This past weekend my husband Mike and I travelled to attend a football game. Having just celebrated Thanksgiving, we began to reflect upon and discuss the concept of gratitude and what it really means.
I think sometimes I see gratitude as the feelings I experience when things in my life are going well … you know, when my life is working according to my plans and expectations. And then, when things are difficult and I find myself emotionally stretched, I see gratitude as my decision to focus my mind and attention on other things, things that are going well. But this understanding of gratitude is misguided. It categorizes life’s experiences into good and bad, desirable and unwelcome. The apostle Paul taught, “In everything give thanks.” This injunction eliminates the line of distinction between positive and negative. Everything we experience is a gift for which we are to give thanks.
Mike and I spent the rest of the drive discussing this topic. After we arrived at our destination, we took a walk in the crisp early-winter air, savoring in the loveliness of the day. We entered the stadium and found seats among family and loved ones.
As the football game commenced, our team took the field. The crowd cheered and the stadium was full of positive, excited energy. But as the opposing team came onto the field, the energy contracted, there was even some adverse commotion and booing. Watching this scene unfold caused my thoughts about gratitude to crystalize. Here we had devoted an entire day to attend a football game. We had traveled 100 miles and purchased tickets at great expense. How would we have felt if the opposing team had not shown up? What kind of game would that have been?
Opposition is necessary in football, just as it is in life. I think the gratitude about which the Apostle Paul wrote is not a matter of being thankful in spite of opposition, nor is it a matter of being thankful for the opposition itself. Rather, it is a sense of deep appreciation that you get to attend the game.
I have to admit there are numerous things in my life I would rather not be dealing with right now. In the last few days, I have confronted a broken window, water heater problems and an irreparable flat tire. These things are inconvenient and stressful and I would certainly not choose to experience them. And it is important to acknowledge that there are things in life that are much worse than inconvenience and stress. But we can always look beyond the actual events and experiences of life to something deeper—something more substantial, lasting and real.
Ever since High School, I have loved Henry David Thoreau. His words from Walden spoke to me and I remember typing them up and taping them to my wall. I sensed that there was something deeply significant in the words “I went to the woods to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not when I came to die, discover I had not lived …”
Thoreau did not want anything to get in between him and his direct experience with life because he understood that conscious life was a gift and the highest form of gratitude would be to seek to know it in all its depths. Wrote he, “if [life] proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion.”
When Thoreau went to Walden Pond, he and Emerson had been studying Hindu, Buddhist, and Taoist texts. These religions have in common a type of transcendental meditation wherein a person looks inside and meditates on the BEING, on the source from which we experience life. How often do you think deeply and focus your mind of the very source from which your conscious thought emerges? When was the last time you recognized that BEING as a gift?
We often take our BEING completely for granted. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi wrote of this tendency to overlook this most basic blessing. Said he, “Being is the essential, basic nature of the mind; but, since It commonly remains in tune with the senses projecting outward … the mind misses or fails to appreciate its own essential nature, just as the eyes are unable to see themselves. Everything but the eyes themselves can be seen through the eyes.”
We have this BEING, this individual and personal consciousness, and greater still, we have bodies in which our consciousness dwells. We get physical experience. We might call this conscious embodiment. We are granted the opportunity to live and breathe and do according to our will being supported from one moment to another.
Philipp Moffitt, author at Dharma Wisdom, wrote something I absolutely love.
“Reflect on this: You with all your flaws, have been chosen for this opportunity to consciously taste life, to know it for what it is, and to make of it what you are able. This gift of a conscious life is grace, even when your life is filled with great difficulty and it may not feel like a gift at the time.
“This grace of conscious life, of having a mind that can know ‘this moment is like this,’ is the root of all wonder, from which gratitude flows. The wonder, the mystery, is that you are given this short, precious time of conscious embodiment in which you can directly know life for yourself. However you find it to be—cruel or kind, sorrowful or joyous, bland or stimulating, indifferent or filled with love—you get the privilege of knowing it firsthand.”
Something miraculous happens when we view the world with this kind of deep and introspective gratitude. We need less in the way of good fortune and happy circumstance. Our feelings of happiness and well being are no longer tied to what is happening around us. We begin to see inconvenience as adventure and pain as education. We realize that pain and joy are part of one great whole. Our experience in this life is one body and what a blessing it is!
I love the delicious words of Jenkin Lloyd Jones:
Anyone that imagines that bliss is normal is going to waste a lot of time running around shouting that he’s been robbed. The fact is that most putts don’t drop, most beef is tough, most children grow up to be just people, most successful marriages require a high degree of mutual toleration, most jobs are more often dull than otherwise. Life is like an old time rail journey … delays, side tracks, smoke, dust, cinders and jolts, interspersed only occasionally by beautiful vistas, and thrilling bursts of speed. The trick is to thank the Lord for letting you have the ride.