Reflections of gratitude
I recently spent a month in The Philippines which brought the depth of gratitude I have for the country that I was born and raised in, to a whole new level. I have actively been practising gratitude in the form of a daily gratitude journal – writing down the three best things of the day and acknowledging why they are so good and why I’m so grateful for these things occurring – for almost two years now. This has been a large contributing factor in the ongoing process to re-train the neural pathways in my own brain which enabled me to successfully overcome many years of depression and mental health challenges several years ago.
This activity in itself encompasses great power, however combined with real life altering and first hand experiences, this activity then becomes dramatically enhanced. It is one thing to be vaguely aware of the poverty in this world and quite another to experience it firsthand. There were several significant activities that occurred for me during this time that have raised my conscious awareness and consequently my expression of gratitude to new heights. Number one being that for the very first time in my life, for 10 days whilst attending a Vipassana (silent) meditation program in the middle of nowhere, several hours outside of Manila, I did not have access to hot water. On top of this for many hours every day there was no access to running water – hot or cold – at all. For me, coming from Australia, where even during a major drought season several years ago, lack of water was not taken very seriously by many of us; this is such a basic essential. It was very humbling to come to the realisation that for 10 days I would go without what I now consider a luxury, not an essential.
Grateful for the simplest of things
During the 10 days, very quickly, I realised how precious my bucket of cold water for showers actually was. On day one, all lathered up mid washing, with less than half a bucket of cold water left, the running water was cut off completely. I was left flabbergasted on how to proceed and finish my shower with such a little amount of water and no way to attain more. Of course I managed and lived to see the next day (the same thing happened again and again) but this was not without having to sacrifice conditioned hair in order to wash the shampoo out and the suds off my body. For the first two days I reacted like a spoiled child and stormed off to see the managers of the facility, wondering if this was some kind of test that was part of the meditation program that we were not informed of. Upon realising there was nothing that could be done what so ever and I needed to just accept this occurring, I became very aware that at any stage we could run out of water completely. I started hoarding the water when it was working – if I saw a bucket with even an inch to spare, I would fill it up.
Being mindful that others have but a fraction
The next thing that raised my conscious awareness even further was being confronted with the reality of having to hand-wash my clothes in a plastic container of cold water. Again I reacted like a spoiled child and stormed off to burst into tears of frustration. I quickly recovered and knowing there was zilch I could do, accepted the fact that I would be wearing smelly, half clean clothes for the rest of the week, as I really had no skills in this area. These experiences were deepened even more when I visited the slums of Manila after the meditation program was over. Ironically the slums community was called “Happy Land” and for the most part many of the people did appear reasonably happy despite their substandard situation. Here I met women who earn 60 PHP a day ($2) hand peeling garlic and people who earn money by recycling thrown out chicken, rewashing it and recooking it. I came to realise there are millions of people, including children, living off recycled and re-cooked chicken on a daily basis – risking salmonella poisoning every single time.
The home of people in the slums are mere shanty’s, made of wood and tin with very limited plumbing and only limited illegal and unsafe electricity. Often up to 10 people live in these one or two room confined spaces. They cook out in the open on gas cookers and there is no actual room to shower in. People – fully dressed – publicly shower from a buckets of water out in front of their shanty standing in dirt and mud. The entire community is one giant recycled tip, where naked and shoeless children run around. For me everything about this community was appalling and heart breaking, but for over 15 million people in The Philippines alone, this is what they refer to as home.
These kinds of experiences are life altering when you realise just how fortunate you really are.
About the author: Jamie views Positive Psychology as her lifes’ calling – to help change the world. She is the 47th person in the world to finish the only government accredited Diploma of Positive Psychology and Wellbeing in existence. She has designed a free 21-day Happiness Program to introduce people to retraining their brain for greater happiness. www.thehappinessninja.com.au