Thanksgiving has long been celebrated as a time of bounty, thankfulness and joy. Yet, for some, due to life circumstances, this holiday can be a time of internal conflict and a time of great sorrow. I feel that in our society we are often encouraged to grin and bear it when things get tough and we aren’t always allowed to experience feelings of grief, sadness and anger. I know for myself at the beginning of my spiritual journey, I didn’t think it was “spiritual” to express feelings like this. Now with more wisdom, and much more practice under my belt, I understand it all is part of the dance—all of the beauty and all of the darkness and the true path is experiencing them both completely and if we can, having gratitude for both.
In some meditations I lead, I invite students to sit with a metaphorical “open hand” and hold what might be challenging or difficult for them. This is no easy feat if there is chronic body pain that is getting in the way of practice or if someone is dealing with the death of a loved one. It can be hard to sit with, and be present for this kind of pain without wanting to push it away or cling on to it tightly. Yet the more we can hold things with an open hand, the greater opportunity we have for releasing them in a healthy way and allowing ourselves to move on.
I feel the practice of gratitude in our lives can help create ease around holding this space for ourselves. While we might not be in a place to have gratitude for our pain or suffering, if we are able to sit inside that pain and suffering and have gratitude for other things in our lives it can help us soften. As we soften, we can move into that space of compassionate observer. We can allow ourselves the space to grieve, to be angry and then to release. If we have gratitude in our lives, we also have a buoy that can help us, at times, to stay afloat. Not so much that idea of “it all gets better” (which often times doesn’t feel authentic in our darkest moments), but the idea that within all darkness is some light and if we can hold them both we can continue to walk forward on our journey instead of being trapped in the darkness.
With this in mind, we can come to it from a place of “this and” versus a place of denial and pushing away. When we can hold the darkness and the light in even hands we are given the opportunity to truly walk the middle path that is spoken of in traditions like Buddhism. In holding the polarities of life we are given the opportunity to dive more fully into the human experience, and that is a myriad of messiness and joy. We can learn that from all paths of difficulty, pain and despair, there is an opportunity for a pearl of wisdom to arise from the ashes of destruction we are facing. If we can sit tight, and with as much ease as possible in the discomfort, we can make room for the wisdom to rise to the surface. This doesn’t mean we have to like it or be happy about it, but we do get the opportunity to be that compassionate observer and watch what unfolds.
So as you approach this time of gratitude this Thanksgiving season, I invite you to take a moment and hold gratitude for something difficult in your life right now. My guess is that this is going to be your most unlikely teacher.
Posted by: Megan Costello
Join your 8 Limbs community at all four 8 Limbs for our annual Thanksgiving Benefit Classes on Thanksgiving Day. Megan will teach at 8 Limbs Wedgwood.