“A great many men’s gratitude is nothing but a secret desire to hook in more valuable kindnesses hereafter.” ~Francois de La Rochefoucauld
Today is Thanksgiving here in the USA and I’m seeing all kinds of gratitude posts on Ye Old Internet. I went to find a nice quote about gratitude and saw the one above. It struck a nerve in me because it reminded me of several conversations I have had in the last week about being authentic.
The first was in satsang with Matt Kahn. He told us the difference between acceptance and acknowledgment. He talked about how people on the spiritual path are often told they must reach a place of acceptance. He said this is a false attitude most often because you can’t force yourself to accept something. Acknowledgement, on the other hand is just noticing without evaluation. It’s saying, “I see that this exists. I acknowledge that it is here asking for my attention.” He playfully said we can just say “Yep!” to everything that comes our way. “Yep! I lost my job.” “Yep! I feel sad.” “Yep! I just got a promotion.” “Yep! You are angry with me.” “Yep!” We needn’t accept or be grateful for anything. His teaching is that everything in life is calling out for us to notice it. If we can find our way to loving it, great. If we can’t find our way to loving it, we can try to love the part of us that doesn’t.
This brings me to a conversation I had last night with my mom. She was talking about how sad she was that nothing will ever be the same. She said she hates that her mom is gone and that her children all live scattered about so we can’t all be together on Thanksgiving. Mom said my brother told her she just needs to accept that and move on but she just can’t. I practiced acknowledgement with her. First I told her I heard her sadness. Then I said, “Actually, mom, I hear your grief. Grief cuts deeply into the soul and I’m really sorry you’re feeling that.” (Note: I didn’t feel any responsibility or the need to change her feelings which was new for me.) I told her what Matt said about acceptance. We ended up having this really beautiful conversation where she cried and told me that she loved me and that she wished things were different. She was very vulnerable and open and it made me feel that too. I acknowledged her over and over and the more I did, the more I felt my heart soften and felt a big whoosh of forgiveness and genuine love and gratitude for this woman who brought me into the world and with whom I have had a very conflicted relationship. It was powerfully healing and it all came from the realization that I don’t have to accept anything. In releasing my need to appreciate everything, I just opened to what IS which isn’t my ideal but is my reality.
Often things like “acceptance” or “gratitude” feel like attitudes we try to adopt to just make the pain or suffering in life go away. But it doesn’t really work. They don’t just go away they actually grow when we ignore them. Matt said that pain is something inside of us begging to be acknowledged and loved. Saying we’re thankful for the pain without really letting ourselves feel it doesn’t work. Plus, I gotta say, I am not really thankful for pain. It sucks. It hurts. I hate it.
This brings me to the third conversation that I had this past week. I was talking with a friend about people who have what I call “fauxgratitude”. I know someone who engages in this so much, it makes me sick inside. “I am so grateful for my life!” is the public statement while the private statement is, “Everything is falling apart and I don’t know what to do.” When I’ve asked this person why not write about that–about the suffering and not knowing, she has told me that she can’t because her followers look to her to for guidance. I get that it’s hard to be that vulnerable but honestly, I trust people so much more when they are real. I think our consumer culture steers us into having a game face. We criticize preachers and politicians when we find out their “secrets” yet we all have them.
Why can’t we just be honest? It’s not spiritual to have a mouth full of bullshit. It just isn’t. It’s not acceptance when something inside of us says, “I fucking hate this! I want it all to go away!” It’s not authentic gratitude when you’re saying, “I’m grateful” with the hope that universe will pour out goodies to fill the gaping hole that you wake up to every day whether in your heart or your bank account. Oprah tells us to be grateful for everything. She also sells a whole lot of magazines with ads that tell us how we can GET THINNER and ERASE THOSE LINES or BE THE BEST YOU THIS YEAR!
Should I be grateful for the insecurity that sets in when I see airbrushed models telling me I can look like them if I open my wallet and buy the latest [fill in the blank with the product that is bringing stockholders lots of cash]? Will that turn me into my best self this year? I think not. I am not grateful for the schism and hypocrisy I see in a world that is created by a colonized mindset where we are told if we just feel grateful for everything, all the “bad” will be replaced with “good” and if we just keep trying hard enough, we will “succeed”. That is false. That mindset creates so much suffering. By acknowledging the deep suffering in myself and the world, I can find my way to mending my little piece of the fabric of life because I am seeing it with authentic eyes and learning how to love it just as it is not how I want it to be.
Life is torn and messy and complicated. Life isn’t always fair. I do not accept all of that but I do acknowledge it. I am not grateful for everything in life for there is much that hurts me and others. I am, however, grateful for the gift of life itself and grateful for the chance to be in the game, exploring my curiosity, making discoveries, creating things, destroying things and learning about love.
Okay, time to go cook a turkey. Happy Thanksgiving. I am grateful to you for reading this. <3