It’s easy to be grateful when good things happen to us. We got a promotion we’d been wanting, had a beautiful baby, or started a successful business. It’s much harder to be grateful when you lose that job, become overwhelmed by that baby, or when your business fails. In situations like these, it can feel like we’re unlucky, or that we failed, or that our life just sucks. It can be hard to see how the situation might work out to our benefit, or the bigger purpose behind it. At the time, we just want whatever it is to be over.
Being grateful for suffering is definitely not something that is second nature to us. As humans, we instinctually attempt to avoid pain, even if we’re not aware we’re doing it. We see situations as good or bad, desirable or not desirable. When something we perceive as negative comes up, we try to avoid it, fix it, make it go away, or anything other than face the unpleasantness. We might even become angry about our problems or feel victimized by life.
True gratitude is about embracing life’s difficulties as opportunities for growth, and the absorption of wisdom. Life is a teacher, gentle at times but often a bit more in-your-face. When we have a lesson to learn, things in our life will start to guide us toward the realization of that lesson. All too often we’re too busy to listen, or not in touch with our inner selves enough to perceive it. Fortunately, (or….unfortunately?), if we don’t learn the first time, the Universe will continue to present us with that situation until we do, and sometimes in increasingly intense ways.
I look back at the time of my active addiction when alcohol ruled my life. My life came to a standstill when I was in this state; I was so far off my proper path for life that I couldn’t even see it anymore. I’m sure there were subtle hints along the way, but it was only when very, very bad things started happening that I started paying attention. In the last month of my drinking, I got into two car accidents that were relatively serious and had very serious legal consequences. Although those events were horrible at the time, I now understand their purpose. Subtlety was not working for me; I needed a smack in the face.
It's hard to have gratitude in the midst of a challenging experience. The night I was going to jail and losing my car, I was definitely not thanking anyone. But years later, when I see how that situation guided me to where I needed to be to get better, I can be grateful. I can be grateful that I got to the other side of that difficult experience, and that because of my past I can relate to other people who face similar challenges. I’ve developed a sense of compassion that wouldn’t be there had I not had the experiences that I did. By listening to life’s lessons, we can start to follow their guidance toward a more fulfilled life.
The concept of surrender is an easy one to define, but much more difficult in practice. Surrender, in terms of our lives, is about acknowledging, accepting, and embracing challenges or seemingly negative situations. It’s about radical acceptance that suffering is a part of life, and none of us are exempt from it. If it sounds like I’m saying that life is just going to suck sometimes and we just have to learn to deal with it, it’s because it’s true.
We all have problems both in and out of our control. With some of them, we can see the purpose. With others, not so much. But the beauty of this truth is that we can come to an understanding that suffering is universal, and develop compassion from that shared human experience. When we surrender to life, we are taking the good with the bad, understanding that they are both necessary components of a balanced life. With happy times we celebrate, with challenging times we learn. We surrender to the process of life and to our individual journey.
Surrendering helps take some of the pressure off us. When we accept that certain things are completely out of our control, we can stop worrying about how we can fix or change a situation. We can feel less responsible for the outcome, and more responsible for how we navigate the experience. Understanding that part of being alive is going through difficult times can help us decipher what is within our control, and let go of the rest.
Facing challenges is often life’s way of guiding us to a better place. We might be headed in the wrong direction in our lives, or maybe we’ve become stagnant or complacent. When we try to control the situation and force it in a direction that isn’t meant for us, we meet resistance. When we surrender to the flow of the Universe, we’re able to let our instinct guide us more easily. We see the world and our lives with more clarity. Our suffering can give us wisdom and peace that we would not have had we not gone through the experience.
Resistance to Suffering and Hindering Gratitude
Our resistance to the challenging situations in life causes us to feel the pain of our predicament much longer, and with more intensity. We find ourselves in the same situation over and over again and spend ridiculous amounts of mental energy trying to change our circumstances. This is not to say that we should just accept any and every crappy situation that comes our way. We can use wisdom, instinct, and healthy reasoning to discern what we are in control of.
The Serenity Prayer sums up this concept better than anything I’ve ever heard, so much so that I tattooed the words on my body so I’d never forget: “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”
Practicing surrender and gratitude can diffuse resistance to life’s obstacles and make them easier to approach and overcome. When we no longer see difficult times as our enemy, it makes them less scary. When we’re less scared of life, and when we understand that difficult things are unavoidable and can often be helpful, we become a bit freer. The next time an unpleasant situation presents itself to us, we can see it with more clarity and understanding.
Ways to Practice Surrender and Gratitude
Surrender and gratitude are complex concepts, so what can we actually do to experience
them? Although they are passive concepts, there are things we can do to manifest surrender and gratitude in our lives. Getting in touch with our true self and the nature of our purpose here on Earth can bring us to a place where we meet our challenges with courage and faith.
There are lots of different practices in which this type of self-realization and acceptance is the focus. Here are just a few:
Meditation - Meditation will quiet your mind and help you see life from a big-picture perspective. It can help us connect to our divinity, as we release our thoughts and surrender to quiet emptiness.
Journaling - Journaling can help you release the stuff that takes up your head space, leaving more room for clarity and insight. Even something as simple as making a gratitude list can help redirect your mindset.
Getting out into nature – Nature does wonderful things for our health; it can even improve our mood. Going for a walk in the woods or lying in front of a body of water has a way of putting things into perspective that we miss out on when we’re always inside.
Yoga - Yoga helps restore the connection between our bodies and minds and can help bring us to a place where gratitude and surrender are possible. Through yoga we can quiet the mental chatter that so often keeps us from seeing things clearly.
Reiki – Reiki, or energy healing, restores the flow of life energy in our bodies and can release blockages that hinder our physical and mental health. It can balance our chakras, and help us release engrained patterns of thought and behavior.
The concepts of surrender and gratitude can be helpful when working with ayahuasca. Ayahuasca has a way of showing us the truth, and the truth can often be scary or confusing, as it conflicts with our core beliefs and engrained patterns of thought. Our egos want to fight against this perspective change to keep us stuck in fear, but when we surrender to the experience and appreciate it even if it’s difficult, we begin to break free.
During a particularly difficult ceremony for me, Jeanae encouraged me to thank ayahuasca for the experience, even though all I wanted was for it to end. When I heeded her advice, the experience began to shift and became one of the most profound and impactful times of my life. I learned that even though the current moment might be unpleasant if I surrender to it, I can see the purpose behind the chaos. I can be grateful for the lesson that life is trying to teach me and be happier as a result.