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The practice of vulnerable gratitude


Gratitude is a recurring theme in everything I do and there’s a reason for that. It helps me stay sane & healthy, and to train effectively. It helps me feel energised. It helps me feel connected to the present and to the Universe.

On the other end of the spectrum is frustration. I’ve been working with an acupuncturist to unpack layers, remove blockages, and increase energy flow (Qi). (If you’re on Hawai’i and are interested in a treatment, contact me for more information.) It’s become very clear to me that when I feel frustrated with parts of my body or mind there’s tension and restriction. Blood does not flow, oxygen is not present, stagnation occurs.

Growing up, and through most of my life, anger and anxiety were the dominant emotions. I buried everything inside, stuffing it away because, at first, I didn’t know how to deal with it, then later because it became my coping mechanism. Much of that led to tight muscles; but it’s recently become evident that certain organs were/are greatly affected–small intestine, large intestine, liver, and lungs.

What’s also become evident is how I use addictive behaviour* to disassociate myself–or rather, my heart–from the uncomfortable issues inside. Of course, this doesn’t help. Attempts to push away only fuel frustrations and, subsequently, lead to (more) tension. Disunity does not clear up issues. It does not allow flow. Gratitude is not present.

I don’t believe in faking it till I make it. That feels false to me. It doesn’t feel like I’m actually present with what is. However, I do actively look for things that I’m grateful for. It’s a kind of mental and physiological hijack (in a positive way). When I find myself ruminating it generally means that blinders are present, that I’m not seeing or experiencing the whole picture. I acknowledge the hurt, the shame, the grief, the sadness, the pain, the anger, the anxiety, the disappointment, the whole damn vortex of melancholy. I also look for the glimmer of light that’s always present. I ask myself “what’s present here that I’m grateful for?” It can start with something as simple as a breath, or that I’m even asking the question. I’m not saying that this practice stops my addictive behaviour in its tracks, but by looking for and then feeling into gratitude I find relief–sometimes only a little, sometimes a lot.

This practice helps foster a positive mental attitude and increase energy, which improves (athletic) performance. I can reflect on most any event in my life and feel gratefulness because each has led to the person I am now. They have led to the development of this Being. They have led to greater intimacy with Creation.

But there are stubborn layers. These take more time to unravel. And as I intimated above, many are still being disentangled.

For me, gratitude is practised both while resting and while working out; it is not limited to a particular time of day, or in one type of activity, or non-activity. The practice of gratitude helps me stay present and feel emotions and sensations and experiences in the mind, body, and the movement of spirit.

As a generally stubborn male, I can charge bullheadedly ahead with force. It has, in the past, helped me succeed in competitive athletics, but it’s rooted in ego not flow. What I’ve learned over time is that it leaves me feeling unfulfilled, empty, lost, lonely, without direction, without energy. It’s fake, fearful, and disingenuous. It does not allow me to experience all of what is going on inside or around me. Moreover, it creates layers of frustration and pain, and sadness, that haunt me.

One of the most difficult lessons I’ve learned (and am still learning!) is to choose to face these feelings, these difficulties, to keep awareness on what is. I know from experience that this is how to live intimately and real.

I’m a person who is more interested in quality than quantity. I would rather live a moment of Truth than a lifetime of fakeness–even if that moment was not one of pure ecstasy. Paradoxically, moments where there is a full range of emotions, including the difficult ones, are far more rewarding than long durations of blindness, covering up, and avoidance, because those lead to ongoing pain.

I won’t sugarcoat it: I have had depths of darkness from which I wanted to take myself. There are difficult times and feelings where I feel the desire to escape. I have to commit to not following that path. Actually, it’s more like committing to what I want than what I don’t want. I have taken the red pill. …When I was skydiving professionally I used to say that if something were going to happen, if it were my time, let me face it straight on; let them find sand in my eyes. That may seem overly dramatic, but, alas, I tend to do things in my life with the vigour of putting on hip waiters and jumping in up to my neck. The point is that in order to face the demons, in order to face the tough times, I must turn towards the sunrise and the sunset with fierce intention.

Unfortunately, such diligence can lead to diminishing my spirituality a to do list (in order to achieve this or that).** My practices can become deadened rather than infused with energy.

A-ha! This is where my habit of gratitude supported me last week. I realised that instead of (dreading) just going through the motions I could celebrate my morning rituals of meditation, yoga, core exercises, stretching, rolling, and to honour my workouts by being present: To give thanks and be grateful for giving back, and letting the Universe flow through me; To give back to One by being in concert with it and living it. It’s kind of a way to pray and commune with God (non-denominational use of the term).

“Do (yoga) for the joy of being (on the mat) vs. having to (get to yoga to) improve.”**

* Addictive behaviour is defined as any behaviour that a person craves, finds temporary pleasure or relief in, and then suffers negative consequences but doesn’t give up despite those negative consequences. ~Dr. Gabor Maté

** Danielle LaPorte with Rich Roll #283.