The Art of Gratitude

I genuinely believe that one of our planet’s most urgent needs is for us to learn the art of gratitude. Gratitude is a state of mind which encourages cooperation. It is a way of being which blesses everything around us. To learn to be truly grateful in your heart is one of the most beautiful gifts you can give the world.

This doesn’t mean that you have to have a false positivity all the time, however. True gratitude is not about pretending everything is nice. Rather, it is about understanding the true gift of existence in the depths of our being. It is about realising that we are part of a large interconnected ecosystem in which all life is one. Gratitude is awe and wonder at the splendour of it all.

To be in love with everything that reality is means that we can’t always be cheerful, even if we keep this deep awe in our hearts. At times, the art of gratitude requires that we lament and mourn. We can appreciate this world and still lament what it often entails. When we lament from that deep well of gratitude inside, then we consecrate the suffering. Lament and praise can live together as one. I have written about this topic in these two articles: The Deep Mystery of Sacred Sadness and Sadness Can be an Angel or a Demon.

To be grateful for life is to be grateful for death as they are two sides of the same coin. Life and death, pleasure and pain, are all essential to the flourishing of this ecosystem, which we often name Mother Earth. The continual rhythm of birth, reproduction, and death is what allows our ecosystem to evolve.

One of the marvels revealed to us by the discovery of evolution is that there are not actually clear boundaries between different species. At some point back my dog and I share a common ancestor. We are cousins, even if we are far removed. We share about 50% of our DNA with plants, even though they seem to be nothing like us on the surface.

All life on Mother Earth is one. We share a single history. We are a single body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” The human tendency towards arrogance is astounding. When it comes to the environment we are are very much the eye saying to the hand “I have no need of you.” We think we can survive on this planet on our own, as independent creatures.

But in truth we are completely dependent creatures. Our cousins the trees are the lungs of Mother Earth. Would we say to them, “we do not need you?” We must learn to appreciate the gifts which all life gives to each other. All of our individual experiences are part of a larger reality. Our own birth and death are small steps in an ancient evolution. When we pass on our genes we partake in the ever unfolding creation of Mother Earth.

When we learn to see life this way our eyes are opened. We fall to our knees in praise of the one who created this ever growing and evolving work of art we call Earth. We start to feel gratitude for all the other members of this one body which we share. To see the interconnectedness of all things makes us grateful but it can actually work in the other direction as well. If you struggle to see the earth as one being and the plants and animals as our cousins, then there is a simple practice which can help to clear the dust from your eyes.

This practice is one that takes time to embody. It needs to start small and grow gradually from there. But, even still, it is very simple. The practice is learning to say thank you. Because it is a familiar practice for us to give thanks at meals that is the best place to start. Every time you eat, close your eyes, say thank you in your mind, and try to feel grateful. In this practice the feeling is more important than the words. Take 3 seconds to feel gratitude in your heart. That’s all the time it takes. If you don’t get it right away just keep dedicating three seconds at every meal and eventually it will click.

Once you’ve got the hang of that you can start to expand the process. Always thank God for everything, but start to thank the rest of creation as well. Thank the asparagus on your plate for growing so beautifully. Thank your chicken for what it has given you. Thank the water you drink for giving vitality to all life as we know it. Take a moment and thank the air for giving you breath. Thank the sun for giving us the heat we need. Thank your family for sharing a meal with you.

If you are able to do this then you can begin to open up the process even more. Thank the cotton in your socks. Thank the limestone in your cement foundation. Thank your dog every time they make you smile. Thank your children every time they learn something new. Thank the trees for changing colour in the autumn and thank the flowers for blossoming in the spring. Express your gratitude to everyone around you in simple and humble ways and remember to feel the gratitude in your heart, that’s where the real magic happens.

Eventually you can learn to say thank you with every small action. Say thank you when you open the fridge and say thank you when when get in the car. Say thank you when you open your mail and say thank you when you cross the street. Eventually, you won’t need the words to do this anymore. The actions themselves will become the expression of the gratitude in your heart. If you have truly learned to feel grateful in these three second prayers, then the words can fade away. Instead feel grateful at each of these moments.

Feel grateful when you see an elderly person’s wrinkly face. Feel grateful when the wind blows through your hair. Feel grateful every time you have food to eat and water to drink. When you feel grateful for everything and to everything then you are praying as Paul taught us to when he said “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” May we all learn to pray without ceasing and may it begin the healing of the nations. Amen

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