Quieting the Monkey or Practicing Gratitude

Gratitude is one of the harder spiritual disciplines for me. I find that this is related to the challenge of staying in the moment and savoring the here and now for what it is rather than constantly letting the monkey in my brain screech about what I need to be worrying about.

Cultivating gratitude in myself and my children is one of the big goals for me. This is why Stephen and I have decided to keep the practice of saying grace before meals. In fact, I remember reading a parenting article several years back that advised parents to practice mealtime prayer even if they weren’t religious as a way to tangibly model gratitude. I’m afraid I need a lot more practice in gratitude than just mealtime prayers though.

A while back I wrote about a rare moment of gratitude when a quote from Meister Eckhart, the 13th century Christian mystic, came to mind. “If the only prayer you ever say in your whole life is 'thank you,' that would suffice.”

I had another one of those moments tonight nursing Lily to sleep. She’d been thrashing about trying to get comfortable—now that she’s discovered the wonders of stomach sleeping, she likes to nurse until almost asleep and then roll over to find a comfy position. Sometimes this means she ends up kneeling, which turns into crawling, which turns into, “Whoa, she’s almost off the bed” panic moments for mama.

After a few rounds of this, I picked her up, cradled her on my lap, and just rocked her gently. She nursed for a few more minutes, her free hand roaming over my chest with a sense of abandon and possession. Then she finally surrendered to sleep.

Sometimes these moments of quiet while I’m waiting for her to fall asleep and then stay asleep turn into very hectic inner moments for me—I suddenly have all of this time to run through to do lists (and “behind” lists) in my head. Inevitably when this happens, I come out of the bedroom stressed and cranky, already behind.

But tonight when the monkey started his chest beating, I was able to tell him to sit down. I felt a deep stillness and peace as I looked at Lily’s sleeping face and felt her breathing gradually settle into slumber. How is it that this human being grew in my body? How is it that just nine months ago she was a tiny newborn who couldn’t even hold up her head? And now she can crawl all over my bed and give me a high five? 

I was reminded of a favorite saying: Life is what happens when you’re making other plans. For just five minutes tonight, I managed to actually appreciate the life I’m living, not just the one I’m planning.