Don't Tell Me to Be Grateful

Can we take a moment to acknowledge how hard it is to feel grateful?

Across the board, scientists and self-help gurus alike say that “cultivating a sense of gratitude” improves your mental health and/or radically changes your life. In my experience, gratitude makes me feel more happy, calm, and connected to the present moment - it makes me feel alive.

But it’s really hard to start feeling grateful after an affluent, respected expert (or “expert”) tells you what to do. That person has a great job, best-selling books, TED Talks, and a supportive family, not to mention they’re so good looking they’ve plastered their smiling face all over their book covers and website. They have a lot to be grateful for.

It would be nice if the experts gave equal weight to individual practice and societal structures, recognizing that it’s difficult for marginalized people to suddenly ignore their hardships because Science. Since they’ve already discovered this amazing secret, could the experts also devote some time to working towards social justice - for the sake of happiness? Give a TED Talk about the oppressions that keep people from feeling grateful instead of implicitly blaming us for not doing it right.

Until that happens, we’re still flailing around trying to feel better. But we do have the choice of where we put our attention.

Photo credit:  Fabrizio Conti

Photo credit: Fabrizio Conti

Starting small is how I move around my resistance. I absolutely don’t ignore what sucks about my life - I honor my anger, grief, and jealousy - but I try to feel gratitude fully whenever it pops up, especially when it involves Nature and Body. Snow sparkling in the sunlight. Squirrels playing outside. The scent of rain on the breeze. Sometimes it’s depressing, like I made it through the workday without getting a migraine. But it brings me back to the present moment, where I am safe.

I hope you can find things to be grateful for, and I hope one day it’s easier for all of us to feel happy.

Practice Feeling Safe

One of the things I learned in 2018 was to bring my attention to the feeling of safety. This idea had been floating around my consciousness but came into focus when I read an interview with John Makransky in Tricyle about Buddhism and anger, Aren’t We Right to Be Angry?

“In many Buddhist traditions practitioners learn to experience themselves as the object of the unconditional love and compassion of the buddhas.”

Photo credit:  Milan Popovic

Photo credit: Milan Popovic

When I know I’m safe, my hands feel warm. This is important for me because my hands are usually cold due to poor circulation. I believe my poor circulation is caused partially by having grown up in a fearful environment - chronic stress limits circulation as part of a flight reaction.

So, every time I realize I’m safe, I pause and really feel it. I say to myself, “I am safe right now. Nothing can eat me. My life is not in danger.” I feel my Body relax, I feel the cortisol and adrenaline lessen, and I smile when my hands warm up.

This feeling of being held by the present moment, completely safe and alive, has gradually replaced my usual default state of feeling anxious. Now, when I think of scary things like losing my job or having to move, I remind myself that I wouldn’t literally die right when those things happened, and that helps out a lot.

From this grounded feeling of safety, it’s easier stop thinking about the scary things that probably won’t happen. But when I do think about them, I tend to see the opportunities that lie inside, and that actually makes me feel excited and in the flow of life.

My favorite ways to feel calm and safe are:

  • regular meditation

  • trauma release exercises

  • belly dancing

  • stretching to lift up my solar plexus

  • squatting almost to the ground to focus on my pelvic floor

  • deep breathing from the belly up and out sideways to the lungs

  • knitting

I hope you find ways that bring you back to the present, too.

Things I Learned in 2018

  • Practice feeling safe every day. Remind myself I am safe when I am safe.

  • Doing fun things helps energize and inspire me, and encourages restfulness.

  • Meet myself where I am & treat my emotions as facts.

  • Committing to something is really important. Sustained effort is important.

  • I’m not a live-out-loud solopreneur biz lady. I’m just not. I don’t want to make courses, I don’t want to be an expert, and I’m uncomfortable with visibility itself. I will find ways to get around this.

  • It takes time to let go of things.

  • Choose nourishment.

  • Depression is a wound I need healing for.

  • Depression is a journey to the underworld, from which I will bring back useful, transforming information.

