Native American culture & teachings through a modern lens

Tag: Native American

I Tell Navajo Stories…Like Grandma

jaclyn roessel maternity

Photo by Hannah Manuelito

 

I come from an open-arms people and a family who shares. I have built a career sharing my thoughts, poems, snapshots of my life and myself. But last year, I felt a call to shift into a new way of being. 2018 was a year filled with many life changes both personal and professional. While, I was focused on navigating, reflecting and rising to the challenge of being more in the moment, I was called to go inward and protect…myself.

 
Now feeling able and willing, I am trying to answer this question, “how do you begin to tell a story you are still living out?” I am not sure. Though I do know I was never a linear storyteller. I pride myself on my ability, or gift, depending on the tale, to tell story like my late nalí asdzaan (paternal grandmother). She would weave strands of background info, context and opinion together with care and ease. While I am not the master she was at this, I do enjoy this circular nature of sharing. This is something my husband tells me often, I tell Navajo stories. By this he means, I share stories which unfold sometimes leaving him confused until the end. I loved to think of my nalí asdzaan’s stories as ones you had to earn. You were tested to listen because sometimes they were long and often complex. She would share with you characters and updates in multiple threads drawing family trees and maps connecting communities across the rez.

 
And what of my story? Where do I begin?

 
When my nalí asdzaan passed, one of the most vivid memories I have of that night is waking up after receiving the news she left us gasping for air asking myself what would I do on my wedding day and the day I gave birth?

 
In the darkness of those early morning hours, the thought of facing each event without her, physically hurt my heart. But what I know now is I didn’t have to worry because I would feel her. She would be there, and so would my late nalí hastiin (paternal grandfather). I would feel their power charge through the day I saw my husband Warren ride into our homestead on a horse for our wedding. I would feel the energy of my ancestors come to bless our beginning as husband and wife, in the powerful winds that carried sands that whipped across the land.

 
She would be with me as I carried our first born in my body. I would hear her in the wisdom my mother shared with me during my pregnancy. In the advice my mother-in-law passed on to me. I would feel her in my sister’s hands as she massaged my body during labor. I would hear her words in the prayers my brother shared while we were in the delivery room. Even in the pain of this moment I could feel the sweet like honey presence – I could feel her with me. I could feel her blessings at work in my life.

 
While I do not know how to tell this story, I recognize why I wanted to keep things close. Last year meant so much to me because I was able to hold it with both hands, an open mind and heart overflowing with gratitude for getting to experience it all. My husband and I marinated in each transition – engagement, new job, news of new life, wedding and birth. Having emerged from our fourth trimester I feel ready to slowly release parts of this story, as an offering. I hope in beginning to tell it, the parts that were hard can begin to heal. This part of my story – the trauma – is hard for me to articulate now but I know with time, even that will begin to melt away like snow.

 
What is powerful is knowing because I am still living this, I don’t have to share everything now. I want the telling of this story to be savored. In the same way, this revealed itself to us – day by day, minute by minute waiting for the arrival our baby being…our son.

Dream Medicine and Reflections of the Future

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I believe in time travel. I believe in the power of dreams because on some days, I can feel the memory of this ability within my vessel too. I understand dreams to be medicine. Sometimes, it is these tools which first communicate illness in our bodies, distortion in the fabric of our relationships and families. At times, it is the ancestors who tell us truths to quell our worries in these realms. They remind of the power we have yet to tap or even call-in on us and reach out when they feel we are not fully reaching for our potential.
Many Indigenous communities used dreams as medicine to heal. Communities along the what is known today as the Colorado River used dreams to select the leaders of their communities. This practice is one which fills me joy. How beautiful it is to measure leadership by the seeing of what is possible? When I think of what I want to see in leaders of my community, I often include the desire for them to possess vision. How potent of a concept, to demand our leaders project generations ahead beyond the “future” gains they propose.
There are dreams I carry today which give me comfort. In moments when I lose faith or sit in doubt, I remind myself of these medicines still at work in my life. There are times when I am delivered a blessing only to be reminded that I knew it was coming because I had dreamed it. I am humbled regularly by this in the moments when I am relieved a blessing has arrived and I simultaneously think of all the times, I doubted, gave up hope that it was ever possible.
My work as a writer is influenced by the concept of futurism, specifically Afrofuturism a term coined by Mark Dery which means to essentially reimagine the future and its possibilities through a Black lens of creativity, technology and science. What I find most inspiring about this concept and the correlations made by Indigenous Futurism, is the restoring and acknowledgement of our sovereignty as Indigenous people to project and dream a future where we will not only exist but a future in which our dream medicine will continue to heal us.
When we look at our history of persecution and survivance, I am inspired by the miracle of our existence – we were not suppose to be here. Yet, we are; in spite of the millions of actions taken since contact to destroy our way of life and us. Our ancestors dreamt us to this place.
Afrofuturist and Indigenous Futurist thought, are two incredibly radical concepts because it demands we accept our blessings now that we will continue to be prayed into the existence of the future. In dreams there exists a kind of freedom to imagine all that is possible and I plan to continue to surrender to the power of these dreams because there is a level of wholeness my dream self has achieved that I am still striving for, one woven so closely to all the medicine women who have walked and will walk this earth and I must remember in this life, to practice acceptance because their blessings are already here…and still on their way. There are places my unborn children have already traveled and yes, that place too is beautiful.

