I was twelve, awkward in my skinny body and frizzy-on-purpose hair, wearing bright red-framed glasses, big and round, and lips that took up most of my face, especially when I was smiling my huge toothy grin.
The memory is of My Favorite Childhood Thanksgiving Day. My parents were hosting the whole bunch from my mother’s side of the family.
Uncles, aunts, and cousins began arriving just as my brothers and I had finished setting up card tables and throwing tablecloths over them to make one extremely long table down the middle of our living room.
I can see my mother basting the cheesecloth-draped turkey as it burdens the oven rack with its great brown weight. My father is whipping cream cheese into his famous mashed potatoes with the Kitchen Aid. My aunt is stirring gravy on the stove.
All my mother’s sisters are there, cooking and laughing. And my grandmother is there, too, sitting at the head of the kitchen table, telling all the stories we’ve heard a thousand times and still making us laugh.
There was something magical about that particular Thanksgiving. My parents were happy, my aunts were all getting along, and my cousins and I were all too young to be getting into any real trouble.
I was a very sensitive child, who grew into a very sensitive adult, and the holidays always seemed to zing me with a tremendous amount of emotional pressure, even as a kid.
Thanksgiving is the harbinger of the holiday season, heralding times ahead ripe for old wounds triggered and buttons pushed, family style.
The holiday season has the potential to stress people out.
Pressure to give the best gifts and to receive them graciously + glueing a forced smile on your face when your [fill in the blank family member] ridicules you or [pick your own offensive behavior] (like they always do) = the most wonderful time of the year!
Anyone who has ever been blessed with family members knows they are the best people at bringing out your worst at exactly the times you are supposed to be good.
Whether you are able to hang on to the perspective that all your family’s shenanigans are actually opportunities for you to gain more self-awareness, or not, most of us could really use a way to clear through the holiday season bullshit.
Photograph by Brea Fisher
Meet my friend, Gratitude.
You may think you know this friend of mine, but I’m not talking about making mental lists of things you’re thankful for.
Nor am I referring to the joy you feel after receiving something you’re stoked to have.
Gratitude for Gratitude’s sake; that’s where the essence is.
Have you ever attempted to feel gratitude without conjuring it up by thinking of the reasons you should feel grateful?
In the book, Spiritual Economics, Eric Butterworth argues that gratitude is causal— that feeling gratitude is the catalyst for bringing about manifestations about which to feel grateful, not just the result. He writes:
“Take a moment right now to engage in the experience of gratitude. Close your eyes and just feel grateful. Don’t turn outward, casting about for things to give thanks for. Remember, it is not an emotional reaction to the blessings you can count; it is an energy you stir up within you that is causal.”
For me, thinking of the why’s for my gratitude can leave room for the mind to wander off in the direction of yeah-but’s, that-was-then’s, and not-for-long’s.
In other words, if I’m in a mood to start nit-picking my reasons for being grateful, it easily leads me to a very different place than gratitude. And when times are stressy, I like to take the path of least resistance and go straight to the source.
Go ahead, listen to Mr. Butterworth now.
“Take a moment
to engage in the experience of gratitude.
Close your eyes
and just feel grateful.”
This is My Favorite Gratitude Meditation, and it changed my relationship to gratitude, drastically.
Try using the mantra, “I am in gratitude.”
Or, simply, “Gratitude.”
Repeat the mantra mentally as you feel into the energy of the words.
I am in Gratitude.
I am in Gratitude.
I am in Gratitude.
Do you feel yourself lighten up?
Maybe you notice a subtle smile on your previously heavy lips?
Pay attention to how you feel physically as well as emotionally.
Try to stay in the energy of gratitude for as long as you can.
Go into gratitude often, a little at a time, and at least once a day for the next week; longer if you like.
With practice, you’ll begin to feel more comfortable in that space, more at ease with finding that general place of gratitude without reason.
You may even find that regularly going to the energetic place of Gratitude actually expands your reasons to feel grateful in your life.
Instead of getting all grateful over some new gadget you get for Christmas, or because that’s what you do when you’re on the path of self awareness, or because it’s how you’re supposed to be this time of year, get into gratitude for a different reason.
Drop all your reasons to be grateful and just go into gratitude directly.
Tapping into the energy of gratitude is like finding a shortcut to joy; it eliminates the necessity for anything outside yourself to give you reason to be grateful.
If you celebrate Thanksgiving, you had last Thursday to list your reasons for being grateful this year, and that is great.
However, if those same items on your mental gratitude list turn sour in your mind at any point during this holiday season, please remember you have the power to renew yourself of reasons for gratitude.
Refine gratitude down to the feeling and see it magnify your reasons to be grateful.
The Gratitude Meditation in the Qi Challenge has the potential to be very potent. Please let me know if you experience anything shift while trying it out. How did it feel to be in gratitude this way? What does your gratitude feel like? I’m really curious to hear your thoughts on this; up until now, this has been a very personal practice for me.
Leave a comment below and I'll write you back!