Feeling Grateful and Letting Go

October 24, 2023

As we move into this glorious month; the month that kicks off the holiday season and allows us to deny the reality of a long, grey winter ahead, we begin to read and hear a lot about gratitude…and how we should feel it.

For some of us, gratitude comes easy and for some us, we sometimes wonder what there is to feel grateful for in these challenging times. From climate change (whether you believe it’s real or not…it is) to political strife so intensely divisive that families and friends are torn apart; from financial hardship to the stress of jobs and family responsibilities, sometimes it can be hard to feel like holding hands and singing “Kumbaya.” You know I’m right.

Here’s the thing, though. Gratitude is about more than the good times. When life is smoothly sailing along, it’s easy to walk around in a space of gratitude. It’s easy to give thanks for our blessings.

Ah, but when things get tough, then what? Our gratitude journals fall by the wayside, abandoned in the throes of our difficulties. We pray when we are in need: “Please God…”

Gratitude is a state of mind that turns what we have into abundance; it’s more than saying a polite ‘thank you; it changes how we see the world. It’s an acknowledgement of the goodness in life. It’s saying yes to life. It’s not a denial that life can be hard, but an acknowledgement that, all in all, life is good and worth living.

For me, living in a state of gratitude for my many blessings (that could fill the pages of a Russian novel), from a second (and third chance at life), to finding the man with whom I have built a life of love and purpose; to my work and the acceptance of my work; to the community of people who love and support what we do…and the people who love me as I love them, without condition or reservation.

I could go on, but there’s more to gratitude than all of this, at least for me.  

I confess that I am more anxious about things in life than I wish to be. I worry about those I love; their health and wellness and safety. I worry about the hatred and violence that seems to pervade almost all discussions now. I worry about the planet and the future that we are leaving to the young people on earth. I worry about injustice and just plain meanness.

There’s another war, devastating the lives of innocent people in the name of power, greed and hatred. But isn’t that always the way with war? It never makes any sense…ever.

In a word…or two…I worry.

But I have decided that it gets me nowhere. As I meditate daily, in my qigong practice, I am working on something new for me (at my mature age)…letting go.

Yup, working on letting things slide that I can’t change or control.

As I meditate with this as my goal, I have made some remarkable discoveries (Bear in mind, I am not new to qigong; been at it for 10 years or more, daily, twice a day. I love the discipline and I need the structure of it for peace of mind.)

I began qigong with one purpose: to manage the chronic back pain I have suffered for years through moving energy more easily through the body. I have come to know how to move stagnation for relief. I have come to love the peace of mind and smooth as silk thinking that is now mine for the taking…if I choose to take it. My work now is to take that peace of mind and authentically use it for the work I do and in my life.

Trust me; I am by no means checking out or throwing up my hands in despair at what I can’t change. What I am doing is focusing my energy where I can do the most good; effect the best results. I have discovered that worry for the sake of worry is without use or merit. It simply wears us out, leaving us ineffective at change.

I have created a tool box that allows me to move through the world more peacefully; more focused on the good and less likely to lose sleep or energy on running around, as my mother would have said “like a chicken with its head cut off” (an awful visual, really…).

Here are some of the tools I use in my daily life to…survive. Maybe they can help you as you navigate the holiday season and life in general. I have seen tremendous change in my own perception of the world and for that I am grateful (full circle).

1. Make Meditation a Habit.

Like fitness or brushing your teeth, making meditation a habit will rock your world. Prayer, chanting or simply finding that quiet space in your head changes your perspective on life, allowing you to see more clearly than when your thoughts are jumbled and stressed.

And if you think you don’t have time, don’t worry. You can meditate or quiet your mind while you do something rote, like washing dishes or folding laundry, making those simple tasks a sort of prayer in their own right.

For most people, 5-20 minutes a day is enough time to change your perspective on the world. For me, I meditate 10 minutes morning and night as a way to bookend my day.

2. Breathe.

I didn’t realize until I began my qigong practice that I was only breathing into the upper part of my lungs; I was never fully breathing.

To take deep, cleansing breaths changes everything. Your whole body opens to the world and relaxes. Stress and tension melt from your shoulders.

Start with 10 deep breaths, in through your nose and out through your mouth on the count of 3 in an out, as you sit on the edge of your bed before sleep. Work your way up to 5 minutes of deep breaths. You’ll sleep better, more deeply and you’ll wake feeling refreshed.

This technique also comes in handy when you feel like you are going to blow your stack over something. The art of taking deep breaths can save your sanity and also prevent lots of unnecessary fighting in your world.

3. Feel Compassion

Compassion is not always what we think it is. We consider it the domain of vegans, feeling compassion for the suffering of animals, but compassion is actually more than that. True compassion means to take note of the suffering of others and to take action to alleviate that suffering.

This tool allows us to take action where we can. This isn’t about letting go, but about helping to alleviate suffering.

For me, it can be holding a suffering friend’s hand; helping a neighbor in their garden. It might be doing the shopping for a busy parent who could use a minute to breathe.

It will definitely be donating to One World Kitchen as Chef Jose Andres travels the world setting up kitchens to feed the poor and displaced in war zones and disaster areas…at great risk to his volunteers and hinmself.

Feeling compassion and acting on it to help someone or some animal to have a better day or life is compassion at its finest and fills us like nothing else.

During the holiday season, tempers flare; patience is in short supply so anything we can do to help ease someone’s day is the true spirit of the season.

These are the three pillars of my meditative life so that I can move through the world as a stronger, calmer human. And not just for my own sanity but for the sanity of people around me and in the bigger view, for the collective sanity of the world. Each of us is responsible for the energy we create and put into the world and now, more than ever, the world needs calm, sane, reasonable, educated thinking to solve its serious problems now and for the generations yet to come.