Gratitude without complacency

I have been struggling with how to write this post since Thanksgiving. I wanted to write something about how beneficial I’ve found the practice of gratitude, but I had trouble with it because I didn’t want it to be just another saccharine annoyance about how you, too, will feel #blessed if you just take the time…you know how those go. Most of all, though, I was confronted with the problem of complacency.

There is a tension that I am only beginning to explore between so many of the practices that are touted these days – mindfulness, gratitude, etc. – and my fundamental orientation to the world, which is part of my Wicca. I fundamentally believe that we can and should change the world; I am concerned about too much acceptance of what is, just because it is, especially for the situations that humans create and thus could change.

In the short term, my answer to the problem of encouraging gratitude without complacency is that my gratitude practice is one of the tools that helps me do my magic. I think this is because I approach it slightly differently from the way I’ve usually heard it presented, some of which has to do with my personal situation, and some of which has to do with a more Pagan perspective. I’m going to share that here in hopes that it may be useful to some others.

My gratitude practice is a simple daily activity: list three things about yesterday that were good. They don’t have to be big, earth-shaking goodnesses; in fact, on a lot of days, they are just simply three things that made me feel good or be happy, even if just for a breath. When I write down “sunrise,” I’m not trying to contemplate the cosmic beauty of sunrises in general. I’m just trying to capture and acknowledge the way that particular sunrise yesterday made me smile, even for a second. When I am grateful for people in ongoing relationships, I try to think of a specific interaction that made my heart glad.

That’s it. I don’t go through some grand exercise of trying or working or pushing myself to feel grateful or thankful or extra happy. I don’t generalize, I don’t contemplate the grandiosity of the universe, I don’t try to make myself believe that this is the best of all possible worlds or that all things are working together for my betterment. I had to leave all those expectations behind for this practice to start being meaningful for me.

In part, this is a valuable practice because of my personal struggles with depression. Simply acknowledging that there were good things yesterday helps me have hope, even in the darkness of depression, that there might be a few sparks of light in my day today. This is when even a split second’s worth of not-hurting can be the most valuable memory to hold on to.

From a Wiccan perspective, though, my gratitude is more than that. This simple act, especially when repeated on a regular basis, helps make me more myself, and deep down it helps me gain the power to do my magic, whether that means shaping myself or shaping the world, or – usually – both at once.

An important point here is that for Wiccans gratitude can be a part of the everyday fabric of life. We don’t need to stop and be grateful to someone outside of the world; we are grateful to the world itself for being, as the reification of divinity. We are not bowing and scraping for the scraps that an all powerful divinity chooses to toss our way, and could revoke at any time; instead we are grateful as part of the web of relationship of beings that we participate in as full and equal partners.

Thus my gratitude helps me remember the intricate web of relationships in which I exist, and on which I depend; like so much else in Wiccan practice, it makes me more myself, it helps me to be myself, as part of my relationships with others, human and nonhuman alike.

Remembering those connections not only makes me more myself, it makes me better able to do my magic because my magic flows from and through those very connections. I gather the tools I use and the very energy I need to do magic from that web of relationships, and I send my empowered intention out through that same network to create change in the world.

For me, my gratitude practice is a another simple-seeming tool, like breath work, or grounding and centering, which when investigated deeply is an opening to much more complex work. I’m only beginning to explore that. As the poet said, I shan’t be gone long; you come too.

After Thanksgiving, support the rights of workers

It’s appropriate that American Thanksgiving falls in the Samhain season. Part of the work of Samhain should be bringing in the harvest and being grateful for it. I see Thanksgiving as a way to continue the work of the season.

For many of today’s Pagans, this “harvesting” is largely metaphorical or figurative. We don’t have to lay down enough food to last the winter and decide which parts of our herds to slaughter. But there are lots of people in our world today who have to gauge their resources to the last penny, and then some, and who struggle year-round to make ends meet.

A prime example is the plight of Walmart workers. Walmart, owned by the richest family in America, has an extensive list of offenses: paying workers a pittance; failing to provide benefits, such that workers have to rely on additional government assistance; unsafe labor environments; discriminating against women; and trying to prevent workers from organizing in order to improve their situation. I’m not going to go into all the details; here’s one of many other posts where you can learn more.

This Thanksgiving, as we meditate on our gratitude and strive to find ways to share with those less fortunate, we have a prime opportunity to put our values into action:

Walmart is trying to start Black Friday early on Thursday evening. Don’t go.

Walmart workers are striking on Black Friday. Don’t shop at Walmart on Friday. If you can, check out the Corporate Action Network or OUR Walmart to find other ways to support them. There’s also an Occupy-organized fund to provide money for food for striking workers.