Making space for gratitude

This week is Thanksgiving, and at this time of year we start to hear a lot of reminders to be thankful for the blessings in our lives.

From a mindfulness perspective, which is all about being in the present moment, gratitude allows us to notice the blessings, but also invites us to find balance in life’s challenges. Because let’s face it: life is full of both beautiful gifts and great difficulty. (Sometimes both at the same time.)

So gratitude, from the perspective of mindfulness, is not about laying a screen of toxic positivity over everything and saying, “Be thankful! Look how much better you have it than other people!” or “You should stop focusing on your difficulty, look how much you have to be grateful for.” Blessings and difficulty are both equally real. Ups and downs are a part of life, and it can feel really terrible when you’re experiencing hardship and someone tells you “It’s all for the best” or “It’s all part of God’s plan” and “Cheer up! It could be so much worse!”

Practicing gratitude isn’t about glossing over what’s challenging. It’s the intentional practice of noticing what’s good – whether that’s the people in your life, or your home, or your pets, or good health if you’re so fortunate, or a beautiful sunset, or a piece of music that moved you. Not to negate the challenges, but just to keep a balanced view. We can hold both conditions as equally true: yes, this thing is deeply challenging and really hard; and yes, I can point to things that are good and that make me feel grateful.

A gratitude practice can improve your overall quality of life in a number of ways. It can improve your mood, help you sleep better, lower your heart rate, lower your stress levels, help you access compassion for yourself and others, and just improve your outlook on life.

There’s no one way to make a regular gratitude practice part of your life. You can keep a gratitude journal where you list maybe 3-5 things you’re grateful for each day. You can set a timer that when it goes off is a reminder to stop and notice where you are and how you’re feeling, and to identify a couple of things you’re grateful for in that moment. You can do a guided meditation, or take a “sense and savor” walk, not to get anywhere in particular but where you walk along and stop and linger on anything that catches your attention. Spend as much time with this thing as you would like before moving on. Notice how it feels, notice its color, its smell, whatever – and savor it.

However you observe the Thanksgiving holiday, I wish you many blessings. Stay safe and be well.

Sometimes you gotta play hurt.

The Buddhists say that all life is suffering. It’s the first of the Four Noble Truths.

Suffering isn’t constant, of course. We all experience hard times, and they inevitably pass or at least get better. This too, we say, shall pass. And it’s true.

The Four Noble Truths go on to tell us that our suffering is caused by attachment to that which we desire. If we can learn to release our attachment, we will no longer suffer. This sounds very esoteric, but it isn’t. My mother once told me a story from her childhood. She wanted her father to buy her something (I forget what the thing was – but some object of her desire). She was told no. She protested. So my grandfather asked her, “Does it hurt you to want it?” She replied, whimpering, that it did. And he responded, “Then stop wanting it.”

I’m fairly certain that my Nazarene minister grandfather was not versed in the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism. But he did hit on something very important: It is the attachment that causes the suffering. We want a thing we do not have, or that someone else has. We wish for things that are one way to be another way. We do it all the time. And please don’t misunderstand me: I’m not dogging desire. Our desire is what propels us forward. Without desire, there would be no aspiration, no striving. Just so we know, though: it is our attachment to desire that leads to suffering.

Life is full of suffering, from first-world problems to devastating trauma. The dishwasher floods the kitchen. We lose the election. The lover leaves. The job falls through. Our child is in trouble. We get the diagnosis. Suffering is all around us, and we experience it on both the individual and a global scale. We carry that weight, and the toxic stress that attends it.

But we’ve got things to do. Life goes on. We have bills to pay and children to raise and work the next morning and people for whom we care and who love and need us. If we collapse under the weight of every setback, we stop showing up for ourselves and those we love. We lose our happiness and then our health. We cease to function. We lose our sense of purpose, that striving – the desire that keeps us alive even as we suffer.

So we have to find a way to keep moving forward. There are plenty of approaches people take to this. I mean, you’ve got options. You can…

-Continue to white-knuckle your way through. Suppress your grief and fear. Show no signs of cracking. Build that wall, baby.

-Kill the pain. Shop it away, eat it away, drink it away, screw it away, sink into the anesthetic of screen time fantasyland, dull it, numb it, avoid feeling it by whatever means is available to you.

-Blame someone else. Your asshole ex, your boss, “those other people,” politicians, God, the world. Focus on your self-righteous anger so that you don’t actually have to face that your problems are sitting there, not evaporating, waiting patiently and probably piling up while you rant and rave to avoid feeling your own heart break.

-Continue operating as though nothing is wrong, because this situation is painful but at least it’s not unknown. Change is terrifying. Remain inert. Hope that perhaps someone else, or the situation, will change so you don’t have to.

You can do any or all of those things, and I’ve tried a few of them myself. Maybe you have too. And in so doing, we hurt ourselves and others. But there are other ways to cope with the debilitating pain and loss and grief that is in our human condition to feel. And cope we must, because we are friends and partners and parents and children of parents. We must, because none of us is an island. All of us are connected – we are one with each other and with whatever name by which we call God. When we hurt, the world hurts. And by healing ourselves, we heal those around us.

Maybe you are suffering. Maybe you are scared. And yet you still have to hold your whole shit together. That is something I can help you with, if you need it. But I want you to do more than just stay upright and muscle through. I want you to experience the beauty and joy of living, the promise of liberation, even as you are experiencing very real pain. I promise you: you can do this. You can emerge with strength you never imagined you had, and with insight no person or set of circumstances can ever take away from you. I know because I did it and continue to do it, and I’m no different from you.

I’ll be sharing stories and resources on this blog, and I’m working on developing a workshop that will incorporate yoga and meditation with other tools to take a holistic approach to dealing with the adversity we all experience as long as we’re breathing on this earth.

This too shall pass. But until it does, you’ve gotta play hurt. Give me a shout. You don’t have to do this alone.

My Equity Statement

Lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu: May all beings everywhere be happy and free, and may my actions contribute to the happiness and freedom of others.

Sanskrit mantra

As a yoga practitioner and teacher, I am committed to creating safe and inclusive containers for healing, self-study, and liberation. I warmly welcome and support all who seek the many gifts that the practice of yoga offers, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, religious belief or background, ability, and body size. Come as you are, and know that you are welcome, seen, and valued as the whole person you are, right now. 

Many yoga spaces in the West, as well as the wellness industry as a whole, have caused and continue to cause harm by upholding and perpetrating systems of white supremacy, patriarchy, capitalism, spiritual bypassing, and colonialism. I recognize my responsibility in actively working to address the harms and being part of the solution.

As a white yoga practitioner, student and teacher, I respect the origins and traditions of this ancient practice. While I truly believe that yoga is for all people, it is my responsibility to honor the teachings and practices of this tradition with origins in a culture that is not my own.

I seek out readings and invest financially in training and consultation from BIPOC and LGBTQ teachers on how I can best show up for these communities. I acknowledge my own privilege and accept the responsibility of helping to dismantle systems of oppression.

I am as dedicated to unlearning as I am to learning, to leaning into my own discomfort in order to listen more deeply, avoid spiritual bypassing, and examine my own biases. I acknowledge that my impact will always carry more weight than my intent.

Yoga teaches us that our life’s purpose is to be of service, love, and seek liberation. As a practitioner, it’s not enough that I seek my own liberation. I have to seek the liberation of all people. 

This is my commitment, and my journey. It will be flawed, but it will be real. I humbly ask that you hold me accountable. I promise that I will always be willing to listen, with an open heart.