The gift of gratitude.


If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, ‘thank you,’ that would suffice. – Meister Eckart

I have been thinking a lot about gratitude lately. What it means, how it feels, and how to expand the presence of gratitude in my life. Gratitude is both a state of being; being thankful and appreciative and a feeling; feeling thankful and appreciative. Often gratitude is fleeting in our lives…present when we like what is happening and not present when we don’t like what is happening. Yet, we do have a choice when it comes to gratitude. We can choose to be grateful regardless of the circumstances in our lives. We can treat gratitude as an active stance that we deliberately hold toward life. In this stance, we open our eyes fully and see the richness and abundance in life and are more fully present to what there is to appreciate. A quote from the Buddha that reminds me of this possibility is:

Let us rise up and be thankful, for if we didn't learn a lot today, at least we learned a little, and if we didn't learn a little, at least we didn't get sick, and if we got sick, at least we didn't die; so, let us all be thankful. – Buddha

I heard someone say recently that the only way to live a life of true dignity is to live in gratitude. He spoke of how life without gratitude keeps us stuck believing that the current state of our life is insufficient and that happiness and fulfillment can only come from having more than what we have. Over the years I have become increasingly present to the gift of gratitude in life, although truthfully, I often find myself going in and out of how present I am to gratitude in my life.

I have had the desire to be more present to gratitude for some time hoping to have something happen that would awaken my soul and leave me in a deeper state of appreciation. Strangely enough that happened for me in an unexpected place…seeing the 2009 film Avatar. The film takes place on a planet called Pandora and much of the story takes place among the people indigenous to the planet. These people are called the Nuvi and they have a very profound relationship to their planet, to one another and all life, plants and animals that live on Pandora. In one scene, two of the lead characters are hunting and one of them kills an animal for food. She leans over and thanks and blesses the animal for the gift it has given with its life. Over the course of the film you see how the Nuvi people are deeply connected to the soul of their planet and each other and how they live in deep appreciation of what their planet offers them.

Since seeing the film many years ago, I still find myself much more present to my connection to other people and the planet in which I live. I have found myself wondering frequently about where the objects in my environment come from. Where did the tree grow that supplied the wood for my desk? Who cut down the tree and transported on its journey to become my desk? Who cut up the wood? Who made it into a desk? Who took it the store where I purchased it? Who brought it to my home? When I go to my closet, I have been wondering about what were the raw materials for the clothing come from? Who designed these clothes? Who sewed them? Where do they live? What are their lives like? When I open my refrigerator or go the grocery store, I feel amazed by the variety of food that is available that has been supplied through so many different sources. What has opened up for me is an incredible sense of gratitude for all that is present in my life and all of the people, animals, plants, etc. in which I am connected. Even when I am struggling in some area of my life or not happy with something, I see gratitude is always available. I am aiming to have gratitude be a central part of my life and it is a journey of discovery to bring it more fully to life.

What are your thoughts on gratitude? How do you make gratitude a practice in your life? How can you expand the presence of gratitude in your life?