Paying Attention Bill McDonald’s
December 2016 - Volume 16, No. 12
Gratitude - an Antidote to Despair
For some time now I’ve been noticing folks who speak of maintaining a specific practice of gratitude. And recently I found an article naming an “attitude of gratitude” as a counter to many of the world’s ills.
This year it was quite late on Thanksgiving Day that it occurred to me as an “oh yes” that this was a day for conscious thankfulness. Then one day later the ubiquitous name “Black Friday” assaulted me from all directions, until again, late in the day, the irony hit me with a thud to the chest. Thanksgiving Thursday and Black Friday are eternally sandwiched in our culture like sugar and mud. And since Black Friday now seems to begin on the day before Thanksgiving, and ends on Cyber Monday, it seems poor Thanksgiving Day hardly stands a chance in the midst of the larger annual holiday shopping orgy.
I’m generally an optimistic fellow. I can be depressive as well, but my native optimism generally wins the day.
But this has been a difficult year. The 2016 election process was and still is agonizing. Can we trust anything that’s going on? Is there any honor in anyone’s word anymore? And I wonder if I can ever forgive Mr. Trump for his penchant of pandering to the worst in so many of our citizens. Anyone who has read Stephen King knows that once the demons are loosed from within the human psyche, the task of cleaning things up is long and arduous, almost impossible. It’s easy to trigger human hatred, to harness our latent fear and anger for purposes that are no compliment to humanity. It takes a tremendous amount of discipline, maturity and love to corral these forces once released. In my own personal collection of such heroes are the Amish, the Quakers, and POMC, the National Organization of Parents of Murdered Children. Then there are the victims of our own national genocide, the Native American communities - currently gathering with non-violent intent in North Dakota with the Standing Rock Sioux. I am reminded of those who stood against comparable forces of destruction in the great civil rights movement of the 1960’s.
In my own life this Fall there’s been the sad death of a close extended family member, and the tragic death of a neighbor teen on the railroad tracks a few blocks from my house.
Of late it’s not been as easy for me to wake up in the morning and lie down to sleep in the evening with an easy gratitude in my heart.
Gratitude can be a grace, but it’s also a weapon.
A Native American friend taught me that in their prayers, one always begins and ends with thanksgiving, with gratitude. At first I took this as a teaching about courtesy when addressing the Almighty - which I have transferred to the discipline of my own prayer life.
When the news feed from Standing Rock brings me the sound of the drums and the words spoken and sung of their ritual prayers, it both quickens my own blood, as well as well as a feeling of fear and vulnerability - of how little these ‘weapons’ can accomplish against the bulldozers of the US Army Corps of Engineers, the fancy fire hoses and deadly riot gear of the police, the psychological warfare of constant monitoring, and the provoked aggressive powers of the United States and the government of North Dakota.
Gratitude is the way of a Warrior
That’s how and why it can conquer fear and paranoia.
That’s how and why it can conquer despair.
Gratitude is a warrior power that can “storm the gates” by connecting with the powers of heaven, the hosts of the Almighty, the Lovingkindness of the Eternal, the Love of God (depending on the language of one’s own spiritual cosmology).
And it often flies under the radar.Like the angels addressing the shepherds outside of Bethlehem on that holy night - “do not be afraid” (the first words uttered in the Christian era).
When in doubt, say “Thank you.”
It’s much more than just a courtesy. It can be a courageous act of boldness in the face of dark reality.
Many years ago I would say a silent “Thank you” to the warriors of the American Civil Rights Movement.
Now I will also say a silent “Thank you” to the warrior men, women and children of the Lakota Sioux and the thousands of their supporters at Standing Rock.
Only then it seems do I find the grace also to say a silent “Thank you” to so much and so many that grace my own life - speaking even into a darkness that may wish to oppress me.
Gratitude helps me keep my focus. It helps me find moments of wholeness at the center, where so much else wants to pull us all apart.
When around us there is so much suffering and disrespect for life, let us remember to give thanks for our own lives, that of others and all life around us. When we feed the energy of gratitude, it can transform the shadow states in ways that are beyond our rational knowing.
1)Here’s an indigenous elaboration of my use of ‘warrior.’
“Warriors are not what
you think of as warriors.
The warrior is not someone
who fights, because no one
has the right to take another
life.The warrior for us is one
who sacrifices himself for
the good of others.His task is to
take care of the elderly, the
defenseless, those who cannot
provide for themselves, and
above all, the children, the
future of humanity.”
Sitting Bull Hunkpapa, Lakota
(Add now a sacred care for the waters of our Earth.)
2)I have long loved the final line of Dylan Thomas’ “A Child’s Christmas in Wales”:
“I got into bed. I said some words to the close and holy darkness, and then I slept.”
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