The ‘You’ in Thank you

December 28, 2014 at 1:03 pm

Of all the spiritual practices in life, the one that I am always drawn towards and am the most weak at is the practice of gratitude. It was one of those practices that logically made sense but never went beyond my mind and entered the realm of practice. This post took the longest to write, as I needed to stop and put the habit into practice before the words would come out.

 

Gratitude Penthrall

Image Courtesy woodleywonderworks

Gratitude is one of those spiritual habits that everyone wants to rehearse, and only a few really practice. Not because we don’t want to, but because it is not a high profile spiritual demand.

“Ingratitude is not always a calloused, who-cares shrugging of the shoulders. Sometimes it’s just fourth or fifth on a list we never get around to following through on.” – Nancy Leigh DeMoss

We get so overwhelmed with the first few that we never get to this. It gets lost. But then as Nancy Leigh DeMoss points out “You can’t be grateful and ungrateful at the same time. If you aren’t one, you are automatically the other.” As hard as it is for me to admit this, I am the other. Being grateful doesn’t come easily to me. In fact the process of writing this article has revealed to me that I may be a lot more cynical than I am willing to accept. But I wasn’t always this way.

“Piglet noticed that even though he had a very small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude.” ― A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

My earliest and clearest memory of gratitude is from when I was around eleven. I may have felt grateful before but this one sticks out. It was the summer holidays and my family was on a temple tour. In a few of the tiny temple towns there were no hotels, so we lived in ashrams. We ate food at the ashrams and even slept in them. In one of the smaller villages we once ate in someone’s house. It wasn’t someone we knew, she served food in her house because she didn’t have money to open a restaurant. Or maybe an establishment of that kind was sufficient for that village. So we would sit on the floor and eat off plates from her kitchen. There wasn’t a menu, just what she made that morning. But I loved the food and for some reason I felt thankful in a way I had never felt before or after in any restaurant. This was personal. This was that person’s house, it was her plate and the food was coming out of her kitchen. It made me feel like she was one of us in a way I would never have felt had she opened a restaurant instead. As inconsequential as that memory is, I always look back at it with fondness because I learnt what feeling grateful felt like.

 

As I grew older this feeling got buried under layers of deserved entitlement. I started buying experiences and since money was exchanged, the transaction was complete without the need for gratitude. The difference between an interaction with a real person and a computer grew thinner. I could buy something online just as well as I could buy it in a physical store. The love for bookstores, hotels and shops grew less over time and the relationship forged with these shopkeepers faded. With a few exceptions, it all became about where something was available at a better price. When gratitude is taken out of a transaction, the transaction becomes indifferent. We coerce the intimacy out. To take without gratitude makes us feel entitled and to give without gratitude makes us a martyr. Both these feelings are miserable. An online transaction is hence preferred as it is indifferent by design. We are thus saved from the guilt.

“Every virtue divorced from thankfulness is maimed and limps along the spiritual road” – John Henry Jowett 

We develop intimate relationships with things we own but have completely forgotten the people who bring them to us. That part of the relationship has become completely transactional. If sitting in an aircraft wasn’t a service that I paid for, but a ride in a theme park, I would get a lot more excited about it. It does get overwhelming however to think of the millions of minds that must have come together over thousands of years to have made that moment possible for me. That one tiny forgotten moment was the result of innumerable sacrifices that so many families must have made.

 

Getting more of something doesn’t necessarily make us value it more. In fact it is exactly the opposite. The things we wish for today will be the things we ignore tomorrow. Think about the years we have spent wishing for services that we have at our fingertips today. When I was in college, the professor advising us on our final year project at IISc was also working on another project where the roads in India were being mapped. I remember thinking it was bizarre and would never be of use to the common man. Today Google Maps is the ordinary.

“What if you woke up today with only the things that you expressed gratitude for yesterday?” – Anonymous

What stops us is that gratitude isn’t really free. It demands a sacrifice from us. Being a grateful person requires that we sacrifice the part of us that feels that we have deserved or earned something. The part of us that feels entitled to receive something without having to give in return. We need to also sacrifice the part of us that feels the need to complain, whine or hold expectations. All of these are signs of being ungrateful. Sometimes this is a small voice, a tiny one that complains and expects to be taken care of. Sometimes it can also be loud and righteous. Especially when it talks of how we are entitled to a better life because we pay taxes or how a person ought to treat us a certain way because that is the right thing to do. All of this needs to be sacrificed for a grateful heart to grow inside of us. Fighting righteousness isn’t easy as on most occasions it goes against logic and demands un-conditionality. Gratitude needs to be ushered into our life before it can start springing forth naturally.

 

Gratitude Penthrall

Image Courtesy Ape Lad

 

Another aspect to look into is our relationship with gratitude. Is it outside-in or inside-out? I noticed mine was outside-in. I needed an opportunity to feel grateful. I couldn’t just feel grateful for a normal good day or the weather or the fact that I am in good health. I needed something to hit me, wake me up and remind me of how beautiful my life was. This is a very unfair expectation to have from life and our selves. This expectation has us max out on every experience. Normal and ordinary will never be good enough. It also shows me that I am not grateful without occasion which means I will be bitter if the occasion should transform. This is a dangerous relationship to have with our environment, because it controls how I feel.

 

Gratitude isn’t a passive game. It demands that we are actively involved. It demands that we speak up and express our gratitude with people the same way we express our concerns with them. Don’t you think it is a little weird that we are more open about our problems than we are about the things that we are thankful for? My turning point was in the realization that if I am not being grateful then I am in fact being ungrateful. That little sentence made all the difference. It isn’t a one-time shift. It is a relationship that requires constant attention. It is the turtle’s race and requires patience, love and perseverance. It is also something we all know we can do with, more than without. It is time therefore to move it up on our list and practice it daily. I am grateful I wrote this blog post as it made me reflect on how ungrateful I really am.

 

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