Wednesday, November 25, 2009

My New Attitude Toward Gratitude

I've hated the whole gratitude movement, if you can call it that. They have you make lists of all the things you are grateful for -- as if this will make you feel better.
But when I look at the items I've written down, it's a scary list of everything I value that I can lose. Everything I'm grateful for is mortal or stealable, or just plain transitory, like a refreshing breeze.

But I meditate. And a common phrase in meditation training is "Be here now." In meditation, I watch my thoughts without participating in them. If I get a thought about how I forgot something, or said something dumb, or a worry about some future event, the thought can come and go with no more impact on me than a cloud blowing by over my head. They are just thoughts, pictures in my mind, with about the same impact as advertisements on a webpage.

They are my thoughts and I can choose to look at them, or choose to let them go. We are always looking at far more than we can pay attention to. We choose what we will focus on. In meditation, we are trained to focus on a key word, such as Shalom, to calm our minds. Sometimes Shalom is boring. And my mind would rather dream up some horrible future event, or relive a past mistake.

Then I discovered a new trick. I can choose to notice something pleasant. The soft texture of my sweater. The hum of the refrigerator. The wetness of the saliva in my mouth. These are things I can be grateful for in the now. My mind doesn't object that these things are temporary. These things are now. And they are far more compelling than the fragments of past or future that were distracting me.

It's strange that such seemingly minor experiences can distract my mind from what seemed to be an emotionally compelling story. But they do, and I'm grateful.

So, for Thanksgiving, I won't be giving thanks for having a roof over my head (that could be destroyed in a natural disaster) or for having a job (that could disappear) or for having my family around me (who are all mortal), or for my health (that can be damaged in an instant). I will give things as an ongoing process. Now, I'm tasting cranberry sauce. Now I'm holding my grandchild. Now, I'm listening to leaves crunching under shoes. Each is transitory. Each is enjoyable. Gratitude can be constant without making demands on the universe that it continue to give me a specific thing that I like, that I know perfectly well it can take away with ease.

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