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If I could list everything I’m grateful for, all the people, places, and experiences, I could fill a whole notebook.  It would be something to hold in my hand, something to remind me of my privilege.  It might make me feel good.  But honestly it would be kind of a guilt-trip kind of gratitude. The comparison gratitude of knowing I have it so much easier than 9/10ths of the world, or even my neighbor down the street.

For the longest time, that was my list, the list of “good” stuff.  People who loved me, who mentored me, who encouraged me.  Accomplishments.  The easy gratitude when the world is safe and exciting.  It was a helpful exercise, reminding me that I did nothing on my own, nothing without help and support.  I do have so much to be grateful for, and sometimes, often, I forget.

Then my list surprisingly expanded to include the “bad” stuff.  People who I thought had wronged me.  Disappointments that sent me in different directions.  Lessons learned the hard way.  I began to see that even those things, maybe especially those things, taught me and shaped me and made me stronger, more compassionate.  I could even be grateful for those experiences, keep the learning and let go of the emotional stickiness.  It was a step.  I don’t make light of it.  It was a huge, gigantic step that took lots of help.  I am grateful.

Then one day gratitude turned itself upside down, inside out.  I began to see more clearly this world we live in, this polarized world with so much negativity, so many critical issues.  Many of them life-threatening.  Pressure, anger, hatred, fear, blaming, name calling….

How could I so easily list my people, places, things, accomplishments, even my challenges, and continue to be grateful?  Is smug an appropriate word?  Or ostrich?  Was I not paying attention and only wrapped up in my own safe little world?  How could I be grateful and knowing at the same time?  But was it helpful to get caught in a downward spiral, sad for the world, helpless, hopeless.  Where did gratitude fit?  How could I possibly ignore all the tumult in the world and choose gratitude?

Or…  how could I hold both in my hand and my heart?  A hurting world AND gratitude for my life.

Could gratitude be more of a focus than a feeling? Not the consequence of something good or even a lesson learned, but a choice, a practice, a way of being in the world?  It certainly isn’t a choice/practice/focus that comes easily in the light of consciousness.  “Both/and” is never easy.  Layers.  Challenges.  Experiences of all shapes and sizes.  Bombardment of reality.

It is a choice, this both/and.  Difficult.  Needed.  And the only way I can figure out to be helpful.

I would rather be someone who sows seeds of gratitude than seeds of fear or despair.  But I don’t want delicate seeds that require constant care, high maintenance, protection from the elements.  I would aim for the oak or sequoia, standing tall, silently giving nourishment.  Something that can weather the weather.

It is the practice I choose.  Eyes wide open gratitude.  Caring that the energy I send out into the world is a positive spark, even, and especially, in the knowledge of all else.