As far as I can tell, one of the fundamental elements that is required in order to live a joyful/balanced life, is gratitude. According to many of the spiritual traditions from around the world, cultivating an authentic sense of gratitude is one of the ways we can begin to see through the ever present veil which keeps us from acknowledging the true radiance of life. It helps us develop a sensitivity that our fast paced world numbs us to and through this sensitive observation, we learn to recognize what has been present all along. But this point leads to an inevitable question: How exactly do we live a life of gratitude?
I have found myself asking this question a lot over the years, especially when times are tough. I wonder, how can I be grateful even when I am feeling morose and dejected? And maybe an even more important question is: How on earth is gratitude going to make me feel better or allow me to find balance? This really is a difficult question because in our culture, gratitude is more of a response than a state of being. We first need to receive something in order to release this well guarded feeling. The idea of just living in gratitude and being thankful for everything in life, exactly how it is, is such a foreign concept that we generally just dismiss it as idealistic or Pollyanna.
I really do believe that this is an attainable state, though, and I had an experience-just today-that gave me a glimpse of what living in gratitude might look like. It happened while I was at work, in the midst of some outdoor physical labor. I am a landscaper/handyman and despite the many upsides of working with my hands and having a close relationship with the earth, there are also a lot of down sides and its usually pretty easy to focus on the latter (the weather sucks, the materials you are working with are heavy or smelly or covered in poison ivy, the clients you are working for are wealthy home owners who just want their yards to look pretty but have no concern for the health of the planet…you get the idea). But today I had a moment of clarity that cut through all that stuff and allowed me to look directly at what I was doing and to remember how precious a single moment can be.
I was gazing at the trees in front of me and was watching the leaves sway in the nice warm breeze while the sun melted like butter upon the mountains that surround them. The ground smelled rich and damp from the recent rains. The grasses and shrubs were bursting with the vibrant colors of early spring. The birds were chirping and twittering with the delightful song of new beginnings. It was magic. The environment wasn’t any different from most of the other day’s I had been there but somehow I found myself lost in it.
The weather wasn’t perfect, but it seemed exactly as it should be. The job I was doing wasn’t all that exciting, but I was happy to have it. The circumstances of my life were no better or worse than they have ever been, but somehow I could see that it was totally perfect they way it is. I suddenly found myself saying, “thank you” out loud, but to no-one in particular. It just bubbled up and out of me like some underground, mountain spring. It actually made me laugh when I said it and I began wondering where it came from and what provoked it. Even as I probed further and tried to find the origin of my thanks, I found myself staring into empty space. I was simply feeling grateful for being alive. Somehow, I unwittingly found myself peeking behind the veil of my everyday judgements and staring directly into the face of pure existence. It was so simple and unremarkable but it was also indescribably beautiful. Just recognizing that I was a tiny piece in the great jig-saw puzzle of “The All” was enough to feel a deep sense of peace and joy. T
Obviously, this was just a fleeting experience that was quickly replaced with thoughts and judgements but it was enough to make me realize the true power of gratitude. It has the power to renew and to energize even the most mundane of tasks and can open our eyes to a beauty that we so often over look. There is magic all around us and all that is required to see it is a willingness to stop and look. Living in gratitude isn’t about transcending the obstacles in everyday life and constantly dwelling in some angelic realm, its about paying attention to the little things that are always present but so rarely appreciated. It’s about increasing our sensitivity and applying a moment to moment awareness that allows us to become the bridge which connects heaven to earth.