One wonderful practice I finally became disciplined about despite my previously held “this is so cheesy” perception is maintaining a gratitude/acknowledgments list.
Each night (or just as often in the morning while I’m waiting for my morning coffee to kick in), I do a list of 5-10 highlights from my day, people or situations I’m grateful for, or things I did or handled well. (The latter has actually included items such as “I did not curse out so-and-so when she suggested I do XYZ, although internally I wanted to go ballistic on her.” Another example shows some maturity on my part: “I was not at all pissed off at so-and-so for saying XYZ, though I know I would have been a year ago or if I wasn’t in such a good space.”)
I email my daily list to a good friend who does the same. I also keep the list in a single word file, which has unexpectedly turned into a cool way to document the high points and lessons of my year.
Keeping the list compels me to find something to appreciate even when I feel life as I know it has gone to total shit. On on least one occasion in 2010, for instance, I expressed gratitude to the list itself “for getting my head out of my own ass.” It’s certainly helped me remember how rich life is, even when I’ve listened to myself blathering on about how f*cked up the world seems at time — or even how excruciatingly boring my own life can feel.
And with as many activities — and interest in them — as I have going on now, I went through a horrific period of boredom, late last year and early in this one. Boredom is not the same as having not enough to do. It feels to me more like a spiritual emptiness. In that way, it’s perhaps the most unpleasant (but not ineffective) method I’ve used to clean out and release facets of my life that no longer fit.
Early in 2010, I drafted a poem about the experience, which in retrospect feels both didactic and prophetic:
What I Tell Myself When I Go Out of My Mind
When boredom comes to you as a gray boulder
lug it along in a metal shopping cart
toward the Giant down the block,
so the walk from stoop to store can mimic
donkeywork, and you can arrive at your destination
sticky with aches from your roots,
from which you’ll make a thick soup.
The clouds will piss pellets of leaden ice.
Steel your mind to the dream: your ankles
bound by chains beside a frost-bitten road.
Or else the one where you’re shackled to Dennis Brutus
on an island made of metamorphic rock off the coast
of the Cape in a thick morning fog, hammering stone to gravel.
For now, you don’t have to do anything.
If symptoms of worldly withdrawal are worrying,
then bless your boulder with your eyes.
Get close, note how striated its body, like aged teeth,
that slate comes in as many shades as restlessness.
A poet I know walks the woods by her house
talking to the dead. Thank you Father Stone
she’ll whisper as she sinks her sit-bones
into its cold cradle, a moment of rest.
Sometimes the unbearable ennui is God gearing you up
and off the grid so you can chip away at your condition
as client or consumer, your city crushed into a market,
your neighbors broken into an unfortunate demographic;
all you love reduced to bundles of metallic bricks
buried in a concrete vault somewhere below the asphalt.
You get bored when you fail to feel the power of the plates
pushing up collisional boundaries. You can build mountains
with what’s inside. Plant an ear atop bedrock and hear
the bass in its voice as it vibrates a Mourner’s Kaddish,
a heavy-handed metaphor for the gift of weighted time
which pulverizes ambition, leaving it behind its own dust.
Let the smoky rock roll over your bones until it finds its bearing.
When the moon is balsamic, cast the weight aside.
It can take a million years to create even the smallest pebble.
Know that a time will come when you’ll exchange dreaded days
for that fleeting feeling of being unburdened, for being
able to see slivers of faceted crystals among the finest ash.
As the nights get longer, I’m struck by what I can see in the slivers of light between dawn and dusk: how quickly the days and years slip by — and paradoxically, how time expands if I’ve got a practice which allows me to hold onto to good parts. But the hardest of all for me is this: to remember when the darkness sets in that nothing I carry inside is ever exactly as it seems, though it might take holding how I feel up to the light to see that clearly.
Wishing you much light, even as I hope you enjoy these dark times!