The act of struggle has been taught to abandon gratitude, crisis informs us we cannot afford to be thankful. How can I possible accept my current situation? Wouldn’t that make me complacent?
But I already was complacent with struggle, resigned. I was fearful of gratitude. To accept the gifts of life, I would need to come to terms with the rest, and I wasn’t ready. I didn’t feel ready. The allure of defeatism appealed to exhaustion and the boldness of gratitude was a threat to my security.
I was taught gratitude meant debt. Certain traumas taught me any form of debt was dangerous, physically, mentally, emotionally, psychically. I couldn’t afford the vulnerability of gratitude. I didn’t understand the concept outside of a colonialist, capitalist, and traumatized state of being. For a time, I was involved in the sex trade and having already experienced grooming and abuse, my sense of gratitude was warped by ideas of obligation and transaction.
I misunderstood my lessons.
Hope drives nature. A flower awaits pollination with hope, gratitude is the fruit it offers in return (gratitude is a vessel for seeds of hope). We’re taught lessons in childhood by our many parents, more important ones than the humans in our life are capable of transcribing having forgotten their own teachings. These parents come in the forms of strangely shaped clouds and pleasant creeks, dusty corners, injured birds, and the distractions we were told to ignore.
In Braiding Sweetgrass, luminescent author Robin Wall Kimmerer calls attention to the Thanksgiving Address of the Haudenosaunee people. Though not of the Nation, having lived in close proximity and being Indigenous herself, Kimmerer offers insight into the beliefs behind the prayer of gratitude. Lengthy and comprehensive, the Thanksgiving Address opens and closes any social gatherings or meetings, expressing thanks for all (a wide reaching, open minded, physical and metaphysical all).
A subtle shift of perspective dismantles the shame and fear which blocks us from gratitude so we may be able to access thankfulness even in crisis. No matter the context, there is always a world for us to stand in worth thanks, we will always be offered more than what is quantifiable by worth.
The philosophy of being grateful for the air we breathe which culminates in wind, thankful for each and every form it takes, is the message of unity behind the Thanksgiving Address. The prayer tends to run so long because the speakers personally address each and every aspect of reality and expresses gratitude for all that we have been blessed to exist alongside.
“You can’t listen to the Thanksgiving Address without feeling wealthy.” Kimmerer writes. The expressions of thanks are detailed, evoke imagination and internal sensation (sometimes memory). ‘We give thanks to the Stars who spread across the sky like jewelry. We see them at night, helping the moon to light the darkness and bringing dew to the gardens and growing things. With our minds gathered as one, we send greetings and thanks to all the Stars. Now our minds are one.’ Each acknowledgment is wholehearted and equal attention is given.
Even when the combination of nuances results in a less than satisfactory situation, we cannot pick and choose. The pieces that support the functions of life and love are the same which support crisis, trauma, and insecurity. This is the understanding of ‘all’. The Address is an all encompassing inventory.
“Each person, human or no, is bound to every other in a reciprocal relationship. Just as all beings have a duty to me, I have a duty to them.” When Robin Wall Kimmerer discusses duty, it is not the obligation that I was raised to understand as part of gratitude. This decolonized reciprocity is the foundation of what I believe to be nature, life, being. It always has been, even when I didn’t know it to be described as gratitude or responsibility. What I feared and thought I’d been traumatized by was in fact my saviour.
Gratitude and reciprocity are the balance, the basis of sustainability. We are cared for by the earth and have a duty of care in return. Far from transactional, it is a flow, the giving and receiving of nature, the exchange of life and death, the decay and growth, inhale and exhale, oxygen for carbon dioxide, the pollen spread by a bee drinking nectar, it is being.
The past few months have been difficult. My depressive episode has been deep and damaging with plummeting self worth and heightened sensitivity to triggers, but each day I’ve found something to be grateful for, even in my stressors. Gratitude is a skill as much as it’s a fundamental aspect of reality, similar to hope and trust. Somewhere out there a bird is cleaning the teeth of an alligator. Once I learnt to tap into this skill, it has always been there if I can remember it, remember I’m capable and worthy of being a thankful human being.
I remember why I’m working this hard. I’m glad to be given opportunities to practice coping techniques and reflect on my elf awareness. I’m lucky to have a safe space to process difficult emotions such as grief, loneliness, betrayal, anxiety, hopelessness. I’m thankful for my negative self talk because when confronted and responded to, my true values are revealed. A foundation of gratitude never lets me fall.
‘I deserve belittling, I deserve shaming, I’m wretched and rotten.’ Why? I’m thankful for compassion and understanding, but I can still appreciate the trials of shaming for what I learn about myself, I won’t be destroyed. ‘I’m rotten because I’ve been surrounded by too much rot, I’ve let it infect others, I’ve let it eat me from inside out.’ I’m not hollow. I understand my past as it is, as I am now, and I refuse to attach metaphors of self-blame to situations in which I would never blame someone else in my shoes.
My duty toward my gratitude is to live by it, believe in it fully, and let it manifest in my actions and attitudes. I’m grateful for the people who are no longer in my life for the memories I cherish and lessons I won’t need to learn again. I’m grateful for my trauma and mental illnesses for the healing perspectives I’ve had to take on to survive and to thrive. I’m grateful for the pressures of capitalism as they constantly realign and reaffirm my anti-capitalist beliefs. I’m grateful for the morning dread I wake up with for reminding me everything changes, nothing stays the same, and you can always find something to be grateful for.