Yes, even in the midst of seemingly unbearable pain it is possible to find gratitude. I’m not talking about using gratitude as a “spiritual bypass”, a bypass for human emotion that is uncomfortable: You know, the moments when others try to comfort us in the best way they know how, or we somehow tell ourselves we “should be grateful for the lesson”, “everything happens for a reason”, “God never gives you more than you can handle”, “it could be worse”, “As a spiritual person I should not get angry, depressed, etc”…. Even though this advice is usually well-intentioned, none of these things are actually helpful, or inspire gratitude. They inspire a knot in the stomach (or the wish to throw a punch or throw up…). And as “civilized kind people” we nod, sigh and file it away, to be dealt with later – and move on with our business. Yet, that brewing kettle of accumulating mixed feelings results in what we call “unresolved grief”, and as it lingers, unresolved grief can drain away our energy, joy of life, happiness, health and, yes, gratitude for years – until the kettle either explodes or implodes in our life in some way, or slowly erodes it.
So how do you do that? Is it really possible to find things to be (truly) grateful for in the midst of overwhelming pain, when it feels as if your heart has been ripped out? Yes, it is. My example: The days after my best friend Pat passed away, I was devastated. All I could feel was pain, loss, emptiness and numbing nothingness where NOTHING seemed to make sense anymore. How in the heck do you find gratitude in THAT??? Well, I found that during a time of grief it’s even more important to find a way to tune in to what’s good in life, in a way that does not dismiss, devalue or defer all the conflicting feelings that come up. And my gratitude practice proved tremendously helpful in getting me through that time.
The fact that I had my gratitude partners, whom I had an agreement to share 5 gratitudes with each day, “forced” me to tune into what “else” might be true, beyond the acute pain. Our promise to be honest and authentic helped me to do this in a way that honored all that was going on, and look for the little things. Also, reading their gratitudes was an affirmation of life for me – that life, somehow, for “some people” was continuing like normal; it hadn’t actually stopped, even if it felt to me that way.
Well, I got curious to see what I found to be grateful for during that time, I remember that it was really hard, I had to dig deep and many days I didn’t think it possible to find something – yet, here is what I wrote on Day 70 of our practice, May 7, 2016, just 3 days after Pat died:
My gratitude today:
- The tremendous support that we’ve been receiving.
- Realizing the capacity for love, connection and community that one individual with integrity and passion can generate.
- Witnessing the depth and power of love between two people, and how much joy and happiness it creates that will outlast any pain. The support that such love magnetizes. And yes, it’s worth the potential pain.
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