The Season of Gratitude

Thanksgiving season in America.

I love gratitude. This time of the year is a bit strange for me. The weather becomes dark and cold and the sun hides out. This is traditionally and culturally a time of celebration and family and food. We see movies and greeting cards and magazine spreads and shopping advertisements with this idealized notion of what holidays are ‘supposed’ to be and that seemingly creates a lot of pressure that is often incongruent from reality.

Pema Chodron has a beautiful quote, “enlightenment is a direct experience with reality.” I long to see a day where we all embrace reality, not just the positive parts of life, with more authenticity. I’ll start. I adore joy and cheer and any opportunity to embrace them (including jovial displays of affection and expression usually involving dancing and hugs), but what is equally important to me is embracing the other side of that spectrum too. It is the grief and sadness that speaks too during the holiday season that is conditioned to be primarily focused on merriment. Grief and sadness brings up the orphan in me and the part of me that has experienced loss and subsequently but often simultaneously has also experienced gain. We’ve all had experiences that have caused great loss and great gain. This brings up the warrior in me too, the part of me that has experienced great triumph. It all speaks to me very quietly. Perhaps you feel grief and sadness during this time of the year too.

I honor these. I let them breathe. Despite living in a culture where we are conditioned to hide, suppress and/or refuse any emotions related to sorrow, pain, anger and grief, I give them full honor and space. This is humanness. We all have these emotions and I strive to see a world where we can be with these in healthy ways. This is where transformation lives. Being present with these is not always comfortable. It is often times bitter, dreary and with piercing winds, just as the weather. But what is so powerful is that giving this space for these experiences and emotions lets them be free. This freedom lets the light guide us and prevents the dark from defining us. It is the light that leads us, not the shadow.

This capacity to honor the space for the grief and sadness is the same capacity and energy for joy, cheer, love and gratitude. One cannot flourish without the other. Our capacity to feel love, joy, anger, sorrow is what makes us human. It is all connected.

I am grateful for all the experiences that have made my life to be what it is right here and right now. As an American. With so much freedom. This time of year especially, as the year comes to an end, I reflect on family and what that means to me. I reflect on the life I’ve created and had, as a Korean born American with my family in the middle of the United States. And how this American life has been all I’ve ever known since I was a baby until 12 years ago when I met my birth family across the globe knowing very little about Korea. Back then, I didn’t quite know what to do with this very foreign information and these foreign relationships. I am still learning. So, I get cozy with embracing the not knowing and the learning. I reflect on having two families, one in America and one in Korea, and how different these relationships are from each other. And their similarities despite being a world apart from each other. Different but the same. Same but different. How my family in America feels like home. How my family in Korea feels very foreign. And how sometimes each one feels both foreign and familiar. How that can all be exhausting. How home is really a place within my heart. How the definition of family is both very simple and confusing to me. How all families are imperfectly imperfect humans. How this is all great beauty, not a beast.

Having gratitude does not mean there is no grief or shadows. It’s not using ‘just think positive!’ as an avoidance tactic. It’s being really honest with the human experience and reality. ‘Tis the season of light only because of the dark. The sun is always about to shine again regardless of what happened in the dark. The darkness has a purpose too and we can honor that while being grateful for it. The darkness is what makes me so grateful for the light. I am grateful for freedom more and more every year as an adult and every time I soar outside of this country. I imagine more people would feel the same if they realized how fortunate we are in America. I am so grateful to have every moment and every experience and the purpose they have served to lead me right here. Each moment has brought me to this one. Everything is connected.