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Reflections on Gratitude, Working, and Savoring Life

Three things occupied my mind at the start of February.

One: Another semester had just begun and I’d decided back in December to speed things up by taking two classes instead of just one. After this semester, I’ll only need one more course to complete my degree.

Two: I was surprised by news that my students would be returning to school after lots of news saying that they wouldn’t–this meant I would be returning, too, and I was nervous over my own health condition.

Three: And finally, February is my blog month. It’s my most self-reflective month because a few years ago, and a couple days before Valentine’s Day, I was diagnosed with diabetes 2. This diagnosis changed my entire life and painfully altered what was once a joyous relationship with food. Anyone who’s ever fed me is familiar with that loving expression I have for my plate, no matter what’s on it!

Gratitude vs Work

My plan for this February was to set up a gratitude page in my journal to show how easy it was to take five minutes and write just one thing I was grateful for, everyday of February. It’s a short month, so I thought I was also being very clever!

By day 8, I could see a pattern of poor time management. The three things on my mind started to glow red, and by day 15, I was in a panic. I’d missed an entire assignment from one class with no opportunity to make it up–this had not happened my entire time in grad school. My stress level made it hard to sleep, made my blood glucose levels shoot up, and this led to my fatigue and forgetfulness. Forgetting meetings. Forgetting where I was supposed to be posted at school in the mornings. Forgetting about Trekkie Tuesdays with my partner. I leaned heavily on caffeine just to get my body moving, even if I’d left my brain behind.

When my life gets to this point, I normally set a punishing schedule for myself. I have a tendency to use over-control as a coping mechanism by creating an “air-tight” structure, like Superman’s Fortress of Solitude on some frozen glacier. I shut everything out, including my most tender self, and let this robot version of me complete work. In this state, I can work for hours, sometimes into the early morning, without so much as a bathroom break.

I found myself in something of a trance as I planned this schedule for the rest of February. I get a delicious high when I check off every task at the end of the day. Two weeks into this cruel routine and my life was almost back on track. Except for the gratitude journal and my flagging health, I was exactly like society conditioned me to be. A hard worker, able to self-sacrifice (we call this being flexible in a fast-paced environment, but let’s not mince words).

Remember my tender self? She’s really kind and friendly. When her friends and loved ones are in trouble, she spends time with them. She plays with her cats. She plans her meals so that she can stay healthy. She also notices things to be grateful for. She savors.

With February over, the only loose end I had was my blog. It wasn’t easy to be grateful while I was in that headspace. I was operating on a scarcity of time. I couldn’t think of anything to be grateful for that wasn’t just “We’re alive.” I’ve written this blog over at least five times, trying to find the message. Trying to convince myself and my readers that gratitude is the right path, but no moment from February proved this point.

Gratitude vs Savoring

I was frustrated. I got up earlier than usual on March 1st to just hash this blog out and get it over with. Since this blog was going to be late anyway, I decided to take the time and make myself a fresh pot of coffee. In the early hours, my kitchen shimmered with this gorgeous electric blue light, so I decided to keep the normal lights off. I was going to turn on some music, but my partner was still asleep and I didn’t want to disturb them. I ground up the beans (the noisiest part) and just breathed into the expansive space I discovered in my body.

I stood in my kitchen, sipped the bittersweet heat of my coffee and listened to the world around me. The sound of cat claws tapping on the kitchen floor. The songs of earlier birds chirping in my neighbor’s hedges. The wind was playing in the chimes periodically–if sounds were like gems, I could feel my ears greedily searching for those woody notes. There was a hum of the heat turning on, I could feel the first cozy rush of warm air at my ankles. I enjoyed the transition of being cold into being warmed, like melting.

I’d been moving so fast, my happiness couldn’t catch up. I get a great deal of pleasure from my work and in the idea of competency and productivity, yet I never really considered the cost to myself. The reward is that the job is done and I get something in return–a good grade, a paycheck, or a bit of praise. However, there’s always more work to be done. So when do I get to relish those moments in between? I’d never learned how to do that before. This isn’t a culture of savoring, and writing down a piece of gratitude like “we’re alive” isn’t the same as savoring life.

Time isn’t money. Time is finite and irretrievable. Once spent, it is gone. Even when you don’t spend it, it goes away. Savoring is the act of enjoying the very moments we love, it is a private power we have to stretch time. I hope you’ll join me in a different practice, similar to gratitude, and more immediate. Do or be in the presence of your favorite thing, person, or place, and use every sense that you have access to, in order to savor it. If you can, try this a little bit every day that you have.

If you’ve forgotten, here are some basic senses you might use:

Sight

Touch

Smell

Taste

Hearing

With this moment,

Alexandria Hubbell

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