There is a lot of talk about “gratitude” this time of year. We talk about the importance of taking pause to acknowledge what we have, our good fortune, what we have accomplished and who is beside us. This is a lovely practice, one of great importance and when practiced regularly can create shifts in the way we live our lives.
As we sit down at our Thanksgiving tables it is a common part of this gratitude practice to acknowledge who is present. However, we also can’t help but notice those that are missing from our tables.
The commercialized, frequent mention of gratitude on Thanksgiving Day is one of the countless examples of how we make room for one-sided experiences in Western culture. Let me explain what I mean by one-sided experience. As a culture we value and place emphasis on half of our feelings. We then devalue and ignore the other half. We even go as far as to label half of our feelings “good,” and good only exists if there is “bad.” This dichotomous thinking creates a lot of emotional turmoil.
The gratitude that we so commonly discuss and are encouraged to practice during Thanksgiving falls into the “good” category. The problem is we’ve extracted only part of what “gratitude” really means, the part that we value, the part that we want to feel, and all in the service of trying to create a pleasant experience for ourselves. In doing this we disregard all other facets of the word, experience, and practice of “gratitude.”
To further complicate matters, there is another layer to this process. What we deem as “bad,” uncomfortable and unpleasant we try to avoid. We try to cut what we want of gratitude, out of the fabric and complexity of our experiences. Interesting then, that what I most commonly hear in my therapy practice the week after Thanksgiving is “I ate too much, I drank too much, another holiday down, my family fought about petty things….
So if the gratitude we are referring to, practicing and being sold is so powerful in shaping our experience then why aren’t we experiencing the “good” that is wrapped in this so called cloak called “gratitude?” Why do we end up “eating too much, drinking too much and fighting with our families during the holidays?
We do these things because they are easy ways to distract ourselves. You might ask, what then are we distracting ourselves from? I think it’s the other, unspoken, side of gratitude. The side that often gets labeled as “bad” and “uncomfortable.”
This Thanksgiving I invite you to take pause and notice both who is at your table and who is not. Perhaps it is a deceased family member, a family member that is off serving our country, a loved one or friend that is not with us for one reason or another.
Believe it or not, making space for grief, longing, and remembering is one of the most powerful aspects of gratitude. Anyone that has allowed grief to flow through them knows that it connects us with and opens our hearts in a palpable way. This is because we only grieve the people and things that matter the most to us, those that have enhanced our lives in some way. Acknowledging and missing them helps us step into a deeper dimension of gratitude.
Here are some ways to more fully practice gratitude this holiday season-
- Light a candle in ________________’s honor.
- Acknowledge how ___________ has contributed to and helped shape your holiday traditions.
- Buy _____________’s favorite flowers or use a memento that reminds you of her, as a centerpiece for your table.
- Take turns going around your Thanksgiving table sharing your stories or favorite moments spent with ______________.
- Tell __________ ‘s ridiculous jokes, play their favorite songs and/or their favorite games.
- Make one small offering plate in honor of everyone that is missing from your table.
Most importantly, take a moment to pause, reflect and remember who they were or who they are, as well as who you are today because of them.
I invite you to step out of the paradigm of one-sided thinking, feeling and experience. Only then can you step into living the whole experience that awaits.