Gratitude is an important spiritual practice. To the naked eye, it doesn’t seem like it would be all that important. However, maintaining gratitude in life is so very essential to our psyche. I used to recoil at the idea of cultivating a spiritual practice where I actively express my gratitude, but it is so powerfully healing that to neglect gratitude would be overall detrimental to living a spiritual life. Thus, I wholeheartedly recommend the cultivation and expression of gratitude on a daily basis.
I’m not a huge fan of exercise, but I do it. And I try to remain grateful while I’m doing it. I have to keep my muscles in fit condition if I desire to age well. And plus, I began doing triathlons a few years back, and continual training is how I keep up my endurance. (Although I must confess, during COVID, it has waned a bit…well okay, a LOT! But that’s for another blog post.) However, by showing up for daily training, I maintain my physical shape. Just as the body need to be keep in shape, so too does the soul need to be attended to. Thus, to have an active spiritual life, including the cultivation of gratitude can prove to be a powerful, healing and life changing practice.
The Underbelly Of Gratitude
Now I have to get a little controversial. Gratitude of late has seemingly been hijacked to social media as a way to “out-gratitude” the next person. I see people post about things they are grateful for, hoping to procure a like or a follow. Gratitude is not about being flashy, or about having a lot to show for gratitude. I think gratitude is quiet and internal. One can be grateful for camels, or a juicy apple, or just having a moment to appreciate the sunset or sunrise. It doesn’t have to be accompanied by a flashy photo. It can be an internal knowing and appreciation.
Complaining As A Precursor For Gratitude
The other underbelly of gratitude is – I think in order to really appreciate what you have, you have to be able to complain. Okay, there, I said it. Yeah, I’m a bit of a complainer. Okay, more than a bit. But I think complaining is an important part of gratitude.
The darkness of the complaint is the backdrop upon which the bright colors of gratitude can shine through.
The trick is to find a compassionate ear to complain to, so that you can move from complaint to appreciation. I think that is why it’s hard to hear others’ gratitude if we are still in the complaining stage. Complaining is okay as long as after we vent, we take action to make a change. The problem with complainers is that they usually use complaining to stay stuck and not change. But still, in the equation of gratitude, complaining is an important component.
Robin and Gratitude
I have a friend, Robin – a lovely woman. She has been through a lot of various experiences in her life. Many of them positive – such as marrying a good man and having truly wonderful children and grandchildren, whom she cherished and they adore her as well. She got a great education, traveled and was surrounded by supportive friends and community for most of her life. However, lately, she was been beset by physical challenges which have rendered her in a nursing facility. Robin was sad, scared and feeling powerless. You see, she cannot return home just yet. She has an infection on her foot that will not seem to heal. Then, she received some disturbing news from her MRI and called me to talk about it.
We spoke for awhile and I listened to her pain. I gave her space to “complain” about her frustration. It was important that she be allowed to have that moment to really feel sad and grieve the situation she was in. My spiritual advisor used to give me 5-10 minutes to really sit and feel the pain of any situation I was facing. But then I had to go and take positive action and find the gratitude in whatever was going on.
So with Robin, after she had space to process, I then asked her to remember what she was grateful for. She was silent for a moment and then she answered, “well, I am receiving good care.” I pressed her to tell me more about what she was grateful for and she went on to list a few more things. I asked Robin to continue to focus on that which she was grateful for. The first day was neither difficult nor easy. The next day again, was a bit harder, but then she got the hang of it. She was able to focus, despite the pain and frustration, on the blessings she could see. And she has been texting me her gratitude list daily ever since.
Although doing a gratitude list may not heal her physically, it may not give her back the ability to use her foot. But it will help keep her mind focused on what she can do: To be grateful for all of the things she’d been given up until now, and what still brings her great joy in her life.
Gratitude begets Endurance
A few years ago, I did an indoor sprint triathlon. I was running hard on the treadmill, sure if I increased my speed, I’d have a heart attack or stroke! However, I had the privilege of having a triathlon coach at the time, and he came over to assess my progress. I told him through my breathlessness, that I didn’t think I could push myself any harder. He told me what his coach had told him:
We have more inside our proverbial “tanks” then we think we do. That we usually can push ourselves even harder – we just don’t.
And once he told me that, I felt some peace. I knew he was right. I could push myself even harder, so I put the treadmill speed up a notch or two. And I was just fine. I don’t know if it made a huge difference in my overall finish time, but it made a huge difference in my understanding of what we are capable of both physically and spiritually. We can push ourselves a little harder to find the positive. It may take work, but we can do it!
Gratitude helps us feel happier, more connected, even more trusting.
So, the challenge I have for you today is to see what and how you can cultivate your own gratitude. Can you see the beauty and abundance that exists all around? It may mean putting away the phone and looking up instead of down. (I say this mostly to and for myself – but if it also resonates and helps you, that’s great!) Until we meet again – may you be blessed upon your spiritual journey!
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