T’áá hwó’ ají t’éego…It is up to You

I have missed writing.
T’áá hwó’ ají t’éego.
It hurts to write. Like the struggle of returning to my running practice a couple of weeks ago. My body is not used to sitting to type. I have grown accustomed to writing for myself. My mind does not want to focus on one thought. It has grown comfortable of the flow of the pen as it writes in my journal meandering across the page.

 
T’áá hwó’ ají t’éego.
I took a break. Walked around the living room. Drank water. Bounced on my trampoline. This part of my day is one of my favorites. I love the freedom of jumping on this contraption. It has quelled nerves, relieved stress, calmed anger and conspired with me to procrastinate as I avoid words longing to be written.

 
T’áá hwó’ ají t’éego.
This phrase is one which echoes in my head repeatedly throughout the week. Sometimes it is a whisper, sometimes it is a loud booming voice reminiscent of my late Nalí Hastiin’s. His favorite phrase, “If it is to be, it is up to me,” mirrors these words. T’áá hwó’ ají t’éego instructs “it is all up to your effort and hard work and determination.” Both phrases remind me how powerful each of us. The phrases iterate a theme of agency and self-determination.

 
I will be marking a year since I moved from Phoenix, and this life I live is a manifestation of t’áá hwó’ ají t’éego. I don’t know all the ways I have changed but I can feel I am a different person than I was a year ago. I am so grateful for all the ways I have been lead to this beautiful place in this Glittering World.
I have been challenged to examine my scars and fear, pushed to heal and grow. I have spent time deep in prayer and meditation and lately been thinking about what is possible when we “stay open” to the world around us.

 
Today I recognize how my decision to leave my job and pursue this journey allowed me to reconnect to myself, my culture, my history and the world. Writing this feels different as I try to compose a post as though I am writing to a dear friend in the middle of a long journey; even though I still haven’t made sense of all the events nor feel I have reached the destination. Simultaneously, I write as though I am providing a kind of performance in this correspondence as though to distract you from noticing how much time has actually passed between our visits or letters.

 

T’áá hwó’ ají t’éego.
One of the first poets I met when I was younger was Dorothy Allison. She wrote a book entitled, “Two or Three Things I Know for Sure” and since meeting her, I often motivate myself by noting two or three things I know for sure. Today I recognize: 1) My life, and its ability to be of service to others is up to me. 2) This is the instruction I am pushed to live out every day. I choose to autonomy, action, love and respect. I write these words as an offering, I act each day to be of service to this energy in the spirit of K’é.

And to you my dear friend, it is so good to see you again. Remember, t’áá hwó’ ají t’éego…live out your best effort.

Náádąą Rising & Other Reminders from the Cornfield

When I started my new adventure, I had no idea how much “new” I would be surrounded by. From finding a new coffee shop to hang out in to searching for a favorite new eatery to get carry-out from, life has been full of “firsts”. I’ve have also been seeking the answer to a new question – what songs do I sing to help the roots I am planting in this community be the healthiest?

