Where does gratitude come from, and how can we get it when we don't feel it? Those are two big questions I've been wrestling with lately.
Things have been a bit blah the past few months. It's strange, since so many cool things have been happening. I ran my first 50-miler in early June and direced a successful Mountain Magic Trail Run a few weeks later. A board of phenomenal people came together to help start my new organization to help cancer survivors called OutLive. I got to spend time with my mother as she continues to celebrate life three years into stage-4 lung cancer. Plus lots of family trips, and there's a feeling of almost-overwhelming joy and pride at watching my boys enter new stages of adulthood.
We had the opportunity to go to a hypnotist show during our younger son Evan's freshman orientation at Montana State University a couple of weeks ago. After a 45-minute session of making a dozen subjects do things they wouldn't normally do, the hypnotist concluded by saying something to the effect of "Our minds are powerful things. We can all change how we think. We create our own realities."
Which kind of pissed me off the more I thought about it over the next week. Why can't I make myself feel differently? Think differently?
Then two days ago I read yet another article on forest bathing, the practice of deliberately immersing yourself in nature (not as far-out as it sounds), and realized I haven't been taking my own advice. It was time to start viewing running as a daily part of my life -- not just as a way to reach a set of goals, but also to deliberately appreciate and immerse myself in the world in which I run. My cousin Laura Mrak has been an example as I recently came across her Instagram account of photos and short reflections of gratitude from her regular trail runs.
With that in mind, I went out yesterday and ran some of the nearby urban trails I've trod many times alone, with a partner and with my running group. This time I stopped to take photos and soak up the scenery, both natural and human. Yes, the the obvious trees, bushes and river. And the human side, too -- bridges, graffiti, fellow trail users and their 4-legged companions, and even the left-over towels, pillows and empty soft drink bottles of the homeless.
This morning I'm in my second-story office with glass on three walls, listening to songbirds and feeling gratitude not just for the blessings of that time outdoors, but for so many of the people who are part of my life and for the great experiences I've been given. Yesterday's outing encouraged me that while there may a limit to my ability to change my perspective, it might be possible if I deliberately open myself up to the world and people around me and let them to act on me.
The question is, can I turn this observation into a daily spiritual practice? Or two, really -- getting out into nature with deliberate attentiveness, as well as regularly expressing gratitude to people around me? If you feel the urge to hold me accountable, feel free.