(The second of three interconnected posts on gratitude)
When I experience gratitude, to whom do I give thanks?
Although there are many circumstances in which gratitude is and should be other-directed, my perception of it as a state of being implies that it is a state complete in and of itself. It is a profound and positive way of relating to reality.
At the most fundamental level, it acknowledges the gift of life. I wake up each day with a deep sense of gratitude for being alive. I am grateful to my parents, my family, my friends for their love and care, for the pleasure of their company, for their impact on my life. I am grateful for water to drink, air to breathe, for sunlight, for all the miraculous natural processes that sustain life. I am grateful for beauty, whether in looking in awe at the rich colours of an autumn landscape or in experiencing human constructs – art, architecture, music, dance, drama, poetry, good food and wine and more.
But, in cultivating the practice of gratitude, I am also grateful for the growth and learning offered by the less obviously ‘positive’ experiences. I would not wish a head injury on anyone. But as well as being profoundly grateful that it wasn’t worse, I am genuinely grateful for the insights I am gaining from my current experience of post-concussion syndrome. I have a new appreciation of the demands we make on our brain, the intense sensory input of modern life, and the way in which the stream of our thoughts impacts on our processing ability and levels of fatigue. This awareness offers me new choices as to how to live and be. My ‘prescription’ of thirty minutes meditation morning and evening is forcing me to adopt a discipline that I hope to maintain at some level for the rest of my life. I have been gifted an opportunity to embrace a time of life-change with a degree of mindfulness that, given my enthusiastic nature, I would likely never have managed had I not hit my head! And, of course, any such experience can feed our capacity for compassion through the new awareness it brings.
This kind of gratitude practice is a discipline and also a chosen lens. It is perhaps most closely aligned to Buddhist thought, though I feel blessed that for me it seems to have been a natural part of my relationship with life as far back as I can remember.
It is possible, even at a very mundane level, to choose gratitude. I learned long ago to choose to be grateful, every time I catch a red light, for a moment or two of space in which to stop and breathe!
Of course, gratitude may be experienced or perceived in the light of our beliefs and directed towards God, Allah, the Universe, Mother Earth, a Higher Power. Some would argue that atheist or agnostic gratitude must admit a somewhat limited quality. This is not my experience. If gratitude is simply the expression of a feeling, then perhaps this may be true. If it is experienced as a way of being it is genuinely transformative, regardless of an individual’s belief system.
Gratitude accepts that nothing is ours by right; it roots us in mindful awareness, acceptance and humility; it helps us achieve peace of mind, even when life is challenging; and, increasingly, modern science recognizes that it is good for us!