May you be blessed with discomfort at easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships, so that you may live deep within your heart.
May you be blessed with anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may work for justice, freedom, and peace.
May you be blessed with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, and war, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and turn their pain to joy.
And may you be blessed with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in this world, so that you can do what others claim cannot be done.
This invocation is a personal favorite, and has been part of our holiday traditions for more years than I can remember. I have a deep appreciation for the sentiment - the admonishment to remain aware, open, and responsive to pain and suffering.
I also have an intense wariness of the word “Blessed.”
The notion of being blessed carries subtle undertones of “deserving” or “worthiness,” and I’ve lived long enough and hard enough to know that’s where the dragons hide.
What does Blessed become when tragedy strikes? When health fails, careers dissolve, relationships crumble? If one day I’m hit by a rouge bus while crossing the street, am I Cursed?
Dreadful, random things happen every day. A physician friend once quipped, “being a doctor is an independent risk factor for terrible outcomes.” A few years later, we diagnosed my eldest with leukemia. A few years after that, my friend died from pancreatic cancer.
Were we UnBlessed?
Blessed lands as something external that can be gifted or withheld, and perhaps my disquiet is due to the lack of choice implied. This is where Gratitude triumphs.
The psychological and emotional benefits of a daily gratitude practice are well-studied, and the history of gratitude as spiritual discipline is extensive. Gratitude grounds us in the present, helping our nervous system rest and reset, and studies show that even the act of trying to think of something to be grateful for leads to improvements in mood, well-being, and to long-term, measurable decreases in depression and anxiety.
Gratitude is a choice, and stepping into choice always improves wellbeing and helps settle our glitter:
Gratitude for discomfort at easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships. Gratitude for this discomfort reminds us to seek depth, to sit with complexity and nuance, to guard against intellectual or emotional laziness, and to hold space for lasting, meaningful relationships in every part of life: with colleagues, with friends, with family.
Gratitude for anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation. Rather than fearing, suppressing, hiding, or dampening our anger, we choose Gratitude for the clarity and focus. Anger arises when our values are compromised, and Gratitude allows conversion of this high energy emotion into a powerful tool. Anger well-directed is sharp as a scalpel, and just as useful in the hands of a skilled practitioner. Correctly noticed, named, and channeled, anger can be a powerful change agent.
Gratitude for the tears for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, and war. This is the very essence of a healer’s heart and is central to our humanity. May we always be grateful for our capacity to empathize with those who suffer.
Gratitude at remaining foolish enough to believe we can make a difference in this world… Not naïve. Not grandiose. Grateful for the knowledge that what we do matters enough to keep going. Keep striving. Keep creating. Keep hoping. Keep connecting.
Gratitude puts us in choice.
And gratitude helps us remember.
Remember all we have. Remember all our dreams. Remember all we’ve overcome. Remember all the possibilities.
And what if gratitude is also a threshold to cross? What if Gratitude is that liminal space between who we are, and who we want to be?
What if Gratitude is the key to falling madly and recklessly in love with life?
It has been so hard for so long. Exhausting, dark, and scary, too.
And it may feel a little … disrespectful? irreverent? … to dive into gratitude, as though we are dismissing or denying the pain and suffering.
I believe there is a gift - and growth - in learning to hold and honor the tension that exists between pain and the joy. Between grief and gratitude.
Gratitude is recognition of both the hard-earned and unearned gifts, of the little moments that comprise our days, and the people who make it a bit brighter.
Gratitude builds resilience and is a bridge to both radical acceptance and a degree of serenity in our stochastic reality.
The floor is not stable, and we waste life trying to wrest sense from the randomness, seeking patterns and making predictions amid pain and suffering and clamor. There is power and healing in the choice to be grateful. And though we can’t choose what happens to us, there always is choice in how we respond.
In the end, we are our choices.
I’m grateful for that hard-earned wisdom.
Grateful, too, for the tremendous collateral beauty amidst the pain and harshness of times such as these.
For family and friends and colleagues who remind me the joy and light are always there, too.
For irreverent laughter.
For the power of shared grief.
For the ascendency of connection.
May Gratitude center our intentions, and may 2022 bring restoration and peace.
Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
Excerpt from Desiderata of Happiness