My mother used to say, “You never appreciate being well until you’re sick.” And, “Count your blessings” (though she would follow that one up with her snarky, “One, one and a half…., two…”).
Then there are rags to riches stories in which the nouveau successful remember their humble beginnings in special moments – awards ceremonies, weddings, funerals – when they feel a hit of genuine gratitude for how far they’ve come and all they have now. It brings tears to many of our eyes.
It’s hard to not take some things for granted in our busy, day-to-day existence, to be constantly aware of how fortunate we are to have functioning bodies, homes, bank accounts, relationships, lives. To live every day with an openness in our heart, to allow experience to enter us and impact us in the tender places.
True gratitude is not just saying “Thank you” for the good stuff. It is letting life – all of it – touch you. It is living intimately – making love – with life.
It is hard to do consistently. To maintain.
And that is the very nature of consciousness – of enlightenment, Zen, presence, Being Here Now, living in the moment, pure awareness, The Power of Now and all that is suggested by the good, wise teachers – the one thing that can help our sorry asses out of the pit of societally-infused, narcissistic, fear-based, ego-driven, reactive, painbody-saturated, attached, addicted, self-important, unconscious agony and chronic suffering that we find ourselves in.
For some, living a grateful life comes without a heavy dose of suffering. They are the pretty well-adjusted people. Good for them, and thank you for being a model of what’s possible as a human. For most of us, intense gratitude is fleeting, not rooted in a deep and enduring way, or the suffering takes over and we complain. And just suffer. Or go numb. These two undesirable extreme states are correlated, and a person’s experience tends to get yanked back and forth between them with reactive pendulum swings.
There is a middle way. It is the way of being with the truth of suffering, folding it into the batter of life, and living with gratitude all the time, no matter what. Nourishing, grounding, present gratitude.
It is true – though not very American – that suffering contains enlightenment. It is in the pain, the loss, the discomfort, where we can find the truth of the heart, the beauty of love, peace, and joy. Where we can find gratitude that lasts beyond the enjoyment of the nice times, that endures through the hard times, and becomes the flavor of our life.
This path requires a simplification of our lives. It is not likely to be possible to cultivate this kind of gratitude on a regular basis while plugged into mainstream chronic stress, pressure, negativity, attachment and material idols. One needs to unplug from at least some of the physical madness, and definitely unplug from some of the mad thinking.
Living a simpler life requires sacrifice, and that is an adjustment. The shift to living with gratitude rewards us with the best and most enduring value life has to offer. It means taking a lot more time to actually feel life. This is what I mean by severe gratitude. It’s radical.
Gratitude is found in a genuinely deep way when we don’t have something we very much need and want. In the pain of the deprivation, we have the opportunity to feel the longing, the lack. And to grieve.
An oversimplification of this is to say that it helps us feel grateful for what we actually do have. But it’s a journey – finding gratitude in the grief, the longing, the pain. The willingness to feel it. And then to let it pass, wash over us, and see what’s on the other side. What’s on the other side is more wisdom, greater maturity of the heart and soul, an expanded capacity for joy, peace and love. This is severe gratitude.
This is not how we were raised, most of us.
It reminds me of something I once heard about trust. Trust is not what we experience when someone comes through for us in the way we hoped they would. It’s something we feel due to evidence we’ve collected in the past – earned trust – or something we choose to extend when we are not sure, and we want to build trust.
Are you with me?
We are talking about the willingness to feel life – to trust it – even, especially, when we are not particularly inclined.
Have you ever experienced a griefgasm? A flare up of Severe Gratitude? These two have an intense, sensual relationship. It hurts so good. Tears of joy over a sunset, over feeling the pain of the world in a moment when you’re also feeling a pang of beauty. It gives perspective to the thing you were complaining about just a minute ago. It gives perspective to complaining at all.
I wish you a deep peace, intense joy, pangs of beauty and griefgasms. I wish for you expansion of your heart and soul. I wish for you severe, radical gratitude.