How I Learned Gratitude
This is a re-post from Aug 4, 2010. It is a favourite of mine, because it marks the beginning of a new chapter in my life. One that I have come to view as very slow and subtle adventure that is my life today.
It’s almost two years ago now, since I became the sole name on my apartment lease and after two years of feeling displaced, I finally had a home I could call my own.
Previous to that, I had moved in with a boyfriend, thinking that this would finally be the beginning of all of my dreams coming true, only to leave 10 months later with my clothes, my cat, my guitars and not much more.
I lived with my Mum for 10 months until she decided to sell her house and move into a new condo complex that was being built in the neighbourhood. I was thrilled for her, but more than a little concerned about how I would find an apartment since it was at the time when my work at the theatre would be finished and I had no idea how on earth I was going to be able to rent an apartment without a job.
As luck would have it, a friend needed a roommate and invited me to move in just a few days before we were to hand over the keys to my childhood home to its new owners.
My roommate had been clear that she would be moving out of the city 4 months later. I was just happy to know that I had a place to stay for the time being.
I loved this apartment the minute I walked through the front door, and within 5 minutes of being here, I vowed that I would find a way to stay. I assumed that would mean finding another roommate. I had always lived alone prior to the ex, but I just needed to be here.
The Landlords at the time were a young couple who had renovated the 3 suites in the building with a plan to sell it as soon as they could make money. I began to suspect this when they accepted my offer of being the caretaker for a small discount on the rent. I knew that they had turned down previous tenants who had made similar offers even though they were clearly not interested in maintaining the property. I was absolutely thrilled when they said yes, but not at all surprised to come home and find a For Sale sign on the front boulevard just a couple of months later.
The new Landlord took over that January, intending to honour my lease until the summer when he and his family would be moving into my suite.
I was devastated. I really couldn’t understand why the Universe was making life so difficult for me, when I’d already endured so much. I was still trying to furnish my new home and here I was going to have to move again.
The small second bedroom which had been my roommate’s was sitting empty waiting for me to buy a desk and chair and whatever else I thought I needed to make it into an art room. I hadn’t had a space to create in since moving in with the boyfriend, and it seemed like a great idea. Until, I decided to take up meditation and used it for that instead. No furniture required, just an old orange velvet chair with no legs that I still love.
That was where I learned to practice gratitude.
I began a ritual that I maintained all winter. Each evening after dinner, I would meditate, then I would focus my attention and energy on anything and everything that I could think of to be grateful for.
It always starts like this: “Thank you. Thank you for my beautiful home. Thank you for this wonderful room. Thank you for leading me here.”
I would spend my days looking for things to be grateful for when I got home in the evening.I learned something valuable from this exercise:
There is always something to be grateful for, and true gratitude leaves no room for anything else.
I was determined not to waste what time I had here being unhappy and angry that I had to leave.
Yes, I could at times become completely miserable over the situation, but each evening saying “Thank you” helped not only to remind me to stay in the moment but also to trust that clearly, if I wasn’t able to stay here, it was because I was supposed to be somewhere else. I had to work to maintain my faith in that.
After my meditation, most nights I would climb into my layers of winter gear and head out to the river where I could walk for miles. (Except that I’m Canadian and I walk for kilometers.)
After a couple of days, it became part of my ritual to meet up with two deer that hung out in the patches of forest on either side of the river. I named them Neko and Tina, and I swear, they expected me each evening as I expected them.
I could walk along in silence, focusing on my breath with the intention of seeing them. Sometimes I would walk for nearly an hour in one direction and then suddenly for no reason, I would stop, breathe and turn my head back at some unlikely angle and just stare into the darkness that was the trees all around me. Then, my eyes would adjust to the dark and they would come into view just a few feet away. I would silently tell them that I love them and they would look back at me for a few minutes as if to say, “Hi”. Then, deciding that I wasn’t all that entertaining, they’d go back to eating.
Some nights, if I was particularly down or lost in thought, they would scare me half to death by jumping out of the bushes directly in front of me. When my heart returned to it’s normal rhythm, I would find myself a little bit happier to have again received the gift of seeing my two ladies and I would again remember gratitude. I was truly lucky to be where I was, even if it was only for a short time.
Spring came, and the river flooded and the deer moved on. But my wonderful Landlord decided that he just didn’t have the heart to ask me to leave.
He and I get along wonderfully, and he especially loves the fact that I am an Environmentalist as he is. He recently gave me a gift to thank me because he says that every time he passes the building I never have more than one light on, and he appreciates that I always check for hallway lights and other building energy wasters.
Now, there is no way that I could call myself a rational person, and claim with any certainty that my practice or these deer meant anything in the grand scheme of things, but I think they did. Thinking that gave me hope for my future. It was at the time what I needed most of all.
My meditation room is about to be re-purposed again as I’ve come to the conclusion that I need the room to write without distraction. The orange chair will fit just fine in my bedroom, and I try these days to practice gratitude everywhere.