Sorrow sticks to me with the tiny talons of woodland things clever velcro claws that trap and tear Joy is thick and sweet like dense droplets of oil that slip easily through the liquid membrane of my water-logged mind As if my soul were fine tuned to the piercing puncture wounds of even mild misfortunes but immune to the equally abundant presence of pleasure Cursed to carry the wrong container and collect only itching burs but not buoyant blessings regardless of the quantity of each that happen to come my way A cup for gratitude that has a crack or even worse, a burlap sack that can only attract and hold the heavy, solid moments that hurt while every drop of delight drips through A faulty, backward magnetic field that repels the currents that heal but quickly aligns with what's unpleasant the unnatural effort to help myself is more tiring than circling the drain
Holding back the happiness has become a form of self-defense a suit of armor inlaid with spikes stripping the soul of all color A perversion of pleasure believed to be undeserved the conviction that hardships will hurt worse with contrast Let your heart lift with the certainty that there are no prerequisites for celebration the spirit is free to sing at its leisure relinquish the reigns of self-affliction Wrap your heart in layers of joy so when the rain comes, as it must you will have a safe harbor of happiness to sustain you from within Don't ever feel you must deny yourself life's most simple, innocent delights don't leave your soul to starve without its natural nourishment I promise you've already earned your small share of sunshine don't waste your life wondering if you are worthy You've won the lottery of merely living each automatic breath is a reminder that you deserve to be here and thoroughly enjoy it whenever you can
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.
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:
- 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.
- Enjoying that first hot, black coffee.
- Feeling my house get warmer as I waited for the furnace to get going.
- Listening to music and singing as I drove to work.
- 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!
Imitation is an art form I can never quite master studying the smiling faces of beings filled with laughter How easy it seems for some to fill themselves up with whatever is available in that very moment the carefree craft of cultivating pleasure Ashamed of all the effort needed to experience moments of gratitude I want spontaneous heart opening materializing all that matters to you An actor well-versed in playing the victim awkward and unsure in any other role celebration starts to seem phony it's so tiring trying to feel full
Sniffing out the subtle waves of energy that uplift me randomly learning to honor and observe the current of my own consciousness I've mastered avoidance now it's time to understand how to move toward these updrafts of excitement and inspiration that seemingly strike from out of nowhere What is this delicious prickling feeling stirring me up inside sometimes? what brings me to this breathtaking balcony overlooking life's possibilities? Exertion and effort that charges me up an inner battery self-powered beyond depletion is there a way to stay connected to this unending well of propelling passion? Sumptuous sensation of celebration sprouting from an unfurling heart the unbridled joy of certain victory found before I even start
The need to understand becomes the thief of sensation how many moments have been thrown away through analysis? The inability to understand certain forms of suffering intensifies and elongates time spent in those spaces Questioning simple joys steals the innocence of happiness do I really need a reason to feel buoyant and free? The intellect I've so prided myself with has been revealed to be a burden intelligence can sever the tether between body and spirit Simple animal satisfactions evaporated under a microscope intuition silenced from years of skepticism and scrutiny Allowing myself to merely exist has been the greatest challenge the most beautiful form of art is a life well-versed in letting go
Summer stirs something deep inside a soul shaken awake by sunshine renewed and ready to add its song to the symphony of early morning Slipping unharmed from the jaws of winter wondering at this cycle of renewal once again where did I go while the world was dark resurrected by blue skies as a brand new being The shadow of death has fled from my heart crept into the creases to await autumn ready to beguile me with cottage core cozy sweaters and pumpkin spice Every season seems splendid and romantic in the intoxicating summer air full of flowers all of life seems brighter, softer, less scary than before safety found in long, winding, aimless days Warm skin soaked in bright light greedily drinking the sun's special elixir this soul of mine is solar powered one juicy charge lasts until January Every season is all or nothing in the summer I know I'll live forever in the winter I know I've already died celebrating my 28th year of reincarnation
I have the habit of turning yesterday's gift into tomorrow's obligation believing perfection can be repeated if only I can find the right formula trying to turn moments of softness into a repeated daily schedule attempting to compress the essence of my best moments and always have them on hand nice little bottles lined up in my medicine cabinet one sip for surrender two sips for satisfaction three sips for the sublime but magic becomes stagnant inside sterile, air tight containers the tragic irony of trying to set aside time for spontaneity so it no longer feels unsafe the rippling joyous energy of life's unexpected moments cannot be captured and handed out in regular, measured doses surprise is an essential part of the recipe facing the unknown with an open heart is a signal, an invitation to be inspired delight and disappointment are two sides of a single coin, they cannot be separated embrace both or have neither
