Gratitude: A Spiritual Gift of Awareness

I remember a time when I was separated from the world, existing in a tightly woven cocoon bound by layer upon layer of grief and pain. Numb of any real feelings I was shut off from the world around me – isolated from others, and indeed myself. All the positive sensibilities and feelings that I previously held and displayed were covered over as if they didn’t exist. Beyond the minimum functioning of everyday routine I was out of it, absent from my life. Then one day something changed. The hurt that was wrapped around my life for so long, started to dissolve without me even noticing. Slowly but surely my tightly bound prison was falling away allowing me to be present in the world fully feeling again. The pain and grief in my life had needed time to reach an authentic reconciliation – a healing, curative resolution before it would dissolve. But dissolve it did. In looking back on this period of my life I realize that although I was weakened by the process, at the very core I was the same person who could, and would regain their strength. I came back to who I was…..

We can all close down when pain and hurt attack us, we can all lose a piece of ourselves sometimes, life is like that but we do have the potential to recover and look at the world with fresh eyes. A renewed life that could grant us an appreciative, thankful heart for all that we have been given. This is what happen to me and I was filled with awesome gratitude that made me weep for days…..

A WORLD OF MIRACLES
We live in a world of miracles that burst forth in every moment, in every day for those who are truly looking, for those who are truly perceptive enough in their vision of the extraordinary. We have all been handed this miraculous gift of life that contains incredible ability to achieve so much for others and ourselves and it is all just an insight away – an insight that may change our lives forever. But too often we pull back from this spiritual presence and allow ourselves to drift into a taken for granted mindset that sees everything as ‘ ordinary ‘ and ‘ routine, ‘ failing to appreciate what we do have until it is threatened or taken away. I know quite a bit about this because I was once involved in a serious car accident that could have killed me. It didn’t, and remarkably I just walked away from the wreckage completely unscathed. After the incident all I could do was cry for days in deep gratitude for my life that had been saved. It was a full body experience that shook me into the realization of the sanctity of life – my life in all its uniqueness and preciousness.
We must never allow ourselves to adopt the ‘ false view ‘ that sees and treats everything in a mundane, commonplace almost tedious way. Our practice, which needs constantly working at, is to see everything as if for the very first time and also the very last time. By cultivating this Buddhist practice of mindfulness we pay homage to the special beauty of everything that comes into our lives and recognize the reality of impermanence; that everything will pass away. With this practice we begin to see things much differently. The world becomes fresher, more curious in an intriguing and fascinating way. Everything starts to glow in its special, unique existence because we are giving them due attention and recognition knowing that they are temporal, like shooting stars in a vast night sky of existence.
To live fully and completely in this way, using every last ounce of the life we have been given is an obligation, a duty we owe to ourselves and all those around us. Anything less is a diminishment that reduces our innate, self-empowerment to be who we could potentially be and we must never, ever allow this to happen.

‘ Do not say, “ It is morning,” and dismiss it with a name of yesterday. See it for the first time as a newborn child that has no name.’

Rabindranath Tagore

THE GIFT WE GIVE TO OTHERS AND THE GIFT WE RECEIVE BACK
Gratitude should never be one-way traffic; something a person feels after the receipt of some act of goodness from others. That would make it restrictive and limited in its generosity. For in order to fully flourish gratitude must enter a reciprocal relationship that benefits both parties – the receiver and the giver. So when we give we must do so with a generous and full heart without too much concern about our  reward  because the act of our giving is itself reward enough. Then, in this supremely spiritual act we become stronger, we become, momentarily ‘ Bodhisattvas ‘ who can put aside personal affairs for the benefit of others in an ever deepening commitment to self sacrifice and surrender.
Thomas Merton once wrote in his journal: “ As for old people: the beauty of the Church shines also in those who are helped and who have nothing to give except the fact that they can be helped: which is a great gift to the Church!”
Without a ‘ receiver ‘ there could be no ’ giver ‘ so where would we go in order to attain Buddhahood?!

MENTAL HEALTH AND GRATITUDE
How much of our lives do we take for granted I wonder? How often do we become self-preoccupied with thinking, even implicitly, that the universe should revolve around us and conform to our needs and desires? How often do we lay down expectations on outcomes, often set in concrete, and never challenge their legitimacy, viability or merits? I could lose count of the multitude of expectations that I harbour just to get through one, single day. It’s truly astonishing what we expect when we reflect on the matter, which begs the question: how grateful are we when we receive these offerings? Gratitude is good medicine, it enlivens us, makes us more appreciative of the richness of life in all its entirety. Gratitude could be considered a form of mental / spiritual wealth whereas dissatisfaction could be considered a form of mental / spiritual poverty. Yet despite the enormous benefits, both physically and mentally, we can receive from a life that acknowledges and appreciates its gift of existence little attention has been given to the gratitude process. Dan Mc Adams, an academic psychologist recognizes these benefits, which have been supported by research findings, but he writes: “Psychologists have tended to look down their nose at gratitude as little more than a question of having good manners and remembering to say thank you,” He then surprisingly states that the concept of gratitude isn’t even mentioned in the Encyclopedia of Human Emotions, a standard text book on psychology. “But if a sense of thankfulness can turn someone’s life from bitter to positive, that makes gratitude an important aspect of psychology, ” and who could argue with this?!.

CONCLUSION
Carl Jung once remarked: “ Nobody, as long as he moves about among the chaotic currents of life, is without trouble.” Yet we often assume that some people are exempt from pain and disappointment, cut off from all the trials and tribulations that seem to beset the rest of us. But in reality this is just a false projection, an illusion that plays downs the universality of suffering. I’ve yet to meet anyone who has not suffered in life. The degree of severity may differ but the spectre of Dukkha eventually comes to seek us ALL out wherever we may be – geographically, physically, or emotionally. But we must remember that we are bigger than our hurt, bigger than our set-backs, bigger than all the difficulties life presents to us. We have all been empowered with inner resources to change our lives – to transform Dukkha into gold and this is a wonderfully, inspiring thought to reflect upon. This is where pain itself could be considered, rather strangely, a gift – for it throws down a gauntlet, opens us up to a challenge that will allow us to explore our inner potential thus creating further personal growth and expansion for us.

We all have a choice – we can either dwell on the ‘ negative ‘ elements of our daily lives and suffer the consequences of ill feeling and resentment that will undoubtedly drain us emotionally, OR we can choose to concentrate on the ‘ positive ‘ and receive them as gifts that adorn our lives for the better. But ultimately, through adopting a gratitude practice, we will come to see that there is really no ‘ negative ‘ or ‘ positive ‘ elements, only lessons that we must learn to deepen and enrich our understanding of what is – and for this we must be grateful….

“ I have found life an enjoyable, enchanting, active, and sometime terrifying experience, and I’ve enjoyed it completely. A lament in one ear, maybe, but always a song in the other. “

Sean O’Casey

JOURNEY WELL WITH A FULL AND OPEN HEART