Today I Walked Outside: On Gratitude

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Sakura Bird
Photo by Guillaume @giyomu.japan

All of the photos in this post were taken by my colleagues recently on some of their walks, please enjoy them. 

Today finally felt a little like spring. It has been dreadful in Tokyo the past few days. It snowed on Sunday and the beginning of the week was grey, cold, and depressing. Weather imitating life. But today was sunny and warm with a gentle wind. My room, which yesterday had felt like a black cave of darkness, was flooded with bright natural light. I took my first long walk outside (no grocery stores) in days, but I think it might actually be years since I took I walk just to walk.

I felt grateful just to be outside and smell the air and feel the sun. I felt grateful to be able look at some of the blooming sakura in my neighborhood, even though this year’s cherry blossom season is all but canceled. I began to notice things more–certain houses and trees, parks that I had passed by while going someplace but had never really paid attention to. And I found myself walking down roads I had always wondered about but never had the time (or the will?) to wander down. I’m really not a big walker, but that was one of the most enjoyable thirty minutes (!) of my life. 

Yesterday I talked about paying attention to details. Upon reflection, I think there was an important aspect that I missed, another step between awareness and love: gratitude. Gratitude, or thankfulness, is the step after noticing something. It’s the internalization of how that thing has affected us. And it’s the acknowledgement of that something as ultimately meaningful and important to us. This can be a very humbling act, but we live in humbling times that seem to require it more than before.

We’ve seen teams come and go through our rooms at Nazobako. The ones that are most successful are the ones whose members acknowledge their own shortcomings and seek help from one other or from a facilitator. Sometimes they need to be pointed in the right direction. other times they notice the details, but they need help putting things together. 

We are all coming to realize how reliant we are on each other. Clearly for things like medical care, deliveries, grocery stores, and information. But also for laughter, smiles, education, beauty. Artists are posting more on social media: songs, dj playlists, poetry, paintings. People are using their creativity more in order to to help other people get through their days and weeks. Expressing our gratitude for each other and for the technologies and works of love and creativity that are keeping us together will help us through these gloomy times, and will provide a strong counterbalance to the forces that are ripping through our fragile social fabric–fear, loneliness, xenophobia, anger. 

Photo by Chloe @chloer._

Since we are now working from home, our staff begins each workday with a meeting on Zoom at 9:30. We all check in and talk about what we accomplished the day before and what we plan to do that day. It has become, rather unexpectedly, one of the highlights of my day, and I actively look forward to it. It provides a way to start off together, to forge a sense of togetherness even though we are alone. It sets the tone too, for how we interact via Slack and messaging apps. We send each other jokes throughout the day, or pictures of our lunches and walks. Life doesn’t feel quite as isolating, and I am truly grateful to have this precious moment now, and for my colleagues in general.

There was an article by the BBC a while back entitled, “Coronavirus: What if this had happened in 2005?” It’s a somewhat silly premise, but there is certain truth to the fact that now in this moment, we have so many ways of connecting, so many technologies that are helping us heal both physically and spiritually. Would I be able to talk to my parents across the ocean if it were 2005? Would I be able to face chat friends from far away? Would we be able to achieve a rare moment of global catharsis as we watch each other sing from balconies and clap for health workers? I am grateful for the technology that has held us together during this crisis so far.

Lots of people are suffering in many different ways, and as this pandemic lingers it may become harder and harder to maintain a mental grip on the things that make us happy. And I know that many of us are in conditions that are far worse than mine. Those in difficult financial situations, or in countries with significant poverty or less access to healthcare before the crisis are going to face serious hardships. That I am even healthy enough or free enough to walk outside feels like a precious gift. How can we express gratitude while acknowledging others’ pain? How can we be thankful for the beauty in our lives at this moment of profound agony? What do we do with our feelings of guilt?

These are questions that each of us as individuals will have to face in the coming weeks and months. I believe, though, that how we express something is equally as important as what we express. For those who are lucky in this crisis for whatever reason, by staying humble we can use gratitude as a basis to reach out to others–in our communities, countries, or around the world. By acknowledging that we need each other we can learn to help each other more. 

Spring will come and go. The cherry blossoms will bloom and fall. This virus too will pass someday. And when it does, I hope we can all remember how humbling an experience this was, and how grateful we were for even the most simple acts of creativity, kindness and humanity from others to see us through each day. 

As always, stay safe, stay home (if you can), stay strong, and stay connected. 

With Love,

Lee and the staff at Nazobako/Invite Japan

Sakura Street
Photo by Chloe @chloer._

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