Radical gratitude

Happy Thanksgiving, friends!

Well, I suppose it’s time for an obligatory post on gratitude.  Until quite recently, I had put the word on a long list entitled “Words that sound pretty but that are overused in the spiritual community to the point where I shudder at the mention of them.”  When I attended classes concluding with an invitation to “feel gratitude” (which, surprisingly, is most classes), I internally rolled my eyes very far back.

You see, I had always thought of gratitude in the context of “gratitude journals” and affirmations.  Examples: When the mind is contracted, generating a world lacking in “enough,” redirect to different, better thoughts.  Repeat ten times: “I am exceedingly grateful for the abundance overflowing in my life.”  Write down 3 fabulous things occurring right now.  If you feel like shit, feel something better – gratitude for your family, gratitude for your breath, etc.

These techniques are all very nice in theory, yet I’ve always found them unappetizing.  If I’m feeling angry, or if my boss is vicious, or if I have a monstrous headache, diverting my attention to gratitude seems not only phony but like a rejection of my experience.  This is, after all, what drew me to mindfulness meditation.  After years of rejecting “negative” thoughts as “unspiritual” and dangerous, I’ve found relief in making space for the anger, the resentment, the headaches, without imposing an overlay of more “spiritual/positive” thoughts (particularly grateful thoughts).

Yet over the past several months, I’ve started asking myself the question: can gratitude practice be redefined?  What if it’s not about gratitude for “good” things, but gratitude for…everything?

In the 19th century Tibetan lojong (“mind training”) teachings, there is a maxim that says, “Be grateful to everyone.”  A lovely Emerson quote provides perfect commentary:

“Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.”

I adore the last line, especially – cultivating an all-inclusive gratitude “because all things have contributed to your advancement.”  This is, I think, a very radical notion!

It is an integrative perspective that graciously bows before everything – the anger, the vicious boss, the headache – seeing them as servants of our awakening, of our freedom.  It is that sense of awe as we trust in the perfect harmony of our own lives, and of life itself.  It is a powerful and revolutionary approach to challenges, to suffering, as we welcome them and then let them evolve us.  It is, quite simply, loving life unconditionally.

This is a gratitude practice that is neither trite nor sentimental, and that could certainly transform our worlds.

Well friends, enjoy delicious Thanksgiving food and, as a fun little challenge, practice saying “thank you” to the aches and pains, the people who push all your buttons, the “shouldn’t be this way”s.  Even for just a moment, can you imagine them as life’s beautiful gifts to you, beckoning you to awaken to that which is most true?

Advertisements