Were you ever told "eat your peas" or "liver" . . . "there are starving children in the world?" (Even if you were not, for I do not actually recall my parents ever saying that), it is in the discourse in Western culture and many are familiar with it. It is an attempt to elicit gratitude from children (as well as foist the value of peas and liver upon them). I suspect few children felt truly grateful at that moment. To me, authentic gratitude feels like sheer amazement or wonder. It is a kind of joy and deep thankfulness that a particular something exists. Of course that requires that we notice that that something exists and in our busy an hectic lives we often fail to notice. So much goes by that we never notice. We spend so much time doing and much less observing, much less noticing much less enraptured by the unending beauty in the world.
Artists notice. At its heart that may be the essence of art, noticing and elevating, so that others notice too. Perhaps that is why so many true artists are not celebrated during their lifetime. Society was not ready to notice what was obvious to them. I've read that the exercise of simply writing down that which one is grateful for, can uplift the spirits immensely. The times I have done it -- it has certainly been true. if it at first feels contrived and method like, the list never dries up. Each of us has more blessings than we could ever count.
I suspect authentic gratitude helps because it is an opening to a wider perspective. It is particularly useful when we have become too myopic about a problem and have lost sight of the context in which the problem arises. It may be the case that the problem hurts or seems sticky or causes us anxiety but is certainly not the only thing going on at that moment. When we suffer we have identified with the clouds, forgetting that we are the sky. Even identification with the clouds can be seen as part of the sky. There is nothing wrong with the identification, it simply happens. But often we worry that we are not being spiritual if problems or identification arise. Or we become so focused that it the only part of life that is before our eyes. Of course problems arise. But they could never be the whole. Furthermore, how wonderful it is that problems arise. How monotonous life would be without "problems" I suspect they start feeling less like problems though, when you recognize them as the diverse and rich texture of life itself in its pain, glory, wonder, sorrow and joy and a million other nuances.
Through these eyes seeing is gratitude. It cannot make sense to the mind which will fight to turn the problems and challenges into a theory of justice and at one level that is well and good. There is nothing wrong with a good theory of justice. At another level is an extremely radical question to ask: What can we include in our gratitude? What must be left out? What does that suggest?
Here are few things I am grateful for at this moment:
The fact that I am able to type
The clicking of the keyboard keys in a clackety rhythm.
My beautiful partner
Loving and healthy parents
My loving child
Friends in many places: VA, Seattle, MD, Pennsylvania, New York, DC, Colorado, France
Three crazy cats
Bread in every form it can be ingested
Potatoes - I don't think I've ever met one that I didn't love
Pesto - perhaps my all time favorite. For me, it is proof that universe is benevolence.
Long summer days
Pictures drawn by my eight year old
Well run meetings
and those were just the things that came to me in three minutes.
I would love to hear from you. What is that you are grateful for? Its fun to write down or say it out loud to someone near. Really it is. What are you grateful for in this moment. I dare you to try it.