Falling flat on my face, in no less than three inches of cold, sticky mud, I became overwhelmed by a sense of pure, honest gratitude.
As the late afternoon sun flickered through the trees above, and my whole body sank deeper into the dirty puddle below, I laughed to myself.
The worse had happened, and I was okay.
You see, just as I’d been spending my whole adult life tiptoeing around muddy situations—trying desperately to stay warm and dry in the comfort of the road well-traveled—my gentle stroll in the woods was trodden carefully, mindfully and with a careful calculation for risk.
Despite my sturdy walking boots and waterproof jacket, my body navigated gingerly around the muddy puddles which covered the narrow path ahead. One slip and I’d be dirty and horizontal; and not in a good way.
To my left, a clear, shallow stream emanated a cool, fresh mist toward the burning sun above.
To my right, a dense and luscious forest, full of talkative wildlife of all varieties, scurrying only slightly away from view.
But in my fear of falling, I saw neither the stream nor the forest. Instead, I kept my head bowed down to the ground as I tiptoed around the puddles like a comical character in a silent black and white movie. A left hop here, a right shuffle there; teetering on the edge of potential disasters that awaited me.
My afternoon stroll to clear my head had become a balancing exercise to avoid any false move.
I was reminded of the saying: “You can’t always see the wood for the trees.”
That day, I couldn’t see the forest for the ground below. I was distracted, afraid and far too preoccupied with the “what if?” to notice the beauty surrounding me.
This situation is more common than we like to acknowledge.
We allow self-doubt and fear of the unknown to control our daily life without question. We watch our paths attentively, in a constant state of conscious anxiety for what could go wrong if we make a false move.
How many times have we been too worried about our appearance to enjoy a party, a date or even a catch up with family?
How many times have we been so preoccupied with what could go wrong, that we fail to congratulate ourselves for what went right?
How many times have we been so afraid to fall on our faces, that we forget to look up and see the beauty which surrounds us?
Tiptoeing through a muddy wood with our heads facing down is how many of us walk through life, it’s how I have walked through life.
One slip and we could fall flat on our faces. One slip and we could reveal all our failings and vulnerabilities. One slip and we’ll be far too embarrassed and ashamed to pick ourselves back up with dirt smeared across our faces.
But once that long awaited fall happens—when your feet slip beneath you and your whole body falls ungracefully to the ground—you’ll find something down there that you didn’t expect to see: gratitude.
Gratitude that you’ve faced your worse fears and the world is still turning around you.
Gratitude that the murky water below did not envelope you and you’re still you (just a little muddier).
Gratitude that the worst thing you could imagine happening has happened. It’s over and you can carry on without fear or expectation.
Gratitude that you can see now—as you stand in the shower and wash away the mud—that no future worry is worth missing out on the now.
If the worst happens while you’re living in the moment, it’s okay. If you slip up and fall, it’s okay.
As I slowly peeled myself away from the brown sludge below, and continued on my walk along the path, I no longer felt afraid. Now that I’d left behind the fear of falling over, I walked with my head high and took in all the sights and sounds around me.
I lived in the present and felt gratitude for where I was.
Further along, I passed a group of people who giggled at me and with me. Seeing the huge smile on my brown, grubby face showed them that it was okay if they fell too. I had survived and was still able to continue on my journey.
That’s the funny thing about gratitude. Once you feel humbled and thankful for the life you’ve been given, warts and all, it spreads its arms around those you encounter too. It inspires others to take your lead and trust in their own two feet.
Gratitude helps us all to appreciate every journey we make, including our falls. We learn that getting muddy once in a while can be liberating, awakening and even fun.
So go and try it for yourself. Stop watching where your feet land and look ahead without fear and anticipation.
Hell, why not run through the slippery sludge of life as though you welcome a fall in the mud.
After all, it’s only when we lie three inches deep in our worse fears, that we can truly welcome gratitude into our hearts.
Author: Trudi Holden
Apprentice Editor: Caitlin Oriel / Editor: Renée Picard