Periodically, I like to meditate on a couple of things that help restore and elicit a sense of gratitude. It constitutes a period of contemplation evoking powerful emotions of joy and a state of thankfulness. First, I think of a difficult or frightening moment in the past I eventually overcame. I think of how, by great fortune, I was spared of the worst possible outcome of the event. For example, I once slammed on the breaks right on time in traffic avoiding a fatal collision with an 18 wheeler. Or I was called to cover a different unit on the day I was scheduled to see a patient who had been caught with a shank in his cell. On both such occasions, I was spared and I didn’t have to be. Many people die everyday from such unfortunate occurrences. I like to think that the time I’m given beyond these moments are added bonuses that I should embrace and do as much as I can with the “complimentary hours.”
The second thing I contemplate on is recalling all the people I’ve known, both directly and indirectly, who are battling or have battled serious life conditions such as terminal and chronic illnesses, addiction, severe mental health issues, homelessness, incarceration, abuse, and other forms of prolonged suffering. I think of how if there is a universal good that exists in the world then perhaps these people serve a great purpose. Perhaps, through divine wisdom they are the ones chosen to bear it for now so that I won’t have to.
As macabre and dark as it can appear, surprisingly these two exercises cultivate a genuine kind of gratitude where the effects are immediately felt. Suddenly, the coffee tastes fresh, people become more loving, and the possibilities endless.
In jail food is a high commodity- the currency that defines an inmate’s status. Due to the scarcity and restricted variety, the accessibility of food is based on the level of outside support or cunning ability to persuade or take from others. Food is prisoner’s gold. It is no wonder the the amount of bricks (sandwiches) or dollars in a commissary account greatly impacts the mood and mental health of the inmate. Jail is similar to outside society where power and status are of great value, except in jail, possession and rank is brought to the forefront due to scarcity and deprivation. It was here that I learned deprivation is not necessarily a bad thing. As a matter of fact, it may be beneficial.
One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned was in simply observing an inmate eat an orange. He was given an extra orange for lunch by a correctional officer. He looked at it and held it alternately with both hands. It was the same way a jeweler would handle an expensive gold necklace or a miner would examine a diamond. He smiled, peeled it slowly, separated it into pieces, laid it into a paper napkin, smiled again, and finally began to eat it. There was a level of gratitude in the process that I had never witnessed before. The inmate and his gold, an orange, submerged completely in the moment-something most of take for granted because we become accustomed to always having. And this applies to most things- our friendships, family, love, our possessions, our health, internal and external freedoms, etc. I have to admit, there was a sense of envy as I watched someone appreciate the very little, grasping to the moment, touching every bit of the orange from its outer texture to the sweetness of taste. I couldn’t remember the last time I had appreciated the little things, the many that I had take for granted. Because of deprivation, this inmate was given the gift of gratitude in which he could touch life and experience the moment at its fullest vitality. He was alive and free. “Who are the real prisoners?”, I asked myself. Most of us have plenty and yet most of us never experience a genuine level of gratitude for what we have. We’re taught to write a gratitude list or recite a few affirmations to boost our levels of gratitude but rarely is it suggested to reach out to a life who is far more deprived than we are. This is the best way to acquire gratitude- to learn it from those who have less. Often, it’s those that suffer greatly that touch life the deepest. It’s those who are deprived that can relish and appreciate without reservation when they finally attain something. Watch and learn through them, because if it’s anything that we more fortunate individuals lack, it might just be the greatest commodity of all- Gratitude.
The sun rises gradually every morning in order to protect the eyes. Too much light at once after obscurity can be harmful. Blessed is our Creator who gives enough light in perfect proportion to sustain us…
The best medicine for grumbling is gratitude. It’s free and it never ends, yet sometimes it’s hard to find. Visit your nearest prison, orphanage, hospital, or graveyard. There’s so much to be grateful for.