During the first lockdown, way back in Spring, I sat in my familiar garden but experienced an unfamiliar sensation. Sitting in my garden was something that I had done hundreds of times before but there was a newness to it all that day. An eerie silence hung in the air instead of the usual cacophony of normal life. There was no roar of traffic, the sounds of planes overhead or children playing. Instead, I could hear the birds singing but, more than that, I could hear the flapping sound of their wings. While I would normally be elsewhere at that time of the day, I was, instead watching squirrels chase each other and run away from the neighbourhood cats trying to catch them.
While not exactly a commune with nature, one would have to go further than a scrappy back garden located in a London suburb for that, it certainly felt like a city souped up version of communing.
Life had come to a standstill and in that moment of peace and solitude, I learnt the meaning of gratitude. It was a sense of being thankful that I was safe and well while still fully appreciating the reason for it – that there was a pandemic on claiming lives in a way that we had never known before. It was a full realisation of the fragility of life and how so much of it is taken up with ‘busyness’ which doesn’t really contribute to much in the way of quality of life.
A study conducted by Berkeley University in 2017 examined the use of letter writing in expressing gratitude to others. The study concluded that practising gratitude does four things: It unshackles people from toxic emotions; Gratitude helps with mental health even if the emotion isn’t shared with others; the benefits of practising accrues over time and needs to be a practice; and, fourthly, practising gratitude has lasting effects on the brain. The article on the study concludes that gratitude helps us reprioritise our priorities through the appreciation of others.
This year, 2020, has been about dislocations in our lives. We haven’t been able to see family and friends much. Loneliness is on the increase as a result. If ever there was a time to appreciate others it is now as this year comes to an end.