What does it mean to be thankful, especially when we are faced with difficult situations and challenges?
In a recent blog post, I shared the story of my life.
My life has been filled with many blessings and wonderful moments, but one of its central themes has been loss: the loss of close relationships, with my mother, two husbands, and two of my children who died before they were born. And there have been other losses too: my best friend died of cancer in 2009. I had to move out of my home of 20 years, because it kept getting broken into. I have not been able to get a new job in the past 8 years, despite my two Master’s degrees and award-winning work record and multiple areas of professional skill.
My second husband and I had to get divorced, even though we didn’t want to. I loved him with all my heart and soul, and he loved me. But we had explored all paths and could not find any way to build a life together, that would work out well and be acceptable to everyone that we both loved and cared about. And so we set aside our personal happiness and hopes and dreams, for the sake of a larger whole.
So. Deep breath. Here I am: divorced for the second time. Alone. Without a job, or the prospect of getting a job. Unlikely to ever have grandchildren.
And what’s worse is, this is all my fault. I brought this on myself. I could have stayed at my safe, secure and wonderful job, instead of retiring so I could go halfway around the world seeking a new beginning and following my heart. I reached for the brass ring… or the gold ring, actually…but I wasn’t able to hold onto it. So here I am, broken and bleeding and alone. And it is all my fault.
That is the message that I got, loud and clear, straight from the Source of All that is, when I turned to God and asked, in the face of all of the above: “What do YOU want me to do?”
What does it mean to be thankful in the face of loss? Not just one loss, but repeated, multiple losses?
What does it mean to be thankful in the face of losses that keep rubbing salt in our wounds?
What does it mean to be thankful when you’ve ALREADY been thankful, and optimistic, and positive, and brave, when you’ve ALREADY picked yourself up and tried again… and failed, again?
It’s easy to be thankful when everything is going right. Or, is it?
That too is actually hard. Many people have trouble believing their luck, accepting a compliment, letting good things come into their lives. So we will be working on being thankful when things are going well, too.
But first let’s start with the really hard stuff: what does it mean to be thankful in the face of overwhelming disappointment and loss? What does it mean to be thankful in the face of grief?
And beyond our personal situations, what does it mean to be thankful in the midst of world events that are unfolding around us, some of which involve human tragedy on an almost inconceivable scale?
What does it mean to be thankful as we watch our planet skidding towards doom, whether we interpret “doom” from a scriptural or scientific point of view?
These are not easy times that we are living in.
One reason I was optimistic enough to retire from my job and live overseas for a year, was that the last time I had gone job hunting had been in 1996. Not only was I younger myself then, and therefore unaware of age discrimination, but the economy was robust and there were jobs to be had.
When the housing market collapsed in 2008, taking the economy with it, I was secure in a job I had had for a long time, so I did not realize the profound level of economic collapse that was soon to affect the job market.
And I was not alone. I have heard many people in their 50’s and 60’s say that they want to quit their long time jobs and do something else interesting in retirement. My advice to all of them has been, don’t retire unless and until you are sure you never want to, or have to, work again. Because as I and many of my friends have learned the hard way, if you are over 50, in this post-2008 world, there are simply no jobs out there…at least, none that pay a living wage that is equal to your time and experience and expertise.
So in the face of this bleak picture, with global terrorism, environmental collapse, economic scarcity, a non-existent job market, and demagogues all over the world rattling their sabres at other and at their own populations, the question I was facing was:
How can we be thankful? WHY should be thankful? What will that accomplish? What good will it do?
I’m not here to utter Pollyana-ish pronouncements about putting on a happy face and thinking positive. My goal is much deeper, and more subversive, than that.
My goal is for all of us to achieve QUANTUM thankfulness, to go through a transformation so profound and transformational that every atom of our beings vibrates at the frequency of gratitude.
Can you imagine what that would be like? What would it be like to feel so profoundly blessed that your whole heart, mind, soul and being radiates thanks and praise every minute of the day?
If we could achieve that, we would be living in a state of bliss. We would have everything we need. We would live in joy.
That’s certainly a long way from where I am feeling as I start this journey towards thankfulness… a journey I am taking because every other journey that I tried to take, every other road that I tried to walk, was blocked, or broken, or led nowhere.
How do we get from here: the pit of despair, to there: the pinnacle of bliss?
The road of thankfulness is not an ordinary road. It is a path unlike any other, because it is an inner path. It is not a journey between point A and point B, from failure to success or from one location to another on the space-time continuum.
This is a quantum journey, a change in vibration, an elevation in frequency.
We will look for thankfulness in some of the hidden dimensions spoken of in string theory, in the wrinkles in space known as the “tesseract”, where space and time fold up on each other in ways that don’t make sense to our ordinary Newtonian- way of understanding reality.
There are many things about the universe that we don’t understand. A remarkable book called the Dancing Wu-Li Masters talks about how the discoveries of modern physics explain things that ancient teachings of Eastern religions have been telling us for thousands of years.
Miracles have scientific explanations; we just don’t understand the science behind them yet.
There is much about the nature of reality that we don’t understand, and both science and religion can help us learn and get smarter, though we may never be able to learn everything.
Computers have helped us learn a lot about the nature of how the brain works, by providing us with models we can use to understand thinking from an objective point of view.
Raja Yoga, which is yoga for the mind, speaks of “the raincloud of knowable things”: that body of wisdom that overshadows our understanding, and from which we can draw down what we need to know.
