If you had asked me 15 years ago what I wanted to get out of practicing yoga, I'd have likely focused solely on the physical aspect of overcoming my knee injury. I never imagined that the daily gratitude and meditation practice I'd begrudgingly start would affect my life in a way much more profound than even having a yoga butt; and that one critical day would provide me the opportunity to practice gratitude in a way that would change my worldview forever.
Born and raised a Jersey Girl, I shared in the heartbreak that Hurricane Sandy left in its wake. I'll never forget the day we drove down to clean up my godparents' house after it was hit by the storm. From the moment we turned the corner to see the contents of every house on their block scattered across the sidewalks, I was in shock. I'd never seen such destruction up close and personal. This community lost everything -- from their clothes, furniture and photo albums, to their sense of security.
Summers spent at my godparents' house by the shore were where my favorite memories were made, and where my most cherished keepsakes were kept. My mother committed suicide while I was in college, so I had brought all of her things, plus every relic from my childhood to my godparent's house for safekeeping. I had been holding on to all of this stuff because I felt like it was all I had left -- from my mother and my first 21 years on earth.
My treasured boxes filled with old cards, baby books and my mother's clothes that I'd never wear again were saved in the hopes that they'd keep her "alive." Soggy pictures of my mom and I smiling together were a reminder that even though she was bipolar and depressed much of the time, we did spend happy times together. Yet as I pulled out each item, I realized that holding onto these things wasn't going to bring back my mom and make her suicide any less heartbreaking; and tossing my soggy diploma wouldn't take away from my working four jobs to pay for school.
While somberly watching these mementos of the past make their way into idling garbage trucks, I was overcome with such an incredible sense of gratitude for how lucky I was to have a warm home to return to that night. When we arrived I sat down to mediate on why we hold on to so much stuff that we don't need. I was angry that I hadn't cleaned out those boxes of clothes before the waters washed them to an unusable salty froth; surely donating them to a worthy cause could have helped many women.
Meditating during this time helped me realize how grateful I was not for the pictures or the papers, but for the actual memories I still have of her putting me to sleep every night, or walking down the aisle in my cap and gown. What can seem unfortunate at first may turn out to be an unforeseen blessing. Losing everything I had in that house forced me to question how much I really need to be happy.
I now had a mission; to go through each and every room in my house with an attitude of gratitude. To appreciate every last fork, hairdryer, warm sweater and jar of my favorite almond butter that I used on a daily basis, and to find new homes for the things I didn't have a deep appreciation or need for, and donate them all to charity.
If I didn't use it consistently or it didn't make me smile every time I looked at it, I donated it. One week later we had a driveway full of boxes ready for the Red Cross. I felt liberated of anything that was weighing me down- both physically and mentally.
Continuing my daily gratitude practice after all these years made me realize that what I did need was to consistently be grateful for all of the happiness, health and community I was so lucky to have.
The more we can appreciate what we have in this moment, the happier we, and the people we surround ourselves with will be. I am so grateful to have learned that less truly is more.