A head-fake into gratitude

This Thanksgiving, I believe we should not only give thanks, but we should recognize that sometimes it’s damned hard to give thanks. Some of us may be unemployed. People are occupying squares around the world to vent anything but their gratitude. Some of our loved ones may be deployed in a war zone. We ourselves, or our loved ones may be hurting with illness that may or may not go away. Maybe nothing’s really wrong, but we’re just stubbornly holding onto that thing that’s not going the way we want. Yes, I know that today is not supposed to be the day where we count the number of ways that the we are or our world is broken. But what if that’s all you can do?

Cat sneaking up on something

Sometimes, you just need to sneak up on it.

Well, if gratitude eludes you, you sneak up on it, of course.

The first head-fake into gratitude is to try the opposite. If gratitude eludes you, try longing.

A few weeks ago, all I could do was focus on what I wanted but didn’t have. And then I remembered this concept – Buddhist Tara Brach calls it Radical Acceptance. Professional skier Kristen Ulmer calls it a state of reaching or leaning in. Both women discuss how to lean into whatever is true for you at any moment. If you try to ignore, repress or lean away from your emotions, you cannot transform them. They will simply fester and torture you.

Tara Brach offers up a meditation on longing. If you’re on a path to find, follow, live and sustain your passion, you probably do find yourself longing quite a bit. This meditation is particularly important for those of us on that journey.

Tara Brach suggests “Sit comfortably in a way that allows you to be present and at ease. When you feel settled, ask yourself, ‘What does my heart long for?'” You can also explore the question between two people. As your friend, partner or family member, “What does your heart long for?” And when they answer, thank them and ask the question again until they’ve exhausted their longings.

I sometimes have a difficult time meditating, so I wrote a journal entry, instead.

It’s been wretched Monday. All I can do is curse that I’m not there, yet. Or there. Or in this other place. And so, while pouting over what isn’t yet right, I’m making a list of my longings.

I long to collaborate with others on a mighty and worthy project.
I long to be recognized overtly at work for my good, innovative work.
I long for a relationship with a significant other.
I long to be able to move gracefully on a rock wall.
I long to feel real progress.
I long to make a difference.
I long for a cup of coffee. (brb)
I long for this vision in my head – an idea born in me – to come to fruition.
I long for others who are suffering in ways I understand and in ways that I don’t to find peace like I’ve found and for them to teach me ways to find the peace that they find.
I long for peace.
I long for the end of war, crazy/insane political battles. I long for our own self-actualization, community-actualization, civic-actualization.
I long for honest, intelligent discourse on matters of importance.
I long for adventure, undertaken with others.
I long to laugh more.

There’s more, but by then, the list starts turning into counting blessings. As I kept repeating my longings, the sentences would transform from really big “I long to be recognized overtly at work for the good, innovative work that I do” to simply “I long to be recognized.” And when the sentences got shorter, maybe just a word, (“recognized”), I began to understand that I already am – I can count the ways that I have been recognized. It’s just that I had been defining my longing narrowly.

I long to be recognized. (I’ve received emails of gratitude for my work from colleagues and friends.)
I long to be creative. (Hello, renewable enthusiasm blog)
I long to make a difference. (See emails of gratitude above.)
I long to learn. (I do. Every day)
I long for peace. (This exercise helped create some.)
I long for love. (I do. Every day)
I long to laugh more. (My colleague and I laugh a lot – we really have great fun, for which I am so grateful.)

I collaborate.
I am recognized.
I have ideas.
I have relationships with others. They’re all significant.
I love.
I move gracefully.
I make a difference.
I have a cup of coffee.
I’m making progress.
I am on an adventure.
I can create intelligent discourse.

And by then, I’m not longer so stuffed up with longing that it frustrates me. I’ve leaned into my longings and transformed them into recognition of and gratitude for what I have, for what I can do.

This is how I was head-faked into gratitude. I should also note that earlier this week, I was given an award for my work. I was recognized. I’m just so glad that I was able to humbly acknowledge the many ways in which people have reached out to me to recognize how I’ve made difference to them. Thank you for supporting me. Thank you for teaching me that it’s not about a piece of paper. Thank you.

If longing doesn’t work for you, then the second head-fake comes from Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh. He calls it the practice of “mindfulness.” I call it “fake it ’till you make it.” This practice also involves opposites – don’t count what isn’t. Count what is. Start with the opposite.

“When we have a toothache, we know that not having a toothache is a wonderful thing. ‘Breathing in, I am aware of my non-toothache. Breathing out, I smile at my non-toothache.’ We can touch our non-toothache with our mindfulness, and even with our hands. When we have asthma and can hardly breathe, we realize that breathing freely is a wonderful thing. Even when we just have a stuffed nose, we know that breathing freely is a wonderful thing.”

So, if you’re reaching for thanks, and you can’t find it, start with opposites. My non-toothache! Start with small and somewhat inane things. My spleen! When was the last time I thanked my spleen? My pinky toe! The hinges on the door! At this point, you may start giggling, or rolling your eyes. But keep going. Keep listing. The longer you keep at it, the more things you will accumulate and soon you will start listing the big things that you’ve been missing in your gratitude list.

Most importantly, don’t take this as one more person telling you that you need to be happy and thankful today, if that’s not where you are. Give yourself permission to be sad, to long for something, or whatever is true for you in the present moment. That permission was one of the best gifts I’ve ever received, because it is truly the first step to transforming that emotion into what you need it to be.

Thank you to everyone in my life. I am so grateful that you are or have been a part of it.
Happy Thanksgiving.

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