Thursday, November 25, 2010

Gratitude Like Breathing

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. First of all, I love food, and any holiday that centers itself around eating is golden in my book. More importantly, most people take the day to reverently consider what they are grateful for, and that's super yummy to me...even more so than my auntie's apple pie. A few years ago I was teaching a community service learning process seminar, and my students and I spent the week before Thanksgiving cultivating an "attitude of gratitude" by recording our thanks every day in a journal. We all found that we were happier with our lives after having considered how good we had it. I don't journal like this anymore, but I do take time before I fall asleep every night to give thanks for the day and revel in how cool it is to be alive.

It's pretty easy to do this when things are good, but when life gets gnarly it can be harder to be happy. Lately, though, my most important meditation has been to reframe my thinking to allow everything that happens to be a gift and an opportunity. Because I don't really know how events will unfold in the long term, I can't really say what is "good" or "bad." When something comes up that is unpleasant and/or uncomfortable, I can decide to look further into it and find something beneficial. Sometimes I have to get a little creative, but I always manage to find at least a small nugget of joy in the chaos.

When everything becomes a gift and an opportunity, life becomes a lot more fun, celebratory and less scary. Changes are no longer scarfaced, chainsaw wielding monsters waiting to jump out and destroy the order in my life. It's easy to be grateful because I am giving thanks for everything...from the mundane to the blissful to the painful. I am no longer allowing my circumstances to dictate how I feel, or attempting to sculpt them into the outcome I was expecting. This is essentially Buddhist philosophy: suffering comes from attachment to life being different than it is.

Letting go of the outcome and allowing things to be just as they are is a tall order that I have by no means mastered. I love feeling in control, to tinker and attempt manipulation when I'm not pleased. However trying the surrender is, though, I'm always met by relief when I finally just give up. There is something inexpressibly exquisite about laying in tears, heart in two or more pieces, and being able to say thank you...knowing that although it hurts so badly, even this is a gift and an opportunity. And so I begin to understand what it means to breathe gratitude, to vibrate it in every spoken word or thought thought.

Practice unconditional gratitude. Practice seeing the beauty in everything. I guarantee you'll be happier. If not, I promise to return all the money you never gave me.

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