Sometimes gratitude is hard.
Yesterday a friend of mine texted me a link to an online gratitude course, with the reminder: “We all need gratitude!” and my immediate thought was, “Nope, not today we don’t.”
And I closed that text like a cyber hot potato.
I felt a fleeting twinge of guilt. Because practicing gratitude is so good, and so important, and so helpful.
I know this.
But yesterday I was feeling frustrated and useless and hurried and scattered and a little resentful in my to-doing, as I clown danced through my day in an attempt to keep my 15-month-old son occupied while also getting something of real substance, besides child rearing and caring, done in my life.
Good luck with that.
The idea of wrangling all of my frenzied feelings into some kind of holding cell where they would sit quietly, while I stood outside the door zen-ing out on gratitude made my skin crawl. I didn’t want to do it—not even a little bit.
I just wanted to survive the day, to accomplish something besides another passionate reading of “Polar Bear, Polar Bear,” and—now that I had read my friend’s text—to not feel guilty for not wanting to be grateful. That. Is. All.
My screw you gratitude attitude reminded me of one of my favorite Rumi poems, “The Guest House,” which is a true keeper and a compass.
In it Rumi says—and I’m paraphrasing poorly—that being human is like being a guest house, and every day there’s a new arrival. Joy. Sadness. Anger. Regret. And we should welcome them all—even the dark, difficult feelings—as esteemed guests, because each is a guide from beyond.
Yesterday my entire house—entryway, kitchen, living room, and porch—was a raging party of mostly very difficult guests.
Trying to force myself to be grateful—or positive or joyful—when I’m experiencing anything but, is rarely the answer for me.
But being with—and accepting—who I actually am in the moment, is.
Pretending the hard and ugly stuff doesn’t exist by putting my happy face on would only be pretty on the outside. And that’s not real.
As Rumi says, we should welcome whoever comes to visit, “…even if they are a crowd of sorrows, who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture…” because they “might be clearing you out for some new delight.”
Yesterday came and went. I survived the day and my many emotions.
Then this morning as I sat alone on my front porch in the glorious quiet, while my house and the people in it still slept, I remembered my friend’s text about gratitude. And I closed my eyes and wondered, “Do I have space for you today?”
And I waited.
Sure enough the door swung open and gratitude slipped right inside.
I thought about my daughters and what a privilege it is to be their mother—to be raising strong girls who think critically, practice kindness, and who have so much to offer this world. I thought about my son and what a joy it is to love and nurture and chase his sweet little self, and I could genuinely feel how precious my time with him, during these early years, is—personal clown dancing included.
I thought about the old farmhouse I live in, and how much I like sitting on its porch, watching the sunrise or just taking in the beautiful landscape around me.
And I thought about my life—who I am, where I am, what I get to do everyday—and how lucky I am to just be here, alive, and living it.
And I really felt gratitude.
I wasn’t just checking a box, or scribbling words in a journal because it was something I was supposed to do.
Real gratefulness was alive and stirring inside of me—the kind that lifts a saggy spirit, the kind that pulses and moves, the kind that spreads softness and warmth from my heart to the tips of my fingers, and down to the soles of my feet.
I’m so glad I waited to have space inside me for the real thing.
And I’m relieved I didn’t pretend to be someone I wasn’t yesterday. Because the guests I was hosting then were just as important and esteemed as gratitude. In fact they might have cleared the way for it today, just like Rumi says.
And I am truly grateful—in a real way—for that, too.
The Guest House
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
~ Jellaludin Rumi,
translation by Coleman Barks