It’s the season of gratitude, yet last week I found myself in a sea of darkness. I was sick. I don’t know about you, but I find it very difficult to be grateful when I’m sneezing, coughing, aching and generally feeling horrible. I did my best to remain positive, reminding myself that I was being given a non- negotiable opportunity to relax and recharge. Still I found myself drawn towards the “woe is me” place with thoughts such as, “This is the worst possible time to be sick,” and “I have way too much to do.” I even caught myself heading into victim mode, thinking, “Ella got me sick,” as if my one year old daughter had somehow conspired to transmit her sick germs to me. If anyone had conspired, it was myself, or more accurately, a wise, unconscious aspect of my mind and body forcing me to take some much needed time off.
Still, it took me a full four days of acute sickness before I was able to stop and allow myself to enjoy the break. Even then it was no inner leap of enlightenment that catalyzed the shift. Rather it was a little jumping spider who had made its home in my car.
While my wife was working I was driving Ella to get her to sleep (being sick, my patience was way too thin to deal with a tired and fussy baby). I noticed that our resident jumping spider had found its way onto the edge of the steering wheel. It seemed quite content to sit and observe as we zoomed down the straight and narrow. But when we came to a turn, that spider’s world suddenly turned upside down. Literally! That little guy or girl held on for dear life as the wheel spun one way. Then on the way back, Spidey must have thought “I’m outta here,” because it dropped down from a thread in search of more stable ground. That however turned out to be not such a great plan, because the momentum of the turn flung that spider right back into the steering wheel with a crash. At that point Spidey decided it would be best to hang on and ride out the storm.
When the turbulence ended and we were back on a straight stretch, that spider somehow knew exactly what it needed to do: It headed directly for the center of the steering wheel and planted itself firmly atop the Toyota logo. When we came to the next turn Spidey just went for a nice little spin, which it was able to neutralize by spinning in the opposite direction.
Watching the spider do its thing, I imagined myself on one of those amusement park rides where you stand up against a fence as it spins around really fast, so fast that it’s nearly impossible to push, or is it pull, yourself away from the fence. That’s sort of how I had been feeling in my sickness: dizzily pressed up against a wall, unable to peel myself off. Only unlike at an amusement park, this sickness was an involuntary ride, and it was showing no signs of slowing down.
Spidey’s demonstration was just what I needed to remind myself to come back to my center. Witnessing the innate wisdom of a spider, I was able to apply that same awareness to myself and re-imagine my own position. Like Spidey, I had a choice. What would it feel like in the center of the ride? And how would I get there?
For me, being in the center meant being fully in my sickness, not fighting it, not trying to push myself off of that wall. So all that day and the following day, I acknowledged my gratitude: for the sickness, for Ella, for my wife, for the time off. I basked in my sickness, taking naps and baths, sitting for long periods of time doing nothing and just generally loafing. It was wonderful. And the amazing thing is that by the end of that second day I felt great. Certainly not completely better, but my energy level was vibrant and flowing whereas before it had been stagnant and dull.
I believe it was the gratitude that shifted me into the center of that ride. Instead of worrying about all the stuff I was not doing, all the meetings I was missing, and all the money that was not coming in, I was able to stop and accept exactly where I was, and, indeed, acknowledge my gratitude for being there.
Just like that little spider, we get to choose how we experience each moment of our lives. We can enjoy the thrill of riding out at the edge, or choose the more stable, yet no less enlivening, ride in the center. Certainly there are times when being on the outer edge is appropriate, and even necessary, but I don’t need to live my life there. Neither did Spidey.
And neither do you. For many people the holidays can be a whirlwind of too much shopping, cooking, family, parties, eating, traffic, credit cards debts . . . well you get the idea. So this holiday season remember to periodically come back to your center. If you find yourself riding that dizzy edge, stop and take time to acknowledge your gratitude. No matter how turbulent your life might get, find something to be thankful for and let that gratitude draw you gently back towards your calm, stable center.
I’ve quoted Meister Eckhart before, and I’m sure I’ll do so again, but he stated it so simply and beautifully when he said, “If the only prayer you ever say is ‘Thank you,’ that will be enough.”