 
I remember planting with my late Nalí asdzaan (paternal grandmother) when I was little. I love this memory of ours. From the feel of placing the jewel-toned corn kernels in the moist earth to the heat of the summer day, our entire time together was incredibly fun. I have been thinking of her consistently since I started to build my life in New Mexico. This memory came to be me recently as I have been reflecting about the kind of life I have planted and am cultivating. I remember her sharing songs as we planted. Offerings to the corn we hoped would grow in our field.

 
In my new home, days have been filled with exploration. I’ve been searching for my place within this community while also pushing myself to being open to people who cross my path. Being open provokes vulnerability which can be daunting. But there is treasure to be found in yourself and your surroundings when you crack open to (or from) a new experience. I recently shared a wonderful dinner with new friends and I was struck with pure giddiness as I felt the promise of a place being carved out for me here in these new lands.

 
As I have been seeking opportunities for Grownup Navajo to grow, I’ve longed for the strong sister bonds calling to me from across the desert. Answering prayers, I have connected to other motivating female Native entrepreneurs who have showed me a new kind of sisterhood. One formed and tested in the fire of trailblazing. They’ve cheered me on and reassured me of the normalcy of the journey I’ve traveled so far in launching my business.

 
In the corn field, my Nalí adszaan would move with measured intention. Creating the holes in the earth for the seeds with deliberate care. We would move row by row, being conscious of our thoughts and energy as we offered the seeds to the earth. Thinking about this day and the current point on my journey, I feel there are songs I need to learn and ones I somehow already know the melody. These “songs” I carry with me are ones of love, compassion and gentleness. I forget too easily, two lessons of the cornfield: 1) if I want corn to grow I have to get my hands dirty and work the earth and 2) corn takes time to grow. Much like children we must offer our praise and gratitude for the path that has unfolded. It is necessary to be thankful, even for the uncertain path.

 
I am grateful for the way the answers to the questions my heart asks arrive in my heart simultaneously quelling the anxiousness in my mind. Whether in the form of encouraging words from a fierce entrepreneur or an inspiring conversation with new friends, we are provided connections to the tools we need to continue to flourish. My life – each of our lives – have been prayed into existence and nurtured with intention, just like the corn that has grown in our fields. Corn which has grown for generations, blessed with songs whose power whisper reminders of our purpose. Our destiny is to grow and learn like the sacred náádąą (corn) we use for our prayers in the morning and ceremonies throughout our lives. Let’s hold this truth close, so we never doubt the direction we are going because it is innate in us to grow, rising bravely, like stalks of náádąą in a beautiful field.

Languages of New Lands

How do I prepare? How will I begin? How do I start?

Each of these questions has been racing through my mind each day since I committed to expanding Grownup Navajo full-time. Having moved from the Sonoran desert to the high Puebla desert I am slowing planting roots. Having never made a home outside of Arizona, I am beginning to understand how daunting the “all-possibility” mode of a journey can be.

In a recent conversation with Dennis Worden of NextGen Native, I shared how optimistic I am to one day speak the languages of these lands I find myself in now. What I shared on the podcast is how I do not mean the actual languages of the Native people who live here but the languages of the land. In leaving my beloved Sonoran Desert and O’odham Bikéyáh (O’odham Lands) , I understood more fully just how much the land of the desert made me who I am today. Living there I had conversations with sunsets, realized how mountains were actually purple and learned of the powerful impact of welcoming the sunrise each day. These lessons composed an entire language of the place in which I spent over 11 years.

I find myself in a new place observing. Watching the way the sun casts shadows on the hills around me, trying to recall from memory, after the sun sets, the profile of the beautiful mountains circling me, finding most often, how in my mind, they are blurry because we don’t know one another yet. Even things as simple as understanding a place with a tangible season, I am learning how to bring a sweater or jacket with me as I venture out the door.

I am also watching myself. Understanding how my body is struggling trying to find the light in the morning as my home is new to me. How happy I am to have creative brainstorms any time I choose since I do not have a structured schedule. I am simultaneously realizing how I long for a structured schedule because the openness of the each day can at times distract or intimidate me.

This journey is filled with unlearning and learning lessons and languages. How does one begin to speak new languages? Linguists today share that immersion is key. If you want to speak fluently, you need to surround yourself with the language you want to share. I am confident my act of throwing myself into the deep end of this adventure will result in my being able to speak the sacredness of this place.

