April 20, 2014

Living Well: Gratitude

 

DRAWING BY DAN MAZUR

Living Well: Gratitude

As this issue hits the stands, I’m picturing my fellow canyonites, each one bending over the fridge, door wide open, as they pick through the week-old carcass of a turkey. If you’re like me, the stuffing, butternut squash, and gravy are long gone; all that remains is dry white meat for sandwiches. Hopefully there is also a lingering sense of what the day was all about, and the feeling (if not the aroma) of Thanksgiving still fills your home as we head toward the winter holidays—and the end of the world.

My South American teachers remind me that, despite the hype (and the revenue it generates in fear-based motion pictures), the world is of course not ending—just the Mayan calendar. However, if life as we know it does decide to climax, wither, and die on December 21, I pray that, rather than screaming and clawing in fear, I’ll go out feeling grateful. I have not always felt this way.

I grew up associating gratitude with guilt. It was the way my mother and grandfather used to try to get me to eat my cold baked potato at dinner, because supposedly kids in China had no potatoes at all. Do all parents have such flawed logic? Any child knows the answer to this problem lies not in some little, American, white girl feeling grateful, but in a quick shipment of potatoes, and what do you know, there seems to be an extra one right here… .

Now that I’ve grown, I see where the adults were going with this. At the time, I’d never had the luxury of no potato at dinner, so I had no perspective. It’s far easier to appreciate something when I know what life is like without it. Perhaps if they’d taken the spud away, I would have felt grateful when they brought it back. I’d at least have felt grateful while it was gone. Today, I see gratitude in an entirely different light, as a powerful energetic tool. (I also thoroughly enjoy a good baked potato.)

Gratitude is alchemy. It can transform an ordinary day into a dance of delight, an ordinary meal into a banquet, and if there were such a thing as an ordinary person, it could change them into an angel. Gratitude brings the “thank-er” into a state of humility, as a true expression of gratitude includes the awareness that the “thank-ee” has fulfilled a need, request, or desire.

Gratitude is also a terrific cure for self-pity and loneliness. When you express your gratitude, you shine the spotlight on someone else, even if it’s only for a brief moment in time and space, and you can’t help but recognize that you are not alone. Another person has thought of you and acted on your behalf.

When we thank someone, we acknowledge their value, and since the ego knows nothing of size when it comes to success and failure, a simple and sincere “Thank you,” spoken with a genuine smile, can remind another person that they made a difference. Sincerity is key, and eye contact always helps.

It’s so easy to take what we have for granted and place attention on what is lacking, especially during the holiday season of potentially increased consumerism. The irony is that, whether in our belongings or in our people, we are most likely to take for granted who and what we care about the most. Breathing is a prime example. It’s the most important thing we do, the most precious gift we have, and the thing we may think of the least—until, for some reason, we can’t catch our breath.

Miguel Rivera, who pours water at the Native American lodge I attend, always closes the lodge with one round specifically for prayers of gratitude. He prefaces this final round with the question, “How can you know what you need, if you don’t know what you have?” You have to take inventory. You may find that you don’t even need what you’re asking for.

Be aware that sometimes what you have will not look pretty. Instead of being something you want to be grateful for, it will instead point to your abundance. A perfect example of this is the kid who complains about his parents, the very people who gave him life. Aside from the fact that I know what a grueling job parenting can be, I also have little patience for complaining, so when someone kvetches about their folks, I usually respond with, “That fact that you can complain about them is a gift, kid. You wouldn’t feel anything at all if they’d not gotten you here in the first place.” This never goes over well, so I sometimes add, “How about if you thank them that you can hate them today. If nothing else, it will confuse them, and then you’ve won, right?” I refrain from also adding, “And who knows? When you grow up, you may find you like them.” I’m being silly, but the practice of being grateful is a genuinely useful tool. A friend of mine and I write a gratitude list every morning, just as we roll out of bed, and it’s often far from pretty.

Sometimes we write, “I’m grateful I feel tired and don’t want to get up,” etc. However, when we share the lists, we are truly grateful, if only for the fact that we have someone on the other line listening. Try it. By the end of the day, there is always something to appreciate, and in your appreciation, you empower yourself. You take the day, no matter how challenging, and find the gifts from it. By doing this, you make each day your own. Then if the world ends, you’ll go out with a smile, and, like the complaining kid, you win.

Sage Knight is a local author, editor, and Literary Midwife. Visit her at www.SageKnightWrites.com.