“If the only prayer you ever say is thank you, that is enough.” Meister Eckhart
Some time in the last 10 years, a shift occurred inside me. I don’t recall what facilitated it, but along the horizon of the years I started seeing more clearly the things and people that illicit a deeper sense of gratitude in and for my life. And I have tried to live there more and more. Ever so slowly, it has become more deeply a part of my daily living.
For you this might be natural, but I am attracted to wounded souls … to those who live on the margins … to those whose experience in the world has been less than satisfying, even desperate. I don’t know why really. I have a deep, sort of aching need to understand people’s pain and support them in it. And perhaps because I want to be able to hold the pain of the world in my arms, I might not be the most cheerful conversationalist.
Maybe that is why I jumped at the chance to work for the National Religious Campaign against Torture a few years ago. I hadn’t thought about what a conversation stopper that would be. “Hi, my name is Shannon and I… um… (it starts to dawn on me that this might be a little awkward) work to… prevent US-sponsored torture.” Silence. The poor person looks empathetic but remains silent. I smile. What are people going to say? “Well, I, personally really support torture.”? Not likely. “Good for you!” More likely, but equally a conversation stopper.
Hanging out with bright, cheerful, optimistic people used to be sort of a downer for me. Isn’t that ironic? These dear mislead people felt sort of artificial and out of touch, polyanna-ish. They were like watching a Disney movie unfold, starry-eyed, tiny-waisted princesses. Now, I find them such satisfying and stimulating company! Grateful people like to be with grateful people!
It seems to me that life can make you jaded or it can make you joyful. Our experiences of life are all different, true, but they are all what Zorba the Greek calls in a tongue in cheek manner, “The full catastrophe”.
I wouldn’t try to transfer this to the truly poor in the world. I have never walked for a day or a week or years without sufficient nutrition or shelter or love. I have always had more potato chips than I needed. The poor I knew growing up was someone else’s wildest economic dream.
But, and I say this with much humility, I have sat with people who are barely surviving in other countries and I have played with children for whom shoes and a door on their house were a luxury. And it was not jaded I saw. It was joy.
The much-loved mystic and poet, Rumi says, “Gratitude is wine for the soul. Go ahead, get drunk!” I have said this before, but I truly believe that gratitude is the antidote to so much that ails us. From consumerism to relationships stresses to anxiety to illness. Gratitude can be a discipline, a ritual that can weave into the fabric of our hearts, and transform us. It is a long term endeavor like all important growth, but maybe this Thanksgiving is as good of a day as any to begin.
I am finding more and more, that my quiet moments which have become filled with Wow! and Awhh… and You Are Amazing! and Hallelujah! are becoming words and actions. I still have plenty of working this out to do, but gratitude is changing me.
So, I ask you. Is it time to become dissatisfied with your dissatisfaction? You can let it go, really. You have full permission. Anne Lamotte says thank you is short for “thankyouthankyouthankyouthankyou!” May this be your feast this holiday.