Op/Ed

Lessons in listening: Gratitude for fall opportunities

As a native Vermonter, I am no stranger to the beauty of fall. Just as I delight in the opening of an early spring flower or the first dusting of light snow, I continue to be awestruck by the autumnal display of our tree friends. Each year they gift us with a month-long fireworks finale and smile at our ceaseless “oohs and aahs.”
This year’s show has felt particularly ablaze. On more than one occasion, my routine ride from Vergennes to Middlebury has caused me to abandon my planned excursions, and instead join various flatlanders on the roadside, as we attempt to capture a bit of nature’s glory as a keepsake. I initially wondered if my increased appreciation was linked to personal transition, as I know that one life change can alter the lens in multiple areas of life. But as I scrolled through my friends’ Instagram photos, I witnessed collective gratitude.
In contrast to the other seasons, autumn’s appeal is marked by our awareness of an approaching end. We linger and savor, knowing that soon enough our gaze will fall on the quiet and stark landscape of November days. We are forced to at least partially acknowledge the inevitability of change and metaphorical death, which curiously makes us feel more alive and connected.
The colors of autumn are the vehicle that affords us the opportunity to touch this experience of conscious living. The actual feeling of gratitude and connection to something larger than ourselves, though, is within us and accessible all the time. Even after the leaves fall and fade, we can choose to continue the practice of fully living. In the spirit of Halloween today, I’ll treat you to three tricks of the trade to nourish your practice.
Start with intention. In everyday language we use the word intention to describe a plan or aim. In medicine the word intention is used in reference to the healing process of a wound. I tend to favor the healing definition, as intention can breed transformation. It is the element that changes a passing fad into embodied living. To cultivate this element, I invite you to say a simple sentence daily expressing your intention. Here is my sentence: I intend to live my life fully today. Pick your own sentence — in language that resonates with you. I encourage you to say it out loud, not just internally. Speaking an intention verbally invites an additional level of commitment.
Pause and single-task. Present moment living is an essential element of a fully-lived life. As obvious as it may sound, you can’t see a sunset if you are looking down at your phone. You can’t taste the complexities of your local harvest if you are working through your lunch while eating. You can’t hear your child’s joy or your friend’s pain if you are distracted and leaning into your next task. I invite you to try this: for five minutes each day show up wholly to whatever you are doing and whomever you are with and just see what you notice. Maybe it’s pleasant, maybe it’s not. The idea is to simply notice and make room for whatever arises. When we do this, we start to recognize that gratitude isn’t necessarily attached to just positive-deemed experiences, but to unconditionally inhabiting your life.
Write a daily expression of gratitude. Although the medical research doesn’t necessarily support a causal relationship between gratitude and wellbeing, listen to your body. How do you feel internally when you feel truly connected, thankful and alive? We don’t need citations and references — this is age-old body wisdom. For this invitation, I’m adding a community element: email me your expressions of gratitude, once or every day for the next month. My new practice, Village Health, has reserved a window in the National Bank of Middlebury in Middlebury for November and each day I will walk up from my office and write a message of gratitude shared by you — no names attached, just your sentiment. Here’s mine for Nov. 1: “I am grateful for my morning walk to school with Ellie. She is 11, and she still holds my hand… sometimes. I am grateful for the banter with the crossing guard and the little kids that ask politely to pet my dog. I am grateful for these simple moments.”
Editor’s Note: To submit your notes of gratitude, email Laura Wilkinson at [email protected].
Laura Wilkinson is a Nurse Practitioner and Health Coach at her new practice, Village Health. Learn more about Village Health at www.villagehealthvt.com.

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