While the newness of the exploration is daunting, I am continuously encouraged by the voice of my late Nalí asdzaan (paternal grandmother) in my head saying, “Don’t talk about it, just do it.” While I continuously have more questions than answers, right now I also know my observing, listening, questioning is all a part of me doing. While I may not know the language of these lands, I know I am capable of the growth in understanding. One learns language, yes through immersion but also through speaking. I want my actions to be pronounced so I will listen and then speak. I will act in an effort to communicate my heart’s work, understanding I will rise to the occasion of speaking the language this beautifully powerful place will teach me.

Grace, Guts & Power

Growing up as the oldest grandchild and daughter in my family, I was keenly fond of praise. I relished in moments when my parents and grandparents would give me a compliment. I loved their feedback, whether it was about a speech I had written or how I did in the school play, I reveled in the feeling of their outward exclamations.

There were two things my grandparents would say however, that I wanted to hear most. If my late Nalí hastiin (paternal granddad) was ever impressed by something so much so that he said, “you have guts.” That was gold to me. I remember a couple times when I played in basketball games and he said, “That took guts, good job.” In college I ran for a pageant and came in as runner-up, I was crushed. When I told him on the phone I didn’t win, he sighed, clicked his tongue and said, “That took guts Jac, I am proud of you.”

Once my late Nalí Asdzaan (maternal grandmother), after my dad had given a great talk at the orientation for teachers shared, “Your dad really spoke with power.” She shook her fist as she closed her eyes as though it gave her strength just remembering him earlier in the day and the words he shared. I dreamed of her one day talking about me in that way.

The two of them, as I have written here many times, were my guideposts. Their compliments, teachings and stories drove me to strive. I wanted so much not solely to please them but I was so inspired by the way they lived their lives that I believed if I could follow their teachings, there would be hope for me to make similar impressions in the world.

 

I write this post still in disbelief at the remarkable night I had performing in celebration of OXDX Clothing’s Fall Release. I performed two poems, “Dear Girl-Made-of-Honey” and “Seeds of Resilience” which was written as a special collaboration with OXDX Clothing Founder, Jared Yazzie. I have given many public talks, I teach as well so public speaking is something I am comfortable with. However, if you measured my nerves on Saturday morning, I would have been noticeably anxious about the performance.

 

Performing my poetry was never my intention but standing on the stage and getting to share two poems which were foundational in my healing this year was such a privilege. I am honored to write this blog, thankful for the way it is received. I thought about my grandparents as I stood on the stage. I thought about how I never got to hear my Nalí asdzaan tell me I spoke with power. However, there were so many other compliments she shared with me while she was alive and I will carry those forward instead. I look at my life now, I think about how much I shook on the stage and realized, even in light of my fear, I had the guts to perform and I didn’t need any more compliments to reassure me…I could feel the power of the words reverberate in the room. Words given to me by the grace of Diyin Diné’é (Holy People) to share. I am so grateful for what this blog and these teachings…the same ones given to me by my late Nalís, have come to mean to people. It truly is beautiful to see that Grownup Navajo is not solely a blog. It now has a community of people surrounding it who work to “speak sacredness fluently” in their lives. That is power and it takes guts to commit to that value especially in a society that does not like difference. There are always threats to cultural learning, many created by a history of oppression in this country towards our people but also ones that we choose to let block us. It is those hurdles we must dismantle, they are the true challenge to furthering our knowledge base. When we choose to stop keeping ourselves from seeking more knowledge then we can truly harness our full power, utilize all our medicine to heal each other and show ourselves just what our guts are made of.

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This vlog shares the teaching of “ahééh jinízin”. Ahééh jinízin is the instructive ideology of being appreciative, living in thankfulness. Gratitude has been proven to help build resiliency in people. When we are thankful, it allows us to adapt to situations more fluidly, it strengthens our medicine.

In the spirit of this teaching I would like to say ahé’hee (thank you) to my family for their love and support and to my partner Warren, for his help with the GN booth, tech support in recording the performances and for offering a reserve of strength.

Tsiiyéeł Powered Compliments

 

In an effort to live my teachings out, to speak sacredness fluently this Tsiiyéeł Tuesday I have learned a new phrase in Diné Bizaad (Navajo language). It is a phrase I hope people can use the compliment the beautiful image of a Diné person who has made their tsiiyéeł, a traditional Navajo bun.

