"In daily life we must see that it is not happiness that makes us grateful, but gratefulness that makes us happy." Brother David Steindl-Rast

Friday, March 24, 2017

Watch Your Step

Today I am grateful for the blueberry pancakes Sam made for dinner last night and for the power of gratitude practice done regularly.

This seems like an appropriate post today as we head into a rainy morning and also as we wrap up a winter that included ice, snow, and mud as well.

It is the most recent "Gratitude Flow" column I write for the local newspaper. 

Watch Your Step

          It's the time of year where both ice and mud can lead to treacherous and messy steps. Ice requires slowing down and being cautious. It also requires our full attention. Full attention—that is what I try to give to each moment, or each hour. It helps us experience life on a deeper level; not just passing our days but participating in them as well.
         Giving anything our full attention can seem like a challenge in our world today, with so many things pulling us in different directions. Ice reminds us of our priorities—taking the next step safely if we are on foot, or turning the next corner slowly if we are driving. Salt and sand can make it safer to move on ice, but speed is still not recommended. Pausing to practice gratitude during our day is like slowing down on ice. We are reminded of our priorities and we give more attention to what is right in front of us.
         Mud offers different challenges. It can really weigh a person down, make things slippery, and be a mess to clean up. Not to mention that we can get stuck in it. Mud can usually be avoided by taking a different route or accommodated for by wearing boots. Self-pity and self-defeating thoughts are like mud. They catch us in a negative thought pattern and mire us in the muck of ungrateful feelings. Ingratitude can be avoided by keeping up a steady stream of appreciation for the gifts in our daily lives. Gifts as basic as morning coffee or a banana to eat. Gifts as profound as waking up to a new day and being able to get out of bed.
         We can’t avoid all of life’s slippery slopes and messy times, but we can make choices that put us in a better position to stay upright, limit physical and emotional injuries, and come out the other side still feeling hopeful and able to find gratitude.
         When I think of watching my step, a couple other ideas come to mind. If you were fortunate enough to grow up on a farm, like I was, watching your step went with the territory when you left the house yard for the cow yard. Having to watch our step and sometimes landing where we didn't want to was far outweighed by the more pleasant and interesting things we got to witness and learn about as farm kids. The fresh air and open spaces to explore and run in, when not icy or muddy, were wonderful blessings of farm life.
         Watching your step as you walk, run, skate, ski or take part in any other physical activity is just good common sense. Even so, falls and trips can happen. It's part of life and being active. It's worth the risk. Consider what other healthy choices in your life are worth the risks and the work required. Pursue them patiently.
Watching your step is also about slowing down to notice what is happening around us and in our minds and hearts. It is a gratitude practice in and of itself. As I take a step, I think about these facts: my legs and feet work with minimal pain or discomfort; I have shoes to wear and they are of good quality to protect my feet and the rest of my body; I can see where I am going and enjoy the indoor and outdoor scenery; and I feel safe and secure where I walk as opposed to worrying about criminals, terrorists, or getting caught in the crossfire between warring factions. Many people around the world don’t have shoes to wear, don’t feel safe when they step outside, may be malnourished and unable to walk far. It puts things in perspective for me really quickly.
You will probably still catch me complaining about the ice and mud, or other types of troubles and messes that life sends our way from time to time. But I guarantee you that I complain less when I practice gratitude more. And I easily find things to be grateful for when I do something as basic as watching my step. 

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