Gratitude and mud…….

Today’s post is about gratitude because it has been a salient experience over the last week. A family member fell off a motorcycle and got away with bruises and cuts only, which grounded me in a state of deep gratitude. I have also been using a gratitude exercise I recently picked up, which focuses on both present and future gratitude. Summarily, we first write five or six spontaneous statements of gratitude (e.g. I am grateful for the fresh, clean water available to me every day because so many people across the globe go without or I am grateful for waking up this morning…  I am grateful for this poem that moves my heart…… and so on) that refer to the present, and then statements of gratitude about the future using present tenses, as if the things we are grateful for have already happened. This seems to free desire and hope.

In his book Resilient Rick Hanson discusses how to turn experience into resilience. He suggests we focus on the experience that we want to develop in ourself, such as, gratitude, and then keep it going to increase its consolidation in our nervous system. This is the basic process of positive brain change because our brain is shaped by our experiences, which are shaped by what we put our attention on. So, when we rest our attention on an experience of psychological resource like gratitude, we hardwire it into our nervous system. We can experience gratitude and compassion and contentment while other less positive things are going on in our life or around us. Rick Hanson writes: ‘while you are having a beneficial experience, other things could be in awareness as well…. These other things do not cancel out the beneficial experience. Both are true: the negative and the positive, the bitter and the sweet’.

I am also often grateful for works of art that touch or inspire me. Ponge is a poet I discovered by chance in adolescence and I was amazed by the tenderness and deep insights he found in simple objects and ‘mundane’ things like mud… So, today, I am sharing Francis Ponge’s: Mud, the Unfinished Ode

‘Our soul resents it. Our feet and wheels trample it. “Mud” is how we address those we hate, paying little attention to the injustice done to the mud. Does it really deserve the constant humiliation, attacked with such an atrocious persistence? Mud, so despised, I love you. Mud is pleasant to the noble hearts because it is despised. In my essay, oh mud, fly in the face of your detractors! How beautiful you look after the rain has softened you — beautiful, you, carried on blue wings!

When not only the distant, but all that is close-by has turned dark and like in a dream with a funeral, the rain beats suddenly, bruising the earth. That is when the ground starts melting into mud. And those of pure gaze adore it. The azure kneels upon the slimy body broken by the hostile wheels; during long intervals from a deep teal to an opinionated passage, who knows where, liberty and devotion guide our steps. This is how a savage spot turns into a loveliest place giving off a powdered odour.

From there on, the earth’s finest flower, the bane of artist’s life, mud flies best, and defends itself best against the feet of its detractors. All by itself, it resists our direct approach, forcing long detours on stilts. And it’s not due to the lack of hospitality or a surplus of jealousy, since she immediately attaches herself to whoever is coming by —  that dog of mud keeps jumping on me, holding onto my foot; and she holds with tenacity, no matter her age — the older, the stronger the grip: When I trespass, when I enter her domain, she doesn’t let me go, but fastens onto my limbs, lassos them with elastic traps, grapples them like wrestlers lying on the ground.

What do you think about such lasting connection? You find it overbearing? Not me. An emotional tie I can readily forgive. I certainly prefer it to indifference: better to be caked in mud than making little progress. I adore it, although my pace is slackened; and I am grateful in spite of all the detours forced upon me.

Mud appeals to the valiant. You left your footprints on her face — she’s got your number and will pay back. Your destiny is sealed. She dies clenching her jaws. Mud perseveres, you have to wait for her to dry before she lets go. Its stick-to-it-ive-ness is that of ivy. You cannot brush her off. Try better scraping with a knife, scratching to dust, — that’s right, dust, which shares the destiny of all the carbohydrates, including ourselves.

Certain books, whose time has passed — they have done all the damage, as well as all the good  they could, had claimed mud as the origins of man. Man is an imposter and is not without his pretentious claims. Certainly, the claim was meant as derogatory, to keep us down, to strip us of all the pretensions. Actually it is derogatory for both mud and man. There are no obvious ties of close kinship between the two of us. Man’s flesh is too pink for that — we’ll talk about man in his turn. As for the mud’s pretensions, the most important of them is that there’s nothing we can do to it and that we cannot give it any structure.

It carries on the way snails and earthworms do when they pass through it, and reciprocally, the way mud passes through them – phlegmatically like slime passes through certain fish. If I were poetically inclined, I could continue the way I did earlier when talking about mud-wrestling, lassos and ivy; but myself, just like all the others who happen to be bogged down and should let mud dry, waiting on the side of the road, I need to let it dry now in this text. Although truth be told, I cling to that mud a lot more than the mud clings to my poem; so, it is really up to me to quit putting mud into words, especially since by definition, mud is hostile to form and is the bastion of resistance to all things artistic; in fact, I believe it entices me in order to frustrate. Therefore, the best I can do to its glory and my shame is diligently quit wrestling with this unfinished ode….’

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