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Friday, February 27, 2015

Gratitude List

“When I was young, I had to choose between the life of being and the life of doing. And I leapt at the latter like a trout to a fly. But each deed you do, each act, binds you to itself and to its consequences, and makes you act again and yet again. Then very seldom do you come upon a space, a time like this, between act and act, when you may stop and simply be. Or wonder who, after all, you are.” 

Ursula K. Le Guin
 The Farthest Shore

The first time I heard someone suggest that I might consider cultivating an "Attitude of Gratitude", I wanted to smack the person upside the head.  How condescending, I thought.  How utterly idiotic.  Who did this person think he was to offer me smug platitudes in response to my suffering?

It took a few years and a lot more suffering on my part (much of it self-inflicted) before I was willing to entertain the idea that maybe, just maybe, he was on to something.  My modus operandi was, for far too long, to look at all that was going wrong in my life, put all my intellectual energy into finding solutions, and then trying to fix everything - to my satisfaction, of course.

For somebody who thought she was so smart, I turned out to be dumb as a post.  Where did I get the idea that the world was supposed to arrange itself to suit me?  Over-thinking and over-reacting were strategies I applied over and over again, and it was always a great shock to me when things just didn't work out quite the way I wanted them to.

I still find myself doing this but these days I have better tools to deal with it.  One of them is that damn "Attitude of Gratitude."

There is a very simple exercise that I was taught to get started and it's called the Gratitude List. (I know that some of you are already very familiar with it.)   Instead of mulling over your problems and leaping into action to fix all that is going wrong, find a quiet place and think about what is going right in your little corner of the world - things for which, once you consider them for two seconds, you are genuinely grateful for.  Then write a few of them down and send them to a friend.  Do this daily and after awhile you just might feel better.  I know I do.

Why does it work for me?  I have no idea.  It's one of those things that I was asked to try, and after literally laughing in the face of the person who proposed it, I gave in and was pleasantly surprised by the results.

It sure doesn't fix anything but I find that by acknowledging the good, the bad loses some of its power over me.  I think that once you've armed yourself with a more balanced perspective,  it is much harder for your head to lead you into dark places during the day.

My gratitude list changes every day and sometimes it's a real struggle to find the space between acts, between thoughts, and find the flashlight or the bright candle in the dark neighborhood that is my head.  Ah, how quickly I forget because there are two blazingly obvious things that are always shining bright right there in front of me.

The first is that I am still sober after nearly 4 yours in recovery.  Here I am in Japan going to cocktails and dinners where the alcohol flows freely and glasses of wine magically appear in front of me and  I have no desire to drink. That's a frigging miracle right there.  I feel no sense of triumph or personal accomplishment over this, just boundless gratitude for the gift of sobriety and the worldwide community that supports me.  (If you are interested in knowing more about that, send me an email.)

The second is relatively good health.  Two years ago I had no hair and no fingernails and I tipped the scales at 54 kilos.  I was stuck in my apartment in Versailles and could hardly walk from my bed to the couch.  When I wasn't being poisoned by chemo, I was being radiated under a particle accelerator. (And am I worried about radiation exposure from Fukushima?  Nope.  For me that ship has already sailed.)  Today I'm living in yet another country, walking the city, trying to speak a new language, enjoying my new rice cooker and my high-tech bathtub.  Do I still feel lost and a bit lonely in this new place?  Do I grumble about the pills and the PET scans?  You bet. But the fact I'm still here at all and can walk, talk and travel is another miracle for which a moment or two of gratitude every single day seems entirely appropriate.

Now that I've written out my grat list for the day and have adjusted my attitude (instead of trying to adjust the world to my tastes and inclinations), I'm going to take a bath and make some biscuits.

Bon weekend!


Unknown said...

Your essays a day or two ago about identity as a foreigner wife have me recalling my own identity issues in wifehood and as an expatriate. Both you and I are American but from different generations and from different backgrounds, which makes a difference in how we experience cross national marriages. Nevertheless, a woman’s primary role in society still remains everywhere that of wife and mother.

I sometimes wonder now, in my mid-eighties, about the person I would have become if I had taken the more usual path and married one of those nice American young men I considered when a student at the University of Wisconsin in 1948 to 1952. As I’ve written, none of them accepted my going on into graduate school. The phrase was – a girl gets a Ph.D. if she can’t get an M.r.s. Mixing marriage and career was not a generally accepted, even an imagined, goal for a young woman. Jobs a girl could aspire to -- teaching, librarian, nursing, secretary, clerking in the proper store or in a bank – were meant for an unmarried woman; it was expected that she quit at marriage. I was working as a waitress to support myself and pay for school and the only girl on campus doing so. In my first semester, a woman professor came in to give a lecture in my biology course. A woman professor! It blew my mind. I knew then what I wanted to do with my life but was not facing reality: the small number of professional women with children, the doctors and lawyers and professors I knew or knew about, had started out wealthy. As Victoria has noted, working class women were out there holding down jobs, usually low paid, because they had to earn and had little choice of where and when to work. With the rare exception, a working class girl’s way into the middle class was through marriage. (The 1945 movie starring Joan Crawford, “Mildred Pierce,” shows a woman who moves up as a business-woman.)

When I think now about my life had I married an American I remind myself of why I married a foreigner. I married a foreigner because I was different from other young women. The prospect of an ordinary middle-class life left me cold, yet the attractive, really exciting guys were too demanding in their psychological needs. I did not want to be the earth-mother-goddess the talented artist needed or a near-hippy companion for the politically radical activist or the efficient-gracious-hostess for the brilliant career guy (although I did fall into that). If I had not married Ravi, it probably would have been the New York Jewish student and I would not have fit into his sub-culture, either.

I married Ravi because he was a psychologically stable, extraordinarily attractive guy who would not take me into a lifestyle I did not want. He accepted our going on into graduate school together and I accepted, in a youthful adventurous spirit, becoming a wife in India. As it happened, though, he could not find a job there and his family lacked the means to support us while he searched for one. We stayed on at the university, into academia, and later into the expatriate life.

I’ve written about my identity crisis in Paris as an ex-pat wife, in Why do children, and expatriate wives, whine? It's in Elsewhere in my blog I've written about a wife identity I did not expect, that of wife of the eldest son in an Indian family. That was something else.

Blaze said...

I am grateful for my far away friend and co-author Victoria.

I am grateful for the connection to so many people like Iris whom I would never learn about without the IRS trying to interfere in my life 42 years after the U.S. Consulate insisted I was "permanently and irrevocably" relinquishing U.S. citizenship. Despite those connections, I just want the U.S. to leave us all alone.

Thank you Victoria and Iris for sharing your lives with us.

DL NELSON said...

What is a high tech bathtub????