When I look at the path of a river, I sometimes marvel at the way it cuts through stone to wend its flow through the landscape around me. I’m lucky enough to live near both the Potomac and Conococheague rivers and I’ve spent a lot of time wandering their shores and paddling kayaks along their sinuous curves. I admire the way the rivers seem to slice huge hills and even mountains wide open in order to follow their path. It’s easy to forget that these natural marvels are the product of time – of the repeated etching of water across earth and stone. Every season the current runs a little deeper and the path is carved a little more. A thousand thousand years of repetition and what we see are the gorges and valleys that the river carved into the land.
For me, gratitude practice is similar.
Every year between Lughnasadh (August 1st) and Mabon/Harvest Home (between the 21st and 23rd of September, this year it’s the 23rd – the Autumnal Equinox), I participate in The Gratitude Project. This exercise was developed many years ago over on livejournal (when that was where we all hung out) by Estara T’shirai. Each day, participants find something to be grateful for. No repeats – we can be grateful for our spouse/kids/job/friends, but the reason for the gratitude needs to be different for each entry. Some of us post our gratitude on social media, some of us write it in a journal, some of us simply sit with our gratitude in contemplation.
Sounds simple, right? It is. The long-term effects are bigger, though – the little trickle of water that eventually carves a path through stone.
On the hard days, the Gratitude Project helps me find a brightness. It reminds me that there are blessings around me, behind me, beneath me. Naming them helps me remember my place in this Tapestry when things get tough. Many times, that alone is enough. The thing is, gratitude practice over the years has changed some of how my mind works.
I’m happier with what I have. I don’t long for piles of money or a bigger house. Those things might be nice, but I love my life with all its challenges. I love my home and the wonderful beings I share it with. I don’t long for positions of greater power and authority. I think I startled a friend of mine once who related that they expected me to move up in the witchcraft world. Writing another book or teaching on a bigger platform might be nice, but I love my career as it is. I want what I have – I love my community and my service to it. I don’t long for youth returned. I love my body and all it can still do. I even love my laugh lines, scattering of silver hair, and early signs of age. I earned these – they are the mark of good times and hard lessons, none of which I’m willing to trade. I don’t long for fame or fortune, for a ‘big’ life. My own small work here will be forgotten, but the seeds I’ve planted already bear fruit and I love what I have grown. The ripples of my life will spread out and my impact may not be spoken of, but it will influence the Tapestry nonetheless.
This path and practice reshaped my mind. It made me less grasping, less needing of validation or weird societal markers of ‘success.’ It allowed me to stop keeping up with the Joneses, and to stop even looking to see what they’re doing or buying or tallying up.
This perspective has not always held sway and I suspect that it formed slowly and gradually, the flow of gratitude over the structure of a capitalist culture. I don’t know how many times I’ve participated in The Gratitude Project. Fifteen? Eighteen years? It’s hard to say. I do know that it has slowly transformed me, smoothing out the edges and wearing new paths of thought into the bedrock of my mind.
So now I’m inviting you to join me. It’s roughly eight weeks, the turn of one High Holiday to the next. One small section of the Wheel of the Year where we pause once per day and find something to be grateful for.
If you have been part of the Gratitude Project in previous years, I have an additional challenge for you. My therapist shared an approach to gratitude practice that really resonated with me. It’s easy to simply list our gratitudes – to touch on that feeling for a moment and then move on to something else. However, the impact of gratitude practice on state of mind becomes more profound when we choose to linger on the gratitude we are experiencing. Rather than rush through your gratitude for the day (“I am grateful for coffee. NEXT!”), sit with your gratitude for a minimum of one minute. Take deep breaths and notice where you feel that particular gratitude – where does it reside in your body? In your mind?
Gratitude may make the hard days easier.
It may leave a little path for that flow of gratitude to follow.
It may one day become a river that reshapes your inner landscape.
The first step is just to practice. To allow that trickle of water to flow. So, will you join me? We begin tomorrow as August wanders into view. What will be your very first gratitude?
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