During the first year of my gratitude practice, I made it a habit to ‘check-in’ about what was going on with me, at regular intervals. This was how I discovered the impetus to give back, and my increasing capacity and desire for connection – both interpersonally but also at a more profound level, in experiences of Oneness. I’ve also observed, at these check-ins, the urge to find purpose and meaning and the necessity for mindfulness, presence and authenticity in order to live gratefully.
I will say that the marker of 2,000 days feels more daunting than even the 5-year mark. We’re used to counting time in years when we’re asked how long we’ve lived somewhere or been in a job. It’s a kind of backward counting up of time spent. With the counting of days, there is more of a sense of counting time that is remaining. At 2,000 days, I am 1/5 of the way through the Ten Thousand Day goal. Having equated ten thousand days as my remaining life expectancy, I feel the urgency of time passing and making the most of my spiritual practice and habits of living well and gratefully.
And yet, standing at the 2,000-day mark, the first thing I have been noticing over the past year is a kind of apathy and boredom in my practice. I don’t think grateful living is boring. I don’t think being thankful is boring. I just found myself unmotivated to practice, and I was finding myself frustrated with the place I find myself, in life. I have been resisting my life with so much passion that I lack more than a drop of it to look deeply enough into the life that I wish was different to find things for which to be grateful.
As I write this, I see that what I needed to do was surrender to this little life that I find so boring, in comparison to the life I’ve led these last 20 years. I needed to surrender to the quiet and see what I would find in my stillness.
Friends and spiritual companions have tried to advise me to stay still and just be. In that stillness, a lot of things can arise, and I think that is what terrified me. Being back in my family of origin, I knew that whatever arose and needed to be healed would be something from which I have run, for as long as I could walk. Perhaps that’s why I chose not to surrender and I filled my life with travel, art, sport and a fair amount of Netflix. I fell victim of the terror of the pain that precedes healing.
When you run, you never get far away from that thing. That thing is strong and is always nipping at your heels, threatening to overtake you. There is no peace in running. No amount of travel and no overcrowded schedule could keep the dogs at bay, forever.
I’ve said this before, but gratitude is not the property of the positive psychology movement, although it is only positive psychologists who seem to have had interest in promoting more good feeling, rather than alleviating the bad. It has – as spiritual trends do – gotten co-opted by the spiritual BS artists out there. We may not know them when we see them, but if we pay attention, we can smell them a mile away. The yoga dudes and dudettes who pranam and utter platitudes of non-attachment, but whose identity is tied up with being a ‘teacher’. I’ve gotten pretty good at spotting them – usually they are chatting-up some member of the attractive sex, talking tantra or some other spiritual tradition in which they’ve superficially dabbled, for their own egoistic purpose. I don’t fault anyone for following them, for a time. Finding a teacher who is the real McCoy is not easy. I went through 3 different spiritual masters and tested my teacher for nearly 12 years before I was certain that I had found the right path for me. And, I’m certain he is the real deal. He is grounded and concerned with matters of both the soul and the spirit. They are very different things.
I have never been one to approach the practice of grateful living as the endless pursuit to ascent to Spirit. That is ungrounded, and can’t be sustained. I’ve always believed that a spiritually mature practice must not only reach to the heights of spirit but also be prepared to descend into the depths of the soul.
I’ve also never claimed to be a perfect spiritual wayfarer. I’ve only claimed to be on the path and depending on where you are in your journey, I may have walked a little further. I still have a very long way to walk, and if you’re ahead of me, I thank you for lighting the way.
I have been sitting with this feeling of boredom and dissatisfaction with my practice for more than 9 months now. I’ve plumbed the depths before, finding terrible beauty in my pain as it is transformed. But this has been different. It’s been neither glorious, nor agonizing. It has just been meh.
The Universe handed me a gift, in the form of a surgery that went horribly wrong. One day I was stuck in the petty resentments that I had been carrying with me everywhere I ran these past few years and, perhaps, all my life. The next day, I was at the mercy of a surgeon who ended up gifting me a month in various hospitals and several surgeries. I learned some private and painful things, in the hospital, about the isolation of serious illness and about the unique gifts and woundings that I received from my family of origin. I came out of hospital a stronger woman – not just for having had my internal organs and systems repaired by the best liver surgeon in the country. I came out stronger for being unable, any longer, to entertain the distraction of busyness or the denial of what needs healing deep within me. I came out with a steadfast conviction to do what I came here to do.
There have been rapturous moments in my life where I feel such great joy and gratitude for my existence that I know that I could die, happily, in that moment. Was I ready to die? No. Would I cling to life in the final second if I were to die in those moments? Yeah, probably. But, last August, around about midnight, I was awoken and told that I was heading to major reconstructive surgery, and the porter was there to take me. I was alone. I barely had time to text my folks and my small prayer circle of friends to let them know. My organs were shutting down and the surgeon needed to get in there immediately. I was scared. I didn’t spend all of my life as a wayfarer to choose fear in this moment. As the porter wheeled me down the hallway, the nurses took my hand and wished me well. I cried, all the way to surgery, knowing that I’d go in there with no final words, no final hug or kiss. I was alone and I may never come back.
I knew that it was up to me to fight my way through as much as it was the surgeon’s job to keep me alive. And so, I started humming the theme music of Rocky, in my head. It sounds stupid, but we reach for whatever comes up from our subconscious to achieve what we need, in those moments. When I was finally wheeled into the operating room, I followed the team of surgeons’ directions as they stitched in an epidural and lay me down for anesthetic. Humming Rocky and telling my surgeon I’d fight to see him on the other side, I laid back. In my last conscious moment, from my soul, I surrendered and called out to my God: “You are the surgeon.” It might seem a weird thing to say, but to me it simply meant that I was surrendering with complete faith to the will of my Beloved.
We have to live in this world where the compelling story is the rising up in Spirit. But we must also keep a foot in eternity and move to the demands of the soul.
The trouble that I’ve had with gratitude lately is, I think, rooted in resentment. Some things may never change, but we can change our relationship to them. We can let go of resentment and find things for which to be grateful. By the time I was released from hospital, more than 2 weeks later, I took with me a renewed sense of purpose, a clarity of who is really in charge of this tiny life of mine, a deepening of faith, and an awareness of the imperative of surrender. In some ways, I grew up in hospital.
I know the strength of my relationships. I know where I need to place my attention both in this world and the other.
And, this brings me to the second thing that is arising at this time of check-in. I am acutely aware of the depth of my capacity to love and also of my fears of being loved and broken open by that love. There is an imbalance there that I know needs to be sorted out, if I’m going to have the experience that I wish to have in this incarnation and beyond. My path is the path of love, and so I’ve got a lot to do.
Fortunately, I have a rising awareness and experience of the marriage of gratitude and love. I’ve not conducted any clinical trials or studied a group of students’ brains. All I can say is that, for me, I am becoming very aware of the connection between gratitude and love and I intend to make this connection a subject of observation, contemplation and action.
Photo: Brittney Burnett
I don’t think this revelation is unique to a Sufi or a bhaktan or a spiritual mystic. I think that through gratitude we can all clean the mirrors of our hearts and create, amplify and reflect more love in the world.
That’s all I have for day 2,000. Of course, I’m grateful to all of you for walking with me, on this journey. I hope that you are finding something of value here for your own unique voyage.
For what are you most grateful, today?