"If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough."
- Meister Eckhart
Our culture is a taking culture. It is based on the premise that if we can do something, we should. When we look at the world around us through "Western" eyes, we see an endless stream of resources, possessions, things. We base our social status and ideas of success on how many things we can accumulate, and how many people notice. For hundreds of years we have been guided by the premise that the world exists to supply endless fodder for this ego-driven hunger.
For most people, the purpose and drive of life is to get more, have more, be more. The screaming impulse is always to continue consuming and feed the never ending hunger that resides inside this culture, a culture that is starving for soul. The absence of spiritual connection in our lives is what entices the abyss of starvation into our day-to-day existence. We have lost track of exactly how abundant the world we live in is, and how that abundance comes in many forms, not just the pleasant ones that make people feel good and forget their trials and tribulations. Yes, there are moments of respite in the lives we lead where all is well and we can bask in the comfort of it, but that doesn’t mean that the other moments need to be relegated to dark recesses of existence because they are challenging. So, what do we have to know? We have to know that each moment that we are alive is a moment that is precious because we are living it. It is a moment where we can come to terms with the fact that life is unpredictable, challenging, and it demands that we step forward into the darkness so that we can emerge through with or as new life. Giving thanks is about all of it. The light, the dark, the life and death because it is all sacred. None of it is simply a reason to lose ourselves in entitled contempt for not having what we want.
There is much to say about gratitude. I have lived a very blessed life. When I look back at all of the things that I have experienced, I can’t help but find a smile and a great sense of gratitude in my heart. When I was younger, I thought that gratitude was a sentiment you offer when you receive something. I thought it was a social acknowledgement for having been given a gift. So gratitude was a currency, of sorts. It was relegated to the times when I got something that I wanted, that I was excited about, or that I was cornered into receiving. Thank you meant that in some way I had been appeased by someone for an inherent hunger for things, emotions, permissions.
As I have grown I have learned that there is so much more behind gratitude. Gratitude is the gateway to the soul. Gratitude is the never-ending song that falls from my lips each moment, each day. As I have weathered some of the most difficult storms in my life I have found that gratitude is a relentless companion. It is the type of ally that will pick you up from the deepest pit and carry your battered body back into the light.
When most people in my contemporary American culture think of gratitude it is much like I used to see it. It is a means to an end. You offer thanks in the expectation that it will ensure that you continue receiving in the future. It is a frequent shopper card or relationship. This has been born out of a culture of materialism and spiritual starvation. When we view gratitude as an afterthought to receiving we are blind to the web of things that conspire so that we may be here, breathing, now.
Gratitude is the breath of life. It is the most sacred of all prayers, and it renders all moments holy. To live in the deepest gratitude is to acknowledge that every experience we are blessed with is sacred, as is our ability to be present and witnessing it. Some people that were here yesterday are not here today. Some of those that are here today will not be tomorrow. And somehow, when we lose sight of this in our materialism-driven culture, we flip the scale of things on its head and believe that life is about receiving what is convenient, comfortable, and coveted. This is the seductive path of the hungry ghost.
We are entitled to nothing. This is a hard lesson in a time so driven by individualism. You, as a living, breathing being, are entitled to nothing. And yet, you are given the gift of witnessing this great Mystery as it unfolds. Not only that, you are invited to participate as an essential note in a symphony greater than any one of us could even begin to imagine. All the moments of your life are a part of this symphony. But the symphony is not about you. It invites you to chime in and when you are clear on who you are and what notes you are here to play it embraces you and the music enraptures you. But it is not you. It is something older, greater, and more expansive than anyone can know. And you get to be a part of it. This is where gratitude begins.
Gratitude, in this sense, is a sacred path. It walks hand in hand with its sister, Grief. Together they show the way through the illusions that keep us separate from all that is. Grief shows us that all we love will one day return to the Mystery. If we are to maintain a relationship with what we love, we must love the Mystery. All things came from and return to it: our dreams, our ideas, our identities, our loved ones, our bodies. Grief shows us this. It wears us thin, makes us small, and gives us eyes to see the immense vastness of it all. It asks us to remember that there is a trajectory to this existence that is out of our hands. It is bigger than you or I by far. And you and I get to witness it for a flicker in the expanse of time.
It is a blessing to be here. It is a blessing to witness this great unfolding. Thank you is both a prayer and a plea: may all of this great unfolding continue well past my time, may all of this grandeur bring light and love and heartache and devastation and joy and peace and turmoil and sorrow and lust and excitement and beauty and pleasure and horror and pain and triumph and turmoil and rest and agitation and creation and birth and life and death on and on and on and on for eternity. Thank you for the precious moments that I am here to witness it all. May gratitude go before my every step and may it echo on the wind after my death.
*Originally published as Inlak'ech Transpersonal Coaching