Lughnasadh and Gratitude in Difficult Times

Though it seems like the Summer Solstice was only moments ago, the time of Lughnasadh, the first harvest, is nearly upon us. This is a time of abundance and hope, the earth is ripening under the caress of the sun and the grain harvest is beginning. Above all it is a time for gratitude. Gratitude for the generosity of Mother Earth, who gives so freely of her gifts, for the food we eat, for the metaphorical harvests in our own lives, for projects blossoming into fruition, for all that we cherish and love.

And yet these are difficult times to live in – the viral pandemic continues and so many have lost loved ones or are isolated from them, floods and fires in countries all over the world are causing devastation and increasing our climate grief and anxiety, the political climate seems increasingly intolerant, and it’s easy to ask ourselves how we can truly feel gratitude during such uncertain and worrying times.

Pondering these thoughts, I got to thinking about the Appalachian Trail…

Four years ago my husband and I spent 3 months hiking the Appalachian Trail in the USA, we walked 1,000 miles through the Appalachian mountains, carrying all that we owned, camping in the woods by night and popping into a trail town every 4-5 days or so to shower and buy food. It was by far and away one of the happiest times of my life.

But the strange thing about the experience is that when I tell stories of our time as happy hikers, the impression given to the listener is that it must have been dreadful… Yes, I’ll say… there were the times it rained for 5 days straight, everything we owned was wet, we’d forgotten what dry felt like… the time we accidentally camped in ‘centipede central’ and awoke to find hundreds of them curled all over our hiking poles and carefully hung food bag (there’s nothing like the visceral disgust of picking up your poles before you realise this)… the time we accidentally ended up hiking along the ridge of a mountain in a thunderstorm, very sure we were about to be struck by lightning… the time there were so many people crammed into one shelter overnight in the snow covered Smokies that we ended up spooning with strangers and someone had to leave in the night because they’d got norovirus… yes, our feet and knees hurt every day… there was the falling tree that narrowly avoided squashing us… and the time I got stuck in a privy for a while because there was a HUGE spider on the door handle on the inside just daring me to reach for the exit… No, no, but it was wonderful.

Here is a photo of us just before crossing the Virginia state line having been rained on continuously for 6 days, putting already wet clothes on again every morning and lining our sodden boots with plastic bags

Did you ever see such happy people?

And I thought, why was I so very, very happy during a time of such physical hardship and strain, discomfort and exhaustion?

And the answer is very simple. I was grateful. Deeply, frequently, grateful.

Grateful obviously, for the chance to be there in such beautiful surroundings, to be among the trees all day, to be with my wonderful husband all the time, to have time away from work. But immensely, crazily grateful for the little things that I’d always taken for granted at home… Do you know how amazing a shower feels if you’ve been sweating up and down mountains and sleeping in a layer of your own slime for 5 days? How delicious water tastes from a mountain stream? How good a pizza tastes after days of trail rations? How wonderful it is to put your soaking sleeping bag in a tumble dryer and nestle up cosy and dry in a barn when you thought you’d be out in the open that night? Delicious.

On the Appalachian Trail hikers like to say that you can be cold, wet and miserable, or you can just be cold and wet.

Gratitude shifts our focus from what’s missing to what’s there. If we were to design a cultural therapy that protected us from depression and, at the same time, helped reduce consumerism, it would surely include cultivating our ability to experience gratitude. Training ourselves in the skill of gratitude is part of the Great Turning.

Joanna Macy

There’s increasing scientific evidence that practising gratitude makes us happier, healthier, more likely to feel warm towards and to help other people, and also increases our resilience, making us better equipped to deal with disturbing information.

In more than one study, the keeping of a gratitude journal in which you write things that you are grateful for each day, or the writing of letters of gratitude to people in your life, have been shown to give real and lasting benefits to the writer. Perhaps, alongside the traditional baking of bread and sharing food with loved ones, starting a gratitude diary might be a practice to consider this Lughnasadh, as it seems that in difficult times, we could all use more gratitude in our lives.

Very dishevelled and very grateful for a lift back to the trail!

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