February 12, 2020 § 21 Comments
In a culture created to make us want more of what we don’t have, gratitude for what we have is a radical act.
Three months into a deep winter depression, I knew I needed a new tool. A way to dissolve the psychic film that had formed over my eyes, separating me from myself, the world and the truth.
I know how to pick myself up, one piece at a time. I’ve had a lot of practice. But none of my old transmutation tools were working. And this was beginning to scare me.
Around this time, my trusted friend Grace told me she was halfway through “28 days of gratitude”—part of a book by Rhonda Byrne, called “The Magic.” The book’s practices had elevated her daily feeling-state so much, she wanted to share it. Would I, and several friends, be interested in joining her? I found a free PDF version online and said yes! I would commit to 28 consecutive days of gratitude practices.
I wasn’t without resistance. “Gratitude, rhymes with platitude” chimed my inner cynic. I told myself I was doing it for Grace, for solidarity. I associated the word gratitude with sunset beach photos on Instagram and the caption #grateful—to which the inner cynic would think, “Yeah, I’d be grateful, too, if I were there.”
But I trusted my friend, and I had nothing to lose. So I gave it a shot.
I began my first gratitude list in a morning fog of grump and grog—I am one of those “not a morning person” people—and finished…feeling downright upbeat. The shift was remarkable. I felt alive again, present, awake; the film burned from my eyes.
The next day I approached the practice with more interest. Again, the perspective shift was uncanny.
The third day, I actually woke up excited to make my list because of the fix of positive feelings it created.
By the fourth or fifth day I found myself transforming. I noticed every little joy around me. The fact that each chapter in the book highlights different areas of focus for one’s gratitude acted as added support and inspiration.
How could I have taken so much for granted? The food in my fridge. The clean water at my disposal. The fact that I live during a time when the entire archive of the world’s collected knowledge exists at our literal fingertips. The roof over my head. The peaceful existence and beauty of trees. The use of my legs. The feeling of my cat’s fur and the sound of her purr. The fact that I have eyes, hands, taste; the gift of sentience, of consciousness, of having a body—the opportunity of a day, the gift of my life.
I felt moved to tears. Humbled and awash with reignited appreciation for the world around me.
Intentional gratitude interrupts the trance state of complacency we fall into when we see the same things every day, rebooting our perception to see the world through fresh eyes.
I think no matter what or how little we have, focusing on what one does have breeds empowerment, uplift, joy—is medicine. I think of Nina Simone’s iconic and triumphant song “Ain’t Got No – I Got Life,” from the musical, “Hair”:
I ain’t got no home, ain’t got no shoes
Ain’t got no money, ain’t got no class
Ain’t got no skirts, ain’t got no sweater
Ain’t got no perfume, ain’t got no bed
Ain’t got no man
Ain’t got no mother, ain’t got no culture
Ain’t got no friends, ain’t got no schoolin’
Ain’t got no love, ain’t got no name
Ain’t got no ticket, ain’t got no token
Ain’t got no god
Hey, what have I got?
Why am I alive , anyway?
Yeah, what have I got
Nobody can take away?
Got my hair, got my head
Got my brains, got my ears
Got my eyes, got my nose
Got my mouth, I got my smile
I got my tongue, got my chin
Got my neck, got my boobies
Got my heart, got my soul
Got my back, I got my sex
I got my arms, got my hands
Got my fingers, got my legs
Got my feet, got my toes
Got my liver, got my blood
I’ve got life, I’ve got my freedom
I’ve got life
I’ve got the life
And I’m going to keep it
I’ve got the life
The 28 consecutive days of various gratitude practices presented in “The Magic” banished my months-long depression and forever changed my perspective. I’m not saying depression is as simple as a negative outlook, but state of mind does effect mood, and I think having a gratitude practice is a powerful tool to help manage depression.
I can’t recommend a daily gratitude practice enough. If you want to jump-start your joy try the 28 day challenge.
If the inner landscape can be likened to a wild and sometimes dark wood, then gratitude is my sacred fire—it warms me, lights my way and keeps back the predators.
I want to hear from you! What are your thoughts and experiences on this subject? Comments will automatically be entered into a raffle held on the last day of February 2020. The winner will receive a gifted copy of the book, “The Magic.”
