Recently I read about something about gratitude that helped clarify some of what I’ve been experiencing as I continue practicing gratitude in what I think of as a disciplined manner. The idea that “gratitude is a gateway for a reverence for life” rings true. However, I think the doors that gratitude opens are not limited to a reverence for life. For me, the doors of gratitude open out into almost endless possibilities!
For example, right now, I am exercising the discipline–dare I say gift–of gratitude by choosing to be grateful for my teenage daughter even though it would be easier to give into complaining and feeling sorry for myself. When I start feeling the weight of taking on what she is supposedly responsible for/being upset with her/getting angry at her choices–when I become aware of that weight, it is the perfect time to remind myself of gratitude. Being grateful–for whatever I choose to focus on–will lighten my spirit in a way that little else can. For me in this moment, gratitude is a door to freedom–in part because being thankful opens my heart instead of allowing it to shut down and be a heaviness.
Gratitude is a gateway to much more…but for now, this enough!
I’m considering this morning, what I intend by suggesting “random” acts of gratitude and generosity. Initially, I think I saw it as one might expect when you see the word random: a kind of “oh I think I’ll be nice to this person”. Now that I’ve been practicing for almost two years, it has taken on more of a life of its own–that is, I’m more likely to express my gratitude in ways and in situations where my comfort zone in the past would not have extended. So while it may seem random at times from the person receiving, it is not necessarily random on my end.
However, I think there is value in considering how to be random because it can open up new venues of gratitude. Discovering new ways and places for the expressions of gratitude greatly enriches my life. For example, standing by the closed door of my 17-old daughter (who, like many teenagers, has a mind of her own!) and either reminding myself of things that I am grateful for about who she is (and isn’t) or looking for new aspects of her being that I choose to be grateful for, can significantly change my attitude towards her “teenagerness-ness”.
Choosing gratitude and generous thoughts with those we are irritated with can offer some surprising contentment and peaceful joy. Indeed, those are gifts that gratitude always brings to us: gratitude is unfailing in its gifts to both receiver and giver.
This morning’s air was crisp–even after the sun rose and began its slow task of melting the night’s heavy frost. Not exactly a remarkable morning in my busyness, more of an inconvenience because even inside my gloves, my hands were cold and my boots & socks weren’t keeping my feet their usual toasty warm. Although I wasn’t doing much complaining, I wasn’t exactly rising to the occasion with gratitude. I was focused on the tasks at hand: getting the horses fed and all their nighttime “productions” cleaned up.
I was just about finished with cleaning one of the inside paddocks, when someone else working nearby remarked on “the sparklies”. I looked and looked for the sparklies… in the dirt, on the railings, on the ceiling, all around at anything I could think might be sparkling, but I could see nothing but the usual dirt and walls. I gave up and finished working where I was, thinking that perhaps my co-worker had an overactive imagination. As I was in the process of leaving the area where we’d been working, something caught my eye as I turned and half glanced over my shoulder: SPARKLIES! There they were in the shaft of sunlight streaming through an open door: little floating jewels of frost falling to the floor. A change in perspective made such a difference!
The more I thought about those petite dancing beauties, the deeper my appreciation and gratitude for their quiet gift reminding me that a simple change of perspective can make all the difference. When I stand in judgment, when I stand in my rightness, when I stand in my busyness, when I stand with blinders on, I miss so much. Moving to the “other side” offers the opportunity for seeing something new, something unexpected, something to be deeply grateful for!
Recently I found myself in the proverbial stew pot where the internal complaint list went on at great lengths. As I considered all the things that weren’t right–that is, weren’t what I wanted–it became clear that unless I changed directions quickly, I was going to be at the bottom of a rather deep pit. Sitting down to breakfast, I asked myself what I could do differently…and the answer came rather promptly: find some things to be grateful for!
I began considering all–well at least some of–the people who were involved in getting my food to me: the farmers and their families who grew the oats, had cows on a pasture where they could graze, worked on sugar plantations…and it wasn’t long before my discontent grew steadily smaller and eventually gratitude for the individual that I was most upset at became possible. Even though I’ve been at this gratitude thing for some time now, I was reminded of and inspired by the simple power of being thankful!
Recently I’ve noticed that without a specific goal, it is much too easy to forget what it means to live gratefully and generously. Part of me doesn’t like the sense of “keeping count” and yet, some measuring stick helps keep me actively involved instead of just reacting. I begin again the commitment to a goal that keeps me awake to the possibilities around me for a grateful and generous response to life!
Take joy each day in simple matters:
a warm smile, a tasty meal,
an unexpected hug,
a well-functioning back, a sense of humor,
a contented stomach,
a body that responds to motor signals from the brain,
a graceful tree, a little flower,
a friend’s voice, a soothing melody,
a fine-tuned sense of touch…
The more I practice a grateful generosity, the more I am aware that gratitude is one of those disciplines that opens an immense world of “being present” in a whole new way for me. There’s something about being intentional grateful, whatever the circumstances, that keeps me grounded in “now-ness” rather than being stuck in the past or trying to skip ahead to some future time and place.
Sometimes we make life too complicated; the simplest things often speak the clearest. I like this reminder: “A single grateful thought raised to heaven is the most perfect prayer.” –G. E. Lessing
One of the things that I’m becoming aware of is that I’m getting more uncomfortable with the notion of calling myself generous, when it seems like I’m just simply being a decent human being. In other words, it seems like I’m being a bit presumptuous in calling my simple acts of gratitude or”generosity” when it really simply seems to be simply what is called for at a given time and place–and I just happen to be the body there doing it.
Perhaps what I’m really discovering is that when I label something as “generous”, I’m being attached to something other than simply following what my heart leads me to do. It’s the “attachments” that tend to get me in trouble!
I recently began again to read the marvelous Sufi poet Hafiz. One of my favorites–which in my mind speaks so fully about living gratefully because it’s about living without expectations–is entitled “The Sun Never Says”.
All this time
The sun never says to the earth
With a love like that,
It lights the
Recently I have had a shift in my thinking about gratitude–well, maybe not so much a shift as an additional aspect. In the (somewhat distant) past if you would’ve asked me what the purpose of being thankful is, I probably would have said something rather simple like “because it’s a good thing to do” or “because you want the other person to know you’re thankful”. More recently my response might have been more along the lines of “because it helps you be more present”. These responses aren’t necessary wrong– just somewhat inadequate to my present way of seeing it because most of my thinking about gratitude had been flavored by an undercurrent of “thankfulness-is-what-I-d0-for-someone-else”.
Then recently I had one of those aha moments. One of my daily chores on the waterfowl breeding farm & hatchery where I work part time is gathering eggs. Off and on throughout my time working on the farm, I have at various times thanked the birds for their “productions”. One recent morning as I thanked the ducks and geese for the eggs I was gathering, I was considering that they probably weren’t understanding my words…and maybe I was being silly. However, I suddenly become present to the reality that gratitude–at least in many situations–is less about me “doing something for someone else’s benefit and more of a reminder to myself that I am connected to the “other”, that I am in some way dependent, that my life is bound to another–indeed, is bound to all “others”.
Being grateful is often as much (or more?) for bringing things to my own awareness as it is in somehow “bestowing” thanks to another person. Gratitude is not a passive or rote “thank you”; rather, it is the possibility of active discoveries. Being fully present to gratitude grabs my attention and says “WAKE UP”!