I was first introduced to gratitude as a practice thirty years ago when I joined a 12 step recovery fellowship. I was told to do six things every day to guarantee having a sober day. One of those items was the Gratitude List.
When I first began this practice I was amazed how good it made me feel. Nevertheless, as I remained sober, working the twelve step program, my emotional difficulties started to pile up and it wasn’t long before “write a gratitude list” started to feel like a punishment! Since that time I have always felt ambivalent about the gratitude list.
In recent times the ‘Gratitude List’ has also become rather fashionable. For example, Gillian Anderson (the glamorous actor) promotes it in her book We, co-authored by Jennifer Nadel. But I have also noted, in the media, that various scientific research has proved that acknowledging stuff to feel grateful for is proven to increase happiness and well being. I’m always, since university anyways, impressed by the ‘scientific research’ tag. Rightly, I feel.
But that hasn’t necessarily made me spring into action. Not that I have a policy of refusing to be grateful, on the contrary, I love feeling grateful, but in my experience gratitude doesn’t necessarily arise by writing a list. Up until today.
That said, recently I have been listening to Rupert Sheldrake on YouTube. You might say I have been binging on Rupert. I tend to do this with (usually male) ‘thinkers’. Maybe it’s my father complex shining through. I did this recently with Malcolm Gladwell and Gabor Mate, a while back. I’ve ordered a few Sheldrake tomes from the library and I’m currently working through the one about angels and physics.
Sheldrake advocates, not so much ‘believing in God’(although I think he does), choosing instead to focus on ‘spiritual practice’. This re-framing of spiritual practice away from religion, appeals to me. The practices he outlines make sense; from experience I know that many of them do make me feel more connected to wholesome experience.
In one of his talks he said he meditates in the morning and says his prayers at night. I thought: that sounds good, I’m going to give it a go. I’ve found it has increased my consciousness into a feeling of having a spiritual life. It feels new and beneficial.
One thing I have found useful in the past with gratitude — another ‘practice’ Sheldrake outlines — is to re-frame the gratitude list so it doesn’t feel like a school teacher telling me to eat my greens. Instead I write a list of things that make me happy. Or things I’m glad about. I do think language matters, and some of my personal associations to ‘gratitude’ are not necessarily positive. Like the reference to smelly over-cooked cabbage indicates.
Some things I feel happy about, or wouldn’t feel great without:
1. Rupert Sheldrake YouTube talks
2. My voluntary jobs
3. NA meetings online
4. Practicing spiritual principles
5. My flat
6. British and ‘World’ crime drama
7. living in Wales
8. My clothes
9. Apple juice and water
10. Hummus and avocado sandwiches
Well, I’ve written ten things there, as Gillian Anderson recommends.
On the negative side, I’ve been dealing with a lot of anger over the past weeks or so. I’ve been raging and metaphorically tearing out my hair. For the first four years of my recovery I never experienced anger. Not that it wasn’t there, I just didn’t connect to it. I don’t like feeling anger, but I accept it as a necesary communication from my psyche, or the angel sphere: things are seriously a miss. When I continually experience rage or anger in any situation, if it keeps coming up I have to change. That’s where taking inventory comes in. I may not have done something wrong, quite often I haven’t, not nowadays, but the problem is mine if I don’t address it. This is how I read the 10th step thing about ‘when something wrong, there is something wrong with me.’ Not ‘I have done something wrong’, which is how I used to hear it.
When I am actually doing something wrong, I tend to know pretty quick, and I don’t have any problem apologising, and hopefully changing. Too often though, I am not quick to recognise when someone else is taking the piss, or when something is not working. This is because of childhood conditioning of one sort or another (count the ways). For me, that is much more difficult to ascertain and change.
Anyway, that’s my inventory for today.