As a child I was told to count my blessings. Usually when I was finding life a bit of a struggle. It seemed to me that I was being told that my struggles were at best trivial, or, often, irrelevant. That I should just ignore the difficult things, pretend they weren’t there, and be more grateful for all that I was failing to appreciate.
I’ve been told by mental health workers that I don’t appreciate the good things in life. I have limited time with people who can help me to manage my mental health and I use it to get that help. I could spend my allotted time telling them of my underlying contentment, the sheer staggering beauty in the world, how much love surrounds me, and all the things I do and want to do. But if I did that all the time I wouldn’t get help with the struggles, and they wouldn’t see any need for me to be taking up their meagre resources. So I try to use those resources well, to get from them what I can’t give myself.
Because actually both are true. The beauty and the struggle coexist. For all of us. And honesty compels me to recognise both. And when I do that, the blessings are not put to work in shutting out the pain. The pain gets its share of attention, so the blessings are simply allowed to be their hopeful, beautiful selves.
And so, although I’m generally uninspired by fiddling around with intricate clasps and findings, I went along to jewellery making when it turned up on the occupational therapy timetable on the psych ward I was in. All I wanted was some beads and some elastic to thread them to. I pushed my hands through the box of wooden beads and let beads slide through my fingers. I listened to the sound of them moving, like pebbles on a beach. Then I started to choose.
My only requirement was that every bead must be different. Different colour, different shape, different size; it didn’t matter, so long as there were no two the same. Then I threaded them, each bead seeming to call forth the next. When it was tied off I had a colourful bracelet with 17 beads.
There it is now, on my wrist where I won’t lose it. It’s become part of my prayer pattern. I start with one of the beads between my fingers and work my way round, naming a blessing with each bead. My wrist measurement and bead choice created a 17 bead bracelet so I work my way round it naming 17 blessings. On a bad day I look for my blessings in the last week, or just any blessings at all that occur to me. On a day that is better, or at least more manageable, I look for 17 blessings from the day. My self-imposed rule is that I complete the circle.
Another good time to use it is when I’m tired of thinking about something, worn out from trying to resolve a problem that I can’t do anything about for some time, if ever. I put a time limit on thinking and feeling about it, then put my attention somewhere more useful. The blessings bracelet gives me the opportunity to think about 17 things which are different from what I’ve been dwelling on. That’s 17 chances for my thoughts to snag on something good and run with that instead.
On a day that seems completely blessing-free, I do at least have a bright and slightly odd bracelet to bring colour to my day. So I’m counting my blessings and that’s blessing 1. Only 16 to go!