What’s the best thing you’ve done today? Don’t think too hard about it. What’s the first thing that came to your mind? For me, the answer came as I was doing it and even though it was only about half past noon, I’m pretty sure that at the end of the day I’ll still feel the same way.
I did an 8-minute guided meditation on gratitude that was part of the 30-day Well Challenge by The New York Times. I signed up for this challenge right after the new year, and every day I receive a prompt to do a short workout or meditation, or to reach out to a friend, or to cook something delicious and healthy. I did the starter prompt and then for two weeks I’ve been saving these in a file figuring I’ll start in February. (Yes, I know that February doesn’t have 30 days.)
Today was different. Two days ago my dear friend Ricci had reminded me to mediate because I’d been having a hard morning. I did a ten minute meditation and felt much better. Then this came in my morning email and I thought, “Yes. I can do this. This will feel good.” And boy, did it feel good.
The meditation began with an instruction to notice my breathing and to simply feel grateful for my body’s doing this without instruction or attention. I felt an overwhelming gratitude to have a body that breathes so easily. So many people don’t. I have friends and colleagues who struggle with asthma. I remember when my mother needed supplemental oxygen because her body wasn’t absorbing enough with each breath. And of course people sometimes need to, or are placed on, ventilators because their bodies can’t breathe on their own, sometimes for a defined length of time like a surgery, or sometimes or ever again. The wave of gratitude I felt brought such joy and lightness!
After my next breath I was instructed to think of a person, thing, or situation for which I felt grateful, and not to judge it but just to acknowledge it. My book cover floated before my closed eyes and I thought about how grateful I felt for all the positive feedback I received when I announced it on Facebook and Twitter. I’d had such ambivalence about the whole cover design process, and here it was, complete, perfect, and attached to a book that will be published in August. I felt grateful for my publisher, Brooke Warner at She Writes Press, her design team, the editors I’ve worked with, and for the friends who’ve supported me in the process, but I also just felt grateful for this book on which I’d worked so hard for five years. It’s very existence is something for which I’m full of gratitude.
Just as I was completing another breathe my cat jumped on the bed where I was sitting and made the mewling sounds she makes when she’s about to burrow under the covers. This happened as I was instructed to think of something specific – a person, a thing, or a situation – for which I was grateful. My gratitude moved seamlessly to my cat. I love this warm, soft, small, being that sits on my lap and purrs louder than any cat I’ve ever known. Now I not only felt lightness, joy, and gratitude but I also felt full of love.
The next instruction was to think of a person to whom I feel specifically grateful, and I thought of Will, with whom I’ve shared the past 19 years. We met in January of 1999 and our relationship has developed and transitioned in a number of ways over that time, but I often feel – just as I did in that moment – a deep gratitude for the stability and freedom we provide for one another.
After another breath I was instructed to think about gratitude as something to be shared, and my thoughts shifted to Ricci, the friend who reminded me to re-awaken my meditation practice just a few days earlier. Not only am I grateful for that, but I’m also grateful for all of the support and encouragement she routinely gives me. The first thing I did after completing the meditation was to call her and tell her that.
As I sit here writing this, sharing this exercise and my gratitude with all of you, I feel so full of love, lightness, and joy that I can’t imagine anything better happening today.
If you want to try this exercise yourself, you can find the link here: https://www.nytimes.com/programs/well-challenge/day-14. I recommend that you try it without preparing in advance. Let the first things that come to your mind in the moments when you’re prompted be the things that guide you. Let the gratitude be a surprise!