This post is dedicated to Amy B.
I am stroking your hair and sending adoption papers Godspeed your way.
Forced Gratitude Tastes Like Guilt
Now that’s a title for a Thanksgiving post, isn’t it?
As a mother recovering from anxiety and depression, there are plenty of moments where I have zero access to the truckloads of gratitude that live in my heart.
I wrote about this recently, first on the October PPD To Joy Love Letter for moms (you can subscribe to get next month’s love letter for moms right here), and then I expanded on the concept on this post at Just. Be. Enough. So you would think that I’d be all tapped out on writing about gratitude, right? Um, not quite.
On this day in which our culture prescribes gratitude, I feel compelled to circle back to this idea:
(This was an excerpt from the Just. Be. Enough post. There’s more to it there, and I would love it if you click on the link and sample more of the Just Be Enough magic, it’s the best website ever.)
Gratitude can be tricky. The nature of being human, of being a mother, is that even if life gives you plenty of roses, it also throws skunks at you, and when that happens, the scent of the roses doesn’t stand a chance. Thank goodness we can’t smell anything forever, right?
Here is what they don’t tell you: you don’t have to actively FEEL the gratitude in order to BE grateful. I hereby grant you permission to not feel your gratitude all the time. It seems kind of silly, no? But it’s powerful. And I’m not telling you to stop WANTING to feel grateful, that’s useful as long as you are not “shoulding” yourself.
Wishing for gratitude works a lot better than forcing it, because forced gratitude tastes like guilt.
Wishing for gratitude vs. forcing it is a potent form of self-kindness and Permission-Based Healing. This shift made all the difference in the world for me: When you are in pain, when you are in fear, you don’t have to feel gratitude to have it.
If this thanksgiving finds you hurting, you might find everything on TV, all of the FB status updates from your oh so grateful friends, all the gratitude that seems to be pouring effortlessly from every which way, well, it can all feel like some giant proof of failure on the third Thursday in November if you live in the US of A.
So if you know what I’m talking about, I’m sending you guilt-disarming hugs, and
A permission slip Pebble Ritual.
I think of ritual as the process of imbuing an act or an object with meaning and comfort. Still with me? Here is how it works:
Find yourself a stone. I like smooth pebbles, but any stone you like holding in your hand will do. Next time you are able to feel some gratitude (however small), hold your stone in one hand, cover it with the other hand, and bring both hands to your chest and rest the stone on your heart. Breathe. Try sensing your heartbeat. Imagine that your gratitude is flowing from your heart, through your chest, and seeps into the stone with your love.
When you do this, the energy of your love penetrates the stone. The stone is now forever altered — what is the opposite of contamination? I don’t mean that the stone is purified, I mean that the stone is made better: it is everything it was before, plus your love on top. Because when something is touched by love it is transformed. No, I can’t point you to scientific research with data and proof and such, but I firmly believe this, in a not very woo woo way.
Optional: if you want, you can write a word, like gratitude or love, on the stone with a pencil. Or you can splash it with your favorite scent. I rubbed a drop each of the essential oils of tangerine and rosemary into mine.
Where were we? Oh, with a stone on our heart. Now what? We need to say some magic words, of course.
And in this kind of magic, there are no right or wrong words. It’s not about having just the right spell, it’s about tapping into what is truly meaningful for you. Here are words that worked for me. Try them on. If they don’t fit, feel free to alter to your heart’s content. As long as you have words that hit the spot, um, I mean, tug your heart-strings, the magic will work.
I invoke the quality of gratitude and summon it into this stone.
This peace of the earth now carries the love of my heart in its core.
From this moment on, whenever I touch this stone, I touch my own gratitude.
May this stone forever serve as proof that I am capable of gratitude.
Say this three times or seven. The number doesn’t really matter, but repetition is important. Speak, chant, whisper, or just listen to yourself in your mind’s ear, you decide, they all work. When you are done with your spell, hold onto the stone for a few more minutes, and when you feel like you had enough, put it down where you will find it when you need it again. (Mine lives on my bedside table, and I have another stone (for playful inspiration) by my computer. Yes, I have more than one ritual pebble. Yes, this magic works with other qualities that you wish to attract. Yes, please feel free to do this for every quality you desire. Yes, I will write more about this soon.
So if this Thanksgiving day was hard on you, please know that you are not alone. Far, far from it. Especially if you are struggling with mental illness, Thanksgiving is second only to Valentine’s day in its PPDemon parties that make us feel like ungrateful messes. If that’s you, huge but gentle hugs for the hard. And let me tell you a secret: if you wish you could feel gratitude today but don’t have access to it right now, you can still perform the pebble ritual. If waiting until the next time you can actually feel grateful feels like you might as well give up now, know this: you can invoke and lock whatever quality you desire into your stone, by the sheer power of your yearning. Wishing for gratitude renders you capable of gratitude. Just like wishing for joy renders you capable of joy; Just like wishing for comfort renders you capable of finding it. What you wish for with your whole heart is what you become, if you only allow yourself to hope and trust. It is all about giving yourself permission to heal through wishing and hoping and allowing, rather than fighting your emotions.
Oh, and one more thing: fresh out of pebbles? A stick will do (make yourself a gratitude wand) or a toy (a gratitude Teddy bear? Sign me up!) or even a piece of jewelery (a gratitude ring has a nice ring to it… :)
You get it, right?
Much love, and buckets of permission to feel everything that is coming up for you, today and every day.
May the Joy be with you… and when it’s not with you, please try to not feel guilty. Try to remember that wishing and hoping and longing and yearning hold the magic that will bring joy about.
Before I click publish, let me just express some UNforced gratitude:
1.To every single one of my readers: thank you for you. Thank you for reading, thank you for caring. Whether you comment or not, I love you.
2. I’m immensely grateful that the first Mama’s Comfort Camp class was so sweet you would think it’s fattening! The second one is coming up next Tuesday, Nov. 29. It’s drop-in, so if you are free on any Tuesday mornings at 10:30, and live near Ithaca, and if Tired Mama Yoga served with self-kindness sound good to you, would you please come play?
3. I learned about the power of small rituals from Havi. Also, without Havi and her blog The Fluent Self, I probably wouldn’t have the guts to do any of this, so thank you Havi, for so much.
4. To Mandy and her team at Jillian’s Drawers: Jillian’s Drawers began as an online source for cloth diapers, and became a heavenly store right on the Ithaca Commons. Their community room is not only where I hold all my meetings and classes, it is a hub for family support of all kinds. And the stuff they sell? The best mother-baby stuff in the universe. Same-day shipping, fair prices, generous return policies, and all around good karma from good people. I could not be offering free support groups if it were not for the generosity of the Jillian’s Drawers mamas. Please consider shopping there this holiday season.