This is the 4th post I’m sharing with you in this series on gratitude.
I’ll quickly summarize, for those of you coming here for the first time, what I have covered on this amazing topic so far.
In the first post here I shared some research on gratitude and how it benefits our bodies, mind, relationships and even pocketbooks. In the second post here I shared a breakthrough experience of mine, of practicing gratitude in the midst of sadness/pain. In the 3rd post here I elaborated on how sadness can propel us into greater clarity through the practice of gratitude.
In today’s post I will go into more detail on what I’ve learned about the dynamics within the delicate and powerful combination of pain, gratitude and resilience. I’ll also share links to research on emotional resilience being connected to emotional diversity, our ability to experience a wide variety of emotions.
Being a Brave Cowboy with Heart
I recently shared how my appreciation for the emotion of sadness grew in observing how Vicente Fernandez, the Mexican ranchera music icon, harnessed it in his music. I learned from him how befriending this touchy emotion keeps us connected to our humanity and offers a wealth of learning.
What I know with absolute certainty is this, in having given myself the space to, like Chente’ says, “Respirar por la herida” or breathe through my wounds (in whatever way I need i.e. baths, drawing, journaling, stretching, letting myself cry, talking with a friend etc.) what always follows is laser sharp clarity, EVERY TIME.
The Gift Left in It’s Wake
Sometimes “it” will come to me in wiping away the last tears of a long and heaving crying session, while toweling up my wet hair after a long bath or while listening to a song that “hits the spot” for me for the 100th time. The guaranteed thing is, it will most definitely come and when it does it’s undeniable in its depth, breadth, truth and accuracy in giving perspective about where I am, where I want to be and what steps I need to take.
Isn’t this the missing piece that makes all the difference when navigating a rough patch in our lives?, that precious clarity that cuts through the heart of difficult situations and makes the fog disperse? Acceptance for where we are, in all its sometimes, humiliating messiness, is the precursor of this beloved clarity.
Cross “Feeling”, Off Your To Do List
No matter how much I wish it to be so, I can’t rush the process of feeling sadness and cross it off my To Do list like say…paying a credit card bill. It’s not that neat and tidy. The only way out of sadness is through it. Only by softening into it and fully allowing it’s piercing burn, sting, throb or ache…can it then begin to move out, leaving it’s residual gift, wisdom. No, it ain’t’ comfortable! But necessary on our journey to wholeness and keeping our humanity in tact, of course.
Get Outta ya’ Head!
This is where gratitude comes in for me. Gratitude in the midst of sadness is a form of radical acceptance that cuts to the heart of what pains us. Reaching for gratitude short-circuits all the ways we can delay and complicate this important process by getting in our heads and trying to rationalize our feelings away, in essence stuffing them down further.
No Way But Through
This practice is an intense form of opening, in the midst of what naturally causes us to contract in defense. This is part of that old caveman wiring in us that mistakes big feelings for real danger. We have to gently remind ourselves that we are not being chased by lions, we’re just feeling feelings. Some might say looking for the good when in pain is actually indulging in denial, the opposite is true.
In looking for something to appreciate, we open up that contracted state to then be able to accept where we are. Accepting our situation as it is, we are only then able to see more options, enabling us to take action and move on. This in contrast to locking up in fear and seeing “no way out” further pushing away the possibility of clarity and digging our heels into the being stuck state.
Gratitude leads to finding our truth in the moment and the self knowledge that comes with that, is resilience.
Affirming what is good in the face of what is uncomfortable is nothing less than brave and a testament of faith that we live in a universe that is working on our behalf.
“Suck It Up” Conditioning
It’s easy to stay stuck in painful emotions when for the most part there is no education given to the masses in cultivating emotional intelligence. It’s simply not an established part of our culture. On a grand scale U.S. society seems to have spent most of its time in the last few decades doing and being what media deems, “looks” good. The tools are not given, the permission not granted and the time is not taken to contemplate and turn inwards. My generation for the most part grew up watching the world chase what’s shiny. The norm learned in feeling was to “suck it up” and carry on with the chasing, leaving many of us as emotionally congested adults.
Wake Up, Grow Up
The inevitable happens when in our quiet moments or in the unexpected life crisis that wakes us is when our emotions come up to meet us, saying “Now will you listen to me?!”. Until we let ourselves fully experience, digest and integrate emotions like sadness, those gems of clarity, strength and wisdom will not come and growth is bypassed.
Slow Down, To Speed Up
As a whole the more we practice befriending our emotions in small doses on daily basis by giving them healthy expressions, the more sound our decisions will be in those big, important split second situations that have long term consequences. This has been for me the sacred ground of inner work upon which everything else hinges upon.
The Small and Subtle Upon Which All Big Things Stand
When we walk around having cleared old pent up emotions, we are more present in everything we do. We bring more of us to the table at our jobs, our relationships and our personal pursuits
Being aware of our emotional life requires us to make habits that slow us down to check in with ourselves daily (like in our morning self care time). As a result the overall process of navigating challenging situations speeds up as compared to trudging through them carrying the weight of congested and undigested past emotions.
Like everything else, turning inwards to be aware of our emotions and using gratitude in this specific way is a muscle that grows with practice. The more familiar we are with this in time, the easier we can handle challenges that come our way
“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.”
― Marcus Tullius Cicero
Emotional Resilience Research
There is research now about how emotional resilience is rooted in our ability to easily experience a variety of emotion.
A great article on this from my favorite science based site, The Greater Good by Jason Marsh and Vicki Zakrzewski, Ph.D., share this exact point by using the example of the movie “Inside Out”. The article makes the point that allowing ourselves to feel sadness paves the way to feel empathy and access deeper levels of joy. I shared a little on this point in this previous post.
Another fascinating site shares research on the value of emodiversity. Isn’t that an amazing word?! In my last post I made the mistake of calling it geodiversity sorry about that! The site references research done on how our fulfillment hinges not on how much we maintain happiness and avoid sadness, but to the extent that we experience a wide array of emotions. It even has a quiz to find out how healthy your “emotional ecosystem” is, what a gorgeous term! Can you tell I love words?
Here is a link of the actual research paper from the Harvard University’s DASH Repository.
A great article from the Discover Magazine Blog explains succinctly and in layman’s terms how the diversity in our daily feelings creates resilience. It uses natural ecosystems as metaphor to explain how more diversity equals stronger defenses and adaptability to changes. Makes sense to me how in the same way, when our gut has a more diverse base of gut bacteria, the less susceptible we are to sickness.
In my next post I will share over 15 practical ways big and small to make the habit of gratitude a part of your day.
Until then, what is your take on reaching for gratitude while in pain? Do you think it’s pollyannish? Do you have your own way for navigating through difficult emotions that works for you? I’d love to know!
If this post was helpful to you like, share or comment below! Until next time, thank you for making me a part of your day!