– A Personal Reflection on Gratitude –
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. I thought I’d take this opportunity to share a personal reflection on gratitude, and thank everyone for their support.
I’ve been feeling a lot of gratitude lately, as I’m sure many of you have with Thanksgiving upon us. And though some of the gratitude I’ve been feeling is for all the wonderful things in life — my partner and kids, my mom and dad, my friends, my adorable dogs, and all the rest — most of my gratitude, this month, has been focused on the other half of the spectrum, the things we more often run from, hate, or condemn; our struggles and hardships, our pain and suffering.
This particular focus came about as I was preparing to discuss our family’s new monthly virtue for November — gratitude. Just to give some context here, at our home, we gather as a family in the morning for what we call Morning Devotional, a ritual where we reverently devote ourselves to Love. And as a part of this morning ritual, we study a monthly virtue, read from one of the world’s wisdom traditions, memorize a poem or scripture, and end in silent meditation, where the we return to our unbounded hearts and minds, where the stillness washes away all dividing lines and points us back to Love.
So, to prepare for our first discussion of gratitude, I flipped through my journal, which has a daily gratitude practice, and I noticed this imbalance — essentially all of my gratitude was aimed at what we generally think of as positive, pleasant, or warm. It caught me off guard because I thought I knew better. Yeah, the easy, joyful things in life are great. But it’s our trials and hardships that really fuel our growth and mold our character.
I was especially surprised considering that one year ago, when I sat with Ayahuasca, she reflected before me all the growth I had experienced in the previous two years, even though I had felt like I was just drowning in grief for those two years. But as I’ve expressed on this podcast before, looking back now, it’s really hard to relate to who I was before that winter season in my life because it has given me so much growth. I feel like it was only through that grieving process and, at the same time, giving myself to my family, becoming a parent, that I really transitioned into adulthood.
Anyway, because of this personal reflection and because winter is coming, I’ve asked my family, in our study of gratitude, to put emphasis on the hard things. I’ve asked them all to keep a sharp eye on their struggles to see if they can find any gratitude in them.
And just the other day, my oldest, who is 11, shared an experience he had at Pokemon club. Turns out, he had traded some really nice cards for a fake. “Oh No!” I said, “Did you call bullshit where there’s bullshit?”
“Yes,” he said. And then went on to say that he tried to resolve it peacefully but was unable to, and so he went to the child’s parent, who apparently just said, “I’m sorry.”
“Bummer, dude. That’s frustrating. I’m sorry,” I said, before asking, “So, how were you able to find gratitude in this situation?”
“Well,” he said, “first, I was able to see some humor in it. I actually laughed at the card I got, which gave the Pokemon powers that don’t exist, or even make sense, really.”
We all laughed with him, and then I asked, “Was there anything else you were able to find gratitude for?”
“Yes,” he said. “I learned not to be fooled. From now on, I will make sure to trade my card only after I have inspected the other card.”
Joy and sorrow are one. The light does not exist without the dark. So, as you gather together around the table today, yes, share your gratitude for all the light. But I invite you to also see if you can take a moment to find and sink into some gratitude for something that has caused you pain or grief. Kahlil Gibran, in his poem titled On Joy and Sorrow, says:
Your joy is your sorrow unmasked. And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears. And how else can it be?
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.
Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven? And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives?
When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy. When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.
Some of you say, “Joy is greater than sorrow,” and others say, “Nay, sorrow is the greater.” But I say unto you, they are inseparable. Together they come, and when one sits alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.
Verily you are suspended like scales between your sorrow and your joy. Only when you are empty are you at standstill and balanced. When the treasure-keeper lifts you to weigh his gold and his silver, needs must your joy or your sorrow rise or fall.
Now, I’m sorry if I sound like a broken record player, but let me once again bring death into the conversation. Because, death provides a direct route into gratitude. When we understand, not just conceptually, but when we really take the time to sink into the understanding that you will die and lose everyone and everything you hold dear. Maybe today, maybe tomorrow. Or maybe you will live long enough to watch everyone you love succumb to sickness, disease, old age, and death, and then you will die.
