In case you hadn’t noticed, gratitude is pretty hip these days. All zeitgeisty and viral, posted daily on social media, in Twitter acknowledgements of thanks and grace; there are even Facebook groups devoted to the idea of expressing gratitude. It’s a beautiful thing. And because it’s the internet, all of this higher consciousness thinking and warm, human emotion is moshed in with screeching headlines, comment fisticuffs, and the never-ending dirge of articles written, posted, and shared about the very worst of our life and times. Crazy making. Hard to find balance in all that, but balance we must.
I read an interesting piece the other day that espoused the idea of “not buying into” the messages created for us by the ubiquitous media: messages of lack, fear, doom, opposition, worry, illness, etc. We know those things exist, but that they exist does not demand our emotional attachment to them, emotional attachment defined as the acceptance of those messages as indisputable fact, the immersing of ourselves in them as inevitable, or the habit of getting ourselves so surrounded and embroiled in them that it all becomes a soul killer. An anxiety builder. A depression stirrer. A joy denier.
A beleaguered woman told me recently that she felt too guilty feeling joy “when there’s so much hate, suffering and anger in the world.” Hmm. Not much good in that equation, but I understand.
Particularly when we often feel helpless about what to do to change the course of those negative elements of our society. Some of us feel that shining a light on them, bringing them to light as writers, commenters, opinion leaders and sharers is helpful; it illuminates the darkness. And sometimes, and in some cases, it does. But then what? We read about it all, watch it on TV, listen to it on the radio, but the fact is, most of us can’t leave our lives to go join an international charity group, don’t have the money to donate to important causes we believe could turn the tide; don’t even have time beyond our life, work and families to volunteer at shelters, organize political rallies, or hold crack babies at county hospitals. So what do we empathetic, compassionate, caring sorts do and, come on, how are we supposed to feel gratitude in the midst of… all that??
What if we stopped engaging in the cultural battle? Stopped buying into the conversation?
I touched on that in my recent Huffington Post piece, Want to Feel Better, Really Better? Step Away From the News, the idea that our compulsive need to “stay on top of things” is literally manifesting in a form of “consumer anxiety”: the malaise where one feels they can never be current enough, on top of it enough, because it’s all changing so fast and being reported so relentlessly that we have to watch, read, listen, write, argue, debate, suffer, be depressed, defriend, and ultimately deflate in a pool of “life sucks.”
But it’s smoke and mirrors. A hologram. Life isn’t moving as fast as it seems; it’s an illusion created by the 24/7 media. As an old mentor of mine used to say, “you can stand on your street corner for hours and, on most nights, you’ll never see a damn thing happen.” But the media, by virtue of compiling the millions of things that have happened, around the world and back again, have made us all feel that there’s a running montage of dramatic, life-shifting, often terrifying events happening right outside our doors every minute of every day, Jesus Christ, I can’t even breathe in here, what the HELL, get me OUT!!!
Breathe. It isn’t all happening here, there, and everywhere. Not by a long shot.
It’s one thing to be empathetic and aware, it’s another to focus yourself on the darkest aspects of life. One is consciousness, the other is cultural masochism, which is not healthy or helpful. So instead of immersing yourself in the hologram that is “all-drama-all-the-time-yikes-the-sky-is-falling,” step out of that loop and immerse yourself in the good of your own life and the world around you; deeply, truly, and with arms open. You’re allowed to do that, to feel joy and gratitude for your own abundance and good fortune, however and wherever you find it (and sometimes it’s in the very smallest of things!). You’re allowed – and, in fact, advised – to become just an observer of the cultural noise, unattached and unencumbered. Notice, but don’t dive in; do what you’re moved to do, then detach. Have empathy but focus on positivity.
Sometimes it’s as simple as, when your office mate tells you that “something’s going around… everyone’s getting sick,” you say, “I’m not.” When someone shouts that all of this group is “spineless” and all of that group are “assholes,” make note (out loud or otherwise) that generalities are the tool of the narrow-minded. When a seemingly charitable, caring person drones on about the woes of the world, the country; your neighborhood, gently put their attention on the good that exists in all those same places. When another diatribes about “kids today” point out the brilliant young people you know and are aware of. When anyone tells you humanity is doomed, the world’s on the brink, and we’re all idiots too stupid to figure it out, walk away while noticing the countless, incredible things around you that emanate love, beauty, and hope.
Because, honestly, if it’s true our lives reflect where and on what we put our attention, why the hell would we put our attention on the very worst of it? Why would we spend so much time on the lack, the ugly; the sorrowful? Why not put our attention on what we see that’s good, rather than what drives us fucking nuts?
We’re made to believe there’s something infinitely noble in being informed and trudging through the daily muck, but unless you’re one of those moved to honest activism by your rage, let’s be clear on the allowable limitations of “being informed”: watch/read/listen enough to be aware, but put your attention on that which you love, that which empowers and uplifts, that which offers hope, inspiration, humor, and healing. Put your attention on GRATITUDE and decide it’s not a cliché, not a nifty November meme that feels good until it gets trumped by the latest tragedy, crime, or political blunder. Those will keep coming, it’s inevitable, but you’re allowed to simultaneously feel joy and gratitude. And you might be surprised to discover just how much living and reflecting those higher elements of human thought and emotion impact the energy of the world around you. You might find it’s not only “all you can do,” it’s more than you might even imagine.
I’m giving it a go. And today, Thanksgiving, the official day of gratitude? Let me say that I could not be more grateful for… all of it. My family. My friends. All of you. Humanity. The world. The new day with its chance, every day, to make it better.
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