I Decide to Be Grateful

I Decide To Be Grateful

by Susan Downing

One thing we mothers do is carry our children within our body, as part of us, for nine months before we go through the process of passing those sons or daughters out into the world.  Although from this point on our children are no longer part of our physical body, they never cease to be part of us, not for a moment.

It’s not surprising, then, that since my son Mike deployed to Afghanistan this past week, I’ve come face to face with a host of disturbing emotions. Worry, fear, sadness – they all come up, and they’re all connected to a circumstance I’ve never experienced before. Sure I’ve worried about Mike in the past, but never as intensely as now.  So, when I felt the first wave of disturbance roll in last weekend, after his group had headed out, it was a big, strong wave.  But it didn’t take long for me to realize: yes, this is a new situation for me, and these particular negative emotions are more intense than I’ve felt before, but they are negative emotions, and I have a method for dealing with those.  It’s a decision making process.

When I feel a knot forming in my stomach or my breathing quickens or sadness begins to seep in, I have a choice to make.  I could allow myself to be taken over by them and become so distracted that all I feel is the disturbance, so paralyzed that I can’t think of or concentrate on anything else.  I could spend my days imagining all sorts of awful scenarios and whipping myself up into an emotional frenzy.  Or I can be grateful.

This is what I choose to do: I redirect my mind from fear or worry or sadness to gratitude.  Naturally, this is easier to do at some moments than at others. Sometimes I feel a shift in my mental state immediately. Sometimes after a few minutes.  Sometimes after a few hours. But it always shifts.  And each shift feels like a little victory over the disturbance in my mind that is trying to hold my mind captive. But I don’t have time to be distracted.  Nor do I want to be.  I have responsibilities toward others and I’m dedicated to carrying them out.  My practice helps me do that.

I’ll tell you some of the thoughts I use to redirect my mind, because although you may or may not have a son or brother or husband or other family member who is currently deployed, I know that you do have times when disturbing emotions threaten to take over your mind.  You can train your mind to focus on gratitude, too.

When worries crowd into my brain, I shift the focus of my thoughts: I think about how much I admire Mike for his courage and dedication. I focus on how proud I am that he chose to put himself at risk to help make it possible for others to live happier, more peaceful lives. I feel grateful that Mike, his fellow Marines, and others who serve in the military are serving for the sake of us at home as well as the people in the towns around them there.  I am grateful for my practice that helps sustain me and for Mike’s practice that helps sustain him.  I am grateful for the Buddha for reaching enlightenment and for giving the rest of us a path we can follow, too.  I am grateful to all who have preserved and taught and translated the dharma so that my fellow practitioners and I could have access to these life-saving teachings.  Finally, I am grateful for the circumstances in my life right now that challenge me to practice in spite of the challenges, and for the practice that enables me to make good use of those challenges to strengthen both my resolve and, in turn, my practice.

This is my practice, every day, sometimes every hour, as often as necessary: I decide to be grateful.  And I am.

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