Sunday, October 9, 2011

Ask Parvati 32: Gratitude, the Action of Grace - Part 1: Giving Thanks For All We Have

Dear Parvati,
I have learned that approaching circumstances with gratitude is a great catalyst for opening, transformation and healing. But sometimes it's really hard. I especially struggle to find gratitude in situations in which I perceive injustice. I also am not really all that happy with my own life. How do we feel gratitude when faced with personal dissatisfaction and with so much unrighteousness all over the world?
Thank you for this question. This weekend is Thanksgiving weekend in Canada, so I presume that is partly what fuelled your question. Gratitude is a key that unlocks many riches and much joy. Let us explore the notion of gratitude this week. 


This is Canadian Thanksgiving weekend. Whether you celebrate with a turkey, contemplate grateful thoughts or prefer to skip it all together, this celebration is a true Canadian happening that can support your spiritual awakening if you so choose.

Like in the US, Canadian Thanksgiving blends the European and Native traditions to give thanks for the harvests. But in Canada, Thanksgiving also celebrates a homecoming. In 1578, the explorer Martin Frobisher held an official ceremony in Newfoundland to give thanks for his safe journey through the Arctic Ocean's Northwest Passage. A year ago, I echoed Frobisher's thanks during my Thanksgiving festivities around this time, feeling grateful for my safe return from the North Pole.  

Complaining is easy. Perhaps that is why so many do it. It has an entropic force that seems to pull us along. It can even be addictive, our ego getting high on our sorry stories, feeling we deserve more, leaving us endlessly wanting. 

Thanksgiving gives us a gentle reminder to practice gratitude. Yet, many can feel there is little to be grateful for. But when we look at the immensity of the world and all the people on it, we can quickly reconsider any feelings of being hard done by. 

If you live in Canada, North America, or Europe, you are blessed with a cornucopia of opportunities. We are not war-torn countries struggling with famine, drought, brutal dictatorships or tyrannical political regimes. We have free will. We have free mobility. We have freedom of speech. We have supportive health care. We have the means to make the life we choose to have. We are immensely blessed! So if you have a hard time finding gratitude in your life, then perhaps put yourself in someone else's shoes for a moment, such as someone living in Somalia, and consider what your life would be like. 

My year living in India taught me, in part, to see this way. I was brought up in a Christian home and taught to see the needs of others, collecting for Unicef and doing volunteer work at food banks as a child. These were important teachings that created a seedbed for my personality and spiritual being to blossom. But the reality of the blessings of my life did not hit home until I was living in the midst of tremendous poverty. 

When I was around people who had very little, I was shown the capacity to love. My inspiration to love did not spontaneously spring forth from my inner being, but grew in awe from experiencing the selflessness from others. I was living in a small village in Rajasthan, in the Northern part of India. It was amazing to see how people with so little would still have the sense to give. Whomever I was with, I was offered what food they had. If there was enough food in a meal for six hungry mouths, then they would divide what they had into seven to accommodate me. Even though people had so little, there was a feeling of internal space, and ultimately, wealth.

Watching the poor village women taught me about taking care of my body. We can take our physical selves for granted. We can bathe when we want to, buy whatever cleaning products we want, go to the beauty salon, buy new clothes, etc…Yet often fashion trends in wealthy countries can glamorize grunge styles, unwashed hair, unkempt clothes, tattered presence. Amazingly, in the tiny village in India, even the very poorest of women would wash their clothes and iron their saris. If they could not afford gold or silver jewelry, they would wear plastic bangles. If they could not afford fancy hair clips, they would keep clean, tidy hair and find a simple pin or flower to embellish their style. There was a sense of dignity and self-respect that I found mesmerizing and noble. Though a single life there was cheaply valued with mortality rates high, immense poverty, illness and tremendous political corruption, there was a sense of meeting the day with all they had to the best of their abilities. 

Of course, there is diversity everywhere. I mean not to make sweeping generalizations about cultures. I simply share what I witnessed, that perhaps having a lot is not a prerequisite to feelings of gratitude. 

It is possible that our wealth breeds complacency. Tempted by manufacturing abundance, we may want more and forget to feel contented with what we have. If we were not able to have more, due to our circumstance, would we still want? Or would we find a way to feel happy with what we have? Have we fallen prey to cultural greed?

From my experience, abundance comes from the feeling of enough, not from feeling not enough. If we want to feel fulfilled, we need to begin to practice gratitude for what we have. If we are going around saying, "I am not enough. I don't have enough. There is not enough…" consciously or unconsciously, we are in effect creating that reality, the reality of not enough. Is it any surprise then that we feel unfulfilled?

If we begin to meet this moment as it is, with all its colours, dark and light, we begin to see possibility in our lives. We let go of wanting things to be other than they are, and start to feel rooted, vital and expansive in this moment now. It is there that we find happiness. It is there we find abundance. It is there we find gratitude. When we feel grateful for what is, we begin to tap into a wealth of power and vitality that had been waiting all along. We were just too busy looking for fulfilment elsewhere. 

So this Thanksgiving weekend, do yourself and the world a favour. Write a list of all the things you feel grateful for, however small or large. It could be, "I like the colour of my eyes", or it could be, "I feel grateful that I paid off my credit card". Challenge yourself to go deeper than you usually would. Once you have your list, take a moment to breathe in the wealth of gratitude you already have. This is your life. Let it be one rooted in gratitude and grace. 

Throughout the week, I will be exploring in this blog the notion of gratitude in various aspect of our lives. May you feel grateful and abundant in all you do!

(Continued tomorrow with It Is All Grace)

1 comment:

  1. It is interesting to explore the notion of self-talk saying "I am not good enough" as being ungrateful. Yet so it is! When I ignore the functional, healthy and capable body I am blessed with, the cognitive and emotional skills I can use, and the joy of experiencing each day of living I am not practicing gratitude. Your post helps me to see that it is my responsibility to view each day with an attitude of gratitude, and honour the gift of life I am experiencing by, as you say, living it to the very best of my ability!