I ran out of soap today.
On the surface, that doesn’t seem like a momentous occasion, or like anything anyone would choose to write about. There are grocery stores in every neighborhood and those stores are full of soap in every size, scent and price.
I ran out of my own, homemade soap today. 18 years ago, I started experimenting with different soap recipes, mixing ingredients, using different methods, and just generally playing with the process. I made soap that was hard and had almost no lather. I made goo. I made soap that took months to saponify and soap that was ready in week or two. I experimented with different blends of essential oils that were everything from slightly better than skunk spray and so delicious you could almost eat them. Eventually, I came up with a couple of signature scents and a soap that was uniquely mine.
I haven’t bought soap from a store for nearly 17 years.
All of the ingredients necessary and all of the tools necessary to make a batch of soap are in one dedicated kitchen cabinet. It’s not like I haven’t known I was going to run out. I was aware that I was running low when there was still enough time to make a new batch. But right at that moment in my life, all of my energy had already run out.
In the lead up to, and recovery after, knee surgery, it was all I could do to get through each day. My world revolved around managing pain and managing to do the minimum levels of self-care. When walking from the bedroom to the bathroom is a major accomplishment, making soap is completely off the radar.
Two weeks ago, when I was grocery shopping (HUGE accomplishment), I bought a bar of soap, so it’s ready for me tomorrow. I won’t be stinky. And it’s not like I’ll never make soap again. After all, I’m functioning pretty well these days. I walk, swim, grocery shop, cook, and write, although not as long as I used to and certainly not all those things in one day.
What got my attention when I bought that bar of soap two weeks ago and today when I used up the last of my private stash, is the bittersweet acknowledgement of change. 17 years ago, when I started to consistently make soap that was usable and smelled good, I thought I’d make soap as long as I lived and that I’d never buy commercial soap again. Today that changes, at least partially. I’ll probably keep making soap for many years to come, but I will also buy soap.
And while I admit to youthful idealism in thinking I never could be limited to the point of not doing something I love, it still hurts a little to give in. The sweet part comes in acknowledging that going to the store, paying someone else to do the work and enjoying the fruits of their labor is also self-care, self-pampering, and joyful! I’m learning that it’s just as joyful and wondrous a process to allow someone else to do what I could do, and to say thank you for making it easier for me.
I ran out of the need to do everything today. I ran out of being in control of every detail. I let someone else cook the dinner and set the table, and I sat down to enjoy the main meal.
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Many years ago, my Dad told us about a book he read where the author said he was inspired to give thanks for everything, especially the ‘bad’ or challenging things in his life. So, my Dad tried this out one day when he was driving down the main commercial street in his neighborhood. This street had a traffic light at nearly every block and, as was usually the case, he was hitting every red light. He started saying, “thank you for the red light, thank you for the red light, thank you for the red light,” at every corner. Pretty soon, instead of being frustrated and angry, he was laughing!
I had known for several days that this would be the concept for the topic I was writing for The Main Meal Weight Management Group, but I couldn’t get started with my writing. The morning of the meeting, at 8:00 am I woke to the sound of heavy equipment on the school yard next to my window, scraping and pounding. My first reaction was not to give thanks! But right on the heals of my frustration and annoyance, was the thought, “thank you for the loud, intrusive noise this morning.” And I laughed at myself.
At our group meetings, we encourage a practice of removing judgment from food and from ourselves, and I suggested we can start to practice removing judgment from the events and circumstances of our lives. Just as there are no good or bad choices, no right or wrong choices, there are no good or bad events and no right or wrong events. By giving thanks for everything we can begin to allow these events and circumstances to provide meaning and direction to our lives. We open up a space to look more deeply into ourselves and find the opportunity for learning and growth.
It’s easy to celebrate and give thanks when we’ve lost weight, made a positive choice in a challenging situation, or just plain feel good about how we look in our clothes. It’s harder to give thanks when we’ve worked really hard and hit a plateau or had a weight gain.
That night at the meeting, I asked participants to share some of the thoughts that go through their minds when they’ve had a weight gain or have been stuck at the same weight for several weeks in a row. Then we all took a moment to go within and try to give sincere thanks for the circumstance that prompted those thoughts and feelings. I suggested that even if they just gave thanks for being in that meeting at that particular moment it was enough.
What we discovered in our discussion was that giving thanks for being in a supportive environment where we are not being judged allows us to look back at the frustrating event and see it in a different light. We were able to look at that event and those circumstances from a distance, put it in perspective and see it how it benefits us now. We can take that perspective with us into future, similar events and begin to give thanks for the overall growth and learning we receive from our challenges.
I call this topic “Every Breath You Take” because with every breath we can find reason to give thanks. Many of us have a gratitude practice that might include writing our reasons to be thankful at the beginning or ending of each day. I’ve fallen into and out of a regular gratitude practice many times in my life. This practice of giving thanks no matter the circumstances has been the most difficult for me to maintain, yet it has yielded more joy than any other for me. It’s the same as turning negative self-talk around, in that it doesn’t happen overnight. It takes being aware of the opportunities to give thanks when our go-to thoughts are anything but grateful. Then it takes more practice to give thanks and mean it. Then it takes more practice to find peace and grace in the thanksgiving so that we can find joy even in the middle of what seems to be failure.
With every breath we take, there is reason to be thankful. With every bite of food we eat, there is reason to be grateful. With every step we take, every lap we swim, every pedal of a stationary bike, there is reason to be grateful. With every pound we gain, every plateau we hit, every look in the mirror, there is reason to be grateful. It’s a choice we can make, and in making the choice to give thanks, we increase our joy and make the main meal of this life infinitely richer and tastier.
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