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Practicing Gratitude

I have been writing the Making Love Sustainable column for close to two decades. It is kind of like a living, public diary to what it means to me to love, to lose those we love, to be present, to be kind, and to be grateful. All of these ways that our humanity demands more than we have to give is what I think “sustainability” in love is about. This lens has offered me a way to see how I practiced, failed, and tried again at all these things.

Over a decade ago, I celebrated a near miss on tragedy. My son fell from a roof on his head and miraculously rose again, allowing me a glimpse into the abyss of loss – showing me just how much we take for granted and how much we have to lose every moment. That time, I slipped through unbroken, but aware of just how thin the ice below our feet actually is. And then it happened. Three years ago, I lost my boy. Gratitude is a bold courageous act in a life that knows trauma. Holidays demand this.

Recently, I began actively practicing gratitude again; revisiting an old gratitude practice that I learned early on when Good Clean Love was mostly just a dream. Back then, I spent many years writing a column called Positivity Quest, inspired by my study of positive psychology. I dedicated an entire summer to the practices of gratitude. That was when I first understood gratitude as a practice, not just as inner wisdom that some people get and others don’t. It does help to grow up inside of that space, but it isn’t a prerequisite. Gratitude requires focused and sustained attention.

Robert Kennedy before his own untimely death said: “Tragedy is a tool for the living to gain wisdom, not a guide by which to live.” Finding the openhearted courage to let go of the life we thought was ours and the will to move forward with the gifts of love that were received demands an epic leap of faith. It is easy to get stuck in loss because trusting life and our own heart's capacity to open to life requires our full attention. Practicing gratitude is both the path and the internal shift which embraces the chrysalis of transformation that loss demands.

I believe that gratitude is the active practice of living with the intention to take nothing for granted. Although we usually don’t look down and acknowledge the cracks under our feet, experiencing loss or even dancing at the edge of it clarifies how tenuous and fragile our life and relationships actually are. It makes every moment of health and loving connection precious. Hanging onto that clarity after a near miss or moving towards it after loss is the grace of making gratitude routine in life.

So, I started a new gratitude journal. My promise is to write one page a day at a minimum. Many days it happens just before I go to sleep when I turn my mind to the gift of the moment or day gone by. But the longer it goes on (I am on day 24), the more that I notice a thought that I might be recording in the middle of the day.

Writing a gratitude journal or list literally retrains our eyes to see through our hearts. It hones our attention to rest on beauty and acknowledges it, whether in changing fall colors or an exchange of affection of nearby strangers. Practicing helps you let go of the annoying aspects of relating and reach to the core of what is loveable in your partner, kids, or neighbors. It is a practice that filters every moment with the very real possibility that this is the last time I will ever see, speak, hear or love this person again. It trains you to take nothing for granted.