindless habit like the rest. So the only advice I can give to you and to myself is: Keep changing it up.

This isn’t the perfect solution, I know. It is frustrating to constantly have to be reimagining ways to keep yourself mindful. It would be so much nicer if we could just do a few short little identical practices everyday and reap all the benefits of a more compassionate, mindful, spiritual life. I guess the old saying that nothing worth doing is easy still rings true.

I’ve found that novelty is essential to keep me mindful, even if it is aggravating to have to always search for it. Luckily, sometimes that little tweak for my practice finds me on it’s own like it did yesterday. I stumbled upon a Podcast that referenced The Book of Delights by Ross Gay. In his book, he talks about savoring little things throughout our day that “delight” us. For some reason, just this small, almost insignificant shift in perception has made a huge difference for me. It’s amazing how powerful the slightest change of framing can completely shift our perspective on something.

Replacing Gratitude with Delight

Despite sticking with my gratitude practice for so many years, I noticed almost immediately that it was not providing the mental benefits I had hoped. Sometimes it even seemed to backfire. There are a lot of days where I struggle to think of things to be grateful for. This makes me feel awful, because I know I have such an amazing life. I know I should be able to come up with dozens of things to be grateful for every day. The guilt spiral begins and I end up harming my mental health instead of helping it.

The most important part of gratitude is actually feeling it. As someone who struggles to stay grounded in my body and emotions, “grateful” is a rather vague sensation for me. There are lots of other emotions that compile this more complex feeling. It’s hard for me to just drop into a sense of gratitude on demand. However, “delight” feels a bit more tangible most days. Just the word alone makes the corners of my mouth twitch into a soft smile. Delight. Now that I can feel.

Not only am I more easily able to feel delight in my body, it also somehow feels a bit more lighthearted than gratitude. There is something very daunting and serious about being grateful. Not to mention the reverse, being ungrateful, is tied to a lot of shame. Delight, on the other hand, brings up a sense of buoyancy and silliness for some reason. Imagining being delighted makes me want to giggle and wiggle my toes in a way being grateful does not. There is a joyous, uplifting, lightness about the idea of feeling delighted. It also seems easier to pick small things in a practice about delight versus a practice about gratitude. Saying I am grateful for the way a stinkbug stopped and looked at me when I tapped the counter next to it feels strange, but to say the same scenario delighted me fits perfectly.

Putting It Into Practice

Today, instead of a gratitude list, try listing some things that delighted you. I’ll go first. Here are just a few things that brought a sense of delight into my life this morning:

  1. Hitting that snooze button on my alarm and snuggling back into my warm blankets with my dog for those few precious moments before getting up.
  2. Enjoying that first hot, black coffee.
  3. Feeling my house get warmer as I waited for the furnace to get going.
  4. Listening to music and singing as I drove to work.
  5. The smell of the perfectly ripe, beautiful, big apple I brought for breakfast.

Regardless of what kind of list you write, it’s helpful to be as detailed as possible. Add lots of physical descriptions, trying to incorporate as many senses into it as possible. I have to admit, I couldn’t help but smile as I wrote down my morning’s delights just now.

My favorite part about learning about this new way to practice bringing mindful moments of pleasure into your life was the idea of sharing it with others. Yesterday I asked a few other people to tell me something that delighted them about their day. It brought me just as much joy and happiness to hear about their experiences and imagine them savoring those small delights.

I hope at least some of you find this helpful. I would love to hear about any other ways you’ve found to keep a spark of novelty in your daily practices. Please, please, please leave a comment and let me know what delights you’ve had so far today!