Panning for Gratitude

Like many of us, my greatest strength is also a pain-in-the-ass weakness. (Coach Will here.)

I tend to over-extrapolate.

Over-generalize. Over-connect. Try to draw big lessons from minor blips. Also: look for a meaningful signal amidst all the noise.

When it’s acting as a strength, this tendency helps me see the forest made up of so many trees. It helps me hypothesize about causes, so I might test them out, and it generates intentional strategies that guide my action. I see the chess-board 5 moves ahead.

But as a weakness, this kind of connection/implication overdrive has me drawing conclusions from nothing, really. A small comment or minor observation will convince me of things that, no matter how exciting or important-feeling, are just not true.

I get so excited--so enthusiastic--to connect ideas and meanings that I readily suspend my disbelief and build all kinds of phantasmagorical notions. When it works, I can “see” what is not obvious; but when it doesn’t, I find myself a mile down a road that doesn’t matter, going nowhere.

This dynamic is part of me, the good and the bad. For every chess trophy it helped me win as a kid, it has kept me up a dozen sleepless night, spinning insomniac anxiety-fantasies in my head.

But only recently have I begun to see the real issue with this powerful skill: having this kind of lens on the world ignores so much.

Continuously zooming out means that I miss some important details, even as I get hung up on meaningless ones. And no matter how effective I get at discerning the difference, jumping from conclusion to conclusion denies maybe the best part of life: feeling grateful.

Which leads me to realize … When I’m struggling, gratitude is often the answer for me.

And only recently have I realized that true gratitude is a vulnerable feeling for me, because it means returning to a mind-set from childhood: unadulterated joy, that spontaneous, creative and not-intended-to-be-shared gladness for life.

It’s an inside feeling, an intimate feeling. And one that changes when it is for others.

It’s a feeling that has you seeing the world with caring detail, and being generous with your attention to what’s really going on. In these moments I’m reminded, with relief, that “Right now is enough.”

Ahh, sigh.

Long, steady exercise puts me right there.

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Which is how I found myself half-way up Mt. Tam last month, astride my bicycle, laughing at how outrageous the tiny wild-flowers were, growing right out the side of the rock face, shaking furiously in the wind and telling the fog to f*ck off with their bright whites and purples and yellows.

A voice inside shouted: Will, wait! Capture this moment! Share with all the people who might need a reminder of beauty in the world!

This voice came from the zoom-out instinct. The Extrapolator. Tie in everything with everything!

But then another voice answered: Right now is enough. Take it in, fully. Make a memory. Cherish it. Let it make your life a little better. Share if you care to, later.

And before I knew it, I was 100 feet up the road, too slow with my camera but steady with my gaze.

Grateful for sweat and redwoods, water and almonds, for the biting cold and the blue sky peaking just over the ridge.

This is how I’m untying my own knots, these days. How I’m doing “my work”.

Because amidst all the stress and strain, whatever that looks like for each of us, there are corners in our lives where the magic-dust collects. It hides in the crevices, in the nooks where we don’t think to look.

We must pan for that gold.

Have a great week!

- Coach Will