Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Wrestling With Gratitude

When I was a child gratitude was used as a "should" to counter any desire or discontent. When my brother or I expressed wanting to have or do something, we were told we should be grateful for the things and opportunities we had. When I did not want to eat one more mouthful of soggy, overcooked, pale green canned peas, I was told to think of the children in the world who did not have enough to eat, and eat my peas with gratitude. And later, as a teenager, if I shared my hopes for changes I wanted to see in our community (eg- equal rights for women and people of colour etc.) I was told I should be grateful I lived in Canada.

Oddly, I don't remember gratitude being mentioned much at all except when it was being used in prayers recited by rote or as a way to silence the expression of preferences, desires and dreams.

This is no doubt why I've always been a little leery of gratitude practices, although I express gratitude where it arises spontaneously (and it does so often.) I suppose this early conditioning suggested to me that I could not simultaneously be grateful for what is and still have hopes and dreams for myself and the world. I did try to deliberately counter this with my sons when they were young by having us do a practice of sharing three prayers before their bedtime: one for something in our day for which we were grateful; one for someone else in our thoughts and hearts; and one request for something with which we needed help.

But the early years of having gratitude used to squash expressions of desire have taken their toll, and I can still get a little testy when someone starts talking about how we "should" be grateful. 

Still, one practice intrigues- the idea of writing down something each day for which you are grateful (not something you "should" be grateful for, but simply noticing somewhere you are grateful) that you have never been grateful for before.

It's the last part that intrigues me because it makes me pay attention to the constant stream of the small (and often unexpected) things that bring me joy each day. So, how about it? Will you share one thing from the past week for which you are grateful, that you have not been consciously grateful for before? They don't have to be Big Things. In fact, unlike the things for which we are regularly grateful (friends, family, work, home etc.) they are likely to be smaller, unique moments (which is why they are stirring new gratitude.)

I'll start (and two come to mind):

- I am grateful to the person who put a container of organic lavendar handcream in the yoga studio bathroom. I've thought of doing so often (the winter weather continues and my skin is like sandpaper after washing my hands) but kept forgetting.

- I am grateful for the new doctor I met. Young (honestly she looked barely 30) she was truly like a breath of fresh air: present, talking with (not at) me, clear and so sane about potential risks and benefits of treatment choices, and the fact that it was me who would ultimately make choices about my health care. Knowledgeable, she gave me all the latest information and talked about options with a clear understanding that medicine is as much art as science and as unpredictable as anything else in life.

The thing about this practice is that it dove-tails with last week's blog re: looking with fresh eyes. Noticing where gratitude arises in new places encourages us to bring fresh eyes to what is happening and stirs our dreams for all that is possible.

Oriah (c) 2013

18 comments:

  1. Hello Oriah,

    I like this post, and yes, I can relate to your feelings about the word grateful and when it grates a little on me I switch it for appreciate. Today I really appreciated the wild violets that have sprung up in my garden now it is a little warmer. They have spread since last year and are here and there in brilliant purple splashes of colour amongst delicate fresh green leaves. They make me feel hopeful and happy at the arrival of spring and the promise of another year. And I am grateful for that. Thank you for prompting me to say so.
    Liz

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    1. Liz, yes, sometimes a vocabulary switch can do wonders. And thank you for the image of the violets- one of my favourites. :-) Oriah

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  2. Hmm I do have a practice of writing down 3 things I was grateful for that day but never thought of not repeating myself, though I try not to. I like the thought... something I have not been consciously grateful for before in the last week? A free trial pass to try out a new gym :)

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    1. What I find is that not repeating does a couple of things: it keeps me alert during the day, appreciating things I might have not noticed as clearly and, although I still of course, offer gratitude for family, friends, work, home etc.- it breaks a semi-conscious sense of almost superstitious compulsion to list all those before I go to smaller, daily surprises.

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  3. Thanks for the new insight behind "grateful"...for the clarity when struggling and come up with blanks when I am fully aware that I am very blessed...all to often growing up we were definitely "should" on...I am grateful that I did not just walk today...but stopped to listened to where I was. I am grateful that I chose not to come in out of the rain...in was delicious!

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    1. Sharon, the big surprise from yesterday were the number of emails I got from folks who were relieved to understand their secret ambivalence about gratitude practices, to hear it was shared, and to know that it need not stop them from participating when and if they wanted to. And how lovely- to walk in the rain :-)

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  4. I'm grateful for the compassionate and practical response of a Citizen's Advice worker I spoke to on the phone about unwanted marketing calls that are confusing my elderly mother. It made such a difference to speak to someone who really listened and treated me and Mum as individuals rather than as just another problem to solve.

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    1. Oh my- isn't it great when the anonymous voice on the other end of the phone really listens and responds and connects. Lovely!

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  5. There are so many thing to be grateful that its hard to choose what to write about. I am grateful for my ability to write, through poetry and spontaneous writing I am finding it easier to deal with the curve balls life has been throwing me one of which is the end of my last relationship. while we dated he sent me the poem the Invitation, and it sang to my spirit.
    After the break up i revisited the poem with many questions in my head, and shared it with friends and family, its words still sing to my spirit but its tune its is different. Most importantly i am really grateful for prayer as though I exchange emails with my sister everyday to help work through all that's happening with me prayer connects me to the greater power hat created me and this has helped me to find an inner peace and joy I've never before experienced; the funny thing is this peace and joy always show up when I need them most.

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    1. Daneille, always wonderful and surprising to see how we receive something differently at different stages of our lives. Thanks for sharing this and your observation of how joyo and peace "show up." :-)

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  6. I am grateful for a new friendship that offers me space to share myself without edit, intent listening, and energy of love. My day to day life is altered for the best because of it. I have not ever named the experience this way till now. Thank you for the invitation.

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  7. I am grateful for my mother whose constant balance and stoic attitude has given my family and myself a sacred haven to grow in. I am grateful that she taught me to never be too sad , nor too happy. I am grateful she taught me the value of money is in sharing with less fortunate as well as spending some on ourselves - because that establishes our self respect in our own eyes. I am especially grateful for her sharing attitude where she brings home stories that tell of extremely deprived and needy kids who come to her school and how she mobilises all her faculty in helping out the community. I am truly and extremely grateful to her , for it is because of her - plant a few trees on every family member's birthday drive - that we can boast of sharing some oxygen with our next generation. I am grateful to myself (believe it or not) to listen to her deeply , to give her philosophies and internal analyses a chance and take whatever I can from it. I am grateful for her to bring me to this life and protecting me like a lotus in a swamp.

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    1. Wow- brought tears to my eyes. How blessed you are to have such a mother- and how blessed she is to be seen and appreciated for all she brings to your life. :-)

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    2. I am extremely blessed to be born of an raised by a woman of purest character. In times of absolute desperation and sadness, I think all we need is to recall the face of the one who loved us most!
      In my case it is my mother. I am sure we all have had our own support systems.
      Love always.

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  8. I'm grateful this week for you Oriah.
    Your words have always come into my life
    at just the right time, starting with "The Invitation".
    Thank you

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  9. I am in very fragile struggle in my life right now and a part of me (my ego) can't believe I am saying this but I am grateful for the struggle because in some ways that I cannot touch to truly elaborate, I know it is moving me towards a better love space for myself and others.I pause, I reflect, I appreciate and I feel everything I must so that my healing is complete and authentic...allowing the bigger, wiser part of me to be grateful for that which I may not fully understand in this moment.

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  10. I am grateful to have the means to buy fresh organic produce. Psychologically, I can enjoy my food more knowing there are no chemicals or pesticides on/in it.

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