I’ve never been terribly good at giving thanks. One of the more infamous stories from my childhood involved my saying, “Thank you for the yucky present” to my favorite aunt and uncle which while it does get me points for honesty seems a bit churlish in retrospect.
If I put my judgmental “I suck as a human being” hat on, my awkwardness around expressing appreciation is made of stubborn pride and ego. The reason I’m not more expressively appreciative is quite simply because people have always told me that I’m supposed to be, and like a lot of overgrown five year olds, I chafe at doing what I’m told.
But if I put my compassionate “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me” hat on, something different emerges:
The reason why I’m not more open to expressing gratitude is that I’m scared of acknowledging how much of what I have in life is mine either by chance of the grace of God, and not as a result of my hard work or metaphysical machinations.
In other words, the more grateful I feel, the more conscious I am of just how little control I have over life in general and even my life in particular. In this sense, everything we have and experience in life is a gift, not a given.
This was really brought home for me last weekend while I was filming a new program with Anita Moorjani called “Experiencing God”. If you don’t know Anita’s story, she had a near-death experience and could not only vividly recall things that happened while she was in a coma with her organs shutting down but experienced a complete and total healing of stage 4 cancer within three weeks of returning from what she describes as ‘the other side of the veil’.
What I got from spending time with her was a sense of how magical life looks to her now – and that in getting a deeper glimpse into how life really works behind the scenes, the miracle of spontaneous remission is equal to but not greater than the miracle of chocolate ice cream.
Is it overkill to call chocolate ice cream a miracle?
All I can tell you is this:
When you drop your expectations of life, everything (including life itself) appears as either an invitation or a gift.
That I can move my hands across this keyboard seems miraculous to me, albeit what we might call an “ordinary miracle” in the sense that so many of us get to experience it. That words and letters come to mind and emerge letter by letter as I type is an intersection of the creative force and the willingness of myself and others (like the inventors of written language, keyboards, and computers) to make ourselves available to it and servants of it, inventing, innovating, and communicating to the best of our abilities.
My dog and cats are gifts, my wife is a gift, my children are gifts. That I live in a nice house and drive a nice car is a gift, despite the fact that in my mind I worked very hard in order to be able to pay for them. In other times and places, that hard work might never have been rewarded in all the lovely ways it has at this time and in this place.
Of course, not everything we have is what we want. Were my years of depression a gift? I tend not to think of them in that way, as I would never knowingly re-gift them to others, but they were clearly an invitation to search for a deeper understanding of life. And in accepting that invitation, the work I do today was born, shaped by those experiences as much as it has been by the joy and love I’ve felt since emerging out the other side.
And perhaps the ultimate gift of gratitude is that it wakes us up to this fact – that life is filled with invitations and gifts – even as the web of unrecognized thinking tries to wrap us up in a cocoon of expectations and demands complaining, in the words of George Bernard Shaw, “that the world will not devote itself to making us happy.”
What are the ordinary and extraordinary miracles you take for granted (i.e. as ‘givens’) in your life? How much richer would your experience be if you didn’t?
If it didn’t have to be scary to not be in charge of the universe, how would that affect your relationship with life?
With all my love (and thanks :-),