READ THIS if you’ve ever thought, “I shouldn’t be sad. I have SO MUCH to be grateful for.”
So I’ve had what spiritual-seeker types call a gratitude practice for a while now. I started it after my ulcerative colitis diagnosis as a way to find the good in a bad situation. During those difficult years I’d wake up, feel everything below my belly-button cramp, run to the bathroom and, while on the toilet for the next 30 minutes, list everything I was grateful for.
The practice didn’t necessarily help my symptoms but it did calm me while the entire world emptied through me into the bowl. I was proud of myself for my gratitude practice. “If I can be grateful while my ass is on fire, I can find gratitude any time. I’m awesome!,” I thought.
And while finding gratitude in the middle of daily pain is a very important and powerful practice, we have to be careful not use it to cover over what’s under our pain.
Which is exactly what I did.
Like an alcoholic numbing with booze, I numbed with gratitude, letting it take me far away from truths I wasn’t quite ready to face.
If I were grateful for my marriage then I couldn’t see how stifled and soul-starved I was in it.
If I were grateful for the freedom in my work, I couldn’t admit how terrified I was to actually do it.
If I were grateful for my body, I couldn’t hear the truth my gut was trying to share.
I turned gratitude into a shiny, socially acceptable escape to divert my attention from the feelings I couldn’t bear to hold.
And that type of gratitude, let’s call it numbed gratitude, never fully brings the lasting ease it promises.
Because under the surface of your gratitude list is a bubbling pot of unacknowledged truth mixed with doubt and hurt, sitting right in middle of your gut, waiting to boil over. And because we’re terrified to look under the lid, we keep piling on the gratitude hoping it’ll be enough to keep our truth tightly concealed.
So if we know gratitude is beneficial AND that it’s easy to get sucked into a numbed version of it, how can we cultivate a gratitude practice that both reminds us of what we have and acknowledges our truth?
Enter truthful gratitude. (Yes, I made that name up all on my own).
Truthful gratitude allows us to see the gifts in our life and also hold space for what doesn’t feel good. As the Buddhist meditation teacher Tara Brach says, “Let yourself smile at the heart, not to cover over anything, but to see what’s here”.
We are allowed to be both grateful and afraid, grateful and stuck, grateful and sad, grateful and pissed, even grateful and ungrateful at the exact same time.
Dichotomy is the human experience and when we can open our hearts to our current state, whatever it may be, we don’t need to use gratitude to numb because we are able to face, acknowledge and hold whatever we’re feeling.
To start your truthful gratitude practice, right now or tomorrow morning write down 3 things you’re grateful for. My three for today were pens, clarity and time. (Obviously no need for anything profound).
Then ask yourself these 2 questions:
Am I using my gratitude to cover over anything?
Including my gratitude, what else is here right now?
This is going to do wonders for your gratitude practice as it lets you include your entire experience without making you wrong, bad or in need of fixing.
It lets you be all of you, which is exactly what we all need.
And if you’ve ever thought, “I shouldn’t be sad/upset/confused/overwhelmed because I have so much to be grateful for,” and need help holding both your gratitude and your difficult sh*t, let’s talk. I have a few open clarity sessions and would love to support you in creating this delicate balance. Click here to grab one.
Lots of love,
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