Gratitude for Presence

Happy Spring Equinox from

A Day With Monet

by Julie Shields, co-creator of Thank Forward: A Gratitude Action Kit

Have you ever experienced sensory overload? The kind where each one of your senses is evoked and running at 110% capacity? The sounds turn into static, the sights start to swirl, your heartbeat speeds up, and your head is about to burst. I found myself in the most unlikely place experiencing this so-called phenomenon, at the Denver Art Museum.

For months, I’d been holding onto a ticket to the Denver Art Museum’s exhibit “Claude Monet: The Truth of Nature”, a birthday gift from a dear friend. It was the only place in the United States to see this exhibit this year and was sold out. I was so honored to be in the presence of 120+ of Monet’s original paintings.

I fell in love with Monet in the summer of 1996. My sister was finishing up a foreign exchange program in Europe, and my high school best friend and I met her for a girl’s trip through Spain, France, and England. While in Paris, we paid a visit to the Musée de l’Orangerie, home of Monet’s world-famous Water Lilies. By the time we reached the Musée de l’Orangerie, we already visited The Louvre and Prado museums and had been to many cathedrals. I thought to myself, “This will be a quick visit. I’ve already seen the best on this trip, and quite frankly, I am a little burned out on art”. I was wrong.

Julie Shields and her sister in Paris, 1996

As I stepped into the first of two oval-shaped rooms, I was engulfed by billboard-sized paintings of water lilies. The paintings were larger than life and covered the walls as if you were in the pond with the water lilies themselves. I stood in front of these huge paintings, and I could see the brush strokes and small lumps of paint that Monet himself had left behind. I could practically still smell the paint. The paintings were finished in the early 1900s and were preserved as though he had just freshly painted them.

I stepped back toward the middle of the room and took in the scenery. Before long, I could see the deep blues, greens, purples, and pinks of the water slowly dance below the willow trees. I could hear the water softly ripple as the water lilies floated upon it. A slight breeze under the warmth of a summer sun-brushed against my skin and the smell of nature opened up my senses. I was completely immersed in the most beautiful place on earth.

I couldn’t tell you if anyone else was in the room. At this moment, it was only me and the water lily pond that were present. I don’t recall anything else occurring around me. The experience was visceral. I’ve held onto this memory since and was excited at the thought I could experience it again in 2020.

Julie Shields and her High School Best Friend in Paris, 1996

As I opened the door to the Denver Art Museum, a wave of noise crashed through my head, like a demolition derby. The crowd was spectacularly ginormous and loud. I paused for a moment and realized it was only the lobby. It got better once I got beyond the ticket line.

Just inside the exhibit itself, I found myself packed in with many patrons, like a subway during rush hour in NYC. The smell of the air was stale, and there was little light, except for that on the paintings. I stood back as best I could to allow personal space for myself and others, but the crowds continued to pour in. Soon, I was standing in line to view each painting. Knowing people were behind me, I was getting anxiety that I would only have a moment to view each painting. Then, I noticed the cell phones. The lines were being held up by people taking pictures of the paintings, and trying to grab a selfie of them with the paintings. Flashes were going off and my eyes started to see spots.

Our current world is full of wonderful technology to capture memories. Photos, videos, communication, and the ability to record them instantly are at our fingertips. I wonder how often people go back to look at those pictures they snapped on their cell phones. It’s very similar to going to a concert these days, many people take out their cell phones, and soon enough they are watching the concert from their phone instead of the large stage in front of them. The pictures end up looking blurry, the recordings sound awful, and the personal feelings of the moment are lost.

Standing in line for another painting, I pondered back to my visit to the Musée de l’Orangerie. I didn’t have one photo from my visit, but yet the memory of how I felt was still so vivid. I felt so much peace in my heart.

Water lily template

As I exited the exhibit at the Denver Art Museum, I noticed a shelf that contained a template to create your own water lily for kids. I grabbed one to take home. It was the only tangible item I took from the exhibit. Sadly, the experience in Denver did not live up to my day with Monet at the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris. I went home feeling as though I went through a wild and rickety roller coaster with a Monet theme.

This morning I sat down to color and construct my personal water lily from the Denver Art Museum. As I finished my masterpiece, I sat for a moment and relived the experience I had the first time I was with those water lilies in Paris. I’m present, sipping tea, listening to silence, and smiling. It feels marvelous. I’m grateful for this little exercise to provide me a moment to disconnect and reconnect to Monet.

Disconnect to Reconnect

The theme of the first card in Thank Forward: A Gratitude Action Kit is “Disconnect to Reconnect”. I celebrate this card in honor of Monet. Thank you, Monet, for reminding me how to unplug from the noise and feel present, once again.

In light of recent events surrounding the globe and COVID-19, Julie and Mia would like to encourage you to keep “Thanking Forward”. Love, kindness, and positivity are essentials for leading a healthy life. Thank Forward offers many ideas for acts of kindness that can be done while social distancing. Below are a few of many suggestions contained in the Thank Forward: A Gratitude Action Kit. Join the gratitude movement, be well and continue to ignite joy!

  • Unplug from social media, give yourself time to get back in touch with your mind, body, and spirit.
  • Write a letter or draw a doodle, and mail to someone special in your life.
  • Reframe negative thoughts as you move through your day.
  • List 100 reasons you are grateful today.
  • Embrace mindful eating.
  • Get in touch with nature again.
  • Research a cause you are passionate about, and design an online donation drive or social awareness campaign.
  • Call a friend or loved one for a good conversation.
  • Read a book that you have always wanted to read.
  • Work on a home project with a family member.
  • Get the creative juices flowing and make a gift.
  • Design a vision board for the rest of the year, what are your dreams and intentions.
  • Declutter and clean out a room that needs some organization. Spring Cleaning!
Watch for more ideas to Thank Forward!