red leaves of burning bush

Gratitude and lament

Image by BreathofO2 from Pixabay

Gratitude practices have been crucial pathways that have led me out of some very dark places in my life. For this reason, I look forward every November to my chance to post one thing on Facebook for which I am grateful every day of the month. This is the fourth year in a row I’ve done this, and it has been such a gift for me as the days grow shorter and I move into the difficult holiday season.

So it was quite a shock to me this year when I got feedback from a number of people about how much they hate people who engage in this practice. Because of this feedback, I’m overly conscious this year of what I choose to post publicly as part of my gratitude practice. Observing myself and my choices with such scrutiny is both changing my experience of the practice and making me more aware of the dynamics at play in my choices.

Most noticeable has been the (false) guilt that keeps trying to creep into my gratitude practice this year in the aftermath of the feedback I encountered. Who am I to deserve more than others have? Who am I to have so much to grateful for when others struggle to find things in their own lives that bring joy?

As a result, I find myself unconsciously choosing to focus on things that are mixed blessings to alleviate this guilty feeling. A couple of days ago, my post read as follows:

 I am grateful for Japanese red maple trees and burning bushes that “do not go gentle into that good night” of winter. Instead, they burst into such a brilliant red flame that they seem to glow from within, claiming my attention with such vivid life before they concede the battle.

A friend, recognizing the quote from Dylan Thomas’s poem of the same name, delighted me by responding with the line “rage, rage against the dying of the light” from later in the same poem. She correctly recognized that my very gratitude for the brilliant beauty of these blazing red leaves was because they expressed my lament for the dying hours of daylight this time of year.

My gratitude and my lament were intertwined in this case. The depth of the gratitude was directly related to the lament from which it sprang.

Although I didn’t post it publicly, I also found myself grateful over the weekend for the smell of lavender arising as I mulched leaves in my yard and caught the edge of the lavender plant in the mix. I was so grateful for that wonderful scent as I worked—not just because I like the smell, but also because lavender tends to ease the bad sinus headaches that leaf mulching triggers. Gratitude and lament again are intermingled as the gratitude itself springs out of that which I am lamenting.

I am grateful for thick, fuzzy, warm socks in the winter because my feet are so cold most of the time during these months. I love hot, winter soups because they help me stay warm when little else does. I am grateful for hot baths because they ease aching muscles (and help with that always being cold thing, too). I am most grateful for small kindnesses when they appear on days when nothing else seems to be going well.

Again and again, gratitude is arising out of that which causes me to lament. Without the frozen toes, fuzzy socks would be less of a treasure. If my muscles never ached, hot baths would not be such a soothing treat. Without the raging sinus headaches, I would be less aware of the soothing scent of lavender.

My awareness of this dynamic this time around is heightened as I battle more intensely than usual this creep of (false) guilt into my gratitude practice, but the more I observe my engagement with gratitude, the more I think that maybe this is exactly why gratitude is so effective.

We will always have things in our lives that are not the way we want them to be. That’s a given. But by choosing to focus on gratitude, I am intentionally finding the good even in the presence of the lament. In so doing, I begin to transform the lament into something that feels more like joy, even when the situation doesn’t change at all.

And that, my friends, is priceless.

What role does gratitude play in your life? Do you ever notice this interplay of gratitude and lament in the things you are grateful for?

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  1. David Youngs

    I should spend more time on what I should be grateful for. I don’t take enough time to do this type of exercise, and I should since I have way more to be grateful for than not.

    1. That’s been one of the beautiful things for me in this exercise is realizing just how much I do have to be grateful for. I so often take so much for granted unless I consciously take the time to do otherwise!

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