In the gap between event and response, I can choose to be grateful. Gratitude is a key to a positive, transformative, constructive, outlook. The emotions I experience may not be a choice, my response to them can be. It is constant, conscious, choice to work or labor to get to that frame of mind. I think the work is worth the effort.
While holding gratitude for an experience I can remain aware of my outdate reactive responses. I allow myself to see them without judgement: that is beauty.
With gratitude, I can persevere to stay present and accept myself the way I am without harsh criticism or punishment: that is strength.
In the transition as I move on from the moment, I can recognize that something different is possible. I can break off the old, automatic, habitual with the love of gratitude. From there, I can be or act in a new way: that is wisdom.
In moments of distress, gratitude gives access to emotional experiences of connection, positive outcomes, and resilience. By intentionally choosing to remember those bolstering memories in instances of pain, we can “knock off” some of the distress and reactivity and see the truth of each moment.
If an example would be helpful, I’ll offer one. If you’ve already understood my point and don’t need one, stop here.
In the past when I was in an accident or was injured in some way, I would get angry, often swear loudly, sometimes hit inanimate objects to express the pain I was experiencing. Somewhere along the way, due to the reactions of family, I realized maybe my anger-pain performance wasn’t necessary. It surely communicated I was hurt and upset about it. But what did it change? Nothing. And it didn’t help anything. In some instances, it scared people—which is not my goal.
I started to train to circumscribe my reactivity, this unfortunate passion that seemed to overtake me. I would go back over old injuries and imagine I could just experience the event without reacting. For a while I switched from swearing to saying “oh yeah that’s good…I’m alive. The pain reminds me everything is working just fine…I’m fully alive.” Sure, it’s ridiculous. It’s also true. More importantly, in that moment, I changed. I planned and when the moment arrived, I chose to feel grateful for the pain and broke the old response off with the gavel of gratitude. I chose to experience the pain as a confirmation of being alive, of my humanness, and the miracle that one part of my body could communicate effectively that it was injured and damaged to my brain.
I also started to notice things hurt less. The pain didn’t last as long because I wasn’t amplifying it with my pain performance. This insight is still new even if a few years old now. I was able to translate it to a more relational moment the week before writing this. Corinna gave me some important feedback about my words at the family dinner table. She had decided to delay communicating to me a little while after the event. As she spoke, I could feel myself get defensive since the feedback stung a little. She was right on target. Rather than respond reactively, I set the compasses and drew a circle around my reactive response…
Next, I used gratitude for her and the communication of her experience to break off my reaction before I spoke. I reminded myself “this is a person who loves me, who has my, and our kids, best interests at heart.” As I listened to what was previously painful to acknowledge, my old patterned reaction subsided. I heard how my words at dinner furthered a dynamic neither of us want our sons to inherit. Some part of me didn’t want to believe I “did it again.” If I hadn’t accessed gratitude and allowed myself to become defensive in the moment, I would have “protected” myself from the truth through denial. I would have diverted us from light to an argument about my being defensive. I would have missed the painful truth, a blessed gift, a secret that I needed to receive.