Remember when you were a kid and Mom, Dad, or another adult taught you to say “Thank you”? Maybe some uncle or aunt gave you a small gift, like a piece of candy or a toy. Maybe a neighbor paid you a mysterious compliment, like “Look at those long eyelashes! You’ll be a heartthrob some day.” But you’re 4 years old, you don’t like sweet mint or that toy, you have absolutely no clue what eyelashes are, and frankly, heartthrob sounds really painful. While you’re trying to hide behind your parent’s legs, someone turns to you and says: “It’s polite to say ‘Thank you’. It’s the right thing to do.”
Fast forward 20, 30, 40 or more years and again someone is telling you to say “Thank you,” only this time it’s your favorite yoga teacher, trusted meditation instructor, or latest email from your local and truly beloved wellness center. Maybe because it’s “The Month of Gratitude” (aka November). Maybe because the latest research shows what the ancient yogis knew, that a gratitude practice results in better sleep at night and a host of other health benefits. Whatever the well-founded and valid reason is, here it is again: someone telling you to be thankful.
Me? I hate gratitude! That is, I hate fake gratitude. I hate having to fabricate gratitude when I don’t actually feel it. I hate it when my mouth forms the words “Thank you,” but there is no resonance of gratitude in my body. I hate being forced to give thanks. It feels disingenuous, formulaic, hollow, and unnatural. I also really (and I mean really) hate gratitude by comparison. You know the kind, right? You’re somehow supposed to feel grateful cause your lot in life is comparatively better than someone else’s? I can still hear the echoes of an old childhood refrain from the dinner table: “You ought to be thankful and finish your plate! There are starving kids in Somalia.”
How on earth are starving kids in Somalia supposed to make me feel more thankful? Do you feel more thankful every night after you watch the news and learn of the recent tragedies that have befallen humankind? I don’t. Someone else’s misfortunes can never make me feel more happy or grateful. That just leads to sadness, inner turmoil, tension, and guilt. So no, sorry, I cannot feel gratitude for what I have just cause someone else doesn’t have it. That doesn’t work for me.
Which brings me to Thanksgiving. I believe there is a reason why Thanksgiving is in autumn, and it has little to do with pilgrims, harvest, turkey, and Native Americans. It’s because as we witness all the letting go of the season, truth is exposed (read: Fall is not about letting go!). As a tree sheds all its leaves, bare limbs are revealed. As we watch what no longer serves us release out of our lives, we’re inspired to feel and truly appreciate (i.e. feel grateful for) the bare truth of what is.
For me, it’s been more than a season of letting go. Try a year and a half of witnessing about a quarter of my body weight dissolve into thin air along with many long-held core notions of who I am in this body, in this life, and in this world. As I pass through the gates of loss and grief and witness this new nakedness, I am inspired to feel into who I really am and what I am truly thankful for. It ain’t big. I don’t feel thankful for months of trying to figure out what to eat or how fast to go on the treadmill or how to deal with the resulting stomach aches, back aches, and headaches (respectively).
Nope. I am thankful for the cozy little blanket that keeps me warm at night, not because someone else doesn’t have one but because I really love mine. I am thankful for all the support my loving family, friends, and practitioners have given me as my spirit took my body through a deep and cleansing initiation that is preparing me for what’s to come (don’t worry! I am healthy and well). And, I am grateful for all of you and the trust you literally place in my hands daily. How you allow me into your lives. How you share your biggest secrets and most harrowing moments with me and trust that I still stand, still smile, still receive you just as you are with an abundance of love in my heart.
Me? I love gratitude. Real gratitude. And I am so thankful for you, for life, for love.
May shedding the no-longer-needed expose deep gratitude in the heart for what is,
-- Shira Oz-Sinai
Shira Oz-Sinai is a spiritual teacher trained in iRest® Yoga Nidra meditation and Soul Lightening Acupressure®, two modalities that share the common principle of noticing what arises in awareness as the foundation to living life with ease and in deep and loving friendship with yourself. These are her musings.