How Step Twelve Tricked Me Into Living with Gratitude

Feeling grateful didn't come easy to me in my younger days, as I was accustomed to an underlying anxiety and dis-ease for much of my life. There's so much more I could say about this, but for now, I'll just say that this resulted in addictive behaviors that were put into place super early by moi, to cope -- to go to any lengths to scratch the itch -- to desperately find a better, softer feeling. It wasn't until i found yoga due to injuries from an accident that I realized just how anxious I really had been on a daily basis for so many years. I found a path to recovery from the grips of addictive habits through the 12-Steps and through an active path of yogic self-study, or Svadhyaya.

Encouraged to find gratitude in the way things are and for the things I had was one really helpful tool that my teachers taught me. I couldn't moan for long without someone mirroring my complaining back at me and asking, "Have you written a gratitude list today?" (insert eyeroll here) There was ALWAYS something to be grateful for: freedom from addiction, sound mind, a roof over my head, people who love me, kids, interests, my health... all of these things... down to appreciating gravity, music, trees, the support of a loving God of my very own understanding ... pretty much putting my focus on ANYTHING I had was a source of peace on any given day, even on the hardest days with the gratitude list was the shortest.

But it wasn't until I was walking with someone else through the 12-Steps, the Twelth Step in fact, that I had an experience that deepend my understanding of gratitude and what I was charged with doing about it.

Step Twelve: Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to addicts, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

Well. Ok. "These principals" means honesty, self-honesty, open-mindedness, willingness, humility, trust, faith, hope, courage, diligence... ok -- after getting through the first eleven steps, I truly throught I was doing these things in much of my life, especially the hot spots. But was I doing them in ALL my affairs? And was I PRACTICING them? I knew that I can't be handed a sheet of piano music and just choose to play it; I must practice daily, or I'm just sight-reading some improv music. Ok, so yes, I was practicing -- through yoga, through a daily personal practice that I developed over the years, regular meditation, self-care, journaling, doing selfless service, being a productive member of society .... but how was I carrying the message? That's a non-negotiable part of that sentence. I never really pondered that because I noticed my "works" or "efforts" ... but how did the FRUITS of these look? How effective were my works? These are subtle questions that live in those mysterious parts of the mind and I was ok with that, for the most part, but I always had this nagging feeling I was missing something.

So anyway, this one day I'm walking with someone through her own Twelth Step, and the last question in step study guide... and by last question, I mean the very last words that appear in print in the step study guide (all that's left after this question is white space) ... is:

How will I express my gratitude?

I'm serious; this is the last sentence of the entire workbook. 

It wasn't enough to merely BE grateful, but to truly be grateful I had to be EXPRESSING my gratitude.

After working the Twelve Steps through several times myself, and working alongside many other people as they worked the steps, I had never noticed this before. And the noticing felt like six tons of bricks.

Earnest EXPRESSION of gratitude. That is the meat of the entire Twelve Steps, I realized suddenly after working them for more than ten years. Are all of the other steps just a clearing-away of all the gunk that gets in the way of my expressing my gratitude? Like: ego, fear, impatience, intolerance, false-pride, laziness, stinginess?

Is this simple question the nut of the entire yogic path as outlined in the Yoga Sutras? For my next study of the Sutras, I'll read with this as my new lense. Is this simple question the mirror for my entire spiritual belief system? 

Is the answer to this the BIG question?

As you move into Thanksgiving and into our winter months, I invite you to commit to combing more carefully and thoughtfully your relationship with gratitude, to explore your inner and emotional landscape with courage, and be ready, as the lights brighten again and the days draw us back outdoors, to SHARE what you've learned in your Svadhyaya, or your self-study.

Warmest blessings, my friends, and Namasté!


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