Thursday, March 31, 2016

Throwing Gratitude

Yoga teachers have a bad habit of telling everyone to be grateful for every moment, in every moment, like it is the secret to happiness or something.

(It is, but that's not important).

The nugget often lands off-target, particularly if someone is experiencing grief or suffering or anxiety. And if they aren't experiencing deep despair or sadness, if they're having an up day, they just sing right along – yup – gratitude.

Preach it, sister.

Until they experience grief or suffering. Then the lost relationship, the illness, the expense – it catches up and overtakes. It is hardest to hear and hardest to remember in these moments, which punctuate life and give it spice and meaning.

Or at least, make it worth writing about.

A few years ago my friend gave me a polished rock with the word “gratitude” carved into it. I put it on my meditation altar, carried it in my pocket, took it out and rolled it around every once and awhile. It was there to be that reminder, that port in the storm, that piece of solid matter or fact that could literally be held.

About the 18th or 19th time I tried to get pregnant, and failed, I threw it off the back porch. I was standing outside, in a staring contest with the sunset, miserable and full of anger, jealousy, pain.


I f*cking threw gratitude down the hill.

It marked the beginning of a dark period. I would like to capitalize all of those words, ala The Blue Period of my Picasso, my brotha from anotha motha, but I cannot. Capitalizing it makes it seem like an epoch that came before, indicating that it has ended.

I slogged through life, overtaken by spontaneous naps, overwhelmed by the good news of others. I held zero gratitude for the little things, like the sunrise and the fact that my body was working.

Well, some of my body was working.

I'm certain that anti-gratitude isn't a thing, except that it is. It is the Scrooge and the Eeyore, the dark cloud that does not permit access to the healing rays of the sun. And in this dark place, it is particularly hard to find gratitude, to determine which way is up or out. You bounce – I bounced – between taking one step in each direction, then backtracking to the neutral zone, where it was safe, deep in the heart of my own suffering. Yoga teachers kept telling me to Be Grateful. To recognize the things that were going according to plan. To play. To adventure. To rest.

It never managed to permeate my bubble of sadness.

And one day, when nothing was particularly remarkable, I decided to walk down the hill. It is rough and scraggly down there, with scrub oak and cactus and a myriad of non-human footprints. It is a sacred and timeless space – yet untapped by the internet and the footsteps of those who walk on two legs. The grasses are very tall, and the slope is untamed, rocky and precarious. It requires full attention and focus when you're on the move, because every step has the potential to be a misstep, to take you to your knees, to drop you into the canyon.

It was a misstep that landed me squarely on the smooth stone, whose message was as clear as ever.



This is life. And this is the practice of gratitude. I think Forrest Gump got it right, that sometimes you have to throw it. And having thrown it, you have to throw it more. And eventually you stop, because you learn that sometimes, there just aren't enough rocks.

You can carry gratitude with you, look at it on your altar, remind yourself continuously to be grateful. And you don't have to. You can chuck it down the hill and into the hinterlands when your wounds are still seeping and you need a little time. Gratitude isn't something that someone can give you – it must be found, again, every day. Instead of remembering to be grateful, perhaps we as Yoga Teachers should remind you to look for gratitude. To find the smallest thing that is going right and to give thanks to God or the Universe – or simply to yourself.

If you are breathing, something is going right.

If you are seeking gratitude, if you have thrown it out or smashed it to pieces, remember that you carry the secret of gratitude in the grace of each breath.

The capacity to seek it.

So throw gratitude. And then find it again. Maybe sooner next time, maybe without as much wallowing and weeping. Maybe not. No one promised you happiness, not life, not the Founding Fathers. But the promise of gratitude is available in every breath, and gratitude is the seed of happiness.

Help it grow.

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