I Pause For Gratitude

One of the most profound exercises suggested by the teacher of my mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR) course at Stanford University was to practice gratitude. He suggested that even something simple like taking a shower is an opportunity to practice mindfulness and to be grateful. Afterall, kings and queens throughout history didn’t have the privilege we enjoy on a daily basis — having hot and cold water that’s clean, on demand. It’s, of course, a privilege that many throughout the world don’t get to enjoy. We often forget the many blessings in our lives.

I spent the better part of Saturday morning planning our Thanksgiving day meal. After watching a dozen videos on the various ways of prepping the turkey, figuring out the right balance of side dishes, making a master spreadsheet with all the ingredients, I noticed I was feeling tired and annoyed. The entire process was taking way too long and I had other more important things to do.

Then I ordered the entire shopping list on instacart. While I was doing this, I also noticed how long it was taking to add close to 50 items into the cart. To my surprise, I could not order the most important part of the meal — the turkey from Wholefoods via instacart. Feeling more annoyed, I headed over to wholefoods.com and ordered a turkey for pick-up. 

The interesting thing about having a mindfulness practice is that you can learn to observe the mind, it’s reactions, its thought patterns — as if you’re an observer watching a movie. Often, I get caught up in the frustration, annoyance, complaining, whining, irritation, anger, etc. But in moments of wisdom, I am able to catch my mind doing the habitual mind-behavior. Sometimes, I am able to instantly snap out of it. Other times, I am not. However, even realizing that what my mind thinks, what I am feeling is simply a reaction is liberating.

After almost four hours, the menu was complete. All the recipe had been printed. Kitchen equipment packed into a giant laundry basket (to drive down to Southern California with). Every ingredient ordered. But I was still observing this sense of frustration. So, I paused and inquired. Why am I feeling this way?

Then I have a choice — I can have a completely different response. I can approach it with gratitude.

My mentor and friend, another bankruptcy lawyer, Cathy Moran suggested donating money to the local food bank and sharing our blessings. It’s unfortunate that while some of us dine like kings and queens, others go hungry at Thanksgiving. So I donated money to our local food bank.

I was reminded of how blessed and the grace I experience every day.

I’m reminded of an interview with David Brooks on On Being where he said:

And it’s one of those moments where reality sort of spills outside its boundaries, and time and life are sort of suspended, and you become aware of a happiness that you don’t deserve, which is grace. When that happens, your soul swells up a little, and you want to be worthy of that happiness. And it’s just a moment when the soul is swelling.

That line, “you become aware of a happiness that you don’t deserve,” that is an experience I so often forget to pause for.

Our legal training can encourage measuring our self-worth and success by the next big win or land that client.

As my co-author, Karen Gifford and I wrote in our book, The Anxious Lawyer:

It can also be challenging to feel grateful when our work puts us in contact with so much of what we may feel is ugly or disappointing. Lawyers literally paper over the world’s messes, and we end up witnessing a lot of bad behavior and misfortune. How to be grateful for the disputes, crimes, deaths, betrayals, official misconduct, and financial reversals that make up the fabric of our days? But the challenges we may face in engaging with gratitude are precisely what make gratitude so very useful for lawyers. In fact, gratitude is such a powerful antidote for what ails so many lawyers, if you come away from this course having added only one new practice to your life, we suggest it be a strong and daily engagement with gratitude.

So, as we approach Thanksgiving, I invite you to pause and reflect on the many blessings. Notice the happiness in your life that you don’t deserve… so that you may be worthy of that happiness.

Wishing you and your family grace, happiness and safety.