After a friend questioned me recently in regards to “being disciplined about being grateful and generous” by suggesting that to be disciplined about something that should flow naturally seemed “oxymoronic” to him, I considered the question he raised. Why, he asked me, do you have to work so hard at something that should be flowing out of who you are? Or, another way to consider the same idea as he stated it: what’s blocking the flow of gratitude?
As I’ve considered his question, I keep returning to a couple of thoughts. Discipline as I use it–at least as best as I understand myself–has to do with finding ways to keep reminding myself “what I am about or who I am”. In my experience, without some regular reminders of one sort or another, it’s easy for me to get caught up in all the “gotta do’s” and “what & how I’ve dones”. Setting the goal e.g., of one generous act a day sounds pretty cheesy I suppose if it looks like I’ve got my checklist out and marking off my “good deed” for the day. However, when I’m looking for how or where I might awaken to a new way to being generous (could be as simple as my response to someone tailing me in the car or not climbing up on my favorite soapbox), it has a way of waking me up to a lot of possibilities for generosity and gratitude! The goal is more a reminder to be, and less of an achievement to do.
I hope it’s clear that I’m not seeing my wakefulness to generosity as “oh–aren’t I just so wonderful and generous”…it’s more of a wow-it-makes-life-such-a-trip-when-I-am-awake-to-this-possibility-in-me”! In response to “what’s blocking the flow?”…I’m discovering that when I’m intent on allthatIhavetogetdoneRIGHTNOW! and youALLhadbetterfitintoMYschedule or if I’m in the mode of I’mRIGHTandyou’reWRONGsolet’snotwasteanymoretimeonthis, I tend to be blind to what gratitude and generosity can bring to any given situation.
A quote from Cicero has me thinking again about the magnitude of gratitude’s ground for being and becoming. He is credited with the following:
“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.”
Whether or not he is precisely correct, he gives voice to my sense that gratitude opens us up in significant ways. And whether or not gratitude is more virtuous than love–which i consider the undergirding of gratitude–gratitude and love both offer us the possibilities of discovering what can happen when we allow ourselves to open. Whether it is love or gratitude that compels us to let go of tightening in on ourselves is, perhaps, immaterial. What makes the difference is that we relax our self-imposed prisons of fear and doubt, and discover what can be when we are Open.
I have to admit that there are times when I find it difficult to make the choice to be grateful and generous. While sometimes being grateful seems easy enough, there are those times when I simply want to take the easiest route of making my discomfort somebody else’s problem and not mine! It is also true that now that I am aware that my responses to whatever is happening in my life is really mine to deal with and not someone else’s, it is harder (if not downright impossible) to blame someone else for very long.
When I am sad or upset about something happening in my life, I often find it helpful to remind myself that I can either make the choice to be grateful and generous or I can make the choice to pretend that it’s someone else’s to fix. Something helpful in the process of getting to a place of gratitude that I learned (actually “learned”, forgot and then was reminded by my husband) at a workshop some time ago is asking myself the following question: How am I being that this situation is occurring to me as it is? Considering this question helps get me to the place of discovering what it is that I’m hanging onto, what it is that I’m blinded by, what it is that colors my view and prevents me from moving on to the freedom of being grateful and generous.
A month or so ago, I accepted the challenge of taking time every day (well, almost every day) to write down several things that I am grateful for that particular day. My habit has become one of writing relatively early in the day–and while it’s easy for any habit to become simply a habit and not an active practice, I recommend using this practice as a time to really stop and consider what you are grateful for each day.
When I stop and consider “what am I grateful for in this moment?”, it helps me be present in the now in a significant way. It takes me out of my story-telling about “how busy I am!” or “how inappropriate someone was!” or “what that person should be doing is…” or whatever other story my mind is concocting. Being grateful simply stops the story telling for me. Choosing gratitude as a way of seeing and being changes how I experience life.
For example, one recent morning I had a brief moment of being present to the fact that I was grateful for my husband, son and daughter for being JUST AS THEY ARE. I say it was a “brief moment”–actually, that brief moment was what I think of as the “feeling” part of gratitude. What is so wonderful about creating a “gratitude statement” is that it gives us a place to work from when we forget what being grateful feels like. It’s possible to use these brief tastes to create our gratitude statement or choice, and then recall it when the lure of “wishing things were different” pulls at us and tempts us to complain. And indeed, there are times when the toxic position of “I wish he/she were different” can cloud my choice to be grateful. However, I since I consider gratitude to be a choice and not simply a feeling, remembering my gratitude statement (and the accompanying feeling) provides me with the opportunity of once again choosing to be grateful.
Choosing to be grateful means for me that I am willing to let go of my stories of “how things should be” and acknowledging and being present with “what is”.
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.