Thursday, March 9, 2017

Gratitude over guilt: Photo journaling as a gratitude practice.

On a recent hike, I noticed this heart cactus rising up in the midst of the chaotic brush, and I thought it was a beautiful visual and mirrored life these days: there is a lot of love and beauty amidst the chaos. 
I have been a guilty person for as long as I can remember. It's just part of my personality. One of my earliest memories is hiding behind a blue recliner in the apartment I lived in when I was young holding an Oreo cookie that I had taken without permission. My mom was asking me to give the cookie back, and I remember looking at it, thinking about eating it, and then returning it to my mom, because I felt too guilty to actually consume it. Throughout high school and college, this sense of guilt about doing something wrong probably kept me from making a lot of bad decisions, so it hasn't always been a negative thing, but throughout my mid-twenties, feelings of guilt also kept me from experiencing joy to the fullest. As I was getting my master's degree in peace and justice studies when I was twenty-five and learning about so many horrible injustices and atrocities, I felt so guilty for the life that I had. There was nothing I did to deserve this life; I simply had it good because of where I was born and the family that I was born into. I felt like I didn't deserve to experience joy or happiness when others around the world were suffering so. That year, I didn't take out my Christmas decorations or get a Christmas tree, because I felt like I couldn't let myself experience joy or indulge in something so wasteful and frivolous as a Christmas tree.

In my current season of life as a stay at home mom, the guilt creeps in a lot, and I am not even talking about mom guilt, which has also consumed me at different points along my motherhood journey. Currently, I often feel guilty for not doing more for the world, since my attention is so focused on our family right now. It should be enough that I am keeping a four month old human alive solely with my own body, and pouring myself into trying to create a kind, loving two and a half year old, while dealing with all of the stereotypical happenings of the “terrible twos.” It should be enough that I haven’t slept more than 3.5 hours straight for the past four months, because I am nurturing tiny little humans literally 24/7. Mothering two young children is a daily feat, and I should end the day celebrating myself for my accomplishments instead of feeling guilty for not being or doing enough. 

Since that sad Christmas without decorations and a tree, I have learned that in order to give of myself to the world and have something to offer those around me, I need to let myself revel and indulge in the seemingly frivolous things that bring me joy. A warm bubble bath, an indulgent novel, a picnic in the sun, a run, a yoga class, a slow walk through my neighborhood, capturing moments through my camera lens, photo journaling, connecting with other women, drinking a glass of wine, sipping a cold beer in the sunshine, holding a cup of coffee to warm my hands and my spirit. Some of these things seem completely selfish. They bring no good to the world except for my own enjoyment. However, time and time again, I realize that if I do not let myself experience joy every day, I have nothing left to give. If I can do things that bring me joy, I can have a spirit of gratitude for this life I have been given. When I live in a place of gratitude for this life and focus on living a life full of joy, I find that I have more to give to those around me. This is a constant struggle for me. It seems like having joy and being happy should be easy, but I have found that I have to make it a practice. This is one of the reasons I have decided pick up my camera more these days: as a practice of gratitude for this life. Taking photos and journaling is something that helps me to focus on and find the joy, and so I find myself taking too many photos and journaling too much even when I feel like I can’t string a thoughtful sentence together; perhaps for me, that is when it is most important for my well being to just try and write. And when words continue to fail me, photos strung together can hopefully document my appreciation for the simple moments that fill our days. 

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