Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Melody Beattie
“There is always something to appreciate, if you look for it, in every moment.” I say these words often in the gentle yoga classes I facilitate at Joy Center as we reach for the sky in Star Gazer pose. And when you’re doing something that you love, it’s easy to settle into that place of appreciation, like it was for me last Friday evening as I hiked along one of my favorite trails in Ishpeming. The setting sun flickered through the trees and the world seemed golden and the gifts kept coming my way. “I appreciate . . . I appreciate . . . I appreciate . . .” I kept saying to myself. First it was a bunny that hopped across the trail, then it was the glistening of a dragonfly and the screech of a hawk and a deer who stood there and just stared for the longest time. And, an hour or so into this spacious evening adventure, as I walked by a marsh filled with blooming purple irises, the cell phone in my pocket rang, and I appreciated the conversation that I shared with my son Chris, who lives in Salt Lake City finishing up his doctorate. And after Chris and I said our good-byes, as I turned back in the direction of the car, my mind wandered to another walk where I also had immersed myself in this practice of appreciation.
It was six years ago, and it, too, was in the glorious spacious time of summer. Except on this particular day, I wasn’t feeling glorious or spacious. We had just driven across the country from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to Salt Lake City, at the beginning of Chris’s graduate school time. And although there had been many grand moments on this trip out west, the quarters had been tight and the U-haul that we were hauling behind our car kept fish-tailing and we were all tired and cranky and the time in Salt Lake City was passing us by quickly as we helped Chris to get settled. I was grouchy. My body needed to move. My spirit craved a climb in those mountains that we could see from Chris’s lawn as we unpacked the U-haul. So, on Day Three, I claimed some time for myself, an early morning walk, not in the mountains that I longed for, but on the streets of Chris’s neighborhood. I decided that I would make the best of it, that I would look for things to appreciate in this city that was my son’s new home. And I was a warrior for appreciation that morning; sometimes it takes that kind of focus, when you’re mind is wanting to veer in the direction of self-pity.
I appreciated the houses that lined these sweet streets, small storybook houses, with sweet front porches. I appreciated the roses that bloomed in the gardens, the cat sitting on a lawn. I appreciated the blue blue sky and a day that was fresh and clear. I appreciated that, after days of sitting in a car and unpacking boxes and shopping for bedding, I was moving my body and my heart was pumping. I kept walking and I kept appreciating and I kept feeling better and better, until I realized that I was feeling pretty darn good and it didn’t matter if we had a chance to go hiking in those mountains. I appreciated myself into a feeling of joy. I appreciated myself into a neighborhood that I didn’t know. And it didn’t matter at that point because I was appreciating everything. I’d find my way back.
And that’s when I wandered into the alley that had the big dead-end sign perched at its end. Except it wasn’t a dead-end after all. Because I met a new friend. He had just parked his car, a giant old stationwagon stacked high with painted canvases. And he was opening his door, this tall chipper gray-haired man wearing running shorts and sneakers, and I approached, asked for directions. There was a short-cut, he told me, a path through the woods, beyond the dead-end sign, and he pointed me in its direction. But then we started to talk. His name was Zwi and now I can’t remember what that means but at the time I loved having a friend with the name of Zwi, a friend who talked about art and radiated energy, a friend who also was a warrior for appreciation. He wrote down places for us to eat, Indian food and Middle-eastern food and fresh organic local food; he told me of a bookstore that had poetry readings. He showed me his art painted on the canvases in his car, and we hugged, said so long, new friend, and farewell. And I easily found my way back, to my family, to the rest of the day, to my Self.
And, last Friday evening, I found my way out of the woods and back to my car, and I climbed into bed filled not only with the fragrant fresh smell of early summer and a treasure chest of appreciations from my hike, but also with the memory of my Zwi story, that no matter how we are feeling, there is always something to appreciate and when we choose to head in the direction of appreciation, we are gifted in the most delightful and unexpected ways. So here’s to a summer of appreciation, to finding those gifts, to savoring them and sharing them. Here’s to a summer of play at Joy Center, a summer of yoga and singing and drawing and dancing and writing and book-art, a summer of calling ourselves back to our very core where we know that there is so very much for us to appreciate.