The poet Kahlil Gibran suggests that we “wake at dawn with a winged heart and give thanks for another day of loving.” What a beautiful sentiment, and how far it is from my typical dawn, in which I wake with a stiff back, a chorus of barking Pomeranians, and a deep and cranky longing for a little more sleep! If you feel less like Kahlil Gibran and more like Laura Wenger, this post is for you.
One of my friends and students shared Max Ehrmann’s Desiderata with me recently. I hadn’t seen it in years and I was struck by these lines:
“And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive him to be, and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul. With all its shams, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful.”
So straightforward- it cut right to my heart. Gratitude is not always natural for me and I love these reminders. It is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Suck it up, sister! (Now I’m just paraphrasing).
Sometimes ingratitude can sneak up on you. Not sure how you measure up? Check out this idea of the Gratitude Ratio from meditation teacher Phillip Moffit’s online essay on Selfless Gratitude.
“You might ask yourself about your ‘gratitude ratio.’ Do you experience the good things in your life in true proportion to the bad things? Or do the bad things receive a disproportionate amount of your attention, such that you have a distorted sense of your life?…When you look at how much griping you do versus how much gratitude you feel, you realize how far off your emotional response is from your real situation…Why would you want to go around with a distorted view of your life, particularly when it makes you miserable?”
Naturally I don’t want to have a distorted view of life, and I am fortunate (see, there’s gratitude!!) to have tools that keep me on track. Meditation and practiced mindfulness are a tremendous help to me in my own personal gratitude practice. The style of meditation that I practice teaches that thoughts and emotions are like weather in the sky of my awareness- familiar, but temporary and ultimately inconsequential to the sky itself. Noticing thoughts and emotions as they arise and seeing them as “mind-weather” helps my gratitude ratio to look a little more balanced.
Nonetheless, it is a practice, and there will be days when your inner child is throwing a tantrum about something or other, and your awareness is completely clouded with dark and stormy thoughts. Perhaps, as Ehrmann says, all you see are “shams, drudgery, and broken dreams.” On those days, some common sense from the Bhagavad Gita might be helpful:
“What is it you lost that you are grieving for? What is it that you brought into this world that you have lost? Whatever you gained, you gained from this world. Whatever you lost, you lost to this world. What belongs to you today, belonged to someone else yesterday and will belong to someone else tomorrow.”
Remember Aparigraha? Knowing that all things are temporary, that both abundance and suffering will come and go as part of your life, is a lovely place to find a spontaneous source of gratitude. I am grateful for the many gifts of my life. I am grateful that suffering does not last. Sometimes I even manage to be grateful for the lessons found in suffering.
Albert Schweitzer: “At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.” It wouldn’t be a Thanksgiving post without me saying: Thank you to you. You light my flame, and not in a weird or gross way, but in a profound and generous way that keeps me going. I am so grateful to all of you who take the time to come to my class, to read and comment on these thoughts, and to those of you who email to share in return. I am passionately grateful for my teachers and my students, who are also, of course, my teachers.
No doubt, the universe is unfolding as it should. Thanksgiving blessings, friends!