March 10, 2017 § 3 Comments
“Magic is the technology/psychology of immanence, of understanding that everything is connected.”
~ Starhawk, “Dreaming the Dark: Magic, Sex & Politics.”
Before advertising stole our souls and scientific materialism denied its existence, dogmatic religious institutions held our souls hostage. The result has been a continually morphing and adapting form of systematic soul erasure in the Western world.
Author & activist Starhawk calls this “removing content.” She notes that it allows for power relationships in which human beings are exploited, and for a worldview that results in the exploitation of nature, because the inherent value of being has been denied.
“I call this consciousness estrangement,” Starhawk details, “because its essence is that we do not see ourselves as part of the world. We are strangers to nature, to other human beings, to parts of ourselves. We see the world as made up of separate isolated nonliving parts that have no inherent value. Among things inherently separate and lifeless, the only power relationship possible is manipulation and domination.
“As we become separate, and are manipulated as objects, we lose our own sense of self worth, our belief in our own content, and acquiesce in our own exploitation.”(“Dreaming the Dark.”)
In this worldview emptied of spirit, a tree becomes merely timber to be measured in feet, given value only by its profitability; not its being, its beauty, or its part in the larger ecosystem.
Considering that Western society sees virtually nothing as sacred, it’s easy to see why we are poised on the brink of collective self-destruction.
And so an effectively soulless society is created, inhabited by shells who struggle to see their own value beyond doing & having. A sense of nonreality permeates our lives. As my dear poetry mentor, Barry Spacks, once phrased it: “Waiting to arrive, we’ve been here all along.”
“We live our lives feeling powerless & inauthentic—feeling that the real people are somewhere else, that the characters on the daytime soap operas or the conversations on late-night talk shows are more real than the people and conversations in our lives; believing that the movie stars, the celebrities, the rock stars, the People Magazine-people live out the real truth and drama of our times, while we exist as shadows, and our unique lives, our losses, our passions, which cannot be counted out or measured, which were not approved, or graded, or sold to us at a discount, are not the true value of this world.”
Starhawk notes that estrangement permeates our society so strongly that to us it seems to be consciousness itself. Even the language for other possibilities has disappeared or been deliberately twisted.
“Yet another form of consciousness is possible. Indeed, it has existed from earliest times, underlies other cultures, and has survived even in the West in hidden streams,” Starhawk notes.
“This is the consciousness I call immanence—the awareness of the world and everything in it as alive, dynamic, interdependent, interacting and infused with moving energies: a living being, a weaving dance.”
“Magic is a word that makes people uncomfortable,” notes Starhawk, “so I use it deliberately, because the words we are comfortable with, the words that sound acceptable, rational, scientific, and intellectually sound, are comfortable precisely because they are the language of estrangement.”
She details that magic can be very prosaic—a leaflet, a lawsuit. Anything that changes consciousness at will. It can also be esoteric—inner work, interacting with the cosmos at large. At its heart, magic is moving energies.
“Ironically, as estranged science and technology advance, they have begun to bring us back to a consciousness of immanence. Modern physics no longer speaks of separate, discrete atoms of dead matter, but of waves of energy, probabilities, patterns that change as they are observed; it recognizes what shamans & witches have always known: that matter & energy are not separate forces, but different forms of the same thing.”
Starhawk defines: “To say something is sacred is to say that we respect, cherish and value it for its own being.”
In a world stripped of sacredness, it is a revolutionary act to see the innate beauty and value in being—one’s own and others’—to cherish & respect, to view life with reverence. When we remove the veil of Western materialism, the world comes alive again; and anything is possible.
This paradigm shift—from viewing reality as composed of separate, isolated, nonliving parts; from seeking power-over-–must be replaced by a worldview that acknowledges the living ecosystem of our dynamic inter-connectivity, to seeking power from within.
It’s no exaggeration to say that the survival of our species depends on it. And change starts within. Like seeds, we dream in the dark earth, but inside us we hold a blueprint for blooming.
So let us feel into our own aliveness today, let us expand our attention to include our own being; let’s look for it in others, in animals and plants. The world is shot through with immanence… for those who care to see.
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