At a dinner party last night we discussed our mothers and what we had learned from them. I mentioned several lessons that I learned from my wonderful mother, Barbara, including hard work, courage and caring.
But while walking in the woods this morning I realized I also learned another important lesson that has helped me be emotionally healthy throughout my life. My mother taught me how to be grateful for the small wonders of life and this practice of gratitude has brought happiness to my life on a daily basis.
Yet my mother did not pontificate on philosophy, spiritualism or religion. How did she teach me this valuable lesson?
Every spring when I walk in the woods I think of my mother and search for the tiny spring beauties, the speckled dog-tooth violets and the reticent jack-in-the-pulpits on the woodland floor. She loved these May wildflowers and could identify so many plants, trees, birds and other natural wonders. A hike with her was a science lesson.
But most native wildflowers are not showy and are easily missed if one is not observant and patient. I realize now that a hike with my mother taught me to notice and appreciate even the most delicate and easily-over-looked delights. In this age of hyper-sonic movies and video games, this may be a lesson few learn today.
I believe these many woodland hikes with my mother were a training ground in gratitude. If we can notice tiny purple violets or experience the sound of raindrops on the leaf litter on the forest floor, perhaps this is preparation for recognizing and being joyful for other gifts — food, water, shelter, job, friends and love.
Of course, my mother also taught gratitude because she never said a negative thing about anyone and was rarely a complainer, despite many hardships, especially her many health conditions.
For years at the end of her life she had to wrap her arms and legs in heavy elastic bandages to prevent swelling from lymphedema and circulatory problems as a result of her breast cancer. Many others would have complained far more vocally. Yet she continued to garden, ride her bike daily, volunteer, travel and camp.
While I have many things to be thankful for — health, food, water, shelter, and a fulfilling career — I believe the practice of gratitude should begin with small things: the smell of apple blossoms on a damp spring day and thanks for being able to hike in the woods.
Too many of my patients over-focus on the negative aspects of their life, filling their brains with thoughts of real or imagined troubles and worries. They fail to notice the everyday parts of their lives that they may be grateful for. Perhaps they never had someone teach them this skill of noticing the wild violets and being grateful for another stroll in the spring woods.
Practice gratitude on this Mother’s Day!