So Much to Be Grateful For — Even With So Much to Grieve

This year, as I get ready for Thanksgiving, I’m feeling deeply grateful for the miracle of life and its cycles, and the many blessings I enjoy living in Northern California.
This year I am especially grateful that I have just finished a major labor of love. My new book, A New Republic of the Heart: An Ethos for Revolutionaries will be released by North Atlantic Books on March 6th. I sent in the galleys last week. I’m feeling grateful for the way early reviewers have praised it, too. For example, the famous psychologist Stanley Krippner has called it “required reading for every person over the age of 16.”
I’m very proud of it. It’s a major book—one that I believe takes our human conversation into important new territory. It unfolds a deep confrontation with what’s really happening — the terrible truths of our time, but also the wonderful secret that the evolutionary pressures of our time have already been transforming us, birthing us into a new stage and structure of human culture. It will never be too late for us to make a meaningful difference, in countless ways — even by slowing down, waking up, waking down, stepping forward, connecting with each other, taking action and allowing everything to be different.
According to the publisher, “A New Republic of the Heart addresses our global meta-crisis in all its aspects—environmental, economic, political, and cultural—from a breathtakingly, all-encompassing perspective. Even more remarkably, it frames our global and societal crises and opportunities as challenges to us, now, personally—in terms that penetrate our usual abstractions and avoidance.”
My Thanksgiving blog post is intended to be a letter from the heart, not promotional in any way. But my book is big in my heart right now, so I can’t hold back from saying a little something about it. (You’ll be hearing a lot more from me about it—and the ideas it contains, but that’s a different post.)
What is most clear in my heart this year is the intensity of both gratitude and grief in the collective field. Fires, floods, droughts, hurricanes, shootings, scandals, corruption, lies and brinksmanship—2017 has been a wildly challenging year on many levels. Americans, like people all over the world, are mostly good-intentioned, honest, civil and helpful to each other—and yet the stories we tell each other are electronic images of hatred, distrust, violence and division.
It will take difficult, necessary, creative, and ultimately rewarding work for us to meaningfully address our most “wicked” problems. But it begins in every heart. Our inner and outer transformation are entirely interdependent. We tend to be in denial about our collective situation, and it’s necessary to awaken from it, or else we will unconsciously collude to bring about the futures we fear.
But taking our many dark trends seriously, and discussing the unraveling of human civilization as if it is a formidable trend, frightens us. We stay away. We are learning to take multiple perspectives, but we only want to “try on” perspectives that seem like they’re healthy. We’re reluctant to unflinchingly explore what can be learned by donning our worst-case interpretations of current events; it seems like a mistake, because we imagine it will weaken us, pumping our bloodstreams with the chemicals of fear, anger and grief. And yet they keep suggesting themselves by the increasingly outrageous and apocalyptic dramas that are playing out in our shared world.
But there is another alternative. We can practice letting go into radical gratitude for this day, for this Thanksgiving day, and for whatever day it is as you read these words. And we can sometimes, on the same day, alternately open our hearts to everything we fear to feel. We can feel and see what we fear with eyes that are wet with gratitude. We can evolve our way of grieving; it doesn’t have to collapse our hearts; it can expand them.
I want to give you a gift (free to us both) on this Thanksgiving Day. As Brother David Steindl-Rast says in this video, this day is given to you, to me, today, and it is the only day we are given. We can notice the gift of this day, this moment, the infinite depth and brightness that are the very nature of our own consciousness, the beauty and uniqueness of the dawn and dusk of this day, of the weather, the sky, the people we meet. We can remember that today we can be a gift to each person we meet, just by looking at them with eyes of love.
Amazingly, we can do this practice even on days when in some other moments our hearts are doing the practice of allowing themselves to break. In fact, it is easier for a heart cracked open to be deeply grateful and generous—easier than it is for one that’s muted, idling in neutral.
Every year Americans dedicate one holiday to gratitude, and to feasting. And yet for me, it is always bittersweet.
When I was a child, we gathered around a blazing hearth at my grandmother’s house, a collection of over 25 uncles, aunts, and cousins. And yet it has often been a time of grief. When I was 19, my father died of a sudden heart attack on November 22, the day I am writing this, also the anniversary of JFK’s assassination. Last year, I was still grieving the “Trumpocalypse” which got me musing about the defiant message that was sent by the Trump insurgency, and about Thanksgiving tables where conservative and liberal cousins sit across from each other. This year’s blog summarizes the disposition that emerged from what I explored last year.
Let’s respond to the beauty and terror by showing up and waking up. Let’s join in remembering our innocent delight and gratitude. Joy is the substance of life. But not the subjective bliss into which so many of us often try to escape. The joy that can coexist with all the colors and flavors and textures of the human experience never needs to be a spiritual bypass—indeed, it is a practice. We can notice that winter follows summer, but we can also notice that pleasure follows every pain. The wheel turns—in both directions. Life springs forth, reasserting itself, with every heartbeat.
The ordeal of a great impending collective transformation is softening and deepening us at this particular moment of human history. We can engage the practice of learning to inhale “great draughts” of feeling-awareness and aliveness, and exhale ever-expanding gratitude. We can deepen in that practice even as we sometimes breath in incredible pain and grief. This year, many people tell me they feel they are witnessing humans seemingly choosing hate and destruction, and, on the largest scale, willfully damaging our very life support systems—the living Earth, the sacredness of the blue-green marble, the planetary life-process upon which human life depends. That is undeniably at least a part of reality. Yet, it isn’t the whole story; it is a partial perspective. But it sees and faces something very real.
Yet today, we are also taking time to give thanks. Let’s do so wholeheartedly, truly brightening up, relaxing and receiving the blessing gifts of this day, this hour, this moment. It does not serve to turn judgment upon ourselves and feel guilty—in fact it is actively destructive. And besides, as I often say, “Things are far too serious for us to lose our sense of humor!”
Our glad hearts, accepting the miracle of this moment, this breath, this day, this life—that is the foundation of all sanity. Let’s return to it again and again. Let’s learn to face and be willing to see what is before us, even when it seems to take the form of something utterly heartbreakingly unacceptable. Let’s also learn to inhale the stubborn, resurgent, sassy, upstart affirmation of life that surges through our nervous system. Let us learn to be the embodiment of that great “Yes!” Let us practice a gratitude today that is imbued with compassionate gravitas. Let’s come together in the totality of our experience, brothers and sisters, doing a practice at the heart that grows our depth, intelligence and maturity.
I am grateful that my life requires me to regularly take stock, get down and speak from the heart in posts such as this, and that people like you, all over the world, take time to consider what I say and make use of it. You are making use of my gift, which completes the circle of my offering. Thank you.
Wishing you every blessing,

PS: My new book, A New Republic of the Heart: An Ethos for Revolutionaries is available now for preorder from Barnes and NobleAmazon, or your local independent bookseller.



Thank-you for this. Your expression renews and facilitates my ability and resolve to live it all with purpose. This purpose feels like the center, the creative force of my life.


As I go into my 18th year as an NGO leader, helping communities be resilient in the face of climate change, my heart is heavy with the events of the last year: the denial of climate impacts, the reduced funding, the ignorant gamble with our home/ earth. Thanks, Terry, for inviting me to deepen my ability to hold it ALL...vs sink into a cave of resignation, or self-righteous outbursts of rage. What is lacking now, for many of us on the front lines, are coaches who remind us NOT to bypass the pain, but who also remind us we really have no idea the outcome, either...that action is the antidote to depression. I look forward to reading your new book.. Nancy

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