A few days ago, my morning journaling found me wandering through my grasp of human gratitude. In searching for clarity, I realized that for me, immediate, uncomplicated gratitude emerges in nature, indeed specific expressions of nature. The shorelines of the Pacific Ocean earn top ranking, followed by sunrises, sunsets, tree thickets, and flowers. My iPhone photo collection reflects this valued list. Whenever I encounter any of these, I experience an instantaneous surge of awe and joy, followed by a sense of gratitude, often a stated “Thank You!” And a scramble for my phone, with the quirky hope of capturing the awe, joy and gratitude!
Hmm, I noted: no animals! Which had me pondering the animal I find in nature, that for most of my adult life, evokes this same response of awe, joy, and gratitude: deer. I have a collection of “deer” stories that all capture this theme of awe, joy and gratitude. My daughters actually have something of a comedy routine about “Mom’s thing about deer” and my efforts to recruit then into sharing my enchantment.
Some of my “deer” stories have been “written” recently, on the trail where I do my daily walk. While this trail is paved, it snakes through a forested area that has been largely untouched, hence a safe haven for deer. These deer, however, have to attend to the trail itself with its potential dangers, which includes many dogs, some bikers, a few horses and an occasional skater…and everyone else walking through. None appear aware that they are in the deer’s home.
I am slower than many on the trail, and I am quiet, though my walking sticks provide a rhythmic pattern of sound. This spring and summer, it seems I have had an increased number of encounters with deer: I turn a corner and there one stands, either on the trail or on its edge, always a doe, sometimes with a fawn or two. I stop immediately and we proceed to study one another, with an eye-to-eye exchange I do not fully understand. I always say hello, and always thank them for showing up. The doe does not seem frightened and the fawns tend to ignore me. If not interrupted by others, our eye-to-eye exchange lasts for 2 or 3 silent minutes until one or both of us decide to move on: I start walking again or the doe ambles into the forest. Awe, joy, and gratitude.
So, the day of the journal exploration, as I set out on my walk, I advised myself that I should have my phone handy since it was high time I started taking pictures of my deer in the wild. I had feared in the past that my motion to get the camera out would startle the deer; time to find out if this was true. I walked about five minutes when I had my first encounter on the edge of the forest, in tall weeds. That is the picture above. I took several photos while we did our eye-to-eye ceremony. I stated my “Thank You”, and in addition to awe, joy and gratitude, was busy marveling at the graciousness of the deer, to show up as needed…and I was grinning a lot.
Ten minutes later, I turned a corner, and had my second deer encounter. I am including this second photo because the doe and her fawn earned their place in this posting. Again, the awe, joy and gratitude. I greeted her, thanked her and her fawn, and took a photo. This time we ended our encounter in the way most of my deer encounters end; a noisy or fast person or persons enter our shared space, and the deer bolts. That day it was a mindless biker hurrying into the space.
So, my “deer walk” had me reflecting on the path to even simple gratitude. It seems to me we need to pay attention to see what evokes gratitude. We need to figure out where and how we experience this response. The precursors are important: awe and joy always are catalysts for me. While family, friends, achievements…there is a long list…can catalyze gratitude, the simple catalysts provide a map of understanding and clues to how we can easily miss the moment, the “biker” who misses the deer. And gratitude has ceremony and ritual to assist our consciousness and support our willingness to take the time for the experience.
At least theoretically, just about everything can evoke gratitude. Developing gratitude competence is a tough challenge. The deer reminded me that taking on the challenge was part of my planetary journey, and my “Thank You” is a central dimension. Besides, deer apparently will volunteer to help you out if you just let them know you need some gratitude refinement.
“Gratitude and attitude are not challenges; they are choices.” - Robert Braathe -