Personal Growth

The Latitude of Gratitude

By Maura Burgess

As I write this, it is a mere 11 degrees Fahrenheit in Colorado.  Thoughts of warm weather and sandy beaches are flowing through my head.  Now, if I am truly honest, I am not so fond of beaches and the ocean.  Truthfully, I am scared to swim in the surf and I don’t like to get sandy.  Also, I am not quite sure if any of my swimsuits still fit in an appropriate manner.  It just seems that life would be easier and better, if I were somewhere warmer and more glamorous.

I think many of us defer our gratitude, thinking that thankfulness and acceptance of who we are will come when we are in a different physical location; perhaps on a beach or a mountaintop. There are many “traps” in focusing on anywhere, but where we currently are located.  It is very fun to escape the “ordinary” life for a bit, in retreat or vacationing.  However, the kicker is that our beliefs and attitudes follow us wherever we choose to go.

What if a state of gratitude has nothing to do with physical location, but has everything to do with the “latitude” or scope of our thoughts?  What if a deep sense of thankfulness comes to us when we have a belief that we are in the right moment and right place to experience incredible gifts and insights?

In my life’s journey, I have identified three main traps, which keep me from truly realizing that I am in the “right” place and moment.  These little devils are unrealistic expectations, unhealthy attachments and crazy comparisons.  When I “party” with these types of thoughts, I entertain all sorts of insecurities and false beliefs.

What if I woke up this morning, in Colorado, in the winter and then I spent all day disappointed and grumpy because it is really cold?  With that “unrealistic’ thinking, I would spend my day wanting something that is out of my reach at this moment.  It can also be extremely frustrating, when I have crazy expectations in my relationships.  My husband doesn’t enjoy clothes shopping. How fun would my day be, if I brought him along for an all-day shopping excursion?  (Things would have the potential to get really tense in the middle of Banana Republic). Then, I could top off the day, by being disappointed because I “expected” him to have a fabulous time.

Now, let’s turn all that muddled thinking around and see it this way:  I live in a wonderfully beautiful place and I am thankful for the scenery and a working furnace.  I have a caring, loving husband who will engage in many activities with me, I can clothes shop on my own or with friends.  Wow!  When I look at my life in that way, I am filled with gratitude and appreciation. 

Another little mind game that can creep up on me is unhealthy attachment. This can come in the form of a “wanting” for certain people or objects in my life.  I remember when I was younger; I would pine away for the “perfect” boyfriend and ended up dating some real egotistical beauties.  Then, I would be in unhealthy relationships, where I stressed about how to “keep” Mr. Wonderful in my life.  I realize now that this came from a belief that I was “not enough” without a romantic partner.  Now, I am the first to admit that life can be really fun with certain objects or people in it, but it becomes really desperate when I plug into the belief that I am “incomplete” without that object or person.

This can put us into “delayed gratitude” mode.  “I will be so grateful when I have a newer car or a better house or a great boyfriend, etc..”  Do you see how the “will be” phrasing creeps in and we lose sight of what we have in this moment?

In this state of mind, it is possible to overlook how great you already are and there is the danger that after you "acquire" the object or person in your life, all your time will be spent in anxiety over losing them.  (See example above about old boyfriends). With this mentality, our gratitude becomes conditional on items or people outside of ourselves.

Finally, let’s look at crazy comparisons.  We all compare ourselves to other people.  This is natural and can be completely harmless, if we are just observing our differences.  It can also be educational if someone has wonderful traits that you wish to emulate.  However, too many times we get caught up in our insecurities.

For instance, if I am feeling like I need to lose weight, I will pick up a health magazine.  Now, my intention is to simply find examples of fitness to motivate myself. However, this goes horribly wrong if I look at the pictures of buff people doing exercises and I give myself negative self-talk. “Why don’t you look like that?”  “Are you lazy or what?”  That kind of comparison is going to drive me to eat a whole pizza and drink some beer, instead of taking on a healthy exercise regimen.

At the root of all this insecurity is a belief that if I was somehow different or more like other people, I would be a better person.  Yes, there are some healthier habits that I need to incorporate into my life, but I need to honor where I am at in the process.  Self-loathing and being miserable serve no constructive purpose.

 Life is so rewarding, when I honor my current physical location, my current possessions and relationships and my unique, wonderful traits.  That is living in the present moment and “latitude”.  By being thankful in this place and moment, I am choosing not to defer my joy.  Now if you will excuse me, I have a fireplace to sit near and a dog to pet as I look out on the frost and snow.

 

Bio for Maura M. Burgess

Maura is a Spiritual Practitioner with Centers for Spiritual Living, who has an Accounting degree hidden in a closet somewhere.  She is currently taking classes in improvisation, moderating a women’s group and starting up a company called Suburban Guru.  Her passion is showing people that life can be sacred without being serious.

 

 

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