  • Leave to-dos for tomorrow.

  • I need a myth/story to connect with, see the symbols, and re-story my life - re-story my future.

  • I am really affected by my environment and I need a nice one to feel positive and get things done. Small decorations make me feel nice.

  • Trauma Release Exercises are the best. (See how to get tremoring in this video - the exercises start at five minutes.)

October Grounding

I write a Monthly Passage, which I learned from Havi’s blog at The Fluent Self, to let go of last month and enter the new month with intention.


What worked in September

  • dancing in the morning

  • rest

  • accepting my creative block (not fighting it)

  • playing Stardew Valley more than normal

  • doing fun things

  • leaving to-dos for later

  • Tarot!

  • being brave

  • letting go of outcomes

Next time I might

  • continue with sprints (working on a project just for one week at a time)

  • drink more fluids on the weekend

  • the day ends at 9 pm, that's it, period.

Qualities for October

Grounding. Receptive. Connection. Relax. Shielding. Spaciousness. Roots.

Things I'm working on

  • receiving guidance

  • softening

  • developing my Cosmic Heart

Looking forward to

  • art fairs

  • autumn colors

Asking and hoping for

  • fun

I'm ready for

  • letting go of who I think I am

  • guidance

  • reclaiming

Month of Joy

I write a Monthly Passage, which I learned from Havi’s blog at The Fluent Self, to let go of last month and enter the new month with intention.


What worked in August

  • BUBBLE MAPS still saving my life
  • waking up at 5.30 in the morning to make time to dance before work
  • rest
  • nourishing myself
  • burdock and hawthorn infusions
  • doing fun things
  • leaving to-dos for later
  • doing sprints (working on a project just for one week at a time)
  • accepting reality and meeting myself where I am
  • preventing headaches with menthol salve
  • being open to receive help and clarity

Next time I might

  • continue with sprints
  • drink more fluids on the weekend
  • the day ends at 9 pm, that's it, period.

Qualities for September

Joy. Let Go. Light. Nourish. Adventure. Fun.

Things I'm working on

  • leveling up my tech skills
  • my biz
  • job search

Looking forward to

  • creating
  • feeling more me
  • feeling like my spirit is rested
  • more flowers on my plants!

Asking and hoping for

  • fun

I'm ready for

  • shedding
  • happiness
  • soak up the good stuff

The Devil Brings Clarity

I love it when the Devil appears in my Tarot spread.

From the  Mona Lisa Tarot , artwork by Paolo Martinello

From the Mona Lisa Tarot, artwork by Paolo Martinello

The Devil has a pretty bad reputation and doesn't look that nice - browse the designs for the Devil card on and you'll see some terrifying figures like the Christian devil, Baphomet, Hel, Kali, Ammit, serpents, dragons, even Cthulhu. Many designs feature a man and a woman chained to the Devil, trapped. Sometimes it's obvious that the man and woman are Adam and Eve from the Old Testament.

I like to remember the Devil's name, Lucifer. It means "Light Bringer" and also refers to the planet Venus when it precedes the sunrise. A star announcing the sunrise - doesn't that sound nice? Not gross or scary at all.

The  actor playing him on TV  looks pretty nice, too, amiright

The actor playing him on TV looks pretty nice, too, amiright

Let's re-interpret the Garden of Eden story, keeping in mind what "Lucifer" means. Lucifer offered Eve knowledge and self-awareness, which she accepted and then shared with Adam. Christianity heaps a lot of negativity on her for deciding to pursue knowledge and self-awareness, but can we consider Eve and Adam's decision as just naturally human, and important to growing up into mature adults?

The Devil invites us to ask:

  • What am I scared of knowing about myself?

  • What am I scared of knowing about the world?

  • What's holding me back - inside and outside?

  • What facts am I scared of accepting right now?

  • How can I explore my fears safely?

  • Can I engage my fears without judging myself?

When pondering these powerful questions with gentleness and care, even the scariest-looking Devil won't seem as scary.