Part of practicing yoga is taking time to acknowledge the gifts in your life. We call it gratitude. It requires taking a few moments in your day and thanking yourself, your god, the universe for all of the good things that surround you. It’s weirdly one of my favorite moments in my practice, aside from Shavasana (which is the corpse pose in which you lie quietly and relax, and CLEAR your head — if you do it right, it feels like that moment between being asleep and awake). It’s at the end of practice where you thank yourself for taking the time to actually do yoga, for accepting your accomplishments, letting go of your failures. It sort of reminds of that moment in church (Catholic) where you shake your neighbor’s hand and offer them peace — only you’re offering yourself peace instead — which is so much harder.
Anyway, it was raining the other night and I was sleeping as a guest in a bed that was not my own. My back ached. The rain was loud and I could hear the traffic from the intersection. A nearby freight train could be heard every thirty minutes or so. I was about to complain to myself — to tell my future self that I owed my future backache to the uncomfortable mattress and my moodiness to the lack of sleep. As my inner self opened up her mouth, the word “gratitude” came out. I was legitimately thankful that I had a roof over my head, a warm blanket, and a window between me and the street outside. That I could sleep safely and not worry that someone would attack me or steal my stuff. It was a strange thing — to let go of the complaints and to recognize that nothing was owed to me.
I started to list the things that I was grateful for. An overpriced vacation. My snoring son. My husband. Taking my stepson along on the first real family vacation we’d ever had with both children. My dog who hours earlier had eaten a new rug I had just bought for his indoor pen while the dog sitter was in the shower. The fact that I had the means to do any of this felt like — a blessing?
Then something weirder happened. Every time something crappy happened, I tried to practice gratitude. Okay — so when the manager at a certain convenience store didn’t understand that I was annoyed that they literally filled up my 24 oz chai cup to the brim with ice and charged me $4 for what turned out to be 4 oz of actual tea and milk — I may have forgotten gratitude (although I was grateful for my constraint). It can’t be applied all the time. I’m certainly no Gandi.
So here I am sitting before this computer trying to practice gratitude when the fact is, my plans for July and August and really December have somehow spectacularly just fallen to pieces. See, I am in the last leg of my MFA degree in Creative Writing. I’ve suffered through a class of Early American Literature (I’m more of Brit Lit fan myself) from our sister department (English) in order to complete my coursework and FINALLY finish the novel I’ve been working on for two years. All that I needed to do was A) Finish the American class (just two weeks to go!), B) take Shakespeare for the final summer semester Six weeks with the bard. And I like Shakespeare too! and C) complete my novel by early October to graduate in December. And all of this went to hell a few hours ago when without warning my campus account sent me an alert that my class (which was scheduled to start one week from today) has been canceled. Not only canceled, but now I can’t seem to get into the Fall course and my summer funding is also now canceled for lack of credits.
My fall semester will no longer be devoted entirely to writing, but devoted to a fifteen week semester of analyzing Shakespeare (vs. the six weeks the summer course would’ve required). It also means asking my husband to accommodate my schedule — meaning Mondays are his day to watch our son — no exceptions.
I could go on with the ways that this negatively affects me, but then a friend said, “Maybe this is for the better?”
How is this in my favor? I’ve had this schedule devised since March?
My inner voice keeps whispering, gratitude. But what are my blessings in this scenario???
I don’t know. Yet. Perhaps there’s something in these change of plans that are super positive. It frees up July and August to work on my novel. It leaves me time to play with my son. To read books I want to read. To catch up on these blogs (does anyone actually read this stuff, anyway?).
What I suppose it teaches me is that gratitude is hard. It’s not just being happy sleeping on a bed as hard as a rock, but an ongoing challenge to sift out the everyday stuff that gets in the way of our happiness. I can binge on Netflix (and not feel guilty), read those books that have been sitting on my shelf growing in numbers and mocking me for lack of time to read them. I can explore some of the really good chapters I’ve been writing lately and see if that is where the story really wants to go.
But most importantly, I think it was Elizabeth Gilbert who said, “I am my best person when I have less on my plate.” And probably a better mother, wife, and definitely a better writer.