Randomly, as I was filling up my car with gas last week, I was suddenly awash in gratitude. I have a daily gratitude practice (more on that soon), so it wasn't totally foreign or anything, but it was quite different and unusual for me. I would go so far as to say that it was what would be called, in Zen Buddhism, a satori moment. A moment of seeing with complete clarity.
Suddenly the world looked like it was in technicolor. I could see the flowers growing across the street, and every wood slat on the house beyond them. I was totally aware of how cool and wonderful the gas pump felt in my hands, and the air on my skin. And, while they don't exactly translate, my thoughts went something like, "I am so lucky to be a human who is alive right now. That I get to experience this good human life, here on planet Earth, where crazy miracles like growing flowers and lovely breeze and cool gas pump in my hand are happening every second of the day."
About 2 hours later I found out my Aunt had died suddenly in her sleep at home at age 63. Oddly enough, it turns out my satori moment coincided roughly with the time of her death.
My Aunt had a complicated relationship with her health. She is definitely one of those people who showed up in this lifetime with "more in her shopping cart", as my colleague Aimée Shunney would say, than some. But she had a totally normal and full life. She married, she had a daughter, she divorced, she married the love of her life, she did work she was passionate about and which served a community she cared deeply for: the developmentally disabled.
But through all this she was always navigating a body that wasn't exactly thriving. In recent years she had trouble ambulating, couldn't raise her arms (due to tendon tears), and was frequently ill with any virus that would come by. For her, these viruses often turned into pneumonia. Most recently she was in the hospital for mysterious tremors which were determined not to be Parkinson's. It turns out the implant she had had put in her back to block the nerve pain she had had shifted and was now causing full body quaking. The implant was removed and the tremors stopped. We all assumed things would be quiet on the health front for a bit after that. It felt like a eureka moment.
But here we are. She's gone now. And it has brought up for me (among other things of course) why I do this work. Why we, the larger wellness community, do this work. People will often read our stuff about self-care, eating well, moving well, etc and respond with the glib, "You can't avoid death." And they're right, obviously, but they miss the point entirely.
The point isn't to avoid death. It's to avoid missing life. I think of my Aunt when I reach up into a cabinet to grab a can of soup. I think of my Aunt when I frolic through the woods with my son. I think of my Aunt when I simply walk, pain free, from my house to my car. All of these things were off limits to her.
So I got to thinking; We talk so much about what we can do to be (future tense) healthier and to live more full and vital lives, and clearly I'm still dedicated to that. I know my Aunt really struggled with why she always felt so lousy. She prayed every day that she could feel just a little bit better, and on those moments when she did feel better she was so grateful for it- there's nothing like feeling terrible to make you appreciate feeling anything short of terrible. So perhaps for this DIY Friday we can simply take a moment to be grateful for whatever it is we do have. Right this moment.
My son and I have a gratitude practice where most nights at dinner we list 3 things from the day that we are most grateful for. We then write them down and put them in our gratitude bowl, so that we can take them out later and look over all that we were grateful for over the past months in a ritual that usually involves ice cream.
Every once and a while we have a different version of our gratitude practice: the gratitude rampage. For this we will just randomly call out, "Gratitude rampage!" and we have to list things we are grateful for that are directly in front of us in that exact moment. So, for example, in this moment mine would be a laptop that allows me to communicate with all of you, clean, cool water to drink, clean air to breath, a lovely quiet room to write in, the sun coming through the windows, a pain free body that means I can write without agitation, my high school English teacher who taught me how to just sit down and write already, functioning hands that allow me to type, air going in and out of my lungs without me even having to think about it... you get the idea.
So, even if you are at home, sick, dealing with chronic pain, suffering through stress or trauma, whatever it is, what can you be genuinely grateful for right now in this moment? This moment while we are so lucky to be alive, here on planet Earth, experiencing this good human life? If your whole body is in pain, is your pinky toe feeling pretty good? Add it to the gratitude list! If you are home sick, are you laying on a comfortable bed in a home you love? Add it to the gratitude list! Are you alive? Can you walk? Can you reach for a can of soup in your cupboard? Can you see the flowers growing across the street?
Ready... set.... gratitude rampage!