Why Gratitude Is Not Based On ‘Things’
We like our stuff—no surprises there. Not only do we enjoy what we own, but we try to guarantee we will always have everything we own. So we insure them at replacement value, thinking, “How dare anyone depreciate anything we have?”
And then, stage right, enters the moth and rust to corrupt. Things wear out, like this “Blue Boy” L.A. beach T-shirt that’s so threadbare from hundreds of washings that it can’t even be used as a car rag. Then there’s the appliance failure of the month. The auto accident—that was the last thing we ever thought would appear on our Outlook-syncing smartphone calendar. (Where are all of our business contacts stored in there going to be eight years from now, anyway? Most of them weren’t around even three years ago.)
The damn car. The roof. The basement leaks. We need more insurance, just in case. This inventory of stuff—our stuff—is often the object of our gratitude, but also the object of fear.
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Inventory of Things and Fear
The problem with seeking gratitude through an inventory management exercise is that Mr. Rogers already taught us that Mr. All-Mine was all wrapped up in himself and made for a pretty small package. Day after day it keeps coming to us that everything is temporary. We have it, and then we don’t. Our frantic race to keep what we have and acquire even more (in case we do lose something) is a descent into the valley of the shadow of death. It is a march in cadence to the chant, “If you’re not moving ahead, you’re falling behind!” It is the gilded but unsustainable American Dream that can no longer serve as even a car towel.
What Gratitude Truly Is
Gratitude only occurs in the present moment. It can’t be based on what we expect to have in the future, because that’s always going to be a maybe. Neither can it be fully based on the past, because if we are living in the past, we are missing the life before us in the present. Gratitude is now—the Precious Present, if you will. It is an appreciation for the breath that enters our bodies and just as effortlessly leaves. It is an awareness that we are blessed to see what and who is around us now. It’s an appreciation for the birds we see and the sweeping sound of the wind passing through the trees.
It is a thankfulness that the person before us now is one whom we love unconditionally. It is a sense that despite all that has transpired, in this moment, this one loves us anyway. Gratitude is an understanding—an outlook on life. It’s the gradually expanding sense that there is an inner core within us—our soul—that is sacred. Our inner essence is holy, and no person or thing can ever take it away from us. Gratefulness comes with an expanding awareness that our sacred core is inexorably and mystically connected to that same sacred soul within all others. We know this is true, even though most of the time our surrounding culture seems oblivious to our sacred interconnection.
Thankfulness flourishes when we are mindful of the same sacred connectedness we share with others. The real power of gratitude evokes unconditional love and acceptance. It exudes tolerance. It nurtures unquenchable curiosity and creativity. It engenders genuine love and a passion for equal justice for all. Gratitude is in the real-time of the now. This is exactly why we live, work, and play. We feel we’ve been given a front row center seat to this vibrant and exciting richness called life. We are grateful by being fully alive and responsive in the present moment to all of life around us.
We find that we are rich beyond our wildest dreams because we are blessed to be authentically and meaningfully present with those around us. With some, our time with them is only in passing moments. With others, we are with them for hours or even years. In a way, in the smallest acts of compassion, each of us are a part of the great reversal of fortunes that has threaded itself through history. We can heal the aching loneliness by being compassionately present with others. Doing so enables us to be contributing to something that is so much larger than ourselves. A compassionate presence is our purpose in life.
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