Gratitude has a power all its own. It reinforces the gifts present in life and inspires the endorphins of fulfillment to unleash its power on self. It transforms the down and out “ne’er do well” into an empowered, motivated activist working for the betterment of the common good – or not. It may simply render a state of poetic admonition with one’s self – to be aware of the temporal nature of this life.
A single act of recognition can inspire an individual to move to greater heights in his life. I have been witness to the humility and simplicity that gratitude inspires. I have seen the childlike expressions of gratitude’s wonder in the face of those who are sick.
I met a man who is suffering from stage four cancer. He sat back in a state of half realization that his life is nearing the end. He ate some stew with soulful mindfulness, sipping the gravy as if it may be his last meal. Looking around the room and sharing the extraordinary poetry of the ordinary, he told me that his taste of mortality has instilled a deeper realization of what every sense in his being means to him.
“Things taste different, the colors of life are more profound”. The sound of a creaking rocking chair resonates in his mind like a cello singing in the hallowed space of a church. “I lost the sense of smell many years ago, but for the first time in many years, I smelled the aroma of chocolate chip cookies. It was like a gift from God to help me remember my mama’s baking”, he said. It brought back great memories for him.
I’ve seen gratitude in the face of the dying. I remember a woman seeing color as if she was blind and awakened to the charm of color as it danced in the eyes of others, and she was able to articulate how magnificent and bright the colors were. It was like being witness to a colorