In my own life and in the work we do at Celebration of Being I’ve come back time and time again to the importance of gratitude. Often we reduce gratitude to “a good thing” to feel or express when good things happen to us. There seems to be a common idea that there are good bits of my day and bad bits, and consequently I’m living my life like a score card–things happen for which I should be grateful and other things that are problematic. Otherwise, I’m doing my thing in a kind of neutral state, and light and shadow come into it.
Yet, everyone from the Buddha to Ignatius of Loyola tell us a different story about gratitude. They remind us of something my own experience has taught me: gratitude is absolutely essential for growth as a human. I’d say it’s the foundation of a healthy humanity.
Gratitude isn’t just a momentary feeling, but a posture with which we approach life. Inherent in the posture of gratitude is the concept of us receiving something to be thankful for. We are downstream and some source is upstream–good stuff is coming that I didn’t ask for, or earn, or create. Any way you cut it, it puts us in the receiving position–in a way, the lesser position. In Family Constellation (a model we sometimes use at Celebration of Being) terms, I’m the small one and something or someone else is the big one.
In the simplest way, when we look around we can say “there’s a lot of great stuff here and I didn’t make it, I didn’t create it. It predates me and it will outlast me.” Religious people look to the mysterious source and call it some version of God. But whatever our beliefs or practices are or aren’t, there’s one simple principal gratitude demands: the humble realization that 1) the goodness of the world is not my doing and 2) I benefit from it. Gratitude challenges the ego’s default position that I’m in charge, I’m responsible and I’m the cause of it all–“good” and “bad.” Not only am I not in charge of it all, but gratitude invites me to participate not as the source, but as simply a part of something much bigger than myself.
So, the posture of gratitude opens us to receiving with open arms and giving away with open arms. There’s love and giving and generosity that wants to be given to us and called forth through us–that’s the point. We get to participate in this mysterious stream. That’s why staffing a COB workshop is often even more gratifying than being a participant. (If you haven’t staffed in a while, come staff!)
The posture of gratitude requires that I set aside the score card for the realization that every single thing is a gift–like the fact that there IS a day at all, that I’m alive to be a part of it. My feet, my sight, my friends, children, family. All the thousands of things we take for granted are unearned and uncreated (at least by me). If I die right now, it’s enough. With this posture we can begin to see even the “problems” are gifts.
The best thing about gratitude in a practical sense is that it opens us to be generous. When we recognize our fullness, we want to give. And when we give, we invite others to the joy of gratitude too.
For 10 minutes, gently observe your breath. Don’t try to control it. Sit still and welcome your breath. Relax into it.
It’s maybe the most immediate reminder of the gift. Stop thinking about breathing and you’ll breath anyway. You don’t have to ask for the breath and you didn’t create it. But it comes. It’s a miracle, no?