Have you ever experienced a ‘moment of clarity?’ The phrase originated in addiction recovery and it refers to a moment when the individual can see clearly what the influence of a substance has long obscured. We don’t need to be in recovery to experience it, though.
Sometimes the contrast provided by the juxtaposition of experiences is enough to reveal a sudden insight capable of profoundly changing how we think and what we value.
This week I had a lunch meeting with a medical device inventor and a doctor who specializes in physical medicine and rehabilitation at Dodd Hall at The Ohio State University. I serve on the board of a foundation dedicated to improving the quality of life of individuals with spinal cord injuries, and I freely admit that at this meeting I was the dumbest guy in the room, but that’s another post.
I parked on the southwest corner of the building and since the doctor’s office is at the far-east end, it was a pretty long walk. As I strolled down the long corridors, I frequently had to slow down and sometimes stop and wait while rehab patients maneuvered on crutches, walkers and wheelchairs to and from their therapy sessions.
The next day my wife and I made a trip to the grocery store and after grabbing the cart I turned to the right toward frozen foods instead of left toward produce because, you know, I like to keep the mystery alive.
By the time we’d made the circuit and headed toward the checkout, I realized why we usually did the frozen foods last. The carton of chocolate malt ice cream that I’d popped in twelve rows back was now soft and sweating like Rush Limbaugh at Pilates. As my wife pushed the cart into the checkout lane, I snatched the carton and headed over to the freezer section to switch it out for a more solid container and I had to hurry to get back before everything had been scanned and bagged. Although I didn’t sprint, I did that speed-walk you’ve seen kids do when they’ve been told they can’t run at the pool.
The images of the patients working so hard to navigate the corridors of Dodd Hall were still fresh in my mind and caused me to pay conscious attention to the smooth and painless motion of my own legs as I hurried along and I suddenly experienced a conscious awareness of the effortless communication between my brain and body that propelled me along. A sudden sense of profound gratitude washed over me and filled me with an absolute joy. In that moment of clarity, I could plainly see so many of the remarkable things I’m blessed to enjoy. In that moment I couldn’t imagine that I could ever have taken anything for granted so fragile and wondrous as health, movement, sight, and the love of the irreplaceable people who fill my life. In that moment of awareness, how could I be anything but joyful?
Gratitude is the secret doorway to joy. Open it and everything gets better: your perceptions, your level of energy and your relationships with the people with whom you live and work. It takes a willingness to open that door and a new way of thinking about the ‘what’ and the ‘why’ of gratitude.
You might think that gratitude is a response to extraordinarily positive experiences. But that’s a passive and incomplete definition that squanders its potential to lift you to new levels of living and engaging. The real power of gratitude is realized when we pay extraordinary attention to the mundane miracles like walking and talking and laughing and loving and the millions of other tiny wonders that make up living.
If you want to tap into the potential energy of gratitude to fill you with joy and to connect with the people you live with and work with, I’ll give you a 2-part challenge:
Take inventory of all the abilities without which your life would be harder. Write them down on a list and as you come up with each one—no matter your faith—say a prayer of thanks for each one.
Now think of all those people without whom your life and your work would be poorer. List them, too. Now, make a plan to intentionally reach out to each one and actually say “thank you” and why you feel that way.
Don’t wait. Do it now. When you do, you’ll likely experience your own moment of clarity and you’ll begin to open that door.
I can’t wait for you to discover what lies on the other side.