The Power of Gratitude

It’s that time of year again where we practice giving thanks and reflecting on all that is blessed is in our lives. For some, this can feel like a shallow undertaking of mumbling predictable niceties, and others may not be able to feel any thanks, bombarded with problems and pains as they are. Understandable. We live in chaotic times, and the tools that our culture and society recommend to get by are usually not the healthiest ones. I remember a time in my life when I was so mired with resentment and self-pity that I felt zero gratitude for the good things in my life. Intellectually, I knew they were there, but I could not feel them. Over time, as the ice around my heart melted, I was better able to experience a depth and range of authentic emotions, both blissful and uncomfortable, and through them all I have found the practice of gratitude a mighty effective buoy.

When I used to hear people share about the power of gratitude, whether it was in meetings or meditation talks, it bothered the hell out of me. Yeah yeah, gratitude, whatever, but I am suffering here. It sounded trite and forced, like it was some sort of denial of true suffering and struggle. I came to find the opposite to be true. Gratitude bothered me because it tried to disrupt my self-pity and resentment, which is the real state of denial of authentic feelings. One can hold grief, sadness, anger, and pain and still experience gratitude. It is very difficult, however, to feel gratitude (or anything) when in the muck and mire of toxic resentment. Resentment, and all that goes along with it – hate, blame, judgment, comparing – actually creates the absence of feelings because it is rooted in self-rejection. Resentment is not authentic anger, because resentment is not authentic. It is often wildly far-fetched and hiding a much deeper pain. It is externally focused and pushes away the opportunity to realistically look at ourselves and our circumstances, and this blocks us from feeling what is actually going on. There is always something going on below the surface of hate. There is nothing wrong with having moments of resentment (in fact, it is inevitable) because it is often the way in – to finally getting to what is actually happening and why, but to stay there for too long without any accountability or soul-searching creates a miserable, sick existence. The world and its players are never going to cater to us or fix us, and if we don’t become responsible for our own happiness, we won’t find it. That is why recovery is all about looking at ourselves, at our part in things – not to beat ourselves up or create shame, but to accept reality, which in turn helps us to cultivate authentic self-esteem. Gratitude is scattered everywhere in this process. If it weren’t, it wouldn’t work!

Gratitude does not mean pretending that everything is fine – that we aren’t in pain or that changes don’t need to be made. But it means holding both at the same time. Understanding that the pain will pass. That we have support. That we aren’t helpless or alone and that there is a solution. That we have already come so far and overcome pain before – we can surely do it again. That we can keep growing, inside and outside and up. Even gratitude for pain is powerful, for it is quite true that pain is the touchstone of spiritual growth, if we allow it to be.

I am grateful today for the things I often take for granted – that my basic needs are met in terms of food and shelter. For my health and the health of my loved ones. I am grateful for certain things and objects, like music, books, delicious food, having transportation. Mostly, I am grateful for recovery and that I never gave up. Because there was a time when I wanted to. This time, five years ago, I was a slave to addiction and deep suffering, and I wanted to die. I thought there was no way out. Today, I have gone through tremendous healing on so many levels and from so many enslaving addictions, and I want to live. In a way, I feel I have just started living. Everything on the outside is not perfect or stable. (Is it ever?) I am unemployed, running out of money, coming to terms with love addiction and the end of a relationship, and feeling quite lost. The unknown is ahead of me like never before, which I don’t like, and my mind is prone to obsessing that everything is going to fall apart. But I have trust today and faith, and beneath the worry and wonder there is gratitude for where I am and for what lies ahead.

When I feel sad and lonely, when I feel obsessive and anxious, when I just don’t quite know what to do with myself, I have this practice deep within me that helps me feel that I am blessed and I am OK. And there is such gratitude for the moments when I am completely comfortable in my skin, breathing without effort, needing nothing.

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