During the pandemic lockdowns I took advantage of my new found 'Zooming' skills to join an online gardening club and (in line with my personal 'lifetime learning' aspirations) I studied online courses in practical philosophy and economics with social justice.
It was the 'practical philosophy' course that took me somewhat by surprise, sometimes quite heavy, sometimes absolutely wacky, but more often than not it helped confirm for me, many of the beliefs I'd developed myself over more than four decades of adult life.
Wisdom, kindness, empathy and gratitude just oozed from the weekly lessons that often referred to the 'trendy' term - mindfulness.
For me gratitude is the key to everything. I tend to agree with the stoic Cicero and his words at the top of this blog post 'gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others'. If we can truly master gratitude then surely everything else should fall into place.
I hope I've always shown gratitude throughout normal daily life. A small example would be visiting a cafe or restaurant. I would always try to thank those serving me. I know some people would say 'well that's their job' in relation to a waiter or waitress, but even if I'm in the middle of conversation with a friend or colleague when food arrives, I always politely break briefly to thank the person delivering it. Surely that's a basic human reaction - to thank those bringing us food (or providing us with anything else for that matter).
Back to my online course. I like to take something away from any positive knowledge gleaned throughout life and then apply it to my own daily routine in some way or another if at all possible. Otherwise, what is the point of all that 'lifelong learning'. Therefore, following that practical philosophy course I decided to turn my daily exercise routine into a slightly broader wellbeing session.
Like many, I start every day with a workout. Ten minutes of yoga type stretching and balancing exercise with just a touch of 'power' work to maintain those old muscles. I'm proud to say I've done my workout each morning for around two decades now and I rarely miss a session. Due to the order in which I do my different exercises, the process leaves me, at the end, laying on my back, arms and legs outstretched and 'recovering'.
Since early 2021 I've added five minutes of 'gratitude thought' to the end of my daily physical workout. I continue to lay on my back in the outstretched 'recovery' position but then I close my eyes and go through the key parts of my life for which I'm truly grateful.
Just like the physical workout, the gratitude thought follows a regular pattern. I think of all the people who make or have made my life so special. I think of the elements of nature that make our lives so beautiful and about the few really important practical things that support my wellbeing. Lastly, I remind myself of my place in our one humanity.
I'm sure that all this may come across as incredibly soppy to many. It certainly would have felt that way to me, earlier in my life. However, it works for me now, especially at my time of life where reflection and the wisdom it provides mixes with an overriding desire to live for today and 'in the moment' whenever possible.
I think my five minutes of gratitude works pretty well. I'm no angel and I still have my moments, but I hope, over time, my extended wellbeing routine each morning is helping me approach each day in a slightly calmer and wiser manner.
So there you have it - another 'pandemic plus' in my book. I've always had a huge feeling of gratitude for the things that make life so wonderful, but would I have put aside some special time every day to savour life if I hadn't signed up for that practical philosophy course during lockdown?
I would recommend some regular daily 'gratitude thought' to anyone and everyone. It certainly can't hurt and it just might help in these most trying of times. As the Dalai Lama says 'one small positive thought in the morning can change your whole day'.
HARTFELT DETAIL - Whilst I'm in 'my life's an open book' mode - here are those daily thoughts of gratitude I go through each and every morning:
Firstly I give thanks to my late Mother and Father who gave me this precious gift of life.
I think of my brothers and sister who shared in the solid and pretty idyllic childhood that Mum and Dad gave us, providing such very firm foundations.
I give thanks to my former wife and our relationship that blessed us with our son and daughter.
I think of my son and daughter who have made my adult life so very special, who gave me reason to live when life once turned bleak and for the character and resilience they display each and every day.
I think of my wife today and the way she picked me up following the very darkest part of my life and how she has become my true soul mate through some incredibly difficult times.
And I think of her son and daughter who she introduced to my life and who also make our lives so very special.
I think of our children's partners and the loving relationships that produced such wonderful grandchildren.
One by one I think of all eight grandchildren's smiling faces and of their beautifully differing characters.
I think of other family members near and far.
I think of our dearest and closest friends, acquaintances, colleagues and about all those who have supported us throughout the years.
I give thanks for a roof over our heads, a warm comfortable home, food in our kitchen and for private quiet space both inside and out.
I think of sand, sea, sky, sun, rain and snow. Of hills, mountains and valleys. Of woods and forests. Of rivers, lakes and the ocean. Of all the things that make the natural world so wonderful.
Lastly, I think of me laying on the earth's crust that is slowly turning and about the one humanity we all share and of which I'm just a tiny, tiny part.