When I came back to Prescott again after a five-year sojourn, the first thing I did was purchase an orange spiral bound notebook in order to commence a two-part writing practice. The first part was part morning pages and part chronological journal. The only rule with this part is a mini-habit to keep it (mostly) positive and to write at least a sentence of narrative describing some event from the day before, ideally recording the joys I’d had in the process. This part of the practice keeps my writing chops at least a little solid and is probably also good for both my body and my noggin.
The second part is a practice I had earlier picked up and later discarded from a slim volume by Melody Beattie. The book had serendipitously leapt off a shelf at me months and months ago in the Queen Anne Library. Despite the grandiose title–Make Miracles in Forty Days–it is only tangentially about miracles, and rather mostly about giving thanks for absolutely everything in our lives: the good, the bad, the petty, all of it.
What is so wonderfully refreshing about this little self-help book of thanks is how surpassingly dark it is. Beattie, best known for her books on co-dependence, shows up on the pages of this book broken physically, and permanently marked by the death of her 12-year-old son, Shane. Likewise, her writing partner, Dr. Joi, sports a glossy, cheerful and professional surface that belies the demons of hatred, obsession, and addiction. Their miracles are often spiritual in nature — an easing of self-recrimination, an entrance into addiction recovery, maybe securing a little more peace in the face of life’s small complications — but they are still very real.
When I re-started the practice, I had forgotten about the miracle angle. I just knew I was home after a tough if edifying run abroad and I needed rest. Where I rest best is on the page. What is funny is that for me, the miracles came anyway, such big miracles that they are still a little bit terrifying. Appropriately, after the book came, I found this passage: “When deep change begins–whether it’s a miracle or a loss–expect to feel uncomfortable for a while.”
More than the miracles, though, I love the practice of kvetching as a form of praise. There is something so right about thanking God (or your higher self, or the natural world, or the grand Whatever) for everything in your life. As my friend Tracy, who is currently on an epic cancer journey, says, “It is all a blessing.”*
The practice is engagingly lightweight: Spend a few minutes within the first half-hour after waking writing a list that starts with, “Today I am grateful for (or that):”. From there list everything that is on your mind at that moment as a statement of thanks.
Today, my list included the following:
• That feeling that I can’t quite catch up.
• The pages where I rest.
• The pit bull puppy in line here at the [Wild] Iris.
• The essay I’m going to write on Beattie’s book.
• The 90 seconds of mindfulness with Salli yesterday.
If you really want to do it up, Beattie encourages you to have a private list of goals, and indeed, that’s an important part of life management, but if all you do is write down your thanks-for-all-of-it, the effect, as Beattie writes, is that you will be, “centered, grounded, conscious, and aware.” For five or ten minutes a day, that’s a long way from nothing.
Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family today and every day!
*Mostly, but maybe not all, for as Beattie points out, she would never ever give thanks for her son’s death, even though she regularly gives thanks for her feelings around that loss.
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