Twice a day, the bull horn sounds from the tower, the speaker calls out “Gratitude Minute! Gratitude Minute!”, and everyone stops mid-point/mid-drill/mid-sentence and drops to the ground or stands still. The silence is deafening. One moment, happy shouts, balls striking, tennis shoes squeaking, instructors shouting encouragement and campers laughing and diving for balls. The next, stillness.
We ask the campers and ourselves to think about what they are grateful for during this time.
And usually it is full of surprises.
What I start out being grateful for is not what I usually end up being grateful for.
I often start my minute on my back, on the court, by being grateful for the usual: my family, our staff, my job that allows me to lie down in the middle of the day for a minute and look up at the sky.
Then, as only silence can do, near the end of the minute – every, single, time so far – something unexpected emerges. One day it was being grateful for the camper who had not smiled in two days and now was so happy to be here. One day it was a bird call I had never heard before. One day it was my irritation towards a camper who during the minute continued to talk loudly, asking her instructor question after question, unaware of the people lying down all around them. My budding anger, as I lay in disturbed silence, transformed into thankfulness that she was at camp, as she had undergone some recent life challenges and was back enjoying the world for the first time in years, alive and well. By the end of the minute, all I could feel was glad that she was here with us.
Silence has a way of speaking to us unlike anything else. It exposes our fears and then helps us see that they needn’t overpower us. Because in this moment, everything that is important becomes accentuated: our relationships, our ability to give thanks, and our doing something powerful as a community/camp that we are all equal partners in.
When we carve time for it – even one minute a couple times a day – somehow my worries seem reduced, rather than multiplied. Silence allows me to be aware of the troubles I have, and simultaneously realize I don’t have to run from them, they are not as overpowering as I thought. Or, if they are, it allows me to feel them, invite them to rest beside me as we all rest, and know that, for a moment, I can set them aside for what I am grateful for.
Then, when the minute is up and the bull horn sounds again, I can either pick them up and carry them around with me again, or realize I can sometimes leave them lying there on the court. I have been powerfully aware how this minute, collectively as a camp, has allowed me to put everything in perspective, and stand back up refreshed and engaged and strengthened.
To watch a hundred people come to a complete standstill (or usually lie-still) all at once is a mind changing experience for me. To “hear” quiet descend on camp as powerfully as any shout of happiness or exclamation of “Hole in one on court three!” To gradually become aware of what is out there beyond my internal and external chaos and have that bird call emerge from the silence, or a dog in the distance, or a mosquito (I didn’t say it was perfect). This happens twice a day at TLC.
For that, I am grateful.
And I’m grateful for the comment I get over and over and over and over from both adult and junior campers, “That wasn’t long enough!” (We will next, apparently, be instituting TLC Naptime).
Try it. You might be surprised at how one minute can change your perspective on things that only a minute ago consumed you. Or at the very least you might hear that mosquito better and be able to zero in and swat it.
*Neal was a PCA Development Zone® Leadership Fellow for his commitment to creating BETTER ATHLETES, BETTER PEOPLE. He is a USPTA Elite Pro tennis teaching professional and the Director of Tennis and Life Camps at Gustavus Adolphus College.