Honoring the Day
How escaping into the woods during the pandemic taught my wife and me about the importance of gratitude
My wife Andria and I went camping for three weeks in June of last year when the Covid-19 epidemic was in full swing and we were looking to flee to the woods. We were not running from the pandemic itself, rather we could no longer stomach the vitriolic discourse that had penetrated all communication platforms from broadcast television to Facebook and Twitter and even family FaceTime conversations. We decided that the only cure was to distance ourselves as much as possible from “civilization” and head for the hills, or in this instance, the Green Mountains of Vermont.
Ensconced by alders and rock walls, we not only found solace from the divisive national discourse, we rekindled our love and appreciation for each other and for life. And by life, I mean the dull, everyday, practical kind. Absent all our accustomed creature comforts like TV, Wi-Fi, couches, gas, electricity, and running water, all the little things we had spent our entire lives taking for granted, they became bathed in the light of true appreciation.
Yet, as time went on and we adapted more comfortably to the wilderness, we realized that much of what constituted our “civilized” life served mostly to keep us out of the present moment.
A case in point: at home, I would cook our evening meal while listening to a podcast on my headphones. Once ready, Andria and I would sit down and eat while watching whatever Netflix series we were streaming at the time.
Dinner finished and show over, we’d separate into our respective offices to snack on dessert while tirelessly (albeit fruitlessly) debating the world’s problems on social media. Although Andria and I had rarely ever fought or even argued, neither were we doing much connecting. In some ways, we existed together as roommates rather than a couple.
In the midst of nature, with only basic camping equipment to serve us, our dinners were completely different. For one, the process itself was far more involved and we had to work together to make it happen. One would prepare the food while the other kept the fire going.
I don’t know what it is about camping that makes something as simple as a bowl of rice and beans taste like the finest cuisine prepared for the most persnickety of kings, but every day, every meal, went down like the nectar of the gods despite, or perhaps due to, the energy and time that went into it.
Everything was like this: time-consuming, yet incredibly rewarding. And at the end of the day, as the sun descended behind the steep, wooded ridgeline, we built up the campfire to keep away the mosquitoes, for its light and warmth, and for an organically devised ceremony we came to call “Honoring the Day”.
Being out in nature, it’s easy to understand how and why our ancestors adopted rituals around almost everything they did. Andria and I were only in the wilderness for twenty-one days and in that small window of time, we ended up creating a number of rituals, most of which we abandoned when we got back to civilization. But the one ritual we were committed to keeping was Honor the Day.
It’s been ten months since our camping trip and I’m happy to report that Andria and I have rarely let a day slip by without marking its existence and impact in our lives by way of this new tradition. Though fundamentally an exercise in mindful gratitude, it is also an acknowledgment of the day; a reckoning of time spent and experiences lived and felt.
Beyond that, the actual practice of Honoring the Day can be molded and shaped to any situation where one or more people are gathered. We practice as a couple so that we may share a greater connection, but it can certainly be observed by someone on their own.
The process itself is simple and can require more or less time depending on how deeply you wish to delve into your day. We prefer to honor the day while taking a walk, as this seems to help the thoughts and words to flow almost effortlessly. We take turns, each of us recounting our day and the experiences therein.
At this point, you may be thinking, “Okay, that sounds a lot like two people talking about their day. We used to do this at the dinner table with our family. What’s so special here that you feel the need to dress it up in some lofty-sounding title like “Honoring the Day”? Well, part of the inspiration for creating Honor the Day did, in fact, originate with the experience of my family’s telling of our respective days around the dinner table each evening of my childhood.
However, Honoring the Day goes beyond the listing of the day’s events. It is a conscious exploration of one’s thoughts, feelings, and actions (or reactions) during that day, of lessons learned, progress gained or lost and, most importantly, it is the acknowledgment that gratitude can be found in anything.
We aren’t simply talking about our day. We are Honoring it. Whether we judge that day as “good” or “bad” or “challenging” or “stressful” or “delightful” or any other number of descriptive adjectives, what makes this a spiritual practice, we are challenged with perceiving the events of our day from the perspective of gratitude.
I propose that even the supposed negative aspects of our day can be honored with gratitude. Why? Because there is always a lesson to be learned. When perceived from the lens of gratitude, what appears to us as a negative experience is transformed into a positive one when we allow ourselves to see it as an opportunity for growth and spiritual evolution.
The Buddha is credited with saying “Your worst enemy is your greatest teacher.” When you practice Honor the Day every day, you find that the essence of this quote can be expanded into all aspects of life. Everything and everyone in every moment is a potential teacher if you remain aware enough to listen and pay attention whether in the moment or later upon reflection. Which is why Honoring the Day is so powerful.
I’ll end with this example. A client of mine — I’ll call her Toni — had missed an appointment without letting me know in advance and without explanation after the fact. This had the effect of disturbing in me what Eckhart Tolle calls the “pain-body”. My pain body was convinced that Toni was disappointed in my advice to her of incorporating some Qigong and breathing exercises into her morning routine.
“You gave her too much to do and now you’ve made Toni feel overwhelmed,” insisted my pain body. “She obviously isn’t doing the exercises, so now she’s avoiding you out of shame and embarrassment for not following your advice.”
It turned out that Toni had put the wrong date for our appointment on her calendar and wasn’t avoiding me at all. In fact, she was thankful to me for introducing her to Qigong and had been looking up even more exercises to do on YouTube.
It was through our Honoring the Day exercises that I learned a valuable pain-body trigger. If something doesn’t go as planned that involves me in a professional capacity (whether as a journalist or as a coach or as a teacher), I automatically assume that I did something wrong and that I let people down.
So, instead of regretting or feeling bad about overreacting and making assumptions about Toni after it turned out my pain body was wrong about the situation, during our Honoring the Day meeting later that evening, I wrote in my journal:
“I’m thankful that Toni had missed the appointment, otherwise I may have continued being unconscious to a frequent trigger. Now, I will be more aware of how I react when things don’t go as planned, and I’ll take mitigating measures to dissolve the accompanying anxiety.”
This is just one of the countless lessons I’ve learned through the committed practice of Honoring the Day. I urge you to give it a try yourself. Review all the happenings of your day and don’t just be thankful for the obvious positive instances like finding that ten-dollar bill in your jacket pocket. Challenge yourself to be thankful for what you might otherwise dismiss as negative or trivial. Become a thankfulness detective. Look carefully for ways to hone your gratitude skills.
Because, at the end of the day, when you Honor the Day, you honor yourself.