What are you grateful for? How long can you make your list? How often do you say “thank you?” How often do you stop whatever it is that you’re doing to fully appreciate the moment and everything that goes along with this precious slice of eternity?
Do me a favor…stop reading this right now, close your eyes, and be grateful for as many things as you possibly can for the next few moments. Just start rattling them off in your mind.
How’d that go? Do you feel any different?
I like to think that I was born into gratitude. My birthday, being November 26, happens to land on Thanksgiving every few years. I fully understand the controversial nature of this day. There is no denying the countless atrocities inflicted upon the original inhabitants of this land. If we so choose, we could dive right into the debate of how this actually became a holiday. We could take offense to the vanilla, public school story of the kind and generous Natives feeding the poor, cold and starving Pilgrims. Or we could talk about how those same Pilgrims probably pilfered the corn and grain stores of those Natives. Or, if we want to get really dicey, we could even point toward the massacre of 700 men, women and children of the Pequot tribe who were celebrating their own “Thanksgiving” called the green corn festival. I will swiftly remove myself from this debate. I’m no historian; I’m just an appreciative dude trying to find more ways to feel grateful. All genocide aside, I think it’s really cool that our good ol’ American calendar offers a day where we can stay home from work and be grateful. I know its not necessarily viewed in this light by most Americans, but wouldn’t it be great if it were? Thanksgiving could use a rebranding. Ditch the ridiculous pilgrim shoes and the unlikely turkey theme and focus on what’s really important…parades of blown up cartoon characters sponsored by department stores and slightly concussed man-beasts smashing each other for glory. Wait, that can’t be right…more on this in November.
Back to the discussion at hand; gratitude, what is it? What does gratitude feel like? It’s not quite happy. It’s not quite sad. It truly is its own thing. Besides our little exercise moments ago, when do you usually feel gratitude? For me, the more I pay attention, the more grateful I am.
Gratitude is my religion.
As a teenager, I found myself deeply enraptured by the customs and practices of Judaism. This was a very unlikely scenario, being secularly brought up by my questioning Christian mother and non-practicing Jewish father. Given the broad and inclusive nature of their nurturing, my fervent religiosity was both naive and ill-conceived. It brought an undue strain on my reluctantly supportive (and profoundly unreligious) family and it garnered a wholly unrecommended flavor of zealotry in myself. It only lasted a few years and I learned so much; so water under the bridge…right Mom and Dad? While diving head first into a very conventional religious tradition left a strong taste of bitter herbs in my mouth (Happy Passover my Israelite cronies!), it did introduce me to a beautiful custom that I carry with me to this day. I still offer a moment of gratitude before every meal. The only difference is that I no longer thank any particular deity for the meal, I’m merely thankful for the opportunity to feed this fabulously complex meat machine that houses the miraculously conscious awareness capable of gratitude.
This is happening?!
There’s all these delicious things that grow and swim and roam all over this spinning hunk of water and rock hurtling itself around a magically contained nuclear explosion?!
And all those growing and swimming and roaming things just so happen to be made up of exactly all the things that we all need to survive?! (By “we,” of course, I’m referring to all the growing, swimming, and roaming things doing this Earth dance together.) That's amazing! No, that’s flabbergastingly stupendous!!! Is there a god or gods responsible for all this? I don’t really care. It’s not that I’m an atheist, I just don’t find it necessary to direct my appreciation for this magical physical manifestation toward anything in particular. Feeling profoundly and deeply grateful seems to do the trick.
It’s not just about saying thanks for the grand, meticulous perfection of the cosmos. Gratitude on that massive scale has a delightfully direct trickle-down effect on this human experiment as well. When I’m grateful for the meal before me and all the nutritious critters on my plate, I find myself becoming grateful for the server that brought the plate to my table, the electrician who wired the restaurant to keep the food cold and fresh, the workers involved in the construction of the refrigeration device, the truck driver that delivered the food, the farmer who grew or raised the food, the workers who harvested it. Then there’s the craftspeople that made the plates, the artists who designed the cutlery, the miners who dug up those metals, the factory workers who assembled the tables and chairs, the people who built the looms that wove the table cloths and napkins, those who installed the hardwood floors, the craftspeople who planed the floors, the folks that built the planers, on and on and on and on and on. And that’s only stopping to thank some of the humans involved in that restaurant experience. There are countless microorganisms, plants, bacteria, minerals and animals to thank as well. I touched on the topic of interdependent co-arising last blog. It’s no joke! Who and what we are simply could no be without everything else doing what it does. For that, I am grateful.
“This is It and I am It and You are It and so is That and He is It and She is It and It is It and That is That.”
Of course there are times when my rose colored glasses turn a nasty shade of shit brown. Being a human on this planet, currently and historically, has been an extremely challenging endeavor. Some of us popped out of holes that carry more privilege than others. I, for one, can’t imagine what it would be like to have been born under the reign of a warlord, to have my family blown to bits before my eyes, to not know where my next meal will come from, nor recall when was the last time I ate. I shutter to think of the deplorable acts inflicted upon my brothers and sisters by my brothers and sisters. Yet, life persists. Blood pumps through the veins, a stranger offers a subtle smile, the sun rises on the eastern horizon, and gravity saves us from the endless vacuum. Somehow, when we dig deep enough, there is always something to be grateful for.
“We can complain because rose bushes have thorns or we can rejoice because thorn bushes have roses.” I think Abraham Lincoln said that. “It’s really hard to complain when we’re filled with gratitude.”….I said that.