Canadian Thanksgiving has somehow rolled around again… already. Somewhere between the roast turkey, stuffing, cranberries, and fall leaves (none of which I’m experiencing by the way), the real significance of this holiday is mostly lost. But for many, it’s simply a time to reflect and give thanks for all our blessings.
I think most of us are probably already doing that every day, but just in case, feel free to use Canadian Thanksgiving and this read as the motivation to really drive that gratitude home.
Each year at Thanksgiving time, I write a post because each year has its own flavour of gratitude. Last year’s gratitude post was one of the hardest I’ve ever written, but Love showed me the way (you can read it here, it mostly still applies).
This year, as I started to reflect on everything I’m grateful for besides the usual survival suspects, like health, family, and material security, I found there was a LOT, like way more than I expected. When you sit down to make gratitude an intentional task rather than just paying lip service to it, it’s amazing what’s there.
For me, that intentional task of gratitude got off to a bit of a rough start, but necessarily so, I think. Like being lost in a forest and having to find your way out. That first glimpse of wide open space is an even greater blessing for having endured the darkness of the woods.
So I invite you to stay with this and reflect on what your process with rough starts and gratitude tasks is…
I woke up in one of those moods. You know, the ones that come out of nowhere and demand that we notice every single little thing that is wrong with our lives, our bodies, our friends, our breakfast. Even the damn sky gets a nasty look for making life seem so meaningless. Ever get that? And to make it worse, that doom and gloom mood is usually served up with a giant slab of guilt and shame for indulging in such nihilistic first world pleasures when I could just be enjoying my cushy life like I should be.
And as rumination got a running start, I thought about how much I want love and intimacy and connection and security in my life. Those are important, healthy things to want, right? It’s not like I’m asking to win the lottery or for Bitcoin to double by next Tuesday or for a good night’s sleep to wipe the last five (or 10) years off my face. I’m asking for wholesome, attainable, survival-type stuff. The type of stuff that draws people out of bed every day and prevents them from dying of loneliness. The stuff that not only makes the world go round but makes it a far better place to live.
But as I leaned back on the velvety cushion in my sweet n’ cozy Zen den and sipped my hot black coffee from my special, sacred mug and spied my stacks of books with delicious titles printed on creased spines, and as the early morning light shone in through my window and cast watery sunbeams across my floor and kissed the verdant green of my plants I got a smack-in-the-face insight that might be one of the most critical in my life (besides this being the only run-on sentence allowed because gratitude is indeed a run-on sentence):
I already have love and intimacy, connection, and security in my life, they just look different than I expected them to. In fact, I already have everything I need (and more) if I have the (first time) eyes to see it all.
It’s like this:
This past week, I said goodbye to a friend who left this world a little too young. I also celebrated the birthday of another friend. Both men were the same age, the age of my dad, who is as far from being an old man as I am.
I also held a fresh new little baby in my arms. Baby Bodhi; the sweetest little baby you ever did see (because aren’t they all?!), and I inhaled the scent of sweet baby head as his little hand clutched my finger and his eyes peered up at me like I was the most fascinating thing in the world.
And during a recent coffee date with my dear friend Shea who sometimes spends long nights just struggling to breathe, I experienced a moment of deep nostalgia for a time in my life long past. As a lump of sadness welled up and I fought to hold back tears by making a joke about something stupid, Shea stopped me with this:
“Colleen don’t do that. Feel it. That’s the love returning to you, giving you a little moment together again.” Well, then there was a flood! When you’re forced to be regularly concerned with the simple survival act of breathing, there’s not much room to confuse what’s really important in life, is there?
And another shiny glint of gratitude regularly hunkers down on my doorstep with loving acts of kindness and generosity from my dear neighbour who often gifts me bags of fruit, tye-dye t-shirts, magnolias, and fairy lights. They’re always followed up with a short text message reading “Happy Halloween” or the latest, and my favourite, “Happy Intergalactic Independence Day.”
How does it get any better than this?
Love, intimacy, connection, and security are in the way my surroundings hold me. All my simple material pleasures that give me comfort and joy every day.
They’re in the floor’s ability to support me and the weight of all I carry.
They’re in the warmth of the sun on my face.
They’re in all the people I pass in a day that smile and say hello.
They’re in the commitment I make every day to be a good person.
All that love and intimacy and connection and security are here in the same way blood circulates through my veins and millions of cells come together to form this body I use to experience the world.
Isn’t it amazing?! To realize that everything I think I want I already have. It’s like discovering that the way to walk is to simply put one foot in front of the other in front of the other.
How incredibly lucky we are to be here to witness it all, to share it all. The losses and the love. The longing, the sadness, the joy, the sunsets and sunrises, the magic. And as I held little baby Bodhi who looked up at me with eyes holding all the answers and innocence of the world, I thought again, how does it get any better than this?
And through baby Bodhi i discovered something about motherhood too:
Being a mother does not require me to have a child. But it does demand that I continue to love in the face of hate, indifference, and fear, especially my own. That I reach my arms out to those who need care, love, attention, and a hug, no matter what. No matter what. That I look for the goodness and beauty in every face.
That I accept sleepless nights and a worried heart and wounded body not just as my own but as everyone’s sleepless night, worried heart, and wounded body. Because this isn’t all mine. Whatever I experience belongs to all of us, and love is the embracing of this, all of it, no matter how hard and heavy and painful it is.
Damn, how grateful I am to discover this.
So, instead of asking for something that I think I don’t have or for putting energy into manifesting it through prayer or good old fashioned requests to God or the Divine mascot, I think it makes more sense to recognize how all the things I want that I take as absent in my life because they don’t look so familiar are already fully and completely blessing me every single day.
My beautiful Kundalini Yoga teacher and mentor has an excellent mantra for all situations, even the hard, heavy, painful ones. If everything feels like it’s going wrong, ask: how does it get better than this? If everything is amazing, ask: how does it get better than this?
My other, far more distant but equally close to my heart teacher, Ram Dass, says to every situation: ahhhh so.
It can be that simple. Life is the whole experience. Embrace it. Love it. We’ll likely do it thousands and thousands and thousands of times more but without any recollection, so treat it like it’s the only one.
All these beautiful moments of experience and perspective, plus several others over the past few weeks, have shown me love, intimacy, connection, and security in a way that holds me in a fierce and enduring hug. A hug that says, I’m never going away, no matter what. I will continue to hold you until you die, and even then, I will hold you still. That’s the love. That’s the love. That’s the love that makes it all worth it.
That’s where the real and true gratitude lives.
And as I walk down my street having just finished my lacklustre Thanksgiving dinner at the salad bar, I’m struck by this feeling of anticipatory joy. Joy that’s present but it’s also joy in anticipation of something I’m already experiencing. It feels just like that time I fell in love, except this time I’m not falling in love with a person, I’m falling in love with LOVE.