Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays because the whole point of this holiday is invoking a tender emotion—gratitude—that has been known in both spiritual traditions and science to open the heart, relax the nervous system, improve health, and deepen intimacy with our loved ones and the Divine. As Thanksgiving approaches, we pause, gather with our loved ones, and focus on giving thanks. It’s easy to be grateful for the yummy things in life—the child when she’s sleeping, a beloved’s sweet kiss, the sunset, the moonrise, and the feeling of joy in our hearts when our Soul Tribe is all around us, our hearts open, our voices raised in song, our feet swaying with dance. But the real practice comes when we can feel grateful even for life’s initiations, those challenging experiences that have the opportunity to either blow our hearts open or slam them shut.
How might we all practice this kind of radical gratitude this Thanksgiving?
I experienced a lot of initiatory trauma and loss this year. How can I invoke gratitude for the dog bite that took a chunk out of my leg in April? How can I find gratitude for losing my beloved mother and spending this first Thanksgiving without her? How can I experience the heart opening of gratitude for the break up with my boyfriend in the midst of all this other grief?
It’s not easy to feel grateful when you feel pain. It’s important to realize that we can’t skip the pain with spiritual bypassing techniques like premature gratitude. We have to feel the hurt, letting the grief and anger move through us. We have to seek help healing from our traumas. But it IS possible to hold a paradox. I can feel grief and gratitude at the same time. I can feel sad that my mother is no longer here with me in body, and I can feel grateful that her loss is breaking open my heart to even deeper levels of unconditional love. I can give thanks for the power that is rising in me as I ask myself, “Who am I now that Trish Rankin is not on this earth?” And . . . it still hurts.
One of my spiritual mentors gave me a mantra that helped me through my pit bull attack. Right after the dog mauled me, when I was in agonizing pain, I started chanting my mantra—Thank you for this gift of love. The mind calls “Bullshit” when you do this. “This is not a gift of love!” it screams. “This is a disaster! This hurts! What if I lose my leg? What’s going to happen next?” The mind prattles on with all of its fear and anxiety in the face of pain and uncertainty.
But some deeper part of you knows that there will be goodies riding shotgun with fear, pain, and uncertainty. Can we be grateful for the goodies before we even know what they are?
Many of us can look back at traumas and losses and see how much we grew as souls, how we learned resilience, how we had to rely upon our strength and our faith, how our tribes showed up for us, or how we learned to set boundaries and love ourselves. But we don’t have to wait for the clarity of the “retrospectoscope.” .It’s possible to practice radical gratitude for even life’s painful experiences—right in the moment when they’re happening. You don’t have to bypass the painful feelings one bit in order to feel the gratitude. You can hold the pain and the gratitude right next to each other—the poison and its antidote—in paradox.
Because I use this mantra “Thank you for this gift of love” so routinely now, my dear friend, musician Karen Drucker, wrote me a song to bring this mantra to life. As our gift to you this Thanksgiving, let us introduce this music video so you might adopt this mantra for yourself this year.
If you’d like to download the free MP3 of this song, just enter your email here and Karen and I will gift you this song as an offering of our Thanksgiving and a prayer that you are able to invoke radical gratitude for yourself.
Much love and infinite thanks,
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