What is Gratitude?

“In the end, though, maybe we must all give up trying to pay back the people in this world who sustain our lives. In the end, maybe it’s wiser to surrender before the miraculous scope of human generosity and to just keep saying thank you, forever and sincerely, for as long as we have voices.” ~Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

So ends this journey book.  I wrote here before that reading it will make your mouth water for whatever it is that feeds your soul. Your very limbs will revolt to drag you to the pen or the mat or the wheel or whatever it is that allows you express truth and let it flow through you.

Reading it I found myself reflecting on my own life, of course, and these last words drew from me such salty tears. Having been brought to the altar built of the myriad blessings of my life so far, I have at times felt so tempted to relive and address each one, individually. As naturally as this impetus arises, it’s roots are in the past. In an old way of seeing where each blessing, or demon, or moment is individual, could be addressed as a singular thing. When really each moment is created by and creates so many other moments and each one of those dissolves in each new present which is  really the eternal present, ever re-created.

This is the insight behind the country songs and Hollywood movies all titled something like “Pass it Along.” My own pass it on story stars an amazing individual named Lew. Several years back, when I was feeling every bit adrift, the new divorcee with a new career and a new feeling of solidity at my core but no idea how to let my old stories wear away, I was faced with crisis after crisis. Most of them presented as financial problems, and I was in fear. Lew was an angel of abundance and solidity and he made a donation to my cause. It had been our mutual intention for me to repay him as I became able and I did in fits and starts, as  I did with all my other indebtedness I had dragged from my old life. But I hadn’t completed my obligation to him and I nurtured this obligation not as a blessing, but with worry, and not a little bit of shame. Shame that I’d needed the  help, that I’d received it, that I had not yet repaid it in kind. None of this was part of the blessing of course; it was all an old story I’d dragged along.  

I was finally in a position to repay him. I was so ashamed of how long it had been, how  much he had given and that I was in need in the first place, that even repaying him felt like it wasn’t enough.   When I approached him he smiled so easily and told me to forget about it. He told me to do the same someday, I’d know when it was time. I cried. 

What I learned was that transparency and communication are more prescious than score keeping, even when you’re the only one playing. That dragging around feelings of indebtedness – different than honoring agreements – was not a way to honor what I’d been given. In that moment with Lew I learned that as grateful as I felt, as blessed as I knew I was, as important as it was to express to this all to Lew himself (for this expression is part of transparency), he didn’t need my gratitude. He knew that we both and all are part of something much bigger, that we never know what we’re really contributing to or taking from and that all that really matters is responding out of love in the present moment.

What he knew, the seed he helped me crack open, was that real gratitude is just that: responding out of love right now. Going backwards only re-inforces who we have been. History is important when we find it in the present, like that seed splitting conversation with Lew in the parking lot. It was important just then for me to acknowledge what he’d done for me, what I was prepared to do to honor my indebtedness – which I had instead converted to worry and shame for the intervening time – and this opened the door for his smile, and his new blessing, which is in a way a new obligation to help someone else. But this one, I promise not to convert to worry and shame and only to nurture the seed in my heart knowing that I’ll know when the time comes, because a ray of light will warm the patch of earth under which the seed slumbers, growing roots, and I’ll recognize the seedling as it arises.

Living this way feels like true gratitude.  

4 thoughts on “What is Gratitude?

  1. Pingback: Soli Katir

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