In my previous Crumbly Corner post I commented that quite a high proportion of the men and women I had interviewed for the Autumn Voices project practised meditation. When asked about the gifts that ageing had brought to them, an even higher proportion mentioned gratitude – a growing awareness that there was so much in their lives to be grateful for.
Both the wisdom literature and the well-being literature tell us that cultivating gratitude makes us happier and healthier. Gratitude helps us become more optimistic, more positive, more relaxed and more resilient and it results in deeper relationships and increased creativity and productivity. On the other hand, being ungrateful is related to anxiety, depression, envy, aggression, materialism and loneliness.
Some months ago I had a bout of shingles. It kept me awake at night. I accepted the wakefulness as a gift. It allowed me time to think about all the things that had happened that day for which I could give thanks. Distracted by the itching and the stinging, I searched for a pleasant memory I could I link it to. I recalled when my companion and I had decided to follow the course of the River Endrick, walking along its banks from where it flows into Loch Lomond to its source in the Gargunnock Hills. After a rather painful hour bashing through clumps of nettles and being quite badly stung, we came upon a rolling meadow richly carpeted with flowers. The sheer extravagance of variety, the generosity of colour, the profusion and prodigality of perfumes was overwhelming – cornflowers, cowslips, buttercups, thistles, white campion, birdsfoot trefoil, lady’s bedstraw, yarrow, meadowsweet, ox-eye daisies, cuckooflowers and many others I could not immediately identify – their combined scent so heady that in our ecstasy we could readily believe we had been granted a foretaste of Paradise. Out of the discomfort of the shingles had come a beautiful memory. I was grateful for that. OK, I sound a bit too pleased with myself, I know! So I’d better tell you that I have a stiff neck at the moment (spondylosis) and am failing to find anything positive about it.
I often find that it is the everyday things which I fail to appreciate – like the fact that I live in the Western World where I take for granted clean water, sanitation, electricity, medical aid, law and order, comparative safety. Or it is the really big things I overlook, such as death. If our fishy ancestors had become immortal, if evolution had stopped there, I would not exist. Without the cycle of birth and death over billions of years, this amazingly complex form of life that is you and me, would not be here now.
Recently my friend Peter died. I had known him since our university days. I discovered that loss, pain and sorrow can be a form of gratitude - gratitude for the friendship we once had. The pain of the present moment was made possible only by past happiness.
I have discovered, too, that gratitude opens the doors to forgiveness. But perhaps that should wait until my next Crumbly Corner post.