Artwork by Joumana Medlej
To say that we are emerging from a pandemic that has fundamentally changed our lives is an understatement. The staggering impact of the past few years has left people feeling disoriented collectively. Yet the pressure to keep grinding persists: to keep providing, creating, and consuming as if things are what they used to be.
Before the pandemic, I was hyperaware of all the areas in which I was lacking: be it in my socioeconomic status growing up, lack of conventional beauty in my teenage years, or career opportunities in my adult years. My academic degrees gave me the language to pinpoint all that was lacking within me – all the manners in which I was not, could not be, and was always losing out. This led to years of anger and resentment. Looking back now, I can see that the only one burning from this rage was me.
In some ways, the awareness of lack served me to an extent. It compelled me to pursue social development in a manner that I may have not otherwise. I assumed that I knew what was going on in the lives of those I constantly compared myself to. So, I pushed myself to play catch up to the point of complete burnout. Comparison made me lose all faith in myself and made me want to erase myself absolutely.
The seclusion of the pandemic has allowed me to scour away the sense of separation I experienced in relation to others. Holding space for myself and others has enabled me to move beyond the idea that I am singular in my struggles and thus justified in my emotional suffering. It has meant letting go of the ideas of me vs. them. Through a constant reminder of our shared humanity, I am working to unlearn years of comparative habits.
And I am grateful for it.
Throughout my life, I have been a witness to a tremendous amount of pain within myself and others. I am often reminded that socially celebrated markers of success do not correlate with a fulfilled life. Human beings who appear to be the epitome of being highly functional are at times drowning in grief. Individuals with all the superficial markers of comfort may be exorcising demons of addiction with every single breath. Coveted celebrities with global followings struggle to be heard and seen. Forever humbled by the maxim appearances can be deceiving, I am reminded to work with that which I already have. As such gratitude allows me to take stock of all that there is within me and strengthen my ability to move through adversity.
Yes, there are great injustices that fracture the sacred nature of life. Not a day goes by without a reminder of how normalized it is to live at the expense of another. Society encourages the pursuit of comfort through systemic inequality. Unexamined traditions create a breeding ground for evil. The commodification of the Earth results in sustained war and poverty.
I see the many ways this world tends to split open the very fabric of our being – for subservience and submission. Justified for the acquisition of material wealth and power. Ancient power structures rebranded as technologically advanced movements. There are always things I or others could do ‘correctly’ or ‘rightly’, mistakes that should have never been made. Investments that should have been saved. And yet it is a blip of a life.
As I find myself standing witness to the world systems beyond my control, I am faced with the choice to move forward with either hope or despair. And I have tried despair. So now I choose hope. I choose witnessing and gratitude as some of the tools of my liberation. By holding vigil for those in suffering and giving thanks for being here, I am capable of moving beyond the veils of separation.
To give thanks in the face of it all, for all that is loving and alive within me, allows me to circumvent the feelings of despair and lack. If all I am aware of is all the things that are not, and all the ways I am not, how can I even begin to hope for a different existence? How can I even begin to hope for freedom? How can I allow myself to pray?
Gratitude allows me to transmute the inner landscape of loneliness into solitude. It is not me dismissing my suffering but exploring all aspects of myself beyond it.
It is an incredibly powerful experience to stand witness to myself and acknowledge the peaks and valleys I have traversed. By mapping out myself in gratitude, I trace the ancestry that came together for me to be here today. Through continued practice, I see the ways I can be of service without compromising my sovereignty.
It is a labor of love: To recognize the source I come from, the body I find myself in, the Earth that blesses me, and the community I am held in.With each moment of giving thanks, I come into my own body and claim it as my homeland.
To choose gratitude is to acknowledge all the aspects of myself. It is to ground myself with gentle curiosity in my being. It is to count all the worldly privileges keeping me alive. It is contentment in the life that is the present moment. It is to give me my flowers while I am alive. It is choosing to express love and joy uninhibited. Through gratitude, I step into my power – forever free.