In keeping with the two previous years, I ended this past year by taking time to empty out my Gratitude Jar in order to read through the hundreds of submissions. Much like discovering all the goodies in a Christmas stocking, my Gratitude Jar is all that and so much more.
The act of dumping all those slips of paper on the floor has become an annual tradition, a joy-filled rite of passage. Gratitude Jar submissions have been an amazing experience and one that I realize has come to define me. And this year, in keeping with my tradition, I sat by a glowing fire listening to peaceful music and relived a years’ worth of gratitude. As I once again sat surrounded by hundreds of slips of paper, this year I was surprised to discover that I wasn’t so surprised.
One of my favorite stories is that of the Native American elder who teaches his grandson about the powers of good and evil by comparing the dueling powers to two competing wolves. He explains to the boy that inside each of us there is good side filled with peace, humility, compassion and love and there is also a bad side filled with anger, hostility, envy and hatred. The grandfather explains that these opposing sides are just like two wolves who fight one another within us. The little boy listens to the story and then asks, “Which wolf wins?”, at which point the grandfather wisely replies, “The wolf you choose to feed will win”.
For me, the act of writing something I felt grateful for was not initially easy. Frankly at times it was a pain in the ass. All I had to do was feed the proverbial good wolf but sometimes it was hard. At times the good wolf hid from me. I was tired, stressed or not in the mood to search for it – good wolves can be cagey, they don’t just sit there for you, at least not initially. It took effort to walk around and bypass the bad wolf to get to the good one. Some days the bad wolf was much more appealing, so much easier to access and far easier to feed (and on a few occasions I did). The last thing I wanted to do when I had just had a Grade-A Shit Day was to write some little pansy, fake-feeling word about being grateful. I didn’t care about the good wolf, the bad wolf was right there ready to be fed, to high-five me – he wanted to be my friend. Sometimes I felt tired, sad, angry, hurt yet something propelled me time and again to find that good wolf and feed it just a word or two. It didn’t need much and that was the thing…it required so very little. Some days all I wrote was “cats” or “music” or “hot tub”, just crumbs. Ultimately it wasn’t hard to scrape up a gratitude crumb even from the worst days, in fact it got easier. And then it got fun. And then…even on the Grade-A Shit Days it got to be something I looked forward to.
Day after day…good day,bad day, highs and lows, happy, sad, heart filled with love, heart crushed with pain…I stuck to writing something down that I was grateful for. I committed to feeding the good wolf. And slowly and subtlety over time it was no longer a chore. I didn’t really notice but the good wolf started to gain weight…and then it got down right plump from being fed every day. At some point the good wolf was fat and easy to find, always there waiting for me, just sitting there easy to spot. Days would go by without even seeing the bad wolf, without even thinking about it. And eventually at some point at the end of the Grade-A Shit Day, feeding that good wolf was the thing that made that day less shitty. It became the thing, that even if all the wheels had fallen off my wagon, I still had a crumb of gratitude to feed the good wolf. ‘Knock me down and say what you want’ (as David Ford sings), I still have something to feed the good wolf. And the good wolf laughs knowingly…the good wolf loves winning because in truth, it doesn’t require as much.
And so this year as I sat reading the slips of paper it occurred to me that only a few things jogged my memory. For the most part, I had remembered all those meals and all those nuggets I had fed the good wolf. The good wolf has helped me stay present, aware and focused on what and who is truly important. The bad wolf is still there as it ought to be. The bad wolf gives us a point of reference, but little else.
Today, three years later, my good wolf is fat (please do not call Weight Watchers!). My good wolf is happy, sitting front row, center awaiting the next meal. She’s kinda hard to get around, sitting there waiting for me, grinning from ear to ear like the spoiled pet who knows she’s going to get a treat. I still experience those Grade-A Shit Days and I always will but I have learned from simply putting little pieces of paper into a jar every day, those crappy days quickly become diluted and overtaken by goodness and laughter.
Meanwhile my good wolf keeps getting fatter…I’m probably going to have to let out her jeans again or buy her a bigger size. But that’s ok, she’s worth it.
Happy new year and happy feeding.
Thanks for reading,