The Life-Giving Force of Gratitude 

My tarot card for last year was the Two of Pentacles from the Wild Unknown deck (Carrie Mallon’s interpretations are my fave). I drew the card and reflected on it and then didn’t really return to it until now. The card indicates balance and change. The suit of pentacles, according to the book for The Wild Unknown deck, relates to earthly possessions, this usually means a new job or financial situation or a move. None of these occurred but I contemplated them. Carrie Mallon’s interpretation is a bit more open: it’s about flexibility and the dynamic factors of life. The card features a butterfly and the infinity loop; I see change and transformation. 

When I look back on this year, 2022, I can’t pinpoint any one event or experience that defines it other than Hazel. I spent almost all my time with her this year. Nearly every waking hour and all night until she began three days of day care in September. Much of the first part of the year was wrapped up in this nest of the two of us: my final baby year as a mother. I moved through our slow separation as she evolved into her own being, apart from me. 

There is a connection between mother and baby that comes from a shared body, a sort of the inner galaxy embodied—at once mythic and deeply physical. (I have never been more tired than during the first years of my babies’ lives). The eggs that became my children existed in me before I was born, we all once lived together in my mother. These are deep layers of connection that our world has largely dismissed. We know so little about this physical and psychic relationship because of the masculine, sexist history of science. We do know that the cells of children can remain in the blood and brain of mothers for decades after birth, and that mothers experience the pain they imagine their children feel in the same way they do their own pain, according to research that used brain imaging. 

Mothers are not particularly revered in our culture. I have mostly felt that my experiences as a mother aren’t interesting to other artists (besides mothers, which is a considerable number of people). High art is not about the love connection between mother and child/ child-bearing parent and child. Not that I’m here to create high art. But there is a definite distain of mothers that doesn’t apply to fathers. 

Yet my experience as a mother is a guiding force in my life and work as a writer outside of domestiticy. What I have learned is that a life built around loving and caring for other people, whether they’re your children, friends, family, or community, offers a stable foundation. It offers a right focus. It allows me to feel fully alive and deeply connected to the physical and spiritual world in ways that I never felt before this lesson presented itself. It’s not just about me and my successes. Some years it’s about other people: a baby, a friend, a beloved community project, my husband’s career, the healing of a family. 

I am merely a part of this, not the whole and not the center. In a world built on consumerism, with the bottom line of producing more, making more (read, creating more pollution), we are taught to focus on ourselves. To “say no” more, to engage in self-care that usually costs money, to create goals about the self, to have careers that center on our ego, to buy things that make us feel better whether it’s an expensive coat, a fancy toy for your child, skin care products (all mine!!), a car, a bigger house, a latte… it goes on and on. 

What do we have that costs nothing?

We all know this, but it’s hard to come back to it, to really hone in on it, to know it with our whole being. What we have is only what costs no dollars, zero moola, zip. That’s all. That is the only real stuff. The rest is dross, it’s a trick to make you feel better at a cost, which is usually a cycle of feeling bad and then spending money. Remember, we must first be taught to feel less than in order to need to buy things to feel better. And we feel the least of all when we see ourselves as single, solitary beings and forget that we are connected in the most intimate ways to each other and this land, earth, planet, galaxy we so graciously landed on. (We all began in another being, remember.) We forget (are made to forget) that we are all filled with the same divine light of being. 

It seems simple, but until we examine the stories we tell ourselves to rationalize our own privilege (justify our endless need for more) I don’t think that we can fully feel this light.

I say this as someone who learns her lessons through hard inner battles that play out for years. Nothing comes easy to me. I say this as someone who has spent over a decade in therapy and only after years of repeating the same story began to see that it was just that, a story. A dried-up falsehood based on fear and anxiety and someone else’s belief system. But I still nursed that story. I still want to take it out and pet it because it feels familiar and comfortable to me—an old friend. It still does some days (yesterday). 

I know intimately, and yet often forget (as remembering and forgetting is the spiritual path), that this life force flows through all of us, which means that when we disregard the complex inner world of another being, when we see them as less than, it keeps us in a place of sickness, a trance of unworthiness. It keeps us in a culture of destruction and suffering, a world in which happiness and fulfillment can only be bought.

We see where this has led us and where it’s going. 

It is not easy this reconning, this coming to know, this love for something that we might call our oneness. But there is grace and divinity in it. A place full of hope that we can evolve. What has been most important for me in this process is to remind myself that I am here to evolve and not to place blame, because it is in the act of blaming that we block the possibility of our own evolution. Of course, I blame people. I rage. I am angry as hell. But my intention is to keep seeing the lifeforce in each one of us. My intention is to manifest it. 

Last year, I may have had some goals, I’m not going to look back on it. I know I wrote and gardened and played and taught and fought some hard battles, and it was good. But what I really ended up working on was this sense of connection that came to me in the strongest way through the gratitude practice I cultivated, something I’d been practicing since the summer of 2018 but that became more powerful and more connected with others this year after my friend Cher died. 

The gift I offer you for this new year, is Cher’s gift of gratitude. Every night text your little list of gratitude to someone you trust. Keep it simple: coffee, sleep, a walk in the woods. Ask them to write back. Some people will stick with it, most will not, but as this practice grows, your brain will rewire (really there’s research on this) and your focus will shift ever so slightly day after day after day. And you will learn to love what you already have, learn to feel the joy that is not bought, and perhaps even to become more present with those you love. 

xo

Emily

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