Sunday, November 8, 2015

Month of Gratitude, Week One: Satisfaction

As it is the month for gratitude, I am going to write at least one post a week this month discussing illness and gratitude. Although illness has taken many important things from me, there are many gifts it has given in return. One of the most important lessons illness has given me is to learn how to be satisfied and gracious in that satisfaction.

Dissatisfaction is a state of being for many of us, and it can be a valuable tool to help us achieve goals. I lived most of my life always thinking, literally, “what’s next?” I wouldn’t have been able to go to grad school twice, achieve my goal of getting a tenure-track professor position, climb mountains, or power through illness like a warrior the last few years if I didn’t know how to channel “what’s next?” into achieving goals.

Yet, this “what’s next?” also pushed me to make choices that weren’t good for my health and, more importantly, it blinded me to the immeasurable gifts I already had in my life. If I have one regret since getting ill it is that I took too much for granted and didn’t appreciate what I once had that is now gone. “What’s next” was a distraction from being mindfully present and allowing myself to surrender to satisfaction, to look around me and feel grateful for my life.

We are trained from a very young age to never be satisfied. We are conditioned to become consumers from the moment we are born and to look for “bigger and better.” Satisfaction, in American culture especially, is a truly radical idea. Everywhere we turn, we are constantly persuaded to want more and to be more. “Bigger and better” and “what’s next” are illusions; they create desires that can never be quenched.

Yet, as the speed in which my world spins has slackened, as the alacrity of my own body has dampened and my legs—once athletic and invincible—stumble along at a glacial pace now, I am now still much of the time. It has helped my mind be still as well. In moments that are thick with suffering when I’m lying in bed and surviving moment to moment, I am forced to live in the present. The pace of my world has significantly decelerated, but the images of life are no longer blurred in speed. They have color, texture, definition.

It seems ironic that illness would give me this lesson. If we are often told “your health is the most important aspect of life,” then you would think living with a life-limiting illness would be the most unsatisfactory state of being. Yet, “your health is the most important thing” is a platitude; it assumes that those of us who live with chronic illness have nothing because we don’t have “our health.” This is fundamentally false. The loss of my health and my independence has taught me to value what I still have and despite being ill I can still enjoy what I still have.

It has taught me that there are moments to savor in life. There are moments when all of the ingredients of life—the people in our lives, the words we say to each other, our perceptions of the world, our self-image—meld into something truly delectable. These are the moments when we can feel truly alive, feel the electricity of being human. These moments were not on my radar before illness—before I was forced to be still and live in the present. When you live under the spell of “what’s next,” it’s easy for these moments to pass by.

I try to find moments throughout the day to just breathe in satisfaction and feel it completely. 


Satisfied with the limitations I have now and what I can still do

Satisfied with my appearance

Satisfied with spending most of my time at home

Satisfied with each moment I get to be outside and be part of the world

Satisfied with my relationships

Satisfied with my material possessions

Satisfied with how I physically feel in this moment right now

Satisfied with my talents and abilities

Satisfied that the present is here but the future is a mirage

Satisfied with the treatment I have right now

Satisfied with the time I had with my mother

Satisfied with the change I am able to enact in the world

Satisfied with the energy I can give to others

Satisfied that my condition may get worse or get better

Satisfied that I may work again or I may not

Satisfied that my place in the world is just as it should be right now

Feeling satisfied at times doesn't have to stop us from setting goals and seeking improvement in our lives and in the world around us, but it's ok every once in awhile to appreciate and value that what we have is enough. Satisfaction also doesn’t have to be a constant current and it is by no means a constant sensation for me, but illness has forced me to look around at the world and appreciate the gift of life. It is an integral part of living with acceptance. In those delectable moments I can say thank you for the giftedness of life, even if it’s just for a breath—but I’ll make it a long breath and try to feel an entire lifetime of satisfaction in that moment.

I hope that you also have moments of pure satisfaction, moments where you can just stop and say "thank you."

How has illness or any other setback in life helped you feel gratitude? 

Here's a great TED Talk about gratitude: "It is not happiness that makes us grateful. It's gratefulness that makes us happy"

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