Reading poems and essays, delving into language, meaningful experiences and registering them through the lens of gratitude. I had actually given myself something I’d always longed for!
Three years ago I chose gratitude as a practice to help me celebrate my fortieth birthday. Each morning in the year leading up to my birthday, I went looking for a quote that really spoke to me—words from a poet or philosopher, scientist or wise-being. Something that sparked the feeling of gratitude in me. And because I also wanted to develop as an illustrator and artist, I then spent hours working on a drawing that illustrated the quote and my feeling of gratitude. It was a hefty project. Especially given that I had been feeling lost and unsure of my path just days before I made this decision.
It was December 11th, 2012, the day after my 39th birthday when I posted my first illustration (filled with drawings of eggs) on my newly created Facebook page. Instead of using someone else’s words that day, I wrote my own. Here is what I wrote: “365 Days of Gratitude: Day 1: Eggs. Eggs that hens and birds and fish lay. Eggs that my sweetie made for breakfast. Chocolate eggs and blue Robin’s eggs. Organic, local, free-range eggs. All you good eggs out there. And you difficult ones, too. Eggs that get fertilized to become a human life. 39 years and 9 months ago yesterday, I began as an egg. What am I now? Grateful.”
Sixty days into the project the magnitude of my commitment really hit me. I had 305 days to go. Was I going to make it? I was making art every day. Reading poems and essays, delving into language, meaningful experiences and registering them through the lens of gratitude. I had actually given myself something I’d always longed for! I was finally living my values, creating art every day, and experiencing my life in a profound and practical way. How had that happened?
Woven into the fabric of my day, each day, there was this thread. This intentional, practical, wondrous, wise, thread that called me back to presence, and to feeling my way into gratefulness.
I’m still not sure I have an answer. But something significant had happened. Maybe it’s as simple as: I picked up gratitude and ran with it. Or I decided to go deep with one thing, instead of many. I’m sure there are lots of ways I could understand what happened. But the truth is, gratitude found me. It had been an inherent part of my meditation and mindfulness practice. And for that reason, it seemed like a natural choice. Yet, I didn’t know much about it as a practice. It just felt right. Kind of like a new friend that you feel you’ve known a long time.
Was I grateful every day of that year? Yes. Was it easy? Certainly not. Life was everything it had always been. Full of stress and suffering, excitement and quietude, moments of confusion and bright spots of friendship and ease and wonder. But woven into the fabric of my day, each day, there was this thread. This intentional, practical, wondrous, wise, thread that called me back to presence, and to feeling my way into gratefulness.
Some days I had to remind myself what I was grateful for. That may sound funny given that I was engaged in a gratitude practice. But it really felt like part of the path of being human. Don’t we all need reminders to be kind to ourselves, to feel something directly and not just think about it? So that became a big part of this project for me. Learning to listen. Practicing how to listen. It’s true that I was grateful each day. And most days I had to ask myself, many times, what am I grateful for now?
Cultivating gratitude did change my life. But I still have to work at it every day.
That year changed the course of my life. I ended up making 300 illustrations, many of which went on to become a line of greeting cards and prints and an annual “GRATITUDE” calendar that are now sold in shops all over the US. In January 2015, a year after finishing the project, 70 of the illustrations were made into a book called Wear Gratitude (Like A Sweater), published by Rock Point. Dream come true? Yes.
And, life still happens. It’s full of wakefulness and unconscious habits, of being mindful and getting lost, of being grateful and being grumpy, sometimes all in the same moment. Cultivating gratitude did change my life. But I still have to work at it every day. Which is good. Because it’s a life-changing practice. A deep friend on the path. A moment, when truly felt, that can open and transform the heart.
Susa is also a trained educator, parent-coach and long-time student of yoga and meditation. Her writing and workshops offer a platform for cultivating creativity and wisdom, as well as awareness, gratitude and self-care. When not in her studio, she heads outdoors towards open sky. Learn more and say hello at www.susatalan.com.