Gratitude Trumps Thanks
I recently had a long chat with my therapist and supervisor, Gloria Taylor. It was a kind of mixed bag conversation, some of which had to do with expressing gratitude. Darbella and I later discussed some of the conversation, and I thought back to my upbringing, and especially thought about my mom. I said that I remembered my mom as having a good gift for finding the right words to politely say “thank you,” but that this did not seem to me to be the same as gratitude.
My mom was endlessly polite. On the other hand, when alone with family, she was highly judgmental and, I suspect, quite angry. Her anger had much to do with her sense of entitlement. (One of her famous quotes, when thwarted, was, “Don’t they know who I am???”) I said to Dar, “I suspect that mom thought that the things she had were her due, as opposed to gifts.” Thus, saying “thank you” was, for her, a social politeness thing, and as such was neither sincere nor heartfelt.
This conversation came up as I was bemoaning, with Gloria and Darbella, some — lack — in my life. I have a bad habit of noticing what I don’t have (and then making myself miserable over it) as opposed to being grateful for what I do have. I have belatedly begun to realize that living this way is a major method for staying out of the state of Simple Presence. I am so invested in “have not” that I lose presence with my present reality.
I made the leap to realizing that living in a state of present and persistent gratitude for whatever life brings is infinitely more useful than endlessly bemoaning the things my imagination thinks are missing.
I had never before tried to ‘language’ the difference between “saying thanks” and gratitude. While I recognize that this is very much linguistic game‐playing, let’s try it this way: expressing thanks is a formal declaration or a social equation, while gratitude is a sense of being humbled as I recognize that I have been given something I haven’t earned.
Another, hackneyed way of putting this is this — I think it is important to count my blessings.
Our practical, consumerist natures believe in value given for an equal value received. This is so ingrained that we equate “free” with “worthless.” An interesting example of this exists on a website called www.giveawayoftheday.com Each day they give away a piece of commercial software. Below the directions for installing the software is a blog where people can leave comments. Some people have technical difficulties installing the software, some write to say ‘thanks!’ and a lot of people gripe and moan that the software is not what they wanted, or that there are better options, or some other often mean‐spirited complaint. I’m amazed and a bit rueful.
I would like to suggest to you that each of us has much to be grateful for — and that the vast majority of this — “stuff” — my skills, talents, abilities, what I know, how open I am to doing new things — this “stuff” is simply a free gift from ‘the cosmos’, no strings attached.
Clients of mine, for example, know that I often say I know what story to tell or where to push during Bodywork because I hear a little voice “in my left ear.” I mean this quite literally — I do “hear” such advice and always follow it.
Never once has it occurred to me to express gratitude for this advice. At one level, I could argue that I am simply talking to myself, so why bother. However, on a much deeper and profound level, how can I not recognize that life itself is a gift? Where I live, my skill set, the work I do — all of it is ‘stuff’ I have been given — it is not something I earned.
Now, this seems so simple and obvious as to almost not need expressing, but somehow I’ve managed to get to 56 without really thinking about this one. I recognize that I, and I alone, have created my life. Being the self‐responsibility junkie that I am, I certainly own up to the decisions I have made, as well as their consequences. Self‐responsibility, however, is not the same as an ego‐driven sense of imperiousness.
The cosmos is always in balance, and being — gifted — is just that — a gift. Therefore, the only possible response to a profound gift is profound gratitude.
It seems to me that gratitude transcends simply saying ‘thank you,’ although that’s a good place to start. Being ‘beyond gratitude’ is a sense of awe for life itself — for the way that things seem to come together, for the people who come into my life, for the lessons that push me deeper while calling me to soar.
Now, let’s turn our attention to the other aspect of this topic — those who see their gifts as a burden. In this case, the complaint is that with the gift (talents, abilities) comes an implicit demand to use the gift. Rather than delighting in the opportunity the gift presents, the recipient resents or attempts to ignore the gift. Remember: there is no lightening bolt from the sky, no punishment for ignoring one’s gifts. There is just an underlying sense of sadness, incompleteness, and regret.
I suspect the way out of all of this is to remind oneself of the blessing that comes for living gratefully. I am not turning this into one more obligation. It just seems to me that opening one’s eyes in the morning and expressing gratitude for another day is a start. Lying in bed at night and remembering the blessings of the day is heading in the right direction.
I wear a wrist Mala (Buddhist prayer beads) and take it off at night. I have taken to expressing my gratitude taking the Mala off at night and putting it on each morning.
Reminders are helpful, as gratitude is not natural for many of us.
At some level, acknowledging the mystery and giftedness of our lives is a powerful tool that brings us deeper. To acknowledge that much of life is out of our control, and equally out of our creation, is humbling in a good way. This is reflected in John Lennon’s lyric, “Life is what happens to us while we are busy making other plans.” Much in life that exists just out of view, and is best seen out of the corner of our eye, or heard in “left ear whispers.”
The universe itself is a gift to us, as is each moment of our lives. Acknowledgment is required, and its form is unceasing gratitude.