Cultivating gratitude

Up until last night, all the job stuff looked very murky again. It has been such a ridiculous and complicated set of events that I’m not even going to try to share it here. Just know, we’ve been on a ride. Most days for the past week I have been shouting “uncle!” every hour. I’m sparing that as my title for the post because I really, really think this is almost over. We will know 100% tomorrow, once paperwork is signed.

One undesirable trait I’ve seen in myself this summer, again, is that I’ve pretty much sucked at looking on the bright side. Harry can weather these times between contracts with a really great attitude. Don’t get me wrong, he struggles with it, too, but he ultimately keeps his head in a place of seeing all the positive that comes from these periods. And he’s right. I know he’s right. We come out with a clearer vision for our family. We become tighter knit and receive clarity with relationships and goals. He works diligently to build his skills during these “breaks” and often ends up getting better jobs. Yet, somehow, I go to this place of doom. Every time.

My doom is luxurious doom. It’s “We’re never going to buy a house or replace our car” doom. We aren’t worried about rent or food. Yet I still go to this “woe is me” place and feel sorry for myself that we’re not going to be able to buy a house a soon as I’d hoped. Especially the million dollar one on San Juan Island, with a view of the orcas. Or get a Tesla. Ok, at least something more environmentally friendly than our current enormous gas guzzling beast.

The unexpected extra thorns this summer also included my phone starting to die, our car breaking down, my surprise by an unwavering policy at Miles’ preschool and subsequent pulling him from the program, hip pain that keeps getting worse and is now keeping me from running and walking, blah, blah, blah, blah. These things are annoying and hard, but they’re weatherable. They don’t need to cloud my vision.

I feel like I have very thin skin these days. Thinner than it should be. Thinner than it used to be. I know it’s not our circumstances improving that will change my resilience. That would be a band-aid. The excitement of a house fades quickly, new cars lose their luster, different jobs provide increased demands. I try to frequently remind myself of the psychology around buying houses and cars. I know, rationally, that the increased happiness in temporary. But that doesn’t keep me from wanting it. Especially during stressful times when I crave a greater sense of stability. Even if it’s false. See the challenge?

I need a stronger anchor. I know Master Brené (if I met her in person I might just call her this) shares the importance of a daily practice of gratitude as a key difference between optimists and pessimists. (Oh no, I’ve even touched on it here before. Just six months ago!) It’s not inherent in personality. It’s a practice. Hmmmm….this might be part of my problem. I’m having a once a week, or even once a month, “Oh shit, I’m focusing on all the negative stuff going on here” moment and trying to combat it with a random pile of gratitude thoughts. No wonder I’m not getting anywhere. Except feeling that I’m bad at this. Like there’s a gratefulness contest about to happen and there’s no point in me even entering because I will be coming in last. As if God is sitting in the stands with a big BOO! sign.

Besides not practicing, my other problem is that I am tired of sweeping things under the rug. Sometimes practicing gratitude feels fake to me. I did that everything-is-all-smiles my teenage years and most of my twenties and I’m over it. Grief is important. Anger is important. I am generally anxious about change and denying that doesn’t help anyone. Buuuuut, maybe there’s a healthier place in between?

The past few weeks, despite myself, I have been continuously reminded of my treasures. I have felt deep love and deeply loved. I have felt more keenly aware of who my community is than I have in a long time. I have been hit with awe knowing that I have people in my life who stick by me through thick and thin. Times when I’m upbeat and fun or when I’m drab and sad. Showered or smelly. People who can handle me where I’m at. No masks. Or at least trying to peel them off when I notice them. And I feel that way about them. Is there a greater gift? I feel one step closer to heaven.

Yesterday, after squeezing hundreds of grapes off their stems in the morning, and pulling hundreds of coriander seeds off their stems in the evening, I realized that I am finding repetitive tasks soothing. (This has not been the case pre-motherhood.) There is now peace in the monotony. It wasn’t quiet or uninterrupted. Miles was narrating every single thing he did while I worked on the grapes, and I frequently left the grapes to play along with his game, sticky hands and all. Yet it was still calming. Bunch by bunch by bunch. Grape by grape by grape. Somehow, my mind relaxed as the colander filled.

I think this is a key for me to further growth. My gratitude practice needs to be linked to something tangible. The working of my hands allows my mind to be more relaxed and often better focused. Maybe my body has to be a part of this somehow. Yoga, dancing, cooking, gardening. Heck, maybe even puzzles! Let’s get crazy here.

If you do them, would you share your gratitude practices with me – what challenges you face and what helps you most? I would love to look around, even if it’s just with virtual vision, and see others on this journey with me. (Also, this feels like a good time to say thanks. I am really thankful you read my posts. It has been a huge gift to me.)


4 thoughts on “Cultivating gratitude

  1. Tanja

    Kathleen, I’ve been meaning to comment on an old post for weeks–to say what an awesome mother you are and how lucky your kids are to have you! But after reading this post, I had to finally write! I’ve been in a similar slump the past couple of weeks and finally got out of it about 30 minutes ago. Two things helped–the first was a blog post that landed in my inbox, which talked about taking the beauty with the pain, that you can’t have one without the other, and that being open to both is what actually informs the other. The other was TEDTalks LIfe Hack, which you can stream on Netflix. The first 3 talks completely turned my mood around in a manner of minutes: Amy Cuddy (on body language), Jane McGonical (games) and Shawn Achor on happiness. So that’s my final answer for the day: TED talks!
    Good luck with the job, the paperwork, the peace, the preschool, the San Juan house, all of it! thinking of you, sister —

    1. kathleenbeanblog Post author

      Oh, T. Thank you for your words. I know you really get the importance of it all being genuine. I appreciate the TED reminder- I sometimes watch those with great frequency and then I forget about them! I don’t think I’ve seen any of the three you recommended, so I will check those out soon.

      PS- The house was a joke. I admit to looking at listings online with more frequency than is probably healthy…

  2. Charlotte

    Gosh, do I hear you!!! It used to be that ballet kept me sane – the repetition of it, the codified progression that still left room for interest and variation. But my life doesn’t allow that now and I struggle with how to take care of my mind and body. For a repetitive and tangible task I know a lot of people swear by knitting to calm and center…

    1. kathleenbeanblog Post author

      Charlotte, I can imagine how much you must miss ballet. It still radiates through you- how you hold your body, how you walk. I hope you find more space for it or something equally satisfying. I do enjoy knitting. Another friend texted me about her knitting, too! I think I’m meant to be reminded, just in time for our dreary Seattle days…


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