Navigating the Spaces in Between with Gratitude + Joy

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“A Dark Night of the Soul is the space between no longer and not yet.”

Joan Borysenko

How do you sense gratitude when you’re looking to change something about your present-moment reality?

I love questions like this. They bring the duality of life – the light and dark, happiness and suffering – to the forefront of the conversation. I can think of no better time to explore this question than as we dance into a new year, where we look at things as they currently are and have been, then cast intentions for how we’d like them to be.

I stumbled upon this question earlier this year, when I found myself wanting to radically shift a central aspect of my life, yet recognized that it simply was impossible to do at the time. There I was, clear about what I wanted, desiring it with every aspect of my being, yet getting every sign from the universe that simply said, “not yet.” This is not the first time I’ve heard this message. I’ve become quite accustomed to it, in fact! If you’ve ever found yourself in a situation where you were truly, as Dr. Joan Borysenko says, “between no longer and not yet”, you know that there’s no sugar-coating it: the feeling can be excruciating. It can be so easy to focus on the not yet, particularly when the no longer creates a feeling of disorientation or emptiness. It was this feeling that led me to a several-month exploration into the sensation of gratitude…

Why gratitude? Two reasons. #1: Joy was not on tap. With the mixture of emotions I was experiencing, joy did not feel forthcoming, and after many attempts to use it as my single solution, I realized I needed to expand my options. #2: I became aware how many blessings in my daily life I’d been taking for granted in favor of focusing on this reality I could not yet have. Clearly, it was time for a shift in perspective.

Gratitude and I began fine-tuning and “tweaking” our relationship on a daily basis. In other words, I began to let go of my “champagne suffering” and start paying attention to the blessings in front of me. Every time I found myself placing my attention on the “not yet factor”, shall we call it, I redirected myself towards appreciating something in the present moment: birds chirping, a healthy body, a friend smiling, a sense of relaxation, a meaningful conversation with a student, an energizing walk outside; there was (and is) always something to be grateful for.

At this point you may be thinking, “Of course, Al, practicing gratitude is a given and a requirement for true, sustainable happiness!” Yet what I discovered went beyond this. Practicing gratitude, I noticed something distinctly familiar about the sensation – it felt a lot like Joy. What’s more, the more gratitude I sensed, the more Joy seemed to come back around.

For those of you who are new to Nia’s philosophy on Joy, we say that Joy can be present amidst both pleasure and pain; it’s the omnipresent sensation that exists independent of circumstance. Considering this, I began to wonder, is there a difference between the sensation of gratitude and the sensation of joy? When I felt either, both created the same somatic response in my body: relaxation, warmth, ease, and full, deep breathing. And both could exist amidst any circumstance. While I am still exploring these nuances, I could not help but appreciate how gratitude had been my gateway back into sensing Joy…

Sensing gratitude and joy re-gifts the present moment to me again and again. All it takes is my attention, becoming aware of the simplest, sweetest things that infuse my life with light, happiness, health, fun, and love.

As we move through life transitions, set intentions, and work towards manifesting our ideal reality in the new year, I invite you to consider the wealth of blessings present right now. Rather than being driven by self-criticism or resentment for what has been, allow gratitude for what is to be your motivating force for change and transformation. Sense the gifts right in front of and within you, and invest as much attention, love, and energy in them as you do into new visions.

For as one of my favorite authors, Sonia Choquette writes, “When you love life, life loves you back.”

Happy New Year!

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