Several years ago, after being tipped off to the practice by a friend, I started wearing a rubber band around my right wrist. Thanks to the advent of the cell phone, I rarely wear a wristwatch so there is some empty fleshy real estate. But the rubber band is not a fashion accessory; rather, it is a reminder to maintain an attitude of gratitude.
Let me explain. There are people who are naturally grateful. I run into them all the times in and out of the rooms of recovery. When the topic of gratitude comes up-in the rooms, as it often does,-many people are quick to recite a list so expansive that it would make Mother Teresa of Calcutta second guess herself as to whether she understood the concept. I, however, am not one of those people.
I remember sitting in a gratitude meeting once struggling to come up with something to share. An old timer shared before I did how she had been to a meeting at a sober living house earlier that day. One resident, in his first few days of recovery, spoke of how he was grateful that he was able to brush his teeth without gagging that morning. To the non-alcoholic that may seem an odd thing to share. But having so ravaged my innards with quart upon quart of eighty proof rotgut, I could relate to not wanting to even brush my teeth for fear of retching in the early days of sobriety.
Why does something as simple as being thankful to brush ones teeth gag free come to someone naturally while I struggle to bring to mind anything at all? Why, when I have been so blessed, do I fail to maintain a grateful attitude? Hence the rubber band on my wrist. Sometimes it’s green. Sometimes it’s blue. When I am feeling a little Madonna Kabbalah-ish I rock a red one.
Regardless, whenever I notice it–several times throughout the typical day– I pause and give thanks for whatever is happening in my life at that moment. As Ekhart Tolle said: “I‘m grateful for always this moment, the now, no matter what form it takes.”
More importantly, when I catch myself in a negative thought I snap the rubber band against the soft flesh of my inner wrist. It serves as a reminder to discard the negative thought and reflect on something I am grateful for and then get into action.
Action is key. Mere lip service to gratitude is meaningless. I show my gratitude by how I interact with others. Sometimes this takes the form of doing a random act of kindness for my wife, children or grandchildren. Other times it means getting out of my own head and sharing some kind words with someone new to the rooms of recovery. Often it can be as simple as greeting a stranger with a smile and a word or two.
I am reminded of a quote by Maya Angelou: “Good done anywhere is good done everywhere. For a change, start by speaking to people rather than walking by them like they‘re stones.” When I read this the first time, I was, as the religious folk say, convicted. I treat people as if they were stones all the time. When my wife catches me doing this I have no recourse but to plead guilty. I have given her permission to snap the rubber band if she catches me ignoring those around me ... and she‘s not shy about accepting this permission.
When I am fully present in the now, when I acknowledge those I come in contact with, the light within me is rekindled. My circumstances matter not. I am reminded of Viktor Frankel‘s classic Man’s Search for Meaning where he describes Jewish prisoners who were able to express kindness and spiritual fitness even when living through the horror of Nazi death camps including Auschwitz.
When in gratitude I welcome all that are in my life at any given moment regardless of the circumstances. How have they blessed me? What lessons are they teaching me? I show my thanks by acknowledging them and sharing a kind word or doing a kind deed. If their actions are unkind I regard them as spiritually sick; haven’t I been spiritually sick on occasions as well? When encountering such people I strive to remember to show them the same compassion I would a sick friend.
So how do you express gratitude in action? Feel free to comment below.
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