Saturday, May 3, 2008

Gratitude

Last year, my friend, Jamie, told me a story. She was at the ashram and meditation practice had ended when her teacher presented her with a plate of almonds.

“No, thank you,” Jamie smiled, thinking: I’m not hungry and even if I was, Im not in the mood for nuts. She was also demonstrating her natural reticence to eat from shared plates, perhaps some earlier germ training.

“Oh, but you must,” the presenter said, returning her smile. “This is Prasad, shared food after prayer or meditation. It’s part of the practice.” Realizing it would be rude NOT to partake, Jamie took a few almonds and popped them into her mouth, savoring the lesson in sharing and gratitude.

How often do we turn away the gifts we are offered?

I remember a conversation over dinner with dear friends a few years back. My husband’s parents had offered to purchase for us a new side-by-side refrigerator and I was explaining my reluctance to accept such a big gift to our friends. “I’m afraid there will be strings attached,” I said. “Strings of 'Poor Amy and Matthew, they can’t afford things so we gave them a refrigerator.'”

“But you must take it,” my friend Chris explained. “You need a refrigerator. You can’t afford it. The universe found the easiest, simplest way to get it to you.

“Accept it without strings of your own,” she continued. “Accept it, with gratitude to your in-laws and to the Universe and it will come in clean.”

These stories are gifts. Chris’s advice was a gift, too. We receive such gifts each day. The sun rises each morning. The moon comes at night. We have lovely food to eat, grass to dig out toes into, a flower to smell—we have our family to love.
How often do we take time to thank God for the rising of the sun? How often do we look at our spouse and think: Thank you God for you—for the gift of a person who loves me and wants to make a life together with me, this person whom I, in turn, also love? How often do we, lifting a fork full of nourishing food and thank nature for for providing it or thank the cook for preparing it—even if we cooked it ourselves?

On the wall of my kitchen, I have a framed greeting card drawn by Mary Engelbreit. I see it every time I walk into the kitchen. “Thank you!” it gushes, the illustration, of a girl arms open wide, head thrown back is exultant, joyful, shouting, “Thank you!” with full heart. It reminds me of the way I felt the day I mounted it on the wall--abundant with blessings, and so grateful that I could not begin to express it.

I started keeping a Gratitude Journal—a pretty bound book that, it’s worth remarking, came to me as a Mother’s Day gift from my daughter just after I’d decided to start writing down all of the things I’m grateful for.

The act of recording gratitude, of taking the time to simply write down, “Thank you for this day... thank you for my husband’s love... thank you for the new shoes I bought today... thank you for the sun... thank you for my children...” had the most uncanny way of settling me down, of grounding me into my life and gave me the feeling of having completed something.

It was a kind of prayer I did each night before bed and later, when I didn’t need the ritual every night, continued to pick up every few days, weeks or even months, whenever I was moved to say thank you.

I was given the gift of a lovely day, or a sweet husband and I enjoyed it very much and then remembered to say, “thanks.” It was a kind of punctuation on the day. It was also a kind of conversation with All That Is. Ask, Receive, Give thanks.

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