Finding Gratitude on Dark Days
by Judith Ashley
May 16, 2023
Gratitude: a noun in the English language with synonyms of thankfulness, appreciation, gratefulness, appreciativeness or simply thanks.
Being grateful when everything is going well is, frankly, fairly easy.
For me the question is:
How do people find a place of gratitude when their lives are torn asunder by events outside their control? And then I wonder if, in that moment, if what they search for is even gratitude?
There was a mass shooting at an Amish elementary school several years ago. Young children and teachers were killed. At the trial for the shooter, the families attended and said they forgave him.
You may remember the shooting at the church in Charleston, South Carolina. The shooter sat with church members and even prayed with them before he shot them. Here again the parishioners, the survivors and the families of those who were murdered, forgave the shooter.
Forgiveness isn’t really about forgiving what happened as in a mass killing like happened today at Covenant Christian Elementary School in Nashville, TN much less the one in Uvalde or Parkland or Columbine or – the list is long. Over 100 mass killings in the United States since January 1, 2023 (and I’m writing this first draft on March 27, 2023).
Forgiveness is about our own healing, our ability to put aside the anger, the need for revenge in an effort to stop the cycle.
The Balkan War
In 1995 I was in Croatia during the Balkan War with a group of colleagues from the William Glasser Institute. Ten of us had raised funds to pay for a retreat for our Croatian, Slovenian, Bosnian colleagues. I remain grateful for the opportunity to be in a war zone and bear witness to the resourcefulness and courage of the women and men who braved death to travel to spend time with us.
After the war, I returned to the area and in concert with a Slovenian psychiatrist I’d met in 1995, presented a workshop on “CT/RT and Peace in Our World”.
What was made very clear to me by that experience is how hard it is to find forgiveness for atrocities, for trauma, for death and destruction at the hands of others. To be in a situation over which we have no control and yet…
What was also made very clear to me is that without the ability to forgive, to move forward, to give up revenge, there is no hope for peace.
I have a photo album with pictures of our group in Bled, Slovenia. We spent a few days there waiting until we could travel to the capitol, Ljubljana and fly home. Why? Because the bombing came within 50 miles of where we were staying. We’d been on national news so “the enemy” knew where we were staying. It was deemed too dangerous for us to remain.
How hard it was to leave the people I’d met, the friends I’d made.
And how, all these years later how very grateful I am to have had both experiences. Twenty-eight years since I was in Croatia during the Balkan War and twenty-six years since I was in Slovenia attending the first European Association for Reality Therapy conference.
It is easy to be grateful for a sunny day, good food, good friends and good health. Our challenge comes when it seems like winter will never end, our cupboards are bare, our friends have moved away or perhaps died and our health is failing.
Forgiveness and Gratitude
Where is gratitude now?
I do believe the capacity for gratitude resides within us. We may be grateful it isn’t our child who was killed, our mother, sister, father, brother who died at the hands of another. We may look around us and choose fear manifesting as hate and revenge.
At this point in our lives, we are at a turning point, fork in the road of our lives. In those dark days we have to search to find gratitude’s light.
Being grateful when confronted with traumatic, heart-breaking loss is impossible from my perspective without forgiveness.
If you have not read Man’s Search For Meaning by Viktor Frankl or The Intention Experiment by Lynne McTaggart I encourage you to do so. Viktor Frankl makes a case for revenge. However, it was not the only reason people in the concentration camps fought to survive.
Finding The Light on Dark Days
How do I find gratitude on those dark days (yes, I’m not immune).
#1 – The magic in nature. It could be the way the lights hits the raindrops on my larch tree – a million diamonds sparkle on the needles. Sometimes it’s a hummingbird sipping from one of the flowers I’ve had planted in my yard. And then there is the magic of spring and so many colors of green it boggles my mind! In the fall the leaves turn orange, red, yellow and brown and crunch beneath my feet when out walking. Snow? Everything is pristine, clean and again the light and shadows give rise to imaginings.
#2 – Over the years I’ve collected many rocks and crystals. When the sun streams in the windows and hits my biggest crystals and the rainbows dance around the room, I find an unbidden smile on my face, a spark of joy springs from my heart and a beam of light pierces the darkness.
#3 – I make a list of that for which I am grateful. On really dark days it is simple: flush toilets, running water, a roof over my head, food and most of all friends. I don’t often call those friends on those dark days yet I know I can. And the knowing makes all the difference.
#4 – Last but not least, I turn to spiritual practices that are based on my core values. I find solace in knowing I am a thread in the fabric of The Divine. I am responsible for my life and that includes how I feel. I know if I want to feel better, I can. It isn’t always easy. It can take time and it always takes effort and yet, with perseverance, it can be done.
For me, step one is always taking a look at what is going on around me that I see as a dark day. Most often it is something over which I have no control and also something I care about, something I don’t want to change.
In mulling things over for this post, I’ve come to realize that most things that happen in the wide world around me are things over which I have no control…and I’d say the vast majority of those things I don’t care that I have no control.
Because of that I’ve now made a slight change to The Serenity Prayer.
Grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change and that I care about.
Do yourself a favor and answer this question:
How do you find gratitude on your dark days?
And a second favor to yourself? Share your thoughts with at least one other person or maybe your dog or cat. Giving voice to your gratitude process gives it strength and that can only help you on those dark days.
Judith Ashley has been a part of sacred women’s circles for over twenty years and knows first-hand how important spirituality is when dealing with life’s challenges. She writes both fiction and nonfiction that reflect her spiritual beliefs and her teaching practice. The stories that make up The Sacred Women’s Circle series flooded through her in daydreams, lucid dreams, and conversations so real at times she wondered about her sanity. It was a compelling experience! An experience that was a catalyst to starting her journey to tell these stories and see them published. You can learn more about Judith from her website.