Image by Engin Akyurt on Unsplash
I have a daily gratitude writing practice that started at the beginning of 2020. Megan had given me a gratitude diary for Christmas in which it was suggested you write five things that you had to look forward to that day, then one thing at the end of the day you were grateful for. I failed to notice that that was its design for a while and simply started writing down five things I was grateful for at the end of the day, and then, oh, what the hell, what about a sixth. Most days I founds the five or six things flowed easily – I didn’t have to search much for things to jot down.
At the start of 2021, having not received a gratitude diary for Christmas, whether from Megan or anybody else, I realised I missed the practice. On 2nd January I missed the practice already, went and found myself a small journal from my office, and began a new practice. I decided to adapt a practice that Frank Ostaseski* says he does each evening with his wife, orally, before they go to sleep. Not having anyone to do this with à vive voix, I do it in writing, and when Medjool is around, might share one or two bits with him.
I learned about Frank’s practice only a couple of months before Julia died. Looking back over that writing now, which I am glad to have, I am beamed back into those weeks and months – whether for the beautiful things or for the unbearably hard things. I stopped the practice when Julia died – it would have been too much, too hard, too painful.
Unlike a traditional gratitude practice, Frank’s version is a little more reflective as well as more balanced. He suggests thinking/talking/writing about:
What has inspired me today?
What has challenged me today?
What has surprised me today?
What have I learned about love today?
I added a fifth question when I took up the practice, aware of how important self-care was to me at that time – and always.
What has brought me comfort today?
The question that I tend to struggle most over on a daily basis is “What have I learned about love today?”, perhaps particularly in these times of isolation/lockdown/pandemic. I am not interacting so much with people, and the love question seems to require more interaction with humanity. And still, I find something each and every day.
Since 2021 started, here are a few of my lessons in love – sometimes it’s just appreciating the love I see elsewhere, sometimes it comes from something I see on Netflix, sometimes it comes from a particularly wise resident at the hospice, or even my pets.
- 99-year old “E” at the end of life hospice said, “Love is what will save humanity if we would just wake up to it”
- Express it when I feel it – e.g., just tell Medjool when I am bubbling over with love for him
- Love is always there when I don’t block it
- I love saying “I love you” to people when they are not expecting it, e.g., to Joan today
- The importance of choosing to believe that Julia is probably okay wherever she is
- When I let things go I can be more loving
- Love does make the world go around better
- Love’s flow stops when I put up barriers to love
- From a widow’s story about remarrying, the complexity of the words “husband”, “wife” and “widow” when it was already complex enough, even if love itself isn’t
- Love endures
- Megan shows her love by sending me pictures and messages
- Black and Silver lie down together, but only with me, and only when I watch a film
- That it’s easy to tell Medjool just how very special he is
- Simple, easy loving is so good
- There was love between Churchill and Elizabeth II (my sense from watching “The Crown”!)
- Walking away from a work opportunity that didn’t pay enough felt like an act of self-love
- I love my widbuds like I love no other intact group
- Love can feel so hard and painful
- Going on a run releases my blockages to loving someone
- My blogposts soothe me and soothe others
- I cannot always access love for someone. And I really tried with S. I just didn’t like him
- Helen’s love and care for Megan is beautiful to behold
- Love truly is the antidote to judgement and fear
- I do need time away from Medjool to resource myself fully
- I don’t have enough love to be a charity; I need some reciprocation
- Medjool loves my spontaneous expressions of love
- I felt love for Medjool as I folded his clothes – it was a very moving moment
- I can let Julia embrace me from wherever she is – and it will always suck
- Love is a transcendent power for the “what’s next” world
- I have many friends who love me and I am confident in their love for me
- Love does make a difference if I can stay in being loving with people I find difficult
- Love comes in so many shapes and forms
- I cry more easily now in front of others
- People’s love for me extends to wanting to help Ben for his project
- Heart-opening practices make a difference
- Expressing my vulnerability and love challenges opens the doors for others to express theirs
- Love in organisations is vital
- I can be perfectly happy and fully in this new love with Medjool, and hold the pain of having lost Mike and Julia
- I love love
- I love my coaching clients
- The choice is fear or love – always
- Maybe organisations are not ready for love
- If I talk about love in organisations more, maybe more people in organisations will talk about love
- Medjool’s love for me is constant
- Love is stretch and growth
- Love eases hurt and grief
- When we love something or someone, we take action to protect it
- Loving life is possible even when living with deep Grief
- I will always love and miss Mike, and that makes Medjool’s love all the more precious
- Black’s love and trust for me are inseparable
As I read back, I am struck by the spirally nature of my insights. I get the importance of love, self-love, loving all things and people, and when I can practise that, it truly makes a difference. AND I get tired and sad and scared and then blockages go up. And I get settled again and a heart-opening practice will make all the difference to how I show up.
I have also relearned, re-reading these daily insights, and remembering some of the struggling moments with someone, that love and boundaries go together. If I sense I am being taken advantage of, I need to hold boundaries, if only for myself. It might feel like a barrier to love, but another way of looking at it is allowing self-love to flow. I cannot always love someone if can’t find something to like about them. Something my mum said to us on occasion when we were kids, and no doubt being loud and noisy and fighting with her or one another, was “Look – I may not always like you, but I always love you”. There is wisdom in that. Love can be there even if liking is not.
I know this stuff. It’s just not my way of being all the time. Not yet. Perhaps it never well be. But I sense, feel, truly know the difference it makes when I allow love, observe love, nourish love.
I will keep on practising love.
*Frank Ostaseski is a teacher in end of life care who is a primary influence on the founder of La Maison de Tara, the hospice I volunteer at and train volunteers for. His book, “The Five Invitations”, was given to me in both audio and hard back version for my 50th birthday, just 12 days before Mike died, by the hospice’s founder, Anne-Marie. I put down my ability to be able to remain fit for human consumption – whether for Mike, our kids, or myself, fully down to the ideas and wisdom in his book. And I continue to listen to or read his book on a regular basis, as well as attend his teaching webinars on many subjects.