We may experience that “drawing down” as intuition, as spiritual guidance, as a hunch.
If you’ve ever taught groups of people, or spoken to an audience, you have felt how the audience draws different things from you each time you speak… they pull out what they need to hear, from that overshadowing “raincloud of knowable things”. You, the speaker, the teacher, the parent… stand at the midpoint between your audience, your students, your children, and what they need to hear.
Today, we are in need of thankfulness. Research has shown how important it is, and we will explore some of that research later. But for now, the point that needs to be made is simply this:
That is the message that I got. That is the message that I got for my own journey, and to share with you.
It may feel counter-intuitive. You may be thinking: be THANKFUL? Wouldn’t it be better to be productive, or be pro-active, or be… something that helps me make money or get ahead?
Of course there is nothing wrong with doing those things. We all need to be productive and pro-active and make money and get ahead.
But the message that came to me, in no uncertain terms, is this:
Whatever else you are doing, BE THANKFUL.
As this message came to me, I was struggling to write and publish my first book. There are many subjects I could write about, from how to be happy without bread, to how to organize your scarves. I wanted to write about health and nutrition and fashion and culture, and international travel and child rearing.
No, my teachers told me. FOCUS. Focus on one thing. Focus on one thing for the next 18 months.
Seriously? 18 months? I’m a double Gemini. Do you know how hard it is for me to focus on one thing for more than ten minutes?
It’s actually not possible for me to focus on one thing. My mind, my brain, the way I am put together, requires me to focus on EVERYTHING, and on how everything is connected.
But thankfulness is something I can focus on. I can focus on thankfulness in relation to EVERYTHING.
And that’s what this blog and book are going to be about: how to be thankful for everything.
This is going to be a deep inner journey, a quantum journey.
It is going to take a long time, because it is a profound journey of total transformation.
This is not about bowing our heads for five minutes at Thanksgiving dinner once a year, saying how much we appreciate our friends and family and the fine turkey dinner, and then digging into the cranberry sauce and forgetting all about being thankful until next Thanksgiving.
This is about being thankful for EVERYTHING. What might that look like?
When the garbage truck drives by, being thankful for everything is about taking a minute to be thankful we can hear the engine and see the vehicle and smell the smells. It’s about being thankful for the men and women who work hard to take the garbage away from our front door and take it somewhere else and process it. It’s about being thankful for the things we used and threw away in this past week, the containers those things came in, the empty husks of forms we no longer need. It’s about being thankful for the people who worked hard to manufacture the things we used and threw out this week. It’s about being thankful for the economic system that brought those items to us in airplanes and boats and trains and trucks, the people who put them on the shelves in warehouses, and scanned them at checkout, and ran the IT systems that made the cash register work. It’s about being thankful for the past week of our life in which we used the items that we no longer need and have now thrown in the trash. And that’s just the beginning of being thankful …. about the GARBAGE, as the garbage truck drives by.
Quantum thankfulness, people.
It’s a radical concept.
A deep concept.
It’s a concept that will get into your cells and change your life from the inside out.
But it can only do that if you let it.
You have to want it.
You have to be ready to go on this journey of thankfulness without knowing in advance exactly where it’s going to lead.
It’s a journey that will lead to a different place for each of us, because we are each unique.
We are radiant beings of light, and thankfulness will help us become MORE radiant, more filled with light, more blessed, more fully ourselves.
If we could see everything that happens in our lives, in the world, as a blessing, as a profound gift, if we could truly be thankful for everything that happens, we would indeed be deeply blessed.
As this journey begins, I am not there yet. Are you?
I am not vibrating at that frequency of 24/7 bliss and joy.
I am an ordinary human who often feels angry and frustrated and hurt.
Last night I was lying in my bed crying. I was sobbing my eyes out, and I have absolutely no idea why.
But, ok, so what? Roll with it. I can be thankful that I felt so deeply about something (even if I don’t know what it was) that tears were rolling down my face. I can be thankful that I have a bed to cry in.
I can be thankful that I can be gentle with myself when I feel sad. I can be thankful that I have been given this guidance to focus on thankfulness, and I can be thankful in advance for the learning and transformation it will bring into my life in the year and a half ahead.
I can be thankful to be able to read and write and share ideas with others, and for the internet that makes that sharing possible.
I can be thankful for the skills I’ve gained that have made me able to create a blog.
But most of all, I am thankful for YOU, dear reader.
I am thankful to you for taking the time to read this, for sharing my joys and my sorrows, and for reflecting deeply on your OWN joys and pains as I reflect on mine.
What I invite you to do now is download the worksheet for today, and pick one area of your life (that you identified from yesterday’s worksheet) that is difficult for you to be thankful for.
Set a timer for yourself for a specific amount of time and sit down and just write. You can use the worksheet, and any additional blank pages in a notebook or word processor. Just write. Brainstorm. Think about how you can be thankful for aspects of the situation, for things related to the situation, for things you’ve learned and gained from the situation. Just write.
And then fill in part two of today’s worksheet: what do you hope to gain from this thankfulness journey?
Where would you like to be, a year or a year from now, physically, emotionally, socially, economically, mentally and spiritually?
If reality were no obstacle and you could have anything you want in each of those areas of life, what would it be?
Don’t overthink it. Write down the first thing that comes to mind. Most important, be honest with yourself.
Write down what you really want, not what you THINK you SHOULD want. Just do it. Go.