I was sleepless last night. You know those nights, when you wake up at 2 a.m. and can’t get back to sleep? For me, lately, those have been nights of deep gratitude. I know that sounds crazy but hear me out.
I get busy, super busy, and I overthink. Sometimes I get busy so I won’t overthink. There is always something that needs doing. There is always an old memory to ruminate over to remind myself how I messed up. My mind climbs up on its hamster wheel and off we go.
So, this middle of the night thing? When I awaken slowly enough, and the overthinking is caught off guard, I become aware of this deep thread of love which underlies, supports and sustains my life. If I am smart enough, or tired enough, to just stop and notice, it’s incredibly lovely.
When I’m able to be still, I find myself resting in this gratitude. This gratitude shows up when I allow myself to be vulnerable to love. That sounds easy, but we all know it isn’t. It’s hard because love touches us deeper than anything else, and when it isn’t answered by love in return, or when there is loss, oh wow, that hurts! It cuts so deep. It feels so vulnerable that I want to pull away from it. I start up my overthinking and consider all the ways love is lost, hurt, injured, or bereft. You know, so I’ll be prepared, my heart and soul armored and hidden away, just to be safe. It takes stillness and surrender to just sit and let it be, to let myself be loved. I don’t know that I could do it without the stillness, the comforting dark of night. So these long nights of deep solitude are transformed, and they are transforming me.
I have never been able to engage in the positive thinking so often recommended. It has always felt like a little jam smeared on a shit sandwich. It is too often the advice given to someone who is hurting. “Oh, it’s not so bad, you ought to practice gratitude,” as if that will make whatever is hurting OK. Gratitude is not an antidote to injustice. It is not a fence to ward off grief. The pain of life is real, and gratitude is not here to erase it. Gratitude is the tender awareness of a love so deep it slips into the dead of night, into every crack and crevice where pain and loss threaten to bring despair and hopelessness. It is the moment you taste the beautiful sweetness of the breath you draw—when everything is squeezed out of you and you aren’t sure you can take another.
This gratitude is not created by willing myself to notice all the blessings I have. I’m adept at finding painful things, too. This gratitude shows up when I notice that even the painful things are suffused with love. It shows up when I notice that even the most awful things are still held in this love and that somehow, even against my will sometimes, I am sustained by this love. This gratitude shows up when I surrender and accept that this love is really, truly, for real, and it just keeps showing up, really, truly, here for me.