Grounded in the Now with Gratitude

Practicing gratitude improves focus

Cross-country skiing. Person in motion through a skiing slope in a winter wonderland on a bright sunny day.

The first two winters of the pandemic provided ideal conditions for cross-country skiing:  just the right amount of snow, and not much else to do.  My husband and I went for a ski almost every morning.  We’re fortunate to be able to ski right from our back door—across our yard and then on to our neighbour’s 100-acre farm property.

Once we had our tracks set in the snow, the skiing was easy.  I found these outings provided me plenty of time for thinking ahead.  In a one-hour ski outing, I could plan my day, or think up my next piece of writing.  The open skies and fresh air inspired creative thoughts.

I found when I arrived home, however, I couldn’t remember much of the ski outing.  While it was pleasant and productive to think of other things while I was skiing, I began to feel like I was missing the skiing itself.

One day, a fall on an easy stretch left me in a tangle of skis, poles, and legs.  I wasn’t hurt, but I realized my mind was not focused on skiing—my thinking had taken me miles away. So after that snowy tumble, I decided to focus only on skiing while I was skiing.  But my mind liked to leap ahead and I found it difficult to pull myself back to the present.

I have used a regular practice of gratitude to make other changes in my life—to change a mood, change my outlook, or focus attention.  Could I employ a practice of gratitude to keep my mind in the present while I was skiing?

On our next outing, I cast around for things to be grateful for.  I didn’t have to look far.  I was grateful for the amazing snow conditions, the blue sky, the light wind.  I was grateful for the early signs of buds on the treetops, the rap-tap-tap of a woodpecker hammering away at a tree, the crisp scent of winter air.

The more I paid attention, the more I found to be grateful for.  The icy swish of my skis on the snow.  The percussive beat of my poles keeping time with my strides.  As I focused on the sound, I noticed it changed depending on the depth of the snow, or the density of the drifts.

As I let each element of our ski environment percolate through my senses, I felt totally immersed in the moment.  Every thought of gratitude for what I was experiencing kept me grounded in the experience.  Being grounded in the now filled me with elation—I felt alive on every level.  I was living every aspect of the now!

I find that I enjoy our cross-country ski outings even more now.  And the fresh air and activity still prompt creative inspiration—I’ve just learned to harness that energy for when we return home.

The gratitude practice that grounds me in the “now” when I’m skiing can do the same during other activities.  When I’m driving, I try to use gratitude to keep me focused on the road and my surroundings—expressing gratitude for elements of the experience instead of making a mental list of what I’ll do later.

The same method keeps me focused during other activities, like walking, cooking, and even studying.  Even though I don’t enjoy reading a textbook like I enjoy skiing, expressing gratitude as I go along introduces a bit more pleasure in the task—I’m grateful for the research, the illustrations, and (hopefully) the feel of the paper as I turn pages.

I still find it tempting to use my morning cross-country ski outings as an opportunity for thinking and planning.  But that’s not what skiing is for.  Gratitude keeps me focused, and it keeps me grounded in the present.