Gratitude Is All That’s Left (when we stop trying so hard)

Very last page of my very first #artjournal.

It’s Thanksgiving week. Our little family of three is planning our dinner and a long weekend, disconnected from the ‘puters and connecting with the tangible world.

We have yet to finish building our table. We’ve yet to find a couch we love. So we’ll be eating our meal in a camping chair. And we’re okay with that.

We have new friends offering us furniture, but we’ve happily declined. Vast and empty space is a luxury we’re not willing to give up. But more than that I recognized something in my past that’s no longer there: the urge to “settle”.

We can spend years of our lives settling for things that don’t light us up, don’t make us happy, don’t inspire us. Sometimes we do it “for now” and sometimes we do it forever. And sometimes “for now” turns into “forever”, because that’s how we humans work – firmly within our comfort zone.

I’ve done a shitload of settling in my life. People doesn’t often believe me when I say that. They think I lived some charmed existence where I get everything I want.

But the truth is I’ve had to work hard to overcome my own resistance to the things I want.

(I know a lot of you know what I mean.)

We see something that’s beautiful, that feels so divine, but for one excuse or another we keep it right outside our reach, we never go for it – maybe because it’s “too expensive”, or “too hard to find”, or “too much work”.

But let’s get real. Usually it’s just too much for our tiny sense of self to believe we can have, deserve to have.

I spent a lot of years listening to that tiny sense of self and allowing her to keep me from fully embracing the things I thought were beautiful or wonderful or worth it. I would buy things (like furniture) that were “okay” because I couldn’t imagine having what I really loved. I’d accept hand-me-downs that didn’t light-me-up because “I should be grateful for the offer”…which is often just a hidden way of saying “who are you to say no”.

I would also keep happiness itself – fun and laughter and enjoyment – just beyond my fingertips. If things were going too well, I’d unconsciously screw it up. I can’t count the number of holidays or birthdays when I woke up feeling like a raving bitch, spitting venom at the world, and not knowing why. I’d have this quiet, bewildered voice behind the wall asking me “WTF Chuck?” and I’d bite its ever-loving head clean off.

Some people experience this because they have expectations the holidays be perfect. I experienced this because I was afraid of how good they actually could be, and if I could only bring it down a couple notches, I’d be safe within my comfort zone of Just Okay again.

Pretty tragic, no? Pretty common, too.

I was sitting in satsang last weekend. The topic was “Thanksgiving” and we were discussing our experiences with it when I decided to share this very shift.

It’s a shift of the heart. From barricading behind the brick wall of my own stories in order to protect myself from a perceived threat of heartache, to gently removing those bricks – one at a time – and discovering the expansion of love and trust that fills that space.

I used to want the negativity, because it meant things were safe – not too bad, not too good to be threatening.

I use to keep myself 10 degrees off joyful; settling, settling, settling for Not Great. Just Okay. Then, for awhile, I believed that since I didn’t want the negativity anymore, it was up to me to CREATE the Joy.

But both were wrong.

What I’ve experienced this year is that when I let the wall down, and let go of the expectation that happiness is something I have to work hard for (ahem, another form of postponing our joy, another form of making sure we can’t have what scares us), then the only natural response from Life is to flood my world with Joy.

The spaces I used to fill with my own attempts get overwhelmed with the only thing that’s left.

Love is what is left when you let go of all the things you love. – Swami Jnaneshvara

The ironic part is that by letting go of everything I so tragically loved (i.e. my own thoughts), I stopped settling for what I didn’t. I found that I am perfectly comfortable in an empty house, because it’s not actually empty. I found I have no desire to fill it with temporary things, because it’s already full. I’m finding that I don’t actually want or need anything, but just the right things are finding us in just the right ways.

So this is what Surrender (last year’s Guiding Word) has brought me to…surrendering my fear, my thoughts, and my own will to force into existence some egoic form of Joy…surrender to what was, what is already and always there.

It’s cheesy and wonderful and 6 or 7 years ago I would’ve rolled my eyes and gagged if I had heard anyone say it.

But it’s true. When we let go of our perceptions, our expectations, our sad attempts, the tragic things we love too much, the only thing left is the overriding experience of what’s been waiting here all along.

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