Lately, the world has felt wobbly and spinning off its axis—the way a top looks at the end of its spin. From political views to human rights, as we teeter of into 2017, things have never felt so uncertain. In my personal life, mental health crises are swirling around me as I watch the high price of stress, anxiety, and depression in those I love; and so, it seems incredibly oversimplified to sit here in this moment and talk to you about gratitude, even though it’s never been more important. You see, there is this little blue book sitting on my kitchen table right now that's holding everything together. I have only written 300 sentences but each line is pure hope. They carry the steam that floats from my morning cup of tea, the fresh green of new leaves, the incomprehensively soft feel of my friend's new baby. If you haven't guessed from the title of this blog, the little blue book is my gratitude journal.
If you're like me, your Facebook feed is suddenly full of people who are deeply (and loudly) afraid. And I'm not saying they shouldn't be; yet, suddenly our collective fears seem to have reached an overwhelming pitch and I'm watching dear friends who struggle with their mental health be pushed to the edge by waves of negativity. I suspect that things feel worse than they ever have because of the internet. News is everywhere, if you can even call most of what pops up on our social-media feeds as news. Things have gotten heavy and I don't think we were built to carry the weight of the world. Instead, I think we are anthropologically meant to bear the weight of our lives and small communities. I'm not suggesting that we all stick our heads in the sand and run away, as if that were even possible. I'm suggesting that we reconnect with real humans in our lives and remember all the small and deeply gorgeous things that we miss when we're scrolling and clicking and panicking. I'm suggesting that we focus on changing what is actually in our power which, as it turns out, is very little. For me, those little changes began with saying thanks.
I started a gratitude journal after reading a book about the importance of giving thanks. I tend toward pragmatic realism in my personality, so at first I was concerned that I wouldn't have enough natural pep and positivity for the challenge; however, these days that little book is full of power. After a late night supporting people in crisis, I wrote line 300: " Good friends, bearing take-out", when a lovely friend showed up at my house with mountains of Thai food for a writing session. It is so easy to gloss over these moments and so necessary to remember them. The beautiful thing about cultivating an attitude of gratitude (hot rhymes, I know) is that it's free; no one can tell you what you need to be thankful for. Furthermore, it’s a perspective that can draw us away from anxious thoughts back into the very real and waiting world as we shift our focus away from things we can't control and back to the good things we already have.
One of my favorite things about yoga is how it naturally amplifies gratitude. What better way to give thanks for your body than spending some time respectfully tuned in to its language of movement. When I hit the mat, I am always reminded how privileged I am to be here, in a space of quiet thoughts, with time to focus on myself. For so many people, that is not even an option. I also have a body that is capable and strong (another privilege) but some days can I can still forget how lucky I am to have the money for yoga or the freedom to be upset about politics or the legal right to speak my feelings into the world. Sometimes we forget these privileges and use our freedom to rant and bicker. I know I do. So, when I recently read an article that named empathy as the most powerful way of conquering fear and division, it struck a chord. The writer pointed out how empathy allows us to understand what others are feeling and treat them with respect, even when we don't agree. With empathy, those we differ from become teachers, allowing us to grow, connect, or simply learn what not to be: ALL things to be thankful for.
And as we increase in this empathy for others, we must also remember to be empathetic with ourselves: being kind to our bodies, letting our minds rest, and building joy into our days as we embrace all the goodness that politics and hate can't tarnish. We can remember to fill the consumerist drive for "more" with gratitude for what we have. We can let people in our lives know what they mean to us and strengthen our connection to humanity. We can dig into those sun salutations and give thanks for spines that bend and muscles that stretch and burn with life. We can become students in a world that reveres the loudest teachers. We can allow gratitude to slow the sand in the hourglass when we're feeling buried by our lack of time or money or love or things. You see, gratitude is the opposite of lack. Gratitude simply has everything already and desires no more. Saying this, I acknowledge that pitching gratitude to those whose basic needs aren’t being met is not helpful. I say this to those who have enough but refuse to know it which, let's face it, is most of us.
In these fearful days, I dare you to practice gratitude. I dare you to take a break from worrying about all you can’t control and, instead, choose to breathe life-saving words onto paper. I dare you to write 100 things you are grateful for and then I dare you to write 1000. I dare you to be thankful for the parts of yourself and others that you don’t always like. I dare you to never stop writing because when a storm rolls over, you can look back to line 200 and read about the way “hoarfrost-patterned branches held up bluebird skies” and how on line 56 you knew beyond a shadow of a doubt you were loved. Then, when you sit there in the eye of your storm, whether you’re on your yoga mat, or walking through an uncertain life, you will have a little light to place between your hands and breathe into your heart because gratitude, at its core, is the practice of hope. And when you learn to see that life is full of good things, you will begin to trust that the future holds the bright specks of stars, soft hands, and dreams.