This week is awash in gratitude and possibly fraught also with your own personal version of guilt – the other G-word – or a laundry list of what you should do, buy, eat, not eat, say, not say, think or not think. It's a truly complicated American holiday we celebrate, interwoven with family dysfunction, historical misdeeds, and dietary self-loathing all wrapped up in ribbons of Norman Rockwell/Martha Stewart perfectionism, copious side dishes and consumer cattle-prodding. What a charged mix!
Some people have happy family traditions and loving bonds, perfect table settings and plenty of exciting achievement news to share over the stuffing and pie. Others, not so much. And some may have really loaded combinations of all of these appearances that in turn create an internal heightening of all that is bewildering about this 21st century American thing called gratitude. And what the heck do shoulders have to do with any of it, you ask?
How are yours feeling these days? Tight, sore, misaligned, over burdened? Stiff from crouching over the laptop, looking up plane fares or recipes or bank balances, or lack thereof? In my practice, I often mention that the word shoulders is spelled should-ers, and that body symptoms in this area can be related to guilt, lack of self-love, pushing ourselves to do what we think we should. All these, by the way, I know from personal experience. When I track my internal dialogue on a daily basis, the amount of shoulds that old conditioning critic rags on about is insane.
In these days of constant internet advice, we are bombarded by what we should do, numbered and listed for us with an urgency that suggests that if we are not doing, buying, thinking, reading, eating, wearing, going or knowing these tips and tweets and lifestyle choices, we, well, should be, and are somehow the lesser for it. And at this particular holiday, when family and tradition, the things that should be in place within our families and country and are, um, maybe not, the inner turmoil and shoulder stuff can really spiral out, leading to possible inner misery along with shoulder discomfort and even acting-out in potential family eruptions.
We may more quietly, although few mention it amid the hubbub, feel bad about ourselves, our situation, even our bounty in the face of our history or present national outlook. We might be wincing or sad as we catch ourselves comparing our scenario with the ones in magazines, movies, posts and blogs or what we hear from others. It's a common enough occurrence, thinking others have it perfect amid your snafu'd existence. And guess what we do then? Feel guilty – even more guilty – even as we adhere to our Things I'm Grateful For regimen.
The photo above I just snapped out in the upper pasture: it's a path made by wild animals. Out for a Connect and Reflect Walk, it struck me as a metaphor for the simplicity with which we can bypass all that and walk our talk. It begins with feeling ok about ourselves just exactly as we are at this moment. Sounds simple, but especially in holiday activation of crazy mode, achieving this state of mind can be challenging, to say the least. It is assisted by allowing, by being grateful first of all for yourself, not in a should sort of way (as in I feel like crap and am facing real problems but I should feel good about myself, so oh well, fine, I'll do that), but just by tuning into what makes you happy, and being happy about it. We sometimes feel guilty about being happy in a way that doesn't really help, as in I feel guilty about doing something that makes me happy because I'm supposed to be feeling grateful about what I have that others don't have etc.
There's a happy, natural balance of loving and accepting self and others that brings us all together in a Oneness sorta deal that allows true gratitude to warm from within and reach out around the world. And it starts with giving thanks to yourself wholeheartedly as a part of the All [your word here].
To achieve and hold balance through the hubbub, I've been told to take time to feed the soul, and to go deeper in. The woods up the road (pictured below) whispered to me to do just that: go deeper in. Then you can find your connect, ground, relax, warm your heart strings, lighten your shoulder load and come from that place, as you drive or fly or buy in crowds, as you navigate challenging living room dynamics or make food for a multitude, or maybe sit alone in a cold room breathing in and out. Hey, enlightened masters spend plenty of turkey days sitting in caves with nothing, doing exactly that, and they're enlightened. We can lose sight of the inner in the glare of pageantry, lovely as it is, and tasty too. Breathing in and out with mindfulness is enough.
The connect with everything that occurs when we activate our inner connect allows us to send out gratitude across the universe, an energy that is truly powerful and transformative, and comes from love (self-love as well as love of others) rather than from fear, i.e. guilt, envy, manipulation, competitiveness, blame, anger, [your word here]. This is felt as a bubbling up of wonderful that reaches all beings and transmits awareness of the perfection of the All, allowing cool stuff to happen without our even knowing it.
From there we are able to reach back through time and thank the people who fed those without food; we can reach across the family history and find something we appreciate amid the maybe-not-so-great out-picturings; we can send light and love to the community, country and world around us that allows good stuff to happen now and in the future, and we can beam light out into the galaxy that can be felt from far far away. And guess what – I'm willing to bet there are beings in the next galaxy who feel truly grateful when they feel that coming from the humans on the little blue planet. All of this we can do while enjoying second helpings and the liveliness of group conversation if we have them, or the quiet of the starry night if not. The universe loves you, the human heart is capable of brave miracles, Food52 has fabulous recipes and stuff, you are wondrous in the simple fact that you exist, and that's a happy deal. Bon appetit. Your comments are welcome and appreciated.