But when we truly face this reality, when we really understand the fragility and preciousness of life, when we see directly our own impermanence, we begin to gain a profound clarity, a discriminating wisdom that keeps us pointed at what really matters. And more and more, each moment will be framed with gratitude.
Now, again, I don’t say this to depress you. I say it to really open you to gratitude. I say it so that you will not take anyone or anything for granted. Each moment is fading, it’s dying as quickly as it’s coming into being. Take a look at what is here now in this moment.
This is your life. Be here for it. This is the only place where you can find peace, fulfillment, and happiness. Set your gaze on this, on this moment, on the friend, partner, or child in front of you, on the sounds in the room, on the touch of the air on your skin, on the earth beneath your feet, on the sky above you, on the internal vibrations of emotion and feeling, on the eternal song of knowing.
Grief and gratitude are woven together from the beginning. Life is precious because it is impermanent. This moment is precious because it will end. The person across from you is the most valuable thing in the world because he or she will one day die. As Francis Weller says in his wonderful book titled On the Wild Edge of Sorrow, “There is no love that does not contain loss and no loss that is not a reminder of the love we carry for what we once held close.”
Let me hover on this last point for a moment. When we express thanks today, we are recognizing that which is not apart from us. We recognize that we would not be who, what, or where we are without this person or thing to giving thanks to. We understand that we wouldn’t feel this joy, we wouldn’t experience this beauty or this comfort, we wouldn’t have this knowledge or this experience without the object of our gratitude.
Gratitude has a unique ability to cut directly through the delusion of separation, the delusion that we are isolated and alone, cut off from the rest of existence. When we tap into gratitude, we feel expansive and connected, tied up and in love with some dimension of experience, our selves, or the world.
And with a little practice, these feelings can grow into something quite remarkable. We can begin with gratitude for something as ordinary as the food on your plate today and let it grow until it encompasses the entire world. My daughter Olivia is particularly keen on this process. Often, as we take a moment of silence before we eat, she follows the food that sits on her plate back through its journey. She sees her food in its fullness, connecting herself to the soil in which the food was planted, to the sun and the rain, to the farmers who cared for the plants, to the truck driver who drove the food to the store, to the cashier who sold the food to us, and so on.
“Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson
The more we open ourselves to gratitude, the more we can see how we rely and depend upon the rest. The more we open to gratitude, the more we are able to open to our wholeness, to our undivided nature. Gratitude, then, is largely a kind of perspective of the world. And it’s a perspective which really is an antidote to so much of our suffering.
When we focus on what we don’t have, or on all the things we wish we had, then we will live from a state of discontentment. We will never be satisfied, we will never find peace. Selfishness, jealousy, anger, frustration, and entitlement will be our constant companions. Try putting on a new lens; see if you can see the world from another perspective, one that fills you with gratitude and contentment for all that you have, for all that you are.
What a privilege it is to be alive. What a blessing it is to have this moment, this experience, here, now. There is this one opportunity to send love out into the world, there is this one moment to bow to the earth and thank it for its support, there is this one moment to hold yourself and those close to you with the utmost care and compassion. You have this moment, here, now, to witness the miracle and majesty that you are. And the moment will never come again. Don’t squander it.
May you cherish and find gratitude for yourself and for all those around you on this Thanksgiving Day. May you truly be at peace.
“Remember that you must behave in life as at a dinner party. Is anything brought around to you? Put out your hand and take your share with moderation. Does it pass by you? Don’t stop it. Is it not yet come? Don’t stretch your desire towards it, but wait till it reaches you. Do this with regard to children, to a wife, to public posts, to riches, and you will eventually be a worthy partner of the feasts of the gods. And if you don’t even take the things which are set before you, but are able even to reject them, then you will not only be a partner at the feasts of the gods, but also of their empire.”
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