The Doorway to Gratitude


It’s a quintessential fall afternoon, the kind of day where ever-darkening skies draped in a hazy veil of light provide the perfect encouragement for my sloth-like ways. Sprawled generously across my bed with my phone pressed to my ear, I can’t help but feel déjà vu back to many a high school afternoon, sans the strong pull of the strained phone cord underneath my closed door.

I gaze fuzzily at the marginally-bare Southern California trees outside my window as my attention is primarily on the voice on the other end of the line. It’s one of my bestie’s currently on exotic holiday in Egypt. While popular social media sites depict image after image of her and her beau romantically romping through pyramid-laden desertscapes, the story I’m hearing is hot and heavy with exhaustion, stress and unfortunately, food poisoning.

“This is so intense” she says over our crackled phone connection. “I’m having such a hard time, everything just feels so overwhelming.”

I feel the tightness behind her words and catch the slight break in her voice as she holds back her tears, lest her beau in the other room overhear. She sighs a thick audible exhale ripe with frustration, despair and momentary hopelessness. I stifle my urge to remedy her feelings, intuitively sensing something else coming down the pipeline.

“But I’ve gotten to do some cool stuff like ride a camel, so ya know, I’m grateful to be here.”

Bingo. There it is, the ol’ gratitude tagline, tossed in on the heels of a crap storm like a spritz of fake orange air freshener. I feel the corners of my mouth upturn and am relieved to be invisible. While I don’t dare say it out loud, I silently quip to myself, “Sorry sweets, but that gratitude spray ain’t strong enough to cover this sh*t.”



I hear this type of gratitude expression more often these days, from conscious friends and clients who spiritually “know better” than to focus too long on the negative. It is often tinged with obligation and a slight whiff of guilt, as if to subtly say, “I know I’m a bad person for not seeing the good and being grateful right now.” As gratitude reminders, messages and incentives pop up everywhere from YouTube and Instagram to the chalkboard signs at our local vegan cafe, it’s no wonder that folks are getting hip to the gratitude game. Like the kale of the emotional world, gratitude has become a well-known superfood essential to our happiness, spiritual progress and manifestational prowess.

Now don’t get me wrong, I loooooove me some gratitude and am psyched that the call to feel greater thanks is one more people are heeding. Yet, here on the phone listening to the pang of indifference in my friend’s afterthought of gratitude, I can’t help but question if we’ve put a wee-too much pressure on having to be grateful?

Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, Boxing Day, however you roll, tis’ the season to be distracted. It’s all too easy to hide from ourselves and our genuine feelings while running about like chickens with our heads cut off. The holidays are a ripe time for hiding our messy, shameful or embarrassing feelings, plastering smiles on our faces even though we may secretly want to mace that certain family member when they ask us to pass the salt. While a reality TV – worthy spectacle may not be the healthiest way to acknowledge our true feelings, neither is total denial sprinkled with an expectation of gratitude.

So, what are we to do when the usual process of feeling grateful from the outside-in doesn’t genuinely work?

What if our current life challenges, hardships and feeling of grief put gratitude legitimately outside our reach?

Do we jump off the sinking ship we believe we are on by clinging to a life raft of gratitude?


Sometimes intentionally shifting our focus to what we are grateful for is the exact rope ladder we need to climb out of the dark hole we are in. There are many masterful teachers with powerful gratitude exercises intended to decrease our despair and boost our bliss. Feeling grateful for the abundance in our external, material world is beautiful, important and holds a practical place in our spiritual practice.

And, it is not the only way

Presence is also a doorway to gratitude. Uncomplicated, spacious presence that can be found in any moment and at any time, regardless of what is transpiring in our outer world. Feeling stressed, thankless or tired to the bone? Get present. Jealous, lonely or profoundly disappointed? Get present. Angry, resentful or apathetic? Presence, presence and oh yeah, presence.

Allowing yourself to be as you are and feel what you feel enables much more than our small self would have us believe. Big things tend to happen when we meet ourselves with acceptance instead of judgment, flexibility instead of perfectionism and trust instead of disbelief. Not only do we give ourselves the radical opportunity to increase our levels of resiliency and self-acceptance, but we may just touch into that soul-twinkling gratitude we’ve been seeking all along.

Not because of what we have or don’t have, see or don’t see, feel or don’t feel, but because of all that we allow, embrace and love in this very moment.

It ain’t easy, but it is transformational

Courageous presence begins with the breath. Not just any breath, but full expansive inhales and exhales that make room for all of our glorious complexity. Imagine your breath moving in and out of your heart space (area in chest where your heart resides). As you feel the internal gears downshift and the external noise soften, ask yourself:

What is the most loving way I can be with you now?

Maybe it’s a quiet moment outside away from the cacophony of family, or extra time on a massage or acupuncture table. Perhaps it’s taking a stroll around the block instead of ironing the annual tablecloth, or simply saying “I love you” to yourself each time you express it to another.

Feeling grateful is wonderful and so is simply being. This holiday season, I encourage you to give yourself the gift of authentic presence – minus the mandatory gratitude – and watch what happens. You may be surprised by the wealth of grace and love you possess for yourself, and thus others, once you see just how hunky-dory you organically are.

Now that’s something to celebrate

rachael starr bruck

Rachael Starr Bruck, M.A. is a Transformational Coach, facilitator, and writer, guiding people to experience greater peace, freedom and personal prosperity by living in alignment with their highest truth. Learn more about coaching with Rachael by visiting and stay tuned to the many upcoming happenings at Magnolia Wellness in the new year!