“If we take the time, no matter how crazy and troubled we feel, we can find something to be thankful for” — Terry Lynn Taylor
After my cheesy “be grateful” (double pun intended) recipe video, I realised that gratitude is a real cornerstone of spiritual life and something I wanted to explore more. So I made it my meditation for a few days, and this is what happened.
Often I find that when I think back to my childhood (and life in general) it is very easy to dwell on the things that were difficult, troubling or incomplete. This type of negative attitude, however, only breeds dissatisfaction. Such contemplation is likened to a rocking chair: while it gives us something to do, it doesn’t get us anywhere.
For twelve years of my childhood I took weekly ballet classes with a lady called Kate. Every week, Kate taught me how to dance. It was often difficult, challenging and not something I always got right. Although I loved it, it didn’t always make me happy.
But when I tried to contemplate these years through the lens of gratitude, I realised that more than teaching me the art of ballet, she also taught me the art of discipline, steadiness, dependability, patience, love, selflessness and giving without expecting anything in return.
The hours and hours of rehearsals over those twelve years were so much more than dance classes: they were an anchor as I grew up through the tumultuous changes of childhood and teenage life.
In hindsight I find that I can finally begin to appreciate the effect that Kate had on my life. For the first time, I really feel the desire to reciprocate her kindness. And that is when gratitude truly begins to blossom into something really beautiful.
In Sanskrit the word for gratitude is “krtajna” which literally translates as “knowing what has been done”. When we change the way we think about life we can realise that everything is a gift – a smorgasboard of ingredients for spiritual success. Suddenly suffering and distress can become a great source of joy and a springboard for the onset of a truly loving relationship. And as the famous saying goes – “don’t look a gift horse in the mouth!”
When we take the time to truly realise what gifts we are blessed with – the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat, even the very ability to eat and drink and breathe, to think and feel and will, to walk, talk, and sense – we can’t help but feel grateful and want to reciprocate. When we really understand these gifts, we also understand that everything has a divine source and so it makes sense to use it for a divine purpose. Using things for their real purpose: this is true reciprocation.
And since gratitude itself is a divine quality it naturally creates space for other saintly qualities to flourish.
Materialism makes us believe we can find happiness only in material things – the more things we have, the happier we will be. It depends entirely upon a widespread feeling of dissatisfaction. Searching for eternal happiness in temporary things, we become obsessed with acquiring more and more. The aggressive advertising industry preys upon this, parading before us the many things we don’t have and expertly inflaming our desires for them.
When we obsess over what we don’t have, we rarely notice what we do have, let alone feel grateful for it, but when we practise gratitude, focusing on our blessings and the reasons we have been blessed, so many of the pains of material existence disappear.
Gratitude is much easier to cultivate with a spiritual vision of life, a vision where we recognise that real happiness comes not through outer acquisition but through inner realisation.
So be thankful for all the gifts you have and be thankful for this gift of human life and try to avoid nitpicking and find fault finding. After all, only a fool is ungrateful when presented with great fortune.
I’d like to say “thank you” to Kate for giving me so much to be grateful for and for helping me to understand the beauty of gratitude: it’s a condition of the heart which allows room for spiritual growth. When you give it some thought there is so much to be thankful for!
Maybe you’d like to take our short gratitude challenge and see if you can make a positive change to the way you see things?