No longer forward nor behind,
I look in hope or fear;
But, grateful, take the good I find,
The best of now and here.
– John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892), from My Psalm
As Thanksgiving Day nears, I like to look for poems and quotations expressing thoughts on gratitude. They remind me to take stock of my blessings and to appreciate the simpler things in life.
In a recent search I found this verse written by John Greenleaf Whittier, an American Quaker poet. It caught my attention because, without mention of the term, what Whittier is describing is the concept known as mindfulness. A person practicing mindfulness keeps his/her attention and awareness in the present moment. In the verse, Whittier is sharing with the reader that he recognizes his inability to change the past or to control the future, and instead chooses to focus on experiencing the present moment. By doing this, Whittier allows himself to appreciate and enjoy his experience free of distracting thoughts or emotions.
What I like about this verse, which is part of a much longer poem, is that it reminds me that time is precious. It tells me that we can choose the way we want to spend our time and emotion. One way is to put our energy (and time) into regrets or longing for a past that we can neither change nor return to. Another way is to worry or look forward to a future that is not yet here. Or we can choose to be fully present in the moment, giving our attention to those who are connected to us and appreciating our experience of life. By focusing our awareness, we can observe the many blessings that come to us, and know that to experience life as a sentient being is a great gift.