“Nítsiiyéeł nizhónígo iinla!”

 

This phrase means “You made a beautiful tsiiyéeł.” I hope you enjoy giving this compliment to men and women who are wearing their hair in such a way. I think this helps foster positivity and support through connection to each other.

 

 

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Grateful Memories and Other Expressions

Expressions of gratitude have long been part of my life. This morning I went to breakfast with my dad. He is always wonderful company as we have conversations about current events to catching up on life’s happenings. This morning as we were talking I began to reminisce about a memory I had with my late Nalí asdzaan (paternal grandmother).

Over my dresser hangs a special letter I sent her when I was in college.  In it I shared how appreciative I was for having her in my life. I was so moved at having just experienced my sister’s Kinaaldá that the need to send a letter to tell her how I saw her role in my life was necessary. I keep this letter visible as it was the beginning of cultivating gratitude in my life.

 I get to see this letter every morning when I wake up. I am reminded of my connection to her but it also is a reminder to think about what I am grateful for before I even greet the world. The ability to express gratitude is a critical part of building resiliency. When we see we are connected beings we are able to see that not only are we not alone but there is so much we can learn from one another. I made this vlog to share this story and in it I read from the letter I mention. I hope you take time to watch but more importantly, I hope you decide to create your own message of gratitude to someone you love. This is type of change we need in the world – one that values responsibility to each other.

Visit our new VIDEOS page here to see all of the videos so far. Of course, don’t forget to follow our YouTube channel as everything gets posted there first.

 

Molded in the Image of Asdzaan Diné – Part One

A little over a year ago, one of my best friends asked a question that would forever change my life. Sitting in the courtyard at work over coffee he shared with me how it was time to plan his daughter’s Kinaaldá, puberty ceremony. That news alone was exciting but as we talked about the plans, Marcus asked if I would be willing to tie the hair of his daughter during her ceremony. Asking on behalf his wife Verna and family, Marcus shared how they had respect for my family and would be honored if I could tie their daughter Maili’s hair. This role is much like a sponsor and is filled by a person the family has respect for, someone they want their daughter to emulate as she begins her journey into womanhood. Understanding this as we talked over coffee that first day my heart swelled with gratitude and humility knowing this was an incredible honor. I accepted. It has been a year to date and it has taken me that long to come to fully accept this occurred but also this amount of time was necessary for me to reflect. What I am sharing today is my journal entry I wrote after the ceremony completed. I am writing this in two parts as I want to mark, celebrate and honor this rite of passage in my life. It is with a humble heart I share this entry with little revisions of my first reflection.

Painting by Jeff Slim

“The Embodiment of Changing Woman” 2016. Acrylic & Aerosol on wood. Photo courtesy of Jeff Slim.

 

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I have been reflecting much about the experience of tying Maili’s hair. From Marcus asking me and our conversation to me actually getting to do it. It was an amazing whirlwind. I was never afraid of being a part – my heart was accepting and communicated to the rest of me. I knew from the start I wanted to be prepared, be ready. Because I have been in such an intense self-improvement mode, I knew I needed to take time to ready myself. It has been the start of my meditation practice and also a more dedicated prayer practice. I worked hard to allow myself reflection and in that naturally found ways to combat my nervousness. In the time leading up to the ceremony I had a dream that I was tying her hair. I was in a Hogan surrounded by voices of women in my life. All communicating to me. Their individual voices were hard to distinguish as were their words. But I could hear the voice of my Poogie (my late Nalí Asdzaan/paternal grandma) above else – rather not her voice really but message of “just do it”. It was exactly what I know she’d say if she was here. I continued to brush Kinaaldá’s hair in my dream with the rabbit brush until I woke up. It was beautiful assurance.

By the time it came from me to leave to go to meet the family in Ft. Defiance I was nervous and yet content. I am still amazed that even in such a challenging time for me personally the Diyin Diné’é (Holy People) found me and gave me this gift. I was/is an affirmation of where I am supposed to be – right here. Arriving at Fort by night fall and found the homestead without a map and I began helping with setup. I slept that night bundled up with blankets in a tent with rez dogs growling around. It was so much fun and ignited in me want for more outdoor fun.

