I know I am not the only one who is completely irked when someone preaches gratitude after visiting a third world country.
I occasionally read an advice column written by a popular business coach. He recently returned from a trip to South Africa and someone sent in a question seeking advice for getting through hard times.
As I am healing from some hard times, so I was on the edge of my seat for his advice. In a nutshell, his answer was to consider the idea that as Americans, we don’t really have problems compared to the third world and to begin a gratitude practice as a way to see yourself through your supposed difficulties.
While I see and appreciate his desire to wake people up about the suffering in the world, his advice lets me down when he compares the (very) privileged life of Americans to those in the third world, suggesting that gratitude would make our problems diminish.
I love gratitude. As the daughter of a man with a depressed personality and who died of cancer, I know the severe price when a life is void of it. Of all the many ways one can relate to life, gratitude and appreciation connect us with the present moment like no other. Though, true gratitude is ego-free. That is what makes it so powerful. Since it is our ego that compares, it is impossible to experience gratitude through comparing.
Egoless gratitude is about dropping down into yourself and viscerally connecting to all the mega amounts of love in your life. Whether it is from the sparkle of a diamond ring or the feeling of sunshine on your face, an awesome friend, or the simple act of breathing. Real gratitude is the reception of life’s love and is only experienced when free from judgment, worth, indebtedness, measure, comparisons and shoulds.
When I was a psychotherapist I can’t tell you how many times I heard
“I have so much to be grateful for, I don’t know why I feel this way,”
…and have said those very words myself. Though gratitude is especially helpful during dark times, it does not take away pain. Instead, it connects us to larger amounts of truth, which is essential for healing to occur. It is practiced by those who desire an honest view of their life and don’t want to miss a drop of goodness, no matter what.
Also, Americans don’t have problems compared to the rest of the world? Really? Completely fascinating to me as I have never met a human who wasn’t involved in the wild and tumultuous ride of life. No matter your circumstances, old age, sickness and death are in your cards. Emotional strife comes with the territory and makes the whole thing happen.
Life is outrageously wonderful and seems to betray all of us…all the time.
For me, this coach was doing what our egos love to do: bypass our actual experience and churn a should. I can’t imagine that when you come back from South Africa, you aren’t overflowing with anger and grief. Maybe gratitude and appreciation of these important emotions are how one really gets through hard times. Maybe befriending them in all of their glory is the path to decoding their sacred messages.
Dara McKinley is a Naropa grad who traded in her thriving Buddhist psychotherapy practice to become a Pleasure Revolutionary. With adoration and truth as her swords, she is a warrior for the healing power of our feminine essence and the rise of emotionally brilliant folks. Find more of her provocative and soul-stirring writing at volvernow.com.