While I try to be mindful of the blessings in my life and give thanks on a daily basis, there are times when I am humbled by life’s circumstances and my gratefulness is magnified. I’ve had several experiences recently that I wanted to share with you, in hopes that they will inspire you to take a moment to be present to what is going on around you and give silent thanks for every blessing.
Part 1: Grateful for my health
I am a regular platelet donor for the American Red Cross. I had been a blood donor since college and “converted” to platelet donation when my sister was undergoing treatment for breast cancer and informed me that cancer patients often need platelets more than whole blood. I’ve been a monthly donor ever since my beautiful sister left this earthly journey in 1995. All that to say, if you’ve donated (and I highly encourage blood or platelet donation — it doesn’t take much time, and you truly can save a life) you know about the myriad intake questions.
Recently, I noticed I was continually clicking “no” to questions such as:
- Do you have heart disease?
- Do you have high blood pressure?
- Have you ever had cancer?
- Have you ever had a stroke?
- Have you ever had a bleeding or blood disorder?
As my donation appointment proceeded, I was struck with how blessed I am, how grateful for my health. I mean, I know I am in good health; goodness knows I exercise to stay strong and healthy (with my family history you’d do the same). However, I do totally own the fact that I take this good health for granted most days. The Red Cross appointment gave me the opportunity to take a moment to mindfully reflect on and give thanks for my good health.
Since then, I’ve developed a mantra that I use when I do a body scan during meditation or progressive muscle relaxation. As I focus on each part of my body, I express gratitude for what it does for me (e.g. my feet carry me all day, my thighs are strong [believe me, as an Italian this is a hard one], my nose allows me to breathe deeply [see Italian note]).
The next time you shower, work out or just walk down the hall, take a moment to acknowledge and express gratitude for your body’s abilities. Now, I realize that some of us struggle with physical, mental or emotional ailments. I’m not suggesting that finding and expressing gratitude is always easy, or that it will cure what ails you. However, I challenge each of us to begin to look for those blessings. Perhaps start to write them down or repeat a mantra. The more we practice gratitude, the more we’ll find to be grateful for. And that can vastly improve our attitude.
Part 2: Joie de vivre!
I work at a university, and my office is in the recreation center, which has a beautiful outdoor pool. During the summer, faculty and staff can enroll their children in a “little swimmers” program, to teach them how to swim. Each day as I left work this summer, I smiled as I saw the kids gleefully running towards the recreation center, swimsuits on, flip flops slapping the pavement.
One afternoon, during several days of torrential rain, I passed by a family. Dad, Mom and big sister were all huddled under umbrellas. However, bringing up the rear, in swim trunks and with swimmies on his arms, was little brother (I’m guessing he was about four) splashing through puddles and taking no notice of the rain. He was thoroughly in the moment, grateful for the rain that created puddles he could splash in. Watching his joy made me smile all the way to the car. I consciously gave thanks for the rain on the way home, knowing it was watering the earth and giving our parched veggie garden a much needed drink.
This little boy reminded me to immerse myself in something that gives me joy, even if it may seem frivolous to others. I challenge you to do something today for the sheer joy of it — tickle your baby to hear that beautiful, infectious laughter; smile at everyone you see in the grocery store; watch your dog or cat sleeping and notice the funny faces they make. The list is endless. Find your joy!
Part 3: Notice beauty
We went to Seattle for vacation this summer. While we were there, we went on a whale-watching trip. Among the wildlife we saw were some orca, all of whom were well known to the captain and crew of the boat. It seems the researchers who track whale migrations produce a photo book of the whales, identifying them by markings, scars and the like.
Our captain warned us at the beginning of the journey that we might not see any whales. However, we were rewarded for our patience with several sightings, including Blackberry (with a dorsal fin 6 feet long), Mako and Rhapsody. The captain also informed us that although whales sometimes breach (jump out of the water), they often don’t. In other words, we shouldn’t get our hopes up that we’d see anything more than an occasional dorsal fin swimming by.
Well, Rhapsody decided to prove him wrong. Not only did she breach, she did it 52 times! I lost count after about 35; another passenger kept counting. Just when we thought she wouldn’t jump again, her strong and graceful body would breach the surface of the water. Captain Mike was astounded; he said that maybe on an out-of-the-ordinary day they would see about 30 breaches.
We have no idea what motivated Rhapsody to jump so much that day. The captain claimed we must have had good karma. I like to think she was just expressing gratitude for a beautiful day in her world. Watching Rhapsody reminded me, just like the little swimmer did, to find joy in the present moment and to unabashedly express that joy.
Today, take a look around. Find the unexpected beauty on your daily commute; don’t just let the world pass by. Press an internal pause button, take a breath, notice something that makes your heart sing and drink in that joy!