The next morning went so fast. When Grandma Mae, the medicine woman, showed up with my aunt Shirley they both were surprised by my being there with the family. It was perfect to have that connection as I began to brush Maili’s hair, dress her and then mold her. I wasn’t emotional but focused sending all my positive thoughts into her so that it’d aid in giving her a long, rich life. We ran to the east and that was fun. Then we ate and waited for the noon run at which point I was so overjoyed. Maili was so poised throughout the entire ceremony. Not complaining at all. It was impressive. When I returned Friday it was time to run and then begin mixing the cake. Though I just mixed for a little bit, I focused on sewing the corn husks. Then we poured the cake that evening, ate some more and just enjoyed being in the homestead. My mom stopped by and that was so nice, even Evelyn (family friend) was there and I loved getting to see her too.

I slept a little that night but joined in the Hogan sitting next to Maili singing the prayers. That night I sung. There were moments when I could feel the presence of my Poogie sharing the words with me, for me. It was powerful and the truest, deepest form of “soulspeak”. I was proud of Maili as she was very reverent and stayed up the whole time. In the morning I brushed and washed her hair. It was a new experience filled with the beautiful exchange that unfolds when you have many Navajo women in the room. I then tied her hair in a tsiiyeeł(traditional Navajo hairstyle).

It all was done in beauty and with the best intentions and parts of me. There are parts I know more of how to do now and for all the learning I am incredibly grateful. When I talk about the ceremony it will be done with an even deeper reaching understanding of the Kinaaldá. How incredible to receive such knowledge. How beautifully intelligent our ancestors were to know how empowering the Kinaaldá is and would remain. We learn so much from each other during it. And I can feel just how tremendous it is to know that I have new teachers and even more so that I have become a teacher. I am consumed by reverence for this marker and experience because I feel a tremendous honor and great humility that my dear friend and his wife would want their daughter to be like me. How amazing and big that is I am only 31 and I’ve become old enough to take this in. I can hear the Diyin Diné’é share and sing – I can feel them say also I am not done – there is more for me to learn and more for me to be. I am thankful for the affirmation of this honor as the sign I am living my life in accordance with how I am meant to. I think of what my Poogie and Granddad would say to me and I am confident they would be proud and also encouraging of the responsibility I recognize in this. I see how amazing it is to be able to serve in this capacity. I am humbled by the power of the Kinaaldá and remember it really is what has made me who I am. I am molded in the image of my Poogie who is molded in the image of many strong women including Changing Woman. She is the genesis and all that strength and potential grace and power lives inside me. But is not mine. It is meant to be shared – so it needs to shine out from me into the world and for that…my work is not done. (Originally written July 5, 2015)

Gratitude as Translator and Other Thoughts in Pueblolands

There are moments when the gratitude for the life I lead feels heavy. Not in a way that is negative, but in a way that I am so grounded by the power of these gifts I am able to experience, that my heart transcends levity and exists on a plane that is beyond words. This week while traveling for work, in one of my favorite places, “Puebloland” in New Mexico, I experienced this state.

My heart on numerous occasions, felt as though it was folding into itself. This sensation is incredible to experience and one which I often can only react to with tears. While traveling for work, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to facilitate a workshop with a Puebloan artist in Albuquerque.  I enjoy cultural sharing and exchange so there were many points in which I was simply thankful for the experience. However, on one particular day the energy in the room was so powerful and strong as participants spoke to each other in Keres. During this exchange, which had nothing to do with me, I found my heart was not at all lost in trying to understand what was occurring. Instead, it was as if my heart knew what was being said and was grateful – grateful to be in a world that holds such goodness.

I think we forget how powerful a tool gratitude can be. I believe it to be one of the best translators. When we tap into the feeling of appreciating a moment, we surrender to the beauty and gifts and are able to drink it in, wholeheartedly. Gratitude allows us to move through a moment without getting caught in trying to dissect its meaning. In other words, we travel to a place where we can suspend reality and simply be everything we are in connection to the world and people around us. This then becomes a propellant to action. We can then move forward continuing to strive to be better. In this latest vlog, I share more on this topic and challenge each of us to think about ways gratitude is not a passive feeling but a motivator to create more positive change in our lives.