By: Carol Batrus
Gratitude: the quality of being thankful, a perfect descriptor for this season of Thanksgiving. In the mid 1990’s Oprah was on a crusade to have her audience keep a gratitude journal. Keeping a journal, highlighting the bounty of our lives, would show us with great clarity how blessed we each are. Keeping a gratitude journal would place us firmly on the path to happiness.
For me, the mid 1990’s were a time of betrayal, failure, humiliation and financial loss. It was my darkest time. Admittedly more desperate than hopeful, I was willing to try anything that would restore some semblance of contentment, or at least a willingness to get up in the morning. I gave the gratitude journal a try. With my newly purchased journal, I would sit in a comfortable chair or propped-up in bed and list all the things for which I am grateful. Eventually it should work; I’d be happy again—or at least that’s what I was told. In my journal I listed everyday things large and small: my home, the bed quilt, my friends, my car, a glass of wine, the candle on the night stand and on and on. I had so much to be grateful for. Who would suspect that encouraging a loving, heart-opening sentiment like gratitude would plunge my emotionally exhausted self deeper into despair? In a very ironic twist, I realized I had much to be grateful for, which made me even more miserable—because I couldn’t feel it. It didn’t matter. All I felt was crushing despair.
I had no idea what to do. If I couldn’t change the way I thought or how I felt, I would try not thinking or feeling at all. It was early spring and there were 100 miles of maintained trails in the foothills around Boulder, Colorado. I would escape. I started walking. I walked every day. Eventually the stillness of the woods allowed my thoughts to calm and gave my inner critic a much needed nap. My shame and grief dissipated in the surrounding mountain meadows. Physical exertion left me too tired to carry emotional baggage. Birds singing, squirrels racing along branches, plants sprouting, grasses greening along the trail defied my feeling that life was a burden. Plants didn’t complain if things didn’t go well. They didn’t refuse to sprout because the winter was cold or the soil rocky. Birds soared in the warm spring currents; they didn’t hide in a tree because bad things can happen. Squirrels weren’t sulking because their friend stole their stash. They played because it felt good. Nature embodies endless opportunity for renewal. Could I become like nature? No judging, no complaining, no evaluating, no fussing. Appreciate what is; find opportunity in every event and carry-on. I could try. Nature provided the spark that ignited hope, ignited healing and initiated my own process of renewal.
It has been years since that dark time. I continue to walk. It is my passion. The grandeur of the Rockies and the awe-inspiring landscapes of the West offer peace and perspective, shelter and celebration, connection and contentment. It is in no way an exaggeration to say nature saved me.
Gratitude: a readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness. How do we show appreciation for the enumerable gifts of wild places? Authors have identified, documented and expounded on the services and beauty that nature offers. Words can be powerful but unless supported by action, what’s the point? How are you connected with nature? How will you chose to act? By visiting a national park, planting a tree in your garden, cleaning up a beach, donating to save a landscape or species? In this season of gratitude, of thanksgiving, appreciate and return nature’s kindness by acting.