Gratitude in Grounding
Generating Gratitude Series: Part 3
When my husband and I first moved to our home over a decade ago, huge old oak trees surrounded it on all sides. From pollen in the spring to acorns in the fall, the trees not only provided (too) much shade, but a ton of mess. Each year, I would even be met with tiny oaks growing in my flower beds as the acorns buried themselves deep enough to root in the ground. The biggest mess, however, came one week after days of continuous rain when the rotting roots of the largest tree had softened enough to no longer support it and it was leaning right toward our house!
As soon as he became aware of the potential danger, my husband called an emergency tree service to come cut it down. Working through the night to save our house from destruction, the crew not only had to take down the leaning tree, but another giant oak right next to it. After a ton of worry and even more expense later, we had a huge mess to clean up but were happy our house was spared, and I was delighted to see more sunlight.
In this part of the series, I am considering exactly what it takes to be grounded (and not the kind your mama gave you as a kid). But before I begin, I would ask you to consider this question:
Can you recall your first memory of feeling unsure of yourself?
It was at the age of 4 years old when I vividly recall my first experience of feeling like an outsider. As I entered the daycare center I attended and shyly approached a room of children who all seemingly knew each other, the unworthy and uncertain feeling immediately washed over me. It was that feeling which made my stomach churn each time I walked in the door and was forever stamped in my mind - planted in me as a tiny seed that would be nurtured for years to come, until it eventually grew into a giant tree.
I call it the Tree of Uncertainty and it would be further fed by other negative life experiences until I eventually stopped seeing myself as a human, no longer distinguishable as separate from the fruits of the tree: shame, fear, anxiety, envy, and unworthiness. Much like that tall oak in our yard so many years ago, the roots were planted deep but were soft and brittle, not providing enough support for the weight above, rendering it (me) ready to blow over with the next wind.
To help explain, I am excited to share with you an illustration provided by my good and very talented friend, Holly Kay. A special thanks to her for helping me bring this concept to life in a more visual and beautiful way (and sparing all of you from witnessing my severe lack of talent in this area).
As you can see, when it's nurtured, one root of unworthiness has the ability to grow into an entire tree which then bears nothing but negativity.
The problem is this: all of those negative thoughts were lies that had been fed and nurtured by external experiences and other people; but, even more tragic than that - they were fed by ME. Examples of thoughts ruling my existence included: I am fearful; I am unworthy; I am envious.
But the truth is: these were feelings. They were not - and are not - who I am. Wandering through life functioning as though I was nothing but negative feelings provided me no opportunity to actually be my full self. It allowed me no chance to be present in the moment, no internal fulfillment or joy, no chance to live my life's purpose; and, it forced me into a constant state of feeling not good enough for anything, a constant state of self-suffering.
So how do we take down the Tree of Uncertainty and replant positive seedlings in its place? How do we become and stay grounded in who we are without the ugly protruding branches? How can we replace envy with contentment, fear with courage, and shame with acceptance?
In some cases, we have to call in emergency crews to help cut it down. Trusted friends, family members, professionals, a Higher Power - each have their own tools to help slowly cut down each branch.
But it's in the replanting where we have the most power ourselves. Just like my first uncertain experience at 4 years old, it all begins with one seedling we all have the ability to plant and one you may have already guessed – Gratitude.
It only takes one small step to begin the necessary reprogramming of the way we think.
So how does it work?
There's one example in my life I can use to illustrate and that is the recent death of my grandfather. Having passed just a couple of weeks ago, my grandfather was a part of my life in unique ways. Sharing 10 acres of land with my grandparents in the rural area where I grew up, I was blessed to see them almost daily and to have relationships with them lasting into my adult years. His absence will be felt very strongly by those of us closest to him as well as folks in the community who knew him well.
As a part of his funeral service, my grandmother (his wife of almost 60 years) asked a few of us to write a eulogy and speak a bit about him. I will be honest and tell you that if I were to rate my initial reaction on a scale from excited to panicked, I would have given it a ready-to-bolt-on-the-next-plane-out-of-here. All of those old familiar thoughts raced through my mind: I can't. I'm not good enough. Everyone will judge me. I'm afraid.
Regardless of my initial reaction, one doesn't just say NO to their grieving grandmother, so I took the shaky approach, making sure she and anyone who would listen understood that I wasn't promising anything great. My real answer sounded something like this: I guess I will try.
In the days leading up to his funeral, I contemplated what to say, what to wear, how long to speak, and what impact to make. But it wasn't until the day of his viewing when I realized how much all of this thinking was taking away from the moment.
That day in the funeral home, I had the chance to meet and greet hundreds of people who thought highly of my grandfather, to hear their untold stories, and to receive their heartfelt condolences. It was that evening when it hit me: the request my grandmother had of me was a gift. It was my opportunity to honor my grandfather and show him gratitude for the years we spent together. Similarly, it was my chance to show gratitude to the many folks who took time to be with us in our heart-wrenching grief, to share with them in a way they had shared with me, and to give them a glimpse into a side of him they may not have experienced.
I will not pretend that it was easy for me to get up in front of those people in such a vulnerable state, to bare my soul in front of folks I hadn't seen in years. I won't pretend that any of it was simple or that I don't look back and wish I had said more. But by approaching it as my chance to show gratitude, both to my grandfather and to the guests, I was able to plant a new seedling. I was able to chop off just a piece of the unworthiness root and replace it with courage. Acting in gratitude gave me the chance to be who I was in that moment - which was simply a granddaughter grieving the loss of her grandfather - without trying to be anything else.
Once again, Holly has beautifully illustrated it here in the Tree of Gratitude which, as you can see, looks quite different.
With roots of strength, courage, acceptance, peace, and compassion, it stands tall and firm, ready to weather any storm that comes.
Being grounded in gratitude is the kind that keeps us rooted in the earth and helps us grow. It is the kind that keeps us present in ourselves and our surroundings. It helps us stay aware and in the moment as well as firm, confident, and strong in our beliefs. We are able to distinguish truth from lies, even in our own head. And all of this is possible regardless of background noise around us, regardless of what others say, regardless of what others feel. It is simply knowing who we are and who we were intended to be before anyone else told us.
The branches of this tree are not cluttered with unnecessary noise and negativity. They are alive with abundant leaves and flourishing with their own beauty.
As with anything new, it takes practice. It takes repetition. It takes reminders. It isn't easy. However, what I will say is this: I have already tasted a small piece of the delicious fruit from this tree and, for that, I am grateful.