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Friday, November 29, 2013

It's Okay Not to Feel Grateful

Yesterday we had our annual Thanksgiving Day practice at our yoga studio. It's one of our favorite events of the year. Everyone comes in cheerful and leaves sweaty, and the holiday is a wonderful opportunity to talk about gratitude--how healthy it is, and how it's a practice, and how we have the chance in every moment to recognize the beauty right in front of us.

After class, one student came out crying. "I'm a wreck!" she said. "I'm down six people this Thanksgiving." Between the tragic death of a dear friend, the subsequent fallout from that tragedy, and her kids' work obligations, this poor woman's usual holiday celebration was much smaller than last year.

I gave her a hug. She said, "I know I'm supposed to be grateful. But I'm having a hard time mustering it up this year."

So I said, "Forget about gratitude this year. It's okay not to feel grateful. Maybe next year."

All my life I've been interested in human emotion, the human spirit, our souls, our psyches--whatever you want to call that part of ourselves that is rooted in our bodies but seems to reach beyond our bodies. I feel it's part of my job as a yoga teacher to speak that language. I love talking about wonder, compassion, joy, surrender, forgiveness, and gratitude because I see that these are concepts that resonate with my students. When I talk about these human virtues and experiences, we all seem to take more pleasure in the yoga.

But I also know that forcing a feeling doesn't work. "To everything there is a season," and sometimes the seasons of our emotions don't line up with the calendar.

Do you feel shitty this Thanksgiving? Do you feel profoundly sad, or angry, or hurt, or resentful? Obviously you don't need anybody's permission to feel that way. But just in case it makes you feel better, here ya go: it's okay not to feel grateful on Thanksgiving.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I disagree. Thanksgiving is about being thankful for the things you do have. It's not about being bitter about the things you don't have. True story, I grew up so unbelievably poor. This is right here in well-off suburban tri-state town. My family lived on food stamps. I hated eating food stamp food. And there wasn't enough of it. I'd choose not to eat at home so my siblings could have more. For a few years, late at night, I used to go up to the Grand Union and sift through the dumpster in the back alleyway looking for food. I could usually find a dented can or two. The way it worked is that if a supermarket opens a case and finds a can is dented, they get refunded by the manufacturer. But they don't have to send back the can, just the label. So the supermarket would take the label off the can and throw the can away. This meant the dented cans in the dumpster had no labels. I had no idea what was inside. Sometimes it would be chicken noodle soup. Sometimes it would be lima beans. Sometimes it would be dog food. I ate whatever I found. Yes I ate dog food. Once I found a can of Mandarin orange slices. I had never tasted anything so wonderful. I remember sitting in the dumpster one night, there was a gentle misty rain falling. The area was slightly illuminated by the dim yellow glow of a street light at the end of the alleyway. I was sitting under the metal dumpster lid on a throne of soft cardboard boxes. I was eating those orange slices with my dirty fingers. It didn't matter. I had never felt so happy. I had never felt to thankful. You can find happiness anywhere. So who cares if you don't have the latest version of iPhone. Who cares if you need another dose of botox. Who cares if your neighbor bought a new BWM whereas yours is a year old! Gasp! People can and should be grateful for what we DO have, even if we are eating food from a dumpster.

November 29, 2013 at 1:31 PM  

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