My sorrow comes in cycles waxing and waning with the moon regular intervals of lapping tides frigid dark waters against a jagged shore long desolate seasons of solitude convince me that joy was never mine the cosmos close in around me a heavy weight upon my sunken chest when the sun finally emerges on the other side of that cruel and endless winter wasteland happiness breaks over my heart like a revelation my sleeping soul cracks open shivering with delight in the warm heavy air finally freed from its cramped cocoon to absorb the majesty of the world reborn open and unafraid, buoyantly held above the stark reality of the season past the second side of my dual nature shaking off the bizarre burden I've been carrying why was I so sad before? what was it that I'd been pained by? now suffering seems so far away was it ever here at all? I don't recognize myself as I look back through the snow and the aching, bony trees caught in the swift, sharp wind the summer beckons me forward into a bright mirage of green where nothing can cause me harm where this time the cycle has surely stopped each moment maintains its own eternity forever paralyzed in each part of the pattern immovable sadness giving way to boundless joy always and again
Without the fear of loss would we ever truly appreciate anything? We suffer from the mere thought of a loved one becoming ill or dying. We wish that we could live in a world without such awful realities. Yet, I wonder if a world without these negative moments, would be worth living in. It’s easy to imagine that in a world without pain, sickness, or death we would all be eternally happy, loving, and grateful. I’d like to believe this is true, but part of me knows myself too well to even pretend.
When I first became an atheist, the loss of the afterlife I’d imagined, didn’t make life less meaningful, it made it more so. Life was no longer simply a dress-rehearsal for eternity. This was it. This was what mattered, all that mattered, and I had to make every moment count. There would be no waiting to reconcile with someone past the pearly gates. There would be no final repentance or forgiveness or second chance to share my love with those most precious to me. This what it. This time I have on earth was all that I was going to get. Wasting it was not an option. When I died, when a family member or friend died, that was it, the final curtain call. Never knowing when that moment might come, the contemplation of that fact, is what give me the courage to not hold back.
Oh course, we can’t help wishing we could avoid it when the pain inevitably comes. I desperately wish that my dog was healthy and I didn’t have to go spend god only knows how much on expensive treatment, but somehow at the same time, I’m grateful for this experience. The small, petty problems of day to day pale in comparison to the joy of holding my dog in my arms. Even my recent fears and worries about money, seem insignificant. I have enough to save my baby, and that’s all I need. What a blessing it is that I can afford to help her. Nothing else matters.
Ideally we’d like to always recognize the love we are blessed with and never take an opportunity to bask in that love for granted. The reminder that my dog will die one day, that she will become sick and beyond help one day, makes the time I share with her all the more poignant. I want to think I’d always treat her with the devotion, attention, and affection she deserves regardless of the time we have in the future, but I know that isn’t true. These past few days of fear and uncertainty have shown me that. They’ve highlighted for me just how much I have been taking her for granted.
How many times have we said we’re “too busy” for those dear to us? Would we ever have enough time for them if our time together was not limited? Or would we keep putting off those quiet, tender, attentive moments indefinitely? I honestly don’t know. All I know is that I’ve never felt more grateful for every caress and sloppy kiss shared with my sweet dog daughter than I have in the last few days. Even the thought of her sweet, loving face and wagging tail brings tears to my eyes. I want to spend every moment I can with her. I want to make sure she knows just how important she is to me. I want her to feel this love I hold for her inside and know what I cherish her.
It pains me to say it, but I know that without this recent health scare, I would be continuing on as always. I’d be paying little attention to her and getting annoyed at her for little things. I’d speak harshly to her for not doing as she’s told. I’d feel irritated by always having to clean up after her. The realities of suffering, pain, illness, and death are sadly essential. We need them to shock us back to our senses. When faced with these hard truths, we are reminded again and again that love is the only thing that really matters. Everything else is irrelevant. Suddenly we see just how absurd it is to waste time and energy on anger, hatred, jealousy, greed, fear, etc. We should be spending every ounce of our beings on putting forth more love and happiness into the world. No phone call is more important than acknowledging your child. No chore is so urgent that you can’t take the time to be kind.
These are life lessons that we must learn again and again. In this way, the things that bring us the most agony in life are actually things to be grateful for. Death and loss are hard to accept, nearly impossible at times, but without them there would also be no love, no peace, no joy, no perspective. We must always try to be grateful for it all, even when it’s hard.