“To Say Thank You All The Time” (Gratitude in spite of it all)

The greatest perception I know in the world comes from gratitude. Underneath desire, fear, and all the other things… always foremost when we are happiest and at our best is the sense of gratitude and reverence for things around us, for people. To say thank you all the time.

[Robert Kelly’s introductory remarks for his keynote reading at the Logic of the Word: Symposium in honor of Robert Kelly at Anthology Film Archives (NYC), May5, 2011]


There are many words of advice about how to manage this life on earth, among them that we need to “think positive” or view the glass as “half full” or “keep on the sunny side,” etc. But any guru willing to go beyond platitudes will clarify that having positive thoughts will do nothing unless those thoughts are intentionally directed to conjure a tangible change in how you perceive and live in the world. In other words, it’s not enough to “think” positive  because this is equivalent to saying “tomorrow I’m going to change the world!” but then tomorrow comes and you have absolutely no idea how to begin – and probably don’t really believe that such a radical change is possible. Like wearing your heart on your sleeve but refusing love whenever it comes near.

It’s difficult to imagine that thinking positive will have any effect on the larger political, personal, and environmental realties many of us encounter on a daily basis. But as master hypnotist Melissa Tiers once said to me, thinking positive isn’t about daisies and smiles. It’s about a woman suffering from years of depression finally unleashing unexpressed rage against her abusive father; or a man struggling to let go of a 20 year addiction by sitting with the idea that he forgives all the people he has ever blamed, including himself, for his self-medicated way of dealing with all the crap dished out at him for so many years. People cry and shake. They stomp and scream. They turn the inside outside, and confront. They take their heart back into their body and let it breath. And doing this, they are able to alter their perception and fight back (live) differently.

But you don’t have to conjure up your demons and change all your big issues in order to, as Robert Kelly says, be at your happiest and at your best. The wolf that bites is the one you feed and you’ll know when it’s time to stop catering to those angry dogs. In the meantime, if you’re tired of feeling angry or helpless try this: think about all that begrudges, offends, colonizes, and harms you. And then sit for a minute – one or two a day – with an image of five things you’re grateful for in spite of it all. Make a list. And see those things in Technicolor, as vividly as you can, in the front of your mind’s eye.  Then grab your “To Do” list and add several small things you can do this week (starting today) to tend to and to cultivate the things you are grateful for. When (as is inevitable) a thought such as “I never get recognized” or “everyone else has ____ and my life sucks” creeps into your mind, think about what you’re grateful for and pay attention to that instead.

I know many of you will say “blech!” The planet is an environmental catastrophe, unjust wars are being fought, people are being intentionally tortured and harmed, illogical self preservation reins, and working people are under assault – and you want me to be grateful?

But what’s the alternative? To go around pissed off and bitter? Gratitude is one of those core emotional forces with the potential to show real results when acted upon in your life. Political activism and community building are fueled by the passion people bring to their own lives, and it’s important that idealism (what we want from the world) and practice (how we live in the world) be aligned. Of course, cultivating gratitude doesn’t mean that bad people or bad situations are going to disappear – but it might mean that dealing with them doesn’t have to destroy you.

Robert Kelly has a poem called the “Ballad of the External Heart”—it can be interpreted in many ways, yet I think it speaks to the kind of emotional shift that can happen when a person gathers from within parts of his life that had been scattered. Many thanks to Robert Kelly for his ever-present work, and for giving me permission to cite this poem here in full:

I am the giant who keeps his heart
everywhere but in his chest.
Everything kills me. Everyone
who finds it overpowers me.

I have lodged this delicate and persistent
organ in the darkest places,
among the dancers, in the delve
of a tree, in a duck passing effortless

it seems along a stream whose quiet
water shows me as I am:
a man who has locked his heart in things.
And now they’re bringing it back to me,

saying: we have found your living organ
here and there in impertinent places,
out of bounds, at risk, at sea
we heard it when the wind died down.

They bring it back to me and stick it in.
What is this thing inside me all of a sudden
throbbing and sobbing? It feels like death
but is the life of me at last.

From: The Time of Voice: Poems 1994-1996 (Black Sparrow Press, 1998).

2 thoughts on ““To Say Thank You All The Time” (Gratitude in spite of it all)

  1. Nathaniel Siegel says:

    Dear Kristin: Speaking from the heart in a poem is a magical moment: emotional truth palpitations, the thrum, the vibration. I hear/feel when I hear/feel the poet touch his or her own soul. I am moved. I have an experience. You too will have an experience. Hopefully that’s how poetry works. Thank you for sharing this salve lesson. Here’s a poem I wrote on the occasion of Anselm and Karen’s marriage in keeping with your “to say thank you…” teaching above:

    there’s a reason
    we feel
    this way

    for Anselm and Karen
    on the occasion
    of their marriage !

    Nathaniel A. Siegel
    5 June 2005

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