Just Slightly West and South of A Place Called Despair

Have you ever had a feeling of numbness around a part of your body you identified as your soul? A kind of bone-deep sadness and weariness. I feel that now.

Of course, I could tell you about events in my life. But remembering how the poet, Mary Oliver once put it I know many could tell worse. She said in her poem, Wild Geese: “Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine. / Meanwhile the world goes on…”

And yes, the world does mercifully go on. As I write this evening, it goes on past local catastrophes like the unimaginably destructive fires raging just east and north of us. Plus the devastating hurricanes lined up one after another this year. It goes on past political leaders, so uncaring and seemingly untethered to reality. It goes on past global tensions that threaten millions. And it goes on past loved ones like my younger sister who is gravely ill. Yes, it simply goes on.

But how do we hold all these things at once? How do we keep from simply turning away, numb and desperate? There is a tool and practice strong enough for such times. It is gratefulness practice. And no, we cannot be grateful for any of the things I just mentioned. Let me be clear. We simply cannot be grateful for such difficult and fierce things in this world.

Over time, however we can begin to tease up to something I call paradoxical gratefulness. This is not gratefulness for the hurt, grief and losses we suffer, but rather for the opportunity to grow heal and reconnect to our selves, to others, and to the great other. It allows our heart to open more fully even as it shatters and breaks into ten thousand pieces.

Over the last year, I have had the deep honor of working with the amazingly wise, talented and loving team at The outcome of this collaboration is a new webinar, which in part deals with the kind of fierce and paradoxical gratitude I am describing here. It’s called: A Fierce and Enduring Gratitude: How Poetry Supports Us in Good Times and Bad

This course features wonderful, hand picked poems and stories offered as uniquely helpful tools for anyone wishing to deepen their gratefulness practice.

So please, take this journey with me… and with all of us. Let us meet just slightly west and south of a place called despair. It is a place that does not turn away from difficulty or fierceness. And yet it is also a place of paradoxical gratitude, where images, metaphors, powerful language and practices of grateful living combine to bring about moments of belonging, grace and yes, even joy.

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