The complex nature of gratitude on this day of Thanksgiving

Today is Thanksgiving here in the U.S.  It’s our national day of gratitude, a day to pause and count our blessings as well as to gather with family and friends and stuff our bellies with an over-abundance of delicious food.

And yet, it seems important to acknowledge that this country came into being through a brutal history of conquest and colonization that killed vast numbers of the native people who were living on this continent long before Europeans “discovered” it.

Likewise, for the last several hundred years, our modern lifestyle has devoured so much of the natural world as resources-for-the-taking to drive the machine of our comfortable contemporary lives.

So while we each have much to be grateful for in our personal lives, if you follow the threads of history back in time to the origin of this country, and if you consider our relationship with the more-than-human world, collectively we have paid a high price for the abundance we live in.

I mention this because I’m a big-picture person by nature, and it feels important to round out the focus on “go gratitude!” that today is all about. Oddly enough, holding this wider awareness and the grief it engenders can actually deepen our sense of gratitude for all that we have, because of what it’s taken to get here.

On a personal level, at times it can be challenging to feel truly grateful, especially if we’ve experienced loss or are navigating a tough situation. And yet gratitude isn’t just something to feel after the fact, when life is flowing the way you want it to.

If you’re like many folks, when asked what you’re grateful for, you’ll probably acknowledge your health and well-being, the relationships of your heart, the purposeful work you get to do, the incredible freedom you possess, the fact that you can make choices most of the world can’t, the multi-faceted abundance in your life, and more.

In fact, when asked what gratitude is, the most obvious response is that it’s appreciating what you have, what you’ve been given, what you’ve manifested – the many blessings already in your life that you may at times take for granted. And that surely is an expression of gratitude, a very essential and satisfying one.

But it actually goes much deeper than that. The incomparable poet, David Whyte, says:

Gratitude is not a passive response to something given to us. Gratitude is being awake in the presence of everything that lives within and without us. Gratitude is not something that is shown after the event. It is the deep, a priori state of attention that shows we understand and are equal to the gifted nature of life.

hands-folded-heart.jpgGratitude is really an orientation to life. It begins with the recognition that Life itself is a profound gift – the whole of life and each and every moment in life.

It’s a blessing you didn’t earn, create, or accomplish. It’s simply available to you because you are an inherent part of the great web of Life. You belong to Life.

From a deeper perspective, gratitude is really about your relationship with the sacred.

And like all relationships, they come into their fullness and bless us most abundantly when we give them our consistent attention. You can’t ignore someone for years and then suddenly expect them to be your best friend.

So taking things for granted for 364 days of the year and then being grateful on this one day of Thanksgiving won’t infuse the whole of your life with the sense of awe, possibility, and grace that comes from living in daily gratitude.

Buddhist scholar Joanna Macy says that gratitude is the stance of the soul. Gratitude connects you to your joy-filled, wonder-infused essence and brings you home to your true power. And out of that, you create your life.

In fact, gratitude is the ground from which you create all measure of success in your life. It’s the fertile soil where you root into the truth of who you are, germinate the seeds of your desire and vision, grow the many relationships that will nourish you, and unfold your great work into a flourishing endeavor that blesses you, others, and the world.

When things get challenging, as they inevitably do in the ebb and flow of life and business, rather than allow yourself to spiral down into what you don’t have, into what’s not working, into how hard things are, engaging in a gratitude practice is a profound way to stay present and in the field of possibility.

And when you do that, more becomes possible. Honestly, if you want to create magic in your life, inhabit an attitude of gratitude. It’s simple and doesn’t cost anything to do.

Not only will it illuminate the sacred possibility already present in each moment, but it opens the flow for more to come your way. It takes you out of the stifling worry about how things might turn out in the future, and places you present and available to the wonder of what actually is right now.

It turns out that the flow from wonder to gratitude is a two-way street. So ask yourself how you can open to gratitude by embracing the wonder and beauty in this moment.

woman-arms-sky.jpgOne great way is to tune your inner radar for moments that stop you in your tracks and take your breath away. It could be the astonishing play of color at sunrise, or the intoxicating fragrance of a flower, or the joyous expression of a beloved.

These breathtaking moments are a miracle in which your heart opens in awe and wonder, and gratitude flows in. And the truth is you can actually cultivate them daily.

David Whyte says that “Being unappreciative means we are simply not paying attention”. So pay attention.

Make a decision to be present in the moment as often as you can, to experience the beauty that’s always there, to embrace an attitude of gratitude.

You’re human, so you’ll forget, and then you’ll remember, and forget, and remember. It’s all good.

Just know that if you want more wonder in your life, start with gratitude. And if you want to be in gratitude, open to wonder. This is how you infuse your life with true magic. This is how your life becomes magical.

Wonder and gratitude.

As you deepen into the beauty of that reciprocal dance, I invite you to also feel the weight of history out of which this day of Thanksgiving emerged.

Feel whatever grief is there for the choices our ancestors made that allow us to live in a land of such abundance. Feel the sorrow that arises when you consider the species going extinct and the disappearing natural world, so that we can live a life of modern convenience.

I know it’s asking a lot – grief, wonder, gratitude, all rolled together. But you’re a deep-hearted, complex soul. You can do it – for yourself, and as a model for others.

Open your heart to a deep, nourishing wellspring of gratitude for the gift of life, in all its beauty and blessing and in all its suffering and sorrow.

And remember, you are magnificent. I love you and am grateful the world is graced with your presence.

On this day of gratitude, may you be blessed now more than ever!


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