With Thanksgiving around the corner, gratitude is in the air. Gratitude is of course a wonderful thing. It is one of those “life hacks” that reminds us how fortunate we are, and connects us more quickly to a sense of joy.
And yet, to be honest, I struggle with gratitude sometimes. I have tried all the different ways. Closing my eyes and remembering what I am thankful for before I even get out of bed or reach for my phone. Turning to the pages of my journal and making a gratitude list before bed. Not just thinking appreciative thoughts, but feeling them in my heart and throughout my body.
It is true that there is almost always something to be grateful for. At the very least, for most of us, we have a roof over our head and a beating heart. But sometimes, it is also true that we are going through difficult life circumstances. Heartbreak. Financial difficulties. Loss. Illness.
In these moments, it can be difficult to touch gratitude, as it can feel like a form of denying our very real feelings. During challenging times, feeling our emotions is important. It is a form of working through the life experiences that form and shape us in every moment. Not allowing ourselves to feel the difficult emotions of grief, fear, anxiety, can lead to a sense of disconnection from ourselves, or unhealthy ways of coping or acting out.
When my patients sit in front of me, they are often going through the most painful times of their lives. They are brought to their knees. For me to ask them to find gratitude in those moments would be unfair, insensitive, and quite possibly too much to ask. It might lead them to feel a sense of shame and guilt for not thinking positively enough. Or, they might feel like their troubles are minor compared to what others in the world are going through, and therefore not worthy of attention.
Perhaps this is where we discover the grey areas in life. Feeling the entire spectrum of our emotions and cultivating gratitude are not necessarily mutually exclusive. I think there can be a both-and relationship, if we create space in our heart for one.
When going through intense times, we can allow ourselves the time and space to feel the entire range of emotions we experience. Eventually, we come to a clearing where we have a sense of getting through the worst of it, or at least being well on our way to working through our challenges. It is then that we can ask ourselves the question about what we have to be grateful for, without feeling inauthentic or forced. Alternatively, for some of us, during difficult times, gratitude practices might be a source of soothing…a reminder that not all is catastrophic in our world.
Maybe the trick is to continue reminding ourselves that no one practice is a one size fits all solution. Your gratitude practice is deeply personal and belongs to you. It may ebb and flow as you navigate through life, sometimes being a life raft, and sometimes fading into the distance until you are ready to find it again.
And that is okay. It is okay to allow ourselves to be where we are, and to allow a sense of true, profound gratitude arise when we are ready to open up to it.
In this moment, I am grateful for the ability to express myself like this. To sit in a home, with a sense of safety and health around me, and write. I have a body that works. I have food in the fridge. I have children who are healthy. I have financial security that comes to me as a result of doing what I love. I don’t acutely fear for my safety. In my here and now, I can live in this space because I stand on the shoulders of my parents, who immigrated to this country and worked hard to provide for my education.
I recognize that this is a reflection of my deep privilege. When I close my eyes and feel a sense of gratitude in my heart for the gift of self expression, I am also reminded of the tremendous responsibility that comes with it. To tell the truth. To never take for granted or abuse the power that comes with having a voice.
And, to use that power for good however I can.
With blessings, Monisha