The cards I’ve been dealt are overwhelmingly good ones, and I do my best to share the gifts I’ve worked for and the ones that have been bestowed upon me. I understand the value of focusing on one tiny good thing—the designs a barista puts in the foam of my quadruple latte—when I’m feeling overwhelmed. A gratitude jar sits on top of my dresser.
Don’t get me wrong. I am grateful. But as much as I’ve read about how cultivating an attitude of gratitude changes your brain and lifts your spirits, being grateful isn’t always easy for me.
What’s that Humming—Do You Feel It?
Before Brian died, I practiced yoga. Several times a week I came to my mat with intention…for the most part…I guess. I mean, whenever a teacher tossed out a word or a notion that I found interesting, I paid attention. I played with the power of “resetting,” or “letting go,” or “the feminine.” Some days I was ready to receive the lesson, others I was not.
Some days, walking out of the yoga studio, my body buzzed with love for what I had: my parents, my siblings, my work and my friends. Brian, our adventures, our children. My heart would hum whenever I found myself able to hold a pose longer, and this humming would reverberate in a way that opened me to more wonder, wherever I was, whatever I was doing.
After tragedy came, sitting on the mat and learning to be present by focusing on my breath or the suggested mantra of the day, I became increasingly intimate with that body buzz, that hum. This energy was clearing out whatever heaviness, fear, dread and doubt it could clear out of me at that time. This force was a balm; it was lifegiving. It had always been in me, but I had never thought to name it. I’d never had to.
Ram Dass once said:
“When I look back on the suffering in my life, this may sound really strange, but I see it now as a gift. I would have never asked for it for a second. I hated it while it was happening and I protested as loudly as I could, but suffering happened anyway. Now, in retrospect I see the way in which it deepened my being immeasurably.”
I now know the name of that buzz, that hum, that healing grounding force: It is gratitude.
Science proves that expressing gratitude improves sleep and relationships, reduces anxiety and depression, bolsters the immune system, lowers blood pressure and fosters optimism. So why, given all I have experienced, learned and even preached (mostly to my kids when they are taking things for granted) about gratitude, am I still sometimes so resistant to expressing it, verbally, outwardly, more often?
The Limits of Gratitude—and What Lies Beyond
When Mike came into the picture, I was grateful.
He could do the simplest thing—he’d put young Max to bed—and I would thank him. As our relationship turned more serious, having someone in my life again with whom I could share all kinds of responsibilities was a huge relief. I was grateful, grateful, grateful, and I told Mike this. I expressed my gratitude. Now, several years later, I take things for granted. I somehow feel I’m owed his love or his help with the kids, but admitting I need him…well, to be honest, gratitude makes me feel vulnerable, and when I feel vulnerable, I withhold my gratitude.
The yoga mat, the transformational workshops, the books I’ve read and the mentors I’ve let guide me…I get it, I can be stubborn. Because I know that nothing is a given, and that sometimes what you believe will last forever ends. The simple act of saying “Thank you” can feel like an admission that someone else is in charge—and I’m not.
This dependency makes me feel vulnerable.
Whatever I am thankful for can be taken away. Any of us can say, “You’re welcome,” and mean it, and then walk off. Though there is no indication of Mike leaving, I know it could happen. The bottom could drop out. I’ve had it “fairy tale good” before, and while I know I could survive if the fairy tale once again flopped, I don’t want to be put to the test again.
I studied to become a yoga teacher, in great part, because I want to help others breathe through trauma, flow past roadblocks and find the “yoga buzz.” I want to press along with others into the boundaries of our comfort zones. Some days, I know that the words I offer a client or a class might not be enough to spark growth or change or progress. My battle with vulnerability may be a lifelong one, but I will keep working to increase my capacity to be vulnerable and to marry this vulnerability with gratitude.