gratəˌt(y)o͞od – the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness (Oxford Dictionary)
Many years ago, I was introduced to the notion of contemplation on gratitude. It was suggested that I start small… those things close by that I am thankful for – the people I know in my life, the little things that are done for me, those special moments. The idea was that I was to dig deeply into myself and truly find heartfelt gratitude and not just a casual thank you.
I wasn’t even sure where to start with this. I am a polite person and always say thank you for any service done for me so all this gratitude pondering seemed a little over the top. Nonetheless, I took up a cushion, closed my eyes and hoped for the best – trusting that my teacher knew what he was talking about. If it didn’t work for me then at least I had tried and that was the best I could do.
Although initialy daunted, I started small as suggested. Interestingly, I found that within a week, I was almost bursting with the number of things for which I was truly thankful. Instance after instance, event after event, person after person, experience after experience… all the positive memories that I had. Day by day, the tears came – tears expressing just the overwhelmingness (ok no true word there but sometimes real words just can’t say it all) of everything beautiful and wonderful that I experienced in my life. I started to understand what gratitude really was.
Now for those of you who don’t know me, I am very much the practical type. I am certainly not known for my explosions of positive, overwhelming emotions. The last time I had tears of happiness were actually from laughing too much and I am just as likely to break into snorts and have to leave the room to get to the bathroom before that happens. But gratitude – now that hit in a way I didn’t expect.
As I continued with the contemplation of gratitude each day, extending the time as I felt right, something started to shift. My contemplation shifted away from all those pleasurable and privileged causes for gratitude expression and seemed to work its way into the elements of my life that are difficult. Then it started to knock on the door of the past, digging up memories which were not at all blissful and positive – places where I was smelling the rubbish tip rather than the flowers. For some reason though that sense of elation that I previously felt, the tears of happiness and release didn’t end. With the rise of dark memories came something unknown to me… understanding.
Without any doubt whatsoever, I suddenly saw the other side of all the experiences in my life that I had labelled ‘negative’. For whatever reason, they really did happen. From those dark hours, a human was born and that human was me. I am far from perfect and like most people, I have had dark and troubled elements to my personality as a result of my experiences. I know now though that the reason I have those dark areas is because of how I have interpreted my experiences. I have never before been truly grateful for them as learning tools.
I have never thought to say thank you for the experiences that have brought me to be the person I am today – all experiences – good and bad. I had never truly been grateful for the people who have stood by as friends and supporters despite that darkness. How privileged I am in this lifetime to be given this gift of life, love and experience.
Gratitude is only the start of the contemplation path for me. Forgiveness of others and asking for forgiveness comes next. Although I have sat and thought of such forgiveness, it isn’t heartfelt yet – merely cerebral. Perhaps as gratitude truly takes hold and understanding becomes second nature, forgiveness will take up its place in my heart as well.
I don’t know if such contemplation will work for everyone but the advice I was given to start was so accurate that the least I can do is pass it on. Gratitude sincerely felt is, for me, truly the beginning of liberation from the trappings of the past and the judgements of the present. I can feel that deep in my core and with a sincerity that I have rarely ever experienced. For that and the guidance that led me here, I am truly grateful.