Gratitude is a particular kind of attention; a way of seeing and being in the world. As such, it has nothing to do with circumstances or things. It has to do with us. Gratitude is not an attainment or a thing that happens to us; it is an innate capacity we have, a thing we practice or do not. Like all capacities, it can flourish. It can atrophy.
This is the heart of yoga. This is the point. The capacity to stop, shift, and pause at any given moment, in any situation, and touch on the breath. To shunt our attention away from our habit mind into our wider mind and more vulnerable heart.
I did not say this was easy.
It is hard to let go of conditions, blame, coping skills, excuses, competition, entitlement, and control. It is terrifying to let those go and accept, instead and suddenly, that the path has to do with self and reality. It goes right down the line of our sternum to our soft spots. Self-responsibility, self-mastery, self-soothing, self-determination, self-motivation, self-control, self-expression, self-knowing. Not selfishness — but letting the self break open and seeing what is there.
To linger, attentively, gratefully, in any moment will strip away our arrogance. Those things for which we may be grateful — children, family, safety, food, the age we are and the health we have — show themselves for what they are: conditions, frailties, current expressions of constant change. Little breaths of grace for which we have no real authorship and no end control. They are given us, but might not have been. They are not ours. Those things for which we might be grateful but aren’t swell and burgeon in their mystery: wheeling snow, the way a highway is empty on a holiday morning and you are on it. The sunlight, the bare trees, the deafening quiet. A moment, alone.
All, all things I am rationally aware of and fully believed healed, processed, handled.
Emotion is our reality, our wider mind and more vulnerable heart.
My teaching, strange and raw, has a kind of clutch in the throat. But also a kind of naked. I moved, myself in practice, as if I were dying. As if I were praying. I think, I suppose, I was.
It is hard, at times, to be grateful. To practice self-compassion, self-determination, self-motivation, self-knowing means surrendering without knowing where it goes. To willingly slide into vulnerability and uncertainty. To take reality, whole, and swallow.
Surrender is fierce. As anything that will change us must be. All projects, any love. All healing.
To give our selves into the unknown is wild. To show up. To be changed in ways we cannot imagine, past our control, more than we intended. This is the practice and like snow, like sky, it has no straight way down.
This kind of surrender has a way of knocking us, windless, to our knees.
Which may be the final meaning of reverence.
[This is an exerpt from the full piece originally published here.]
Karin was an anthropologist, a barmaid, and a journalist before she bottomed out. Yoga saved her; she figures it might help others. Karin’s teaching in jails, crisis centers, and church basements became a non-profit in 2007. In 2013, Return Yoga became an actual non-profit studio in St. Cloud, MN. More can be found at returnyoga.org.