I’ve been rolling around in gratitude quite a bit recently. Certainly Thanksgiving helped pump up the volume on the outward expressions of gratitude even though I try to live with gratitude as a close companion throughout the year. Spending time gathered with family last weekend for the purpose of giving thanks was a lovely break from rancor, discord and loud clanging voices. I witnessed unexpected simple and profound healing kindnesses born of gratitude and the warmth buoyed me from gathering to gathering, still lingering with me now.
As a result, I’ve decided that I’m not willing to set aside gratitude as something to embrace only on special occasions. In fact, I am more committed than ever to living in gratitude as a daily practice. It feels so necessary right now and also a practical response to the world which beacons me daily to anger, anguish and fear. In those states of being, I feel limited, less than, diminished and utterly un-resourceful, with little to offer except more of what I am pushing against. So instead I am doubling down on gratitude, my friends, and going all in. It is a matter of survival and the best way I know to respond to challenges and struggle, with the eyes of possibility.
This came about in part because I have started seeing gratitude differently. What if gratitude isn’t simply a periodic appreciative response for what we ‘get’ or ‘have’? There are too many without to feel entirely comfortable with that narrow view. What if gratitude is instead a two-way path that involves both giving and receiving, acknowledging and responding? What if gratitude requires action, relationship, and a purposeful generative response? And what if gratitude is an equally meaningful response to the good stuff that we love and enjoy as it is to the value of what we learn in the difficulties and darkness?
Allow me to tease this out a bit.
The Natural World: Traveling through the countryside to a holiday gathering, I noted the beautiful vista outside my window. As I rolled along, I felt grateful not simply for the beauty of the landscape but also for the sheer mystery and magic of nature’s plans that turn sunlight and moisture and air into plants and growth and nourishment. Certainly it is important to notice and feel gratitude. That’s where it begins. I wonder, however, if there is a deeper response in relationship with nature, to protect and advocate for the natural world and our food supply? Not simply grateful for the food on our table through taking and harvesting but for the responsibility to nurture the land for the privilege of life and breath.
The Presence: In our gatherings last weekend I felt a noticeable Presence of goodness in our interactions, permeating all things like the turkey’s fragrance. I felt gratitude not just for this tangible Presence of good-will in divided times but for our moment-by-moment opportunity to BE a conduit for that Presence in our immediate world. Actively engaged, listening, feeding, nurturing, advocating, loving and caring.
The Blessed Irritation of Loved Ones: When I roll out my yoga mat I see an opportunity for bodily TLC, cultivating quiet and mindful self-care. My wee four-legged companion, however, simply sees a non-stick surface to aid in chewing her bone. These two differing viewpoints invariably ignite frustration (mine not hers). As I breathe, rest and move it is to a distinct non-soothing soundtrack of crunch, crunch, crunch, gnaw, gnaw, gnaw. The other day I sighed in exasperation and lifted my attention to shoo her away, having reached the limit of my patience. As I gazed at this beloved, aging family member, I suddenly became aware of how much I shall miss her when she is gone. My grief will be abundant to be sure. Instead of a terse brush off, I patted her head and whispered kind words. Her presence in my life is a gift and is directly related to my unwavering commitment to nearly every aspect of her care, a burden I readily welcome and embrace.
Wonder: The day after our first snow fall I stepped outside intending a solid 30-minute brisk walk around town. The sidewalks, however, were a maze of treacherous patches inviting swift unintentional re-orientations from vertical to horizontal. I slowed my steps and my entire body tightened in frustration. As I paused to take a breath and assess the situation, I decided to see this adventure differently and shift my expectation. As I looked around I began to wonder about the amazing nature of water which can take so many forms, moving from wet to frozen and even to vapor with the slightest change of conditions. Each form serving its own purpose. From that perspective, I was witnessing magical alchemy there on the sidewalk! And so it can be with us, adapting to life with the change of conditions. I was also reminded to put down a healthy measure of sand on the sidewalk in front of our home to provide safe passage for friends and neighbors.
Warmth: For the first winter in 12 years, I am resurrecting long underwear, hats, scarves and gloves. As snow-birds living in winter warmth for many years, I have become accustomed to traveling lightly, perhaps donning a light jacket at most. As a returned Minnesotan, I am enjoying snuggling into warm clothing and long-ago packed sweaters. Perhaps most-adored by me (and tolerated by my husband) are the lime-green snow pants circa 1977. Oh, I love them so and the swipe-swipe-swipe sound they make as I walk through the winter elements delights me to no end. In my warm protected state, I am reminded of those who have no protection from the cold. This awareness nudges me to fill my car with small sacks of hats, mittens and scarves enabling mindful and meaningful responses of the simple needs I see. An active, living gratitude.
Challenges: And finally, the biggie, can we give thanks for those things that challenge us to our core? I come down solidly on the side that sees all things as opportunities to learn and grow. I have met myself – all my fears and ugliness, beauty and resiliency – in my darkest hours. The response we choose and who we become is ours forever. While I do not invite advercity, neither do I run from it. It is my teacher and I its student.
How about you? How do you see the world? It is a choice you know. Where are the gifts for which you can be grateful, even if your world feels dark? Are they readily evident or cleverly hidden? Do they require more than simply seeing and receiving them? Are you also somehow called to actively participate in keeping them alive? I believe we are called to feel the light and joy of gratitude as well as the weight and substance of it, to heed the call to carry our thanks reverently and to bring it to our challenges as a resourceful place to start.
As we ponder the many things for which we are grateful, perhaps we can look deeper for the manner in which we are called to participate, to not only express our gratitude but also BE a living gratitude in a hurting world.
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