Recently, one of my teachers reminded me that gratitude transforms us, liberates us, and is one of the best ways to increase our radiance and loosen the bonds of a constricting situation.
I realized I already knew this from my own experience but it’s so easy to forget. Here’s a story:
After graduating from Harvard Divinity School, I spent a year living in a convent in Greece. When I came back home, I didn’t transition well to regular non-nunly life. All my friends were moving on to get PhDs or real jobs. I got a job as a waitress in an Afghan restaurant. I was living in a situation that was still tied into the convent, a place where I required a blessing to borrow the car. I hated it. And I was more depressed than I ever remembered being.
Not only that but I’d worked to quiet my erotic energy so much in the convent that now I had no idea how to turn that faucet back on. I didn’t feel like a woman. I barely felt like a lay person. To make matters more awkward, through baptism my virginity had been renewed and I was very aware that I was a born again virgin. And I was taking it very seriously. I wasn’t going to give up my virginity so easily this time.
My friends were concerned. I’d left for the convent as a fairly fun, saucy person. And the person who came back was clearly a depressed, frumpy virgin. I remember my Russian-Israeli friend Natasha rolling her eyes and saying, “Enough with you and your virginity. Please lose it."
This went on for a full year and I was at a total loss on how to find my way to something new.
Occasionally through my life, I will hear a voice in my ear at key moments giving me direction. I’ve gotten almost all my jobs this way. A little voice will say, “You could work there” and then, after not getting a job anywhere else, I go and get a job there. This voice had been quiet for more than a year. It had told me to go to the convent, but it hadn’t had anything to say about what I should do once I returned.
So, one year into this particularly pathetic period, I was walking along feeling sorry for myself, when suddenly the voice spoke. I can’t remember the exact words but the theme was: you need to pour gratitude on your life exactly as it is now.
That whole year, I knew I should be grateful. That good people are grateful people. But I wasn’t grateful.
But when the voice speaks, I listen. And so I dug deep and found whatever I could to be grateful for. The job, the pathetic awkward living situation. I walked up and down the hills in Somerville, MA whispering to myself all the things I was grateful for.
A week later, I had a new job and a new living situation. I didn’t do much to get them but the opportunities arrived on my doorstep after a year of zero serendipity.
There is some cosmic equation in this that I still don’t fully understand. But I’ve seen this trend before. It’s as though things refuse to change until they are acknowledged and appreciated.
Here’s an experiment: pour gratitude and appreciation onto your life exactly as it is now. The parts you do feel grateful for and also (and perhaps more magically) the areas that feel tight, constricting, unsatisfying… the parts of your life that cause you distress. See if you can find anything to be grateful for there, anything to appreciate, anything to say “Thank you” for.
The Christian mystic, Meister Eckhart says “If the only prayer you say in your whole life is ‘Thank you,’ that would suffice.”
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This photo is from my hysteria series copying the poses of women in the various stages of the hysterical fit in the Salpetriere mental hospital in the later 1800s.
If you're feeling a bit stuck, consider a gentle intervention and schedule a Soul Dive.