We hear a lot about the power of gratitude lately. There seems to have been a hundredth monkey leap in consciousness, a global awareness that gratitude is a powerful and relatively easy way to sweep out the propensity toward negativity and connect to what’s good and right in our world.
For me, a gratitude practice is a way to connect to God (Spirit, nature, highest self; for me the word God works well). There are many ways to connect with God, of course: sitting in nature, meditating, listening to or writing poetry, a full-bodied dance in your living room, a candlelit bath, making love. I cannot say exactly what happens when we connect to the divine, as a lived experience transcends words, but you know it when you taste it.
And we know it when we’re disconnected from God-consciousness. As a culture we misplace the natural yearning to unite with God onto a variety of places: food, love, money, alcohol, drugs. As Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi writes in Davening: A guide to meaningful Jewish prayer:
We try to satisfy that hunger for God in other ways. We mistake the yearnings of soul for the cravings of the body. We feed them with food and drink, drugs and sex, money and power, but these things just inflame our appetites further. We might seek higher things, intellectual pursuits or artistic accomplishments. Even those do not touch us in that loneliest of places, the place that longs to be filled with God. (p. xii)
Due the nature of my work, I most often see this misplaced yearning in the realm of romantic love. Seduced by a culture that sells us the bill of goods that romantic love is the answer to all of our problems, when we do find real love and it doesn’t exalt us into the realm of ecstasy we wonder what’s wrong. If my work around relationship anxiety could be encapsulated into two sentences it would be these: It’s not your partner’s job to make you feel alive, inspired, exalted, creative, or sexually awake. That’s between you and God. In other words, if you carry an emptiness inside of you, there’s not a person, job, house, child, or degree in the world that can fill it. It can only be filled by your relationship to the divine.
Again, this relationship to the divine can be nurtured through a thousand different portals. For some people, they feel connected to something beyond this realm when they spend time in nature: gazing up at a star-filled sky fills them with awe, which opens up that magic passageway. For others, it’s when they’re connected to their creativity that the miracle of something beyond the five senses flies through on the wings of imagination. Others connect in more traditional religious ways, through prayer, meditation, or community worship. And still others connect through their passion. One of the most poignant moments in my life as a parent was when my older son said to me, “Mommy, do you know why I love flying in airplanes so much? Because that’s when I feel closest to God.” Well…
If the idea of a spiritual practice overwhelms you or if you’re carrying negative imprints from early controlling religious upbringing and suffer from post-traumatic God syndrome, there’s one very easy way to open up that portal that connects us with the infinite source of goodness and love: connecting to gratitude. It doesn’t require affiliation to any religious path. It doesn’t require that you know what lights your fire. It doesn’t require that you even leave your house. It only requires that you set your compass toward noticing the moments of yes. To listen for the whispers of when something alights on your soul like a tender bird and asks to be let in.
When I open to gratitude, when I set aside that time and make a space in my heart and orient my awareness toward blessings, my heart opens and I connect to God. I can literally feel God-essence pouring into the inner pockets of loneliness and yearning. There’s a smile behind my eyes, the secret joy of connecting to the underground river and overground invisible web that connects everyone and everything. Opening to gratitude weaves a soft pillow around my heart, which creates more tolerance for the irritations of people and life. Things that may normally have caused my skin to bristle slide off easily when I’m consciously connected to gratitude.
Years ago, my soul-sister Carrie and I created a Facebook page called Gratitude 108 Offering where we invited people to share their gratitude lists and hopefully find warmth and inspiration in others’ lists. It was a beautiful experiment, and if you scroll down you can read ours and others’ lists. I invite you now to share your list here and enjoy reading what others share.
If gratitude by yourself can open up the channels to joy, imagine what gratitude in community can do. Let’s give it a try!