This is such a fun writing assignment it hardly seems like work at all. Well, that’s not entirely true; it is challenging. I love this exercise because it opens all the doors and windows in my mind to let the cool breeze of appreciation blow through. This exercise will make you happy –after it makes you a little nuts. It will grow your sense of appreciation, right after it seemingly shrinks your capacity to grow creatively. It will teach you how to count not only your blessings, but your mother’s blessings, your dry cleaner’s blessings, and that guy’s on the corner, too. It will challenge you in ways you didn’t know were possible, but by the end of it, you will have developed a new-found appreciation for your writing prowess.
This exercise is a process of developing awareness for the details that comprise your life. It is about learning to look beyond the surface of things, to become like Superman, able to see in and through the ordinary facets of your life. It’s about tapping in and turning on, which is about 181 degrees from what we do on an ordinary basis. We work our daily lives into routines because it simplifies things. You take the same route to work every day because you don’t have to think about which street go down, the speed of the flow of traffic, what detour to take because the road has been torn up by the city crews. By following the same route to work each day, it frees your mind up to traipse after other thought balloons, work out other puzzles like what you want for dinner tonight, whether you’ll get the roses trimmed this weekend, the tattoo your darling daughter wants to get on the small of her back, your dream vacation to Galapagos.
Routine driving patterns are just one example of how we engage in activity, and disengage our attention. Personally, I like to devise new routes to get to the same old destinations for the adventure of it…but that’s just me. The trouble with routine is that we stop noticing the details of the world when we go on auto-pilot. Life goes by in a blur while we’re busy thinking about yesterday, dreaming about tomorrow. Right Now gets pushed off to the side as. uninteresting or unimportant. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
Some sages assert that Now is the only thing we know for sure. We can touch Now, we can taste Now. Where is the future physically located? Where is the past? Can you touch it? Can you slide it over your skin like a fine silk scarf? Now is the only tangible thing that matters and we’re busy pushing it away in our rush to be somewhere else. It’s sad. We spend so much of our time anticipating the future and replaying the past that the present slips by unnoticed. The Amish have it down. They don’t keep photographs of their beautiful, clear-eyed children because it’s against their conservative religious tenants. But as a side benefit, it anchors them firmly in the right now. Right now their girls are lovely. Right now their boys are strong. There’s something liberating about that kind of limitation. For this exercise you must anchor yourself firmly in your Now. No escaping to yesterday, no slipping off to next week. Take a deep breath and let it out slowly. Look around you, study your surroundings. If you’re in a cafe, count the people who occupy the tables around you. If you’re on the deck at home, notice the temperature of the air on your skin. Be present. It’s Now baby! Embrace it, shake it around, drink it up.
Take out your journal and put this heading at the top of a nice, clean page with the date on it; 100 Things I’m Grateful For. And there you go, that’s it. Now before you start scratching around the idea that this is too simple and too trifling, let me I can assure you, it is neither. A list of one hundred things may seem like an easy task, a task for a fool; and maybe it is. If you get to one hundred without breaking a literary sweat, bump it up to two hundred just to make it interesting.
The big stuff is easy: love, family, a comfortable life. What about the small matters? Lentils. Air conditioning. Sandals. The list really is endless, so get creative. How about guppies and bright green parrots? Make a list of 100 things –I guarantee you that the interesting stuff doesn’t even begin to show up until somewhere after 25. Generally, this is what you can expect. You’ll start at one, and streak blithely along, passing ten things you really appreciate without so much as lifting your pen from the page. Twenty will come and go. Shooting round the bend of forty may slow you down a little, scratching for ideas and then you see fifty up ahead. The incline before you has become swiftly steeper, slightly more hazardous. You’re not taking the corners as rapidly as before, maybe you’re having trouble catching your breath. Maybe this isn’t as easy as you thought it was. Panic might get you in its grip: What? Can’t think of 100 things? Approaching the summit, the forest thins and the air is vaporous and you passed all the obvious details of gratitude ages ago. Just when you think of giving up this stupid useless quest, something happens. Your minds slows its spinning, the sharp edge of your cunning softens, and what slips in, is a quiet knowing. There is so much more, more than you could ever fit into the list of 100. The thoughts pick up speed now. Suddenly the ideas rush at you and you smile knowingly. You found those things; all of them. And you found them not yesterday, not tomorrow; you got them all.