Hello, my wishbone,

We usually talk about gratitude this time of year.

Fun fact: I just figured out that I have been doing gratitude half-assedly for most of my life.

Here’s an example:

It’s been getting colder, even in Texas, and we’ve been too sluggish to pull our down comforter from the attic, so we’ve been sleeping under this antique quilt I got earlier this fall on an otherwise ill-fated work trip to San Diego. It makes me feel better in more ways than one–warmer, yes, but also held together in a way. I’m grateful for it.

In a time when the past and future both feel so confusing and complex to me, I’m grateful that it helps me feel connected to the past in simple way: imagining the woman who made it ~75 years ago, doing such a good job that it’s still in one piece today. I think about her, choosing the fabric, designing the order of the pattern, hand stitching something beautiful and practical for her family or as a gift.

She had no idea where it would end up, who it would end up comforting. I feel lucky that the person it ends up comforting is me. It helps me feel more hopeful about the future, imagining that if I take good enough care of it, it will last beyond me.

Of course this is also just a nice, simple story I’m telling about some fabric that was stitched together in the 1940s. The real story behind it is undoubtedly more complicated. My gratitude in this instance is about simplifying that history and letting it mean what is helpful for it to mean to me right now.

That’s totally cool! Totally allowed! Great even! But it can’t be the only kind of gratitude I practice. Because it’s only half the story. The simple-story-in-favor-of-feeling-good half. The uncomplicated, non-problematic half.

The other half of the story is that everything is complicated. Including gratitude.

As the internet says, all your faves are problematic. (Here’s a great essay from one of my favorite writers about this concept.)

Take Thanksgiving. For many people, this is their favorite holiday. “It’s about gratitude and food and love and family!” you may have said. “The only holiday not corrupted by consumerism and weird religious stuff,” you may have said! “Sure, it’s origin is about the genocide of a bunch of different tribes of people who were here first, but it’s also about pie!” you tried, knowing how weak it sounded.

Raise your hand if it felt hard to celebrate in your normal fashion yesterday.

It’s getting increasingly difficult to ignore how problematic things are.

It’s getting increasingly difficult to be grateful for things in a solely simple way.

Maybe it was knowing that as we celebrate Thanksgiving this week, Native people in Standing Rock, Dakotas are peacefully protesting for their right to clean water and land sovereignty, and are being met with water cannons in below freezing temperatures and rubber bullets fired at close range.

Maybe it was the idea of sharing a meal that is supposed to be about gratitude with some people (who you love!) who seem grateful to have elected someone who is partially responsible for a large rise in the visibility and confidence of white supremacist neo-Nazis.

Maybe you or someone you love has been going through a lot of hard personal stuff, too–you keep getting shitty news from your doctor, you’re not sure about you’re work anymore, your relationship is strained–and it increasingly feels difficult to wade through it all with your head above water.

The spiritually evolved answer to all of this is supposed to be gratitude, usually the simple kind.

I don’t know about you, but it’s easy for the sad-sack, demoralized, nihilistic part of me to point out that listing the things I’m grateful for in the face of this year is like bringing a plastic knife to a gun orgy.

But that’s only if I’m doing gratitude half-way.

If I am only focusing my gratitude on the easy things, the simple things, the good-feeling things.

This year, I am choosing to be grateful for the hard things, too:

1. The unveiling of the shadow shit coming to light.

2. The awareness of human attraction (including my own) to fear, to hate, to confusion, to chaos. To fucking shit up for no reason. (Or the reason being that you secretly believe you/we deserve to have fucked up shit.)

3. The bone-deep understanding that I can and want to do be doing more to create the kind of world I believe in. That I/we deserve to have nice things, for everyone.

4. The anger that motivates, the sadness that calms, the confusion that deepens understanding, the fear that opens us to receive and give more love.

5. I am grateful for uncertainty, because it means there is hope, there is still space to create stability rooted in love, equity, and freedom instead of fear, dominance, and coercion.*

6. I am grateful for seeing things even more clearly. Even if the things I am seeing are very painful.

Because I can’t change what I refuse to see.

7. I am grateful for the patience that others have with me as I see things more clearly. I am grateful for the patience I have with myself in this process, too.

This goes way beyond my previous attempts to be thankful for hard stuff–which usually amounted to “I wouldn’t be who I am today without that hard stuff happening to me and and me learning from it.”

I mean, who was I trying to impress with that boring, weak-sauce???

Nope, let’s take the stiff drink of facing the hard, complex, problematic nature of being human. Of containing so many different impulses–to control, to love, to create, to destroy–and choosing to lead with the better ones without disavowing the presence of the darker ones.

(“Who me? I never just want to Hulk-smash everything? I am just love and light and rainbows.”)

Let’s take a whole-assed approach to this.

I’m not saying don’t be grateful for the simple things, too. I’m also not suggested that you paint yourself into a corner and feel powerless because everything is too complicated to “fix.”

But, is there also a way for your bring complexity into your gratitude? To be grateful for the complexity? To see that the hard stuff always means that, in the words of The Dude, “new shit has come to light?”

To do something about that new shit instead of just “la-la-la” sticking your hands over your ears and using simple gratitude to ignore it?

I know we have it in us.

March on, my whole-assed, problematic fave,

Lauren Signature