Gifts and Graces

What do you notice? What do you pay attention to?

Most of us, most of the time, are paying attention to the time (or lack of it), the thing we’re stressing over, or the thing that’s undone. That’s how we’re wired. We’re good at spotting danger and conflict, and paying attention to the things that bring us stress.

We’re not as skilled at noticing the things that have always been there, our brain filters those out. If the glass is half full, we don’t even look at it, because it’s not a problem that needs our attention.

On a recent podcast, Tony Robbins pointed out that “the two emotions that mess us up the most are anger and fear. And you can’t be angry and grateful simultaneously; it’s the antidote. You can’t be fearful and grateful simultaneously.”

The key to being grateful, I think, is learning to notice. The beginning of gratitude is paying attention to the gifts and graces that we enjoy on a moment-by-moment basis.

This isn’t natural. The “noticing muscle” is one that needs to be trained.

Maria Popova shared a touching quote in memory of writer Amy Krouse Rosenthal that captures what this noticing muscle, well-trained, looks like:

When I am feeling dreary, annoyed, and generally unimpressed by life, I imagine what it would be like to come back to this world for just a day after having been dead. I imagine how sentimental I would feel about the very things I once found stupid, hateful, or mundane. Oh, there’s a light switch! I haven’t seen a light switch in so long! I didn’t realize how much I missed light switches! Oh! Oh! And look — the stairs up to our front porch are still completely cracked! Hello cracks! Let me get a good look at you. And there’s my neighbor, standing there, fantastically alive, just the same, still punctuating her sentences with you know what I’m saying? Why did that bother me? It’s so… endearing.

In our family, we’re trying to learn to notice. (Fortunately, we have kids, who are the very best teachers.) On a recent family walk we noticed the birds. The red-breasted robin, recently-arrived to announce the arrival of spring. The small pine siskin – more easily heard than seen – launching its song into the crisp evening air.

Then we noticed the “waterfalls”, miniature streams of spring runoff cutting their way down through the snow and ice.

And the streams in the gutters, perfect for racing twig “boats” in.

Gifts and graces? They’re everywhere. And simply noticing them makes it difficult for anger and fear to maintain their hold.

What are you grateful for?