In the past, July has been a tough month for me for a number of reasons. For one it’s summer in San Diego (and we are living in the midst of a drought). If you know anything about my internal thermometer you know I hate being hot and have an exaggerated reaction to feeling warm. I also dislike traffic. I don’t like that San Diego seems to be overrun by tourism in the month of July. I can’t seem to go to the beach or take the 5 north (SAY FAIR) ever without it being a huge production.
These are the more superficial reasons for my aversion to July and the summer. Some are deeper. July reminds me of not having a job, of job searching, feeling financially terrified, it reminds me of physical pain, and lastly it reminds me of loss. Great loss. Two years ago I lost one of my very good friends. He died suddenly and it was more final than I knew or understood how to swallow at that time. I was entirely devastated in July two years ago and it did not just stay neatly packaged in the past of July 2012, the grief continued and continues with me.
So last week when I found out my husband’s spunky aunt passed away suddenly I could feel fear grip me again. It was familiar and I didn't want it to be. Sunday was the funeral and looking into faces full of deeper lines and eyes that have turned to pools is no easy task.
There at Dana Point, on a beautiful sunny day, a rollicking breeze, overlooking the shimmering bay, I felt vulnerability come to me gently. Two years ago the vulnerability I felt after such a loss was riveting, shocking, and paralyzing. It’s okay I’m afraid. I can name my fear. I can name my loss.
This is why I’ve decided for the month of July to celebrate Thanksgiving. Instead of dreading what this month will bring, I want to anticipate what this month will give. I am planning to post via instagram daily what I am grateful for during the month of July. I am hoping you will consider doing the same, even if it’s writing it down in a journal or speaking it to a friend or loved one.
I hope its okay if I get a little nerdy now. Psychology Today posted an article that discusses this point. One study they did showed that people who showed more gratitude overall had higher levels of activity in the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus controls a bunch of bodily functions such as eating, drinking and sleeping. Gratitude actually works to re-wire the way the brain connects and can have help decrease depression and anxiety. Research also showed that gratitude affects our dopamine. Dopamine functions as a neurotransmitter in our brain. Basically it is how we feel and experience “reward”.
Obviously after great loss or grief it’s not a good idea to deny our feelings and bark about “how thankful we are this tragedy happened” That is NOT what I am talking about. Grief has to be grieved or we will remain stuck. I am not even suggesting we state what that we are thankful for our losses. I am more suggesting we can yell with all the profanity we need to express how devastated we are about losing someone we love, AND still say, I'm grateful for chocolate. I love how Brene Brown writes about it in her book; The Gifts Of Imperfection. She talks about what it means to cultivate gratitude and joy and let go of scarcity and fear of the dark. “We think not being grateful and not feeling joy will make it hurt less. We think it we beat vulnerability to the punch by imagining loss, we’ll suffer less. We’re wrong. There is one guarantee: If we’re not practicing gratitude and allowing ourselves to know joy, we are missing out on the two things that will actually sustain us during the inevitable hard times”
I can’t tell you how many times I have “dress-rehearsed” tragedy. It seems I am more prone to it in the summers. It seems I am just dreading when “the next shoe will drop” Just when I feel that I might experience joy I am overwhelmed by vulnerability and come crashing into my own fear.
Brene Brown’s “Get Deliberate” activity has been very useful for me to practice. When I am feeling suffocated by fear I try to call forward joy and gratitude. I first acknowledge my fear and then state what I am grateful for. For example Brene Brown writes, “I’m feeling vulnerable. That’s okay. I’m so grateful for ______” She writes that this practice has absolutely increased her capacity for joy.
So on July 1, 2014 I would like to declare what I am grateful for. Today I am grateful for creative and curious minds. I am grateful and honored to tutor Owen and teach him about the solar system through colorful Styrofoam balls he can hang on his ceiling. I am grateful for the way his mind learns and grows. I am grateful to experience the colorful planets through his eyes. #Julygratitude
*Maybe I will make a Turkey.