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  • Writer's pictureChristine Powers

The Inside-Out of Gratitude

Thinking about this edition of the Spiritual Consigliere, the themes of blessings and gratitude bubbled up. How could they not? Today, they are in danger of becoming cliché, so I was drawn to sharing an inside-out gateway to experiencing gratitude that involves grief. I hesitated. There has been a lot of content related to grief recently. (And, there is a lot to grieve in our world.)

Sitting in a two-hour session with a death doula client last week, I decided to ask for her thoughts on my proposed topic—the inside-out of finding gratitude through grief. Generally halting because of her current state, I was surprised when she immediately clapped her hands together multiple times and said with genuine glee, “Oh, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes!” (Yep, five times.) So, in tribute to my beautiful client in the last act of her life’s play, we will stick with a theme involving grief this edition, and I promise to move on to something more cheery, like the darkness of winter in the Northern Hemisphere next edition.

So here it is: We can approach gratitude through the lens of loss. Some prevailing wisdom dictates that the easiest way to find gratitude is by recalling a happy place, someone we love, a happy time, or something we can be grateful for in our lives that we often overlook. Yes, yes, all of that. AND.

Another part of human experience is scraping the bottom of life's proverbial barrel, the opposite of happy anything. We are trying to figure out how to continue. In this instance, common counsel is to find gratitude through the slenderest of gateways—something basic like the sun shining on our faces, or even that we are still breathing.

There is another way. We can awaken gratitude by turning our emotions “inside-out” because we live in a consciousness of duality. We can come at it backward, too.

But first, I digress.

I have a wicked sense of macabre humor (which got finely tuned during my time working for the American Red Cross), but I do not mean to be glib. Quite the opposite. I am present to the artificiality of gratitude around Thanksgiving in a few ways. One, like almost everything else, “gratitude” and “blessings” have been commercialized for consumer spending, and two, let’s recall that the concept of Thanksgiving, as taught to me in grade school, was built on a fallacy of the worst exploitation. Three, and this is my main point, many of us are quietly or outwardly struggling through a hardship of some kind, whether it be emotional, financial, health, or spiritual. In 2001, when my first marriage was dissolving, my husband and I knew it was over but had told no one. We began delicate and painful conversations over Thanksgiving weekend (on the heels of 9/11) with the adult family members we would see face-to-face. It sucked.

The gateway to gratitude may be inside out: In the contemplation of loss, we realize the preciousness of all we have or had.

Our world is complex and chaotic—politically, geographically, communally, and societally. I recently learned of several suicides and companions on this caravan of life who have been diagnosed with severe, life-threatening health issues. For them, this Thanksgiving will most likely be tough. For them and others, the gateway to gratitude may be inside out: In the contemplation of loss, we realize the preciousness of all we have or had.

It is difficult to find gratitude in those spaces. By shifting awareness, as close as the opposite sides of a coin, we can come to a realization that brings bittersweet joy.

We feel grief as equally as we have loved and held precious what we have lost. (Or are afraid of losing.) We can flip grief into gratitude through the tender cherishing of how deeply we loved and held something dear. Grief and joy are two sides of the same coin.

Let me put is this way through a piece of Icelandic wisdom: “If you cry because the sun has gone out of your life, your tears will prevent you from seeing the stars.”

“If you cry because the sun has gone out of your life, your tears will prevent you from seeing the stars.” ~ Icelandic proverb

It is possible to feel gratitude and immense sorrow at the same time. This simultaneous duality is the essence of “bittersweet.” Tears of sadness and joy mingle as they slide down a cheek.

Have deep sensitivity for those entering a challenging holiday season, remembering that some wounds are invisible. Tell the ones you love that you love them. There may be no other words.

We can find gratitude through the awareness of what we have lost. It’s just a little inside-out, but it can be more reachable and realistic than willing ourselves into a state we simply cannot muster.

When was a time in your life when you were sad and happy, suffering loss and feeling blessed simultaneously? Many would benefit from learning that we are not alone in our emotional journies, so please share below. This being human is a precious gift, sometimes in very strange wrapping paper.

I wish everyone a wonderful season of giving thanks, as I do for you, dear reader.

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