Radical Gratitude

I am not a religious person, traditionally speaking, but incorporating wellness into my life does, in most cases, feel spiritual. My resistance to religion is because it is often explains as an individualized relationship to God, and is too infrequently extended into radical action. Charity, sure. Plenty of churches will try to “do good,” but the religious organizations that try to go beyond that are few and far between. I am totally in awe of and inspired by things like The Catholic Worker Movement and liberation theology, but, for me, Sunday mornings don’t usually involve church.

So it’s a bit surprising that I find myself thanking something bigger than myself, and even sometimes naming it “God.” I realized this the other day when I was almost hit by a car on my bike. I have a lot of these “close calls,” and the scariest ones leave me repeating “thank you, god,” over and over all the way home.

There are other instances, ones not so dramatic, that also leave me with an overwhelming sense of gratitude for the things I have in my life. Again, I seem to attribute this to something bigger. I feel troubled by this for a lot of reasons. The most important being the absolute absurdity of assuming that positive things in my life are a result of some master plan or that it’s because I deserve them or because it’s “what’s meant to be.” When my father was hit by a drunk driver in front of our home when I was four years old, I learned the hard lesson that bad shit happens for no particular reason. So the flip side of that leads me to believe that good shit also sometimes happens for no particular reason.

I chewed on this as I sat down to write this post on gratitude, because despite all my secular skepticism, I still felt pulled to write a post about how being grateful and reflecting on those things that bring joy into your life can bring wellness into your life (and into the world). But how to discern gratitude from religiousity and how to discern the individual act of being thankful into something more worthwhile?

Thanks to the internet, I stumbled upon a yoga blog post about “radical gratitude.” In it, Chelsea Roff explains the  Bhagavad Gita’s belief that everything is in action all the time–even in passivity and inaction, there is action. She wonders in what way her decision to be excessive in saying “thank you” and “I appreciate this” was producing action. And then decides that maybe it wasn’t, or at least not producing anything positive. So she decided to change her way of approaching thankfulness. She writes:

“When I started looking at gratitude as a practice in action rather than a personal sentiment, the very fabric of my life began to change. My priorities shifted; things that were once very important to me took backseat to those activities that tapped me into a greater sense of purpose and engagement with the world. I started using the energy of my gratitude as fuel for seva (selfless service) and became involved in conscious, loving service activities to keep that great cycle of giving and receiving awhirl.”

I, of course, trouble the notion of “service,” and as an individual, an educator, and an activist, insist that “service” to others actually take shape in an act of critical solidarity that seeks to not only respond to immediate needs, but also structural oppression. Still, I am not necessarily averse to the idea that “gratitude as a practice in action” could produce energy for those kinds of activities too.

In Kris Carr’s Crazy Sexy Diet book, she suggests making a “love list” of ten things you absolutely love. She writes that “this simple act reminds us that life is full of blessings.” As I noted before, there are times that I just have to swallow my eye-rolls about this book, and disidentify with my inner bourgie-hippie. And reclaim it to be something that is about more than my individual happiness. Of course, that is not to say that making a list of ten things you love will change the world. But I do know that when I focus on what I love, on what I appreciate, and when I feel thankful to something bigger than myself, that feeling makes me want other people to feel it too and it motivates me to continue on in the struggle.

So I’ll leave you with my list of 10 Things and encourage you to do the same. <3

  • The way my beautiful baby-cat knows it’s bedtime and always jumps up to cuddle my face and give me kisses as

    my baby-cat, stokely.

    I drift off to sleep. (Note: this is often followed by one of her “crazy spells” which involves her giving me a quick chomp, then running away, but generally our cuddle-time is worth it :) ).

  • Fruit and veggies that are so full of flavor you can hardly believe it came from nature. I’ve been viscerally overwhelmed biting into: watermelon, pomegranates, sweet potatoes, strawberries, oranges and so many more. Last weekend I got a basket full of snap peas from the farmer’s market, and could not stop eating them! So sweet and crunchy. And who knew pomegranates were so sexy, juicy and sweet? I split open my

    such a sexy fruit!

    first one last night. Amazing!

  • Being so comfortable in my relationship with my partner that I can come home from the gym at night, shower, put on pjs/not do my hair/not wear makeup, and not feel embarrassed about how I look. On the contrary, my partner has a way of making me feel extra-beautiful in those less-than-glamorous moments….
  • My mom. I love my mom. The size of her heart astounds me. I miss her every day and can’t wait until we live in the same city again.
  • Industrial cityscapes. I grew up right outside of Cleveland, Ohio, home of steel mills and rivers that catch on fire. The highway into downtown is juxtaposed to a cascade of black smoke stacks, shooting bright blue and orange flames into the sky. But my working-class hometown is beautiful, and those smoke stacks, albeit full of pollution, are romantic. When I lived in Chicago, I saw less of that gritty rust-belt background—it was there, but more hidden behind the skyscrapers of finance capital. The Orange Line to Midway always reminded me, though, that it is “labor that creates all wealth.” Finally, here in Minneapolis, I am distracted from my Chicago-homesick heart when I gaze upon old flour factories and dilapidated mills. Pure beauty.
  • Running. See last week’s Wellness Wednesday post for more.
  • Those times when I read a piece of theory and I feel more complete. Like Kimberlee Perez says in the performance piece Lines in the Sand: “What about a sense of longing for connection in a life that didn’t make any sense until I got theory?” Exactly.
  • Laughing so hard you can hardly catch your breath. I often share these moments with my mom, and our laughs intertwine in the air, double-helixing until you can’t tell one apart from the other. It also happens with friends, and I’m really glad to say I have a lot of great ones.
  • Food blogs! I am obsessed and grateful that so many lovely ladies (so far, I’ve only enjoyed lady food bloggers) want to tell me about wonderful healthy/vegan/gluten-free/sugar free recipes, and post their pretty food porn. ;)
  • Having politics. My political convictions are my life blood. I don’t know what life would be like without them.

6 thoughts on “Radical Gratitude

  1. Chelsea says:

    Hi Rachael! Thanks so much for quoting my post. I absolutely and whole-heartedly agree with your statement that ” “service” to others actually take shape in an act of critical solidarity that seeks to not only respond to immediate needs, but also structural oppression.” In fact, I think we throw around the word service far to flagrantly, and often the only thing being served is the ego of the person doing the “serving” and existing power structures that keep minorities under the thumb of those in the majority. Really insightful post, and I’m glad to have stumbled across your blog. If you’d ever like to write write a guest column about that very topic… what is “service”… feel free to shoot me an email at chelsea@yogamodern.com.

    • rebelgrrlacademy says:

      Thank you so much for writing, Chelsea! Your post really spoke to me, and I appreciate so much of what you said. Hope I represented it okay! I’d love to do a guest post. I’ll try to get that to you soon. I look forward to reading more of your writings. Thanks again!

  2. t says:

    Every Catholic Mass you ever attended at DePaul ended with the same words “The Mass is over, go in peace to love and serve the lord and each other.”

    The best way to show gratitude for all the love in your life and all the good things you see is to share that with those around you. We can’t actually thank God directly, but we can thank those around us who have God in them.

    Good Post.

    • rebelgrrlacademy says:

      i like that….”thanking those around us who have God in them.” I’m still not necessarily comfortable naming it “god,” but that’s the same concept behind the term “namaste,” which I say at the end of my yoga practice everyday. It means “the divinity in me recognizes/appreciates the divinity in you.”

      hope you’re well!

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