Today a good friend of mine sent me a short clip on WhatsApp. He thought I might appreciate the words of wisdom and told me to be kind to myself. I duly listened. The wise words were about the concept of gratitude, and he was right, I did appreciate it.
His timing was also spot on. For several days now, perhaps due to the lazy sunshine and virtual prison bars of the COVID lockdown, I had fallen into an old recognisable pattern known in psychology circles as rumination. I remembered the first time I heard the term used in this context. In psychology terms, rumination refers to the churning over and over again in one’s head of thoughts, memories, grievances, regrets, round and round, with the ultimate purpose of… and there lies the problem with this version of rumination.
In truth I am not at all impressed with psychology folk using the term in this way. Since my days as a very unlikely student of ruminant physiology, I have always been fascinated with the process of rumination in cattle. The magnificent fermentation vat capable of turning the indigestible into glorious volatile fatty acids (still fascinated by those, don’t ask); this wonderful mechanism of rumination whereby the larger food particles are presented back up to the lady herself so that she can chew a second time, offering them downward again for further digestion. A perfect system. Every bacteria, fungi and protozoa falling in line in military precision, all working within the wavelike contractions of the mothership to nourish the beautiful beast.
This perfect efficient process is not what was going on in my head the past few days, that’s for sure. I was churning memories, regrets, grievances around and around from morning to night. Every attempt to “snap out of it” failed, and with every new failure came frustration. There was no valuable end product in my case, no glorious volatile fatty acids to nourish my body. Instead, there was a fear of being trapped in a negative thought pattern or downward spiral. This rumination was isolating me from the world around me more than the pandemic was. This version of rumination was bruising the inside of me head. My thoughts were growing legs and my anger was winning.
But this morning, thanks to a random message on my phone, something changed. We are all familiar with the concept of gratitude. Be thankful for what you have and all that jazz. When you think about it a little more deeply you will realise that gratitude is really an affirmation of goodness that makes you want to pay it forward. Not only that, it’s the thing that makes you get up again when you are knocked down. Why do some people always find a way to recover and keep going? (Is it merely their Kerry blood? Sorry lads, you are just not that lucky, but if you are, you’re sorted!). What I have come to learn from my experiences around people is that, when life knocks them down, grateful people find reasons to get up. Gratitude is the only thing separating privilege from entitlement. Not just feeling but expressing gratitude for what you have and where you are today is what allows you to survive your worst times, and survival is empowering.
It’s important to be grateful for what you have, but more so it’s important to be grateful for your own hard work, and the fact that you have the skills and grit to get it done. Be grateful for what you get out of your hard work and be grateful for what you became for it. We all fail at times. We all get kicked in the ass when we don’t believe we deserved it. We all struggle. Be grateful for your two legs and get up, get up, get up! It’s the ability to get up that makes you strong. All you have to do then is put one foot in front of the other. And if you are hurting inside remember the words of the great philosopher Oprah Winfrey “true forgiveness is when you can say thank you for that experience”.
So, what have I learned today? Rumination works for cows, not for me. I may not be where I thought I was going to be, or where I wanted to be, but I am grateful for where I am today, and thankful I’m not where I used to be. To my good friend who sent that WhatsApp this morning, I’m paying it forward thanks to you.