Gratitude as a Spiritual Practice

Photo: Pinterest

November is winding down and with it usually comes quickly the end of public displays of gratitude. Sure, you’ll see the random posts on social media about gratitude in July or February but they are much more regularly available in November and December. This is not entirely coincidental since it’s the time of year of the greatest overindulgence, getting, and splurging.  We decide we are thankful for our lives, our friends, our family, and our new gifts at Christmas.

It’s basically socially acceptable to be grateful in November. In fact, if you are not grateful it’s the only time of the year that’s a real problem for the rest of the world.

Interestingly enough, the sermon at church yesterday was on letting go of the “should” and “ought to” in regard to being thankful and grateful. What, you might ask? That doesn’t seem right. The gist was that we are often thankful for, or encouraged to feel grateful for, the good things in our life only. We are pushed, and push ourselves, to feel we should be grateful because our problems, challenges aren’t as hard as others. We have it better than …

And soon our gratitude becomes another to-do, another way to strive to be good enough in the eyes of the world. That isn’t gratitude, that’s called fitting in. That’s called conformity.

We have talked about gratitude, the practice of it extensively on this blog. Lowi and I have considered it frequently between the two of us in regular conversation, both in relation to our blog and our lives. So when it was presented to me that gratitude is not a contextual process but a spiritual practice, I have to say I was surprised.

Yes, I strive to find things in my life to be grateful for and frequently I also turn my attention to the little things. I work to appreciate the little conveniences, the way things are going right in my life when it is easy to say that everything is going wrong. I sometimes work to find the silver linings but that’s just it — it’s work. It’s a way to talk myself into a feeling or out of a feeling. That’s not the way it’s intended to be and worse yet, it doesn’t work.

It is then simply a cognitive process and the truth is only the feeling of gratitude is transformative. Only the conjuring of genuine emotion creates genuine change in our lives. But when you consider gratitude in the context of being a spiritual practice, that becomes a whole new lens.

Then we are grateful in an entirely new way. It’s no longer about the new handbag or the vacation, although it’s great to be thankful for these things. Then it becomes a practice in being sincerely grateful for the breath in our lungs, the beating of our heart, the guidance of a power higher than us humans – way higher.

When was the last time that you pondered being grateful for your life. I mean, honest to goodness, near tears gratitude for your L-I-F-E. I can tell you, I have never felt that. I can also tell you that is my new practice. I can imagine what that would feel like and that’s a start. I can imagine being in awe of the intelligence that keeps our heart beating or the next breath filling our lungs. I can appreciate, cognitively, the sheer genius of our cells, how they work, and how the human body works.

I know this because recently my sister had her gall bladder removed and when you try to pinch hit for the human body when you are missing an organ, things get harder. Then you start to notice, wow, the body does SO MUCH we never think of till things go awry.

Or the blessing that is a well-functioning pancreas. I go my whole day and eat, drink and never once ponder my blood sugar and yet I know all too well that two of my nieces, and my sister by extension, do not enjoy that luxury any longer. The body, when operating on all cylinders, is a miracle. And I realize that part of gratitude is paying attention. Because now that I’ve written all that I think, wow. I am getting more thankful for the well-working parts. And I am thankful in the greatest of ways for modern medicine when it brings us things like insulin.

For those of you who are on the ride of #last90days with us and know we are writing down each day five things for which we are grateful, how does this change your viewpoint? For those of you not participating, how does this alter your gratitude meter?

Some times the only thing we need is a little contemplation and the appreciation starts to build. As we close the socially acceptable gratitude month and quickly hurdle toward January where it’s otherwise encouraged for you to be a grouch, hate everyone and believe that nothing is good, I invite you to consider, do you want to live in that emotional space?
Do you want to operate as if nothing is a miracle or everything is?

Sunshine & Sarcasm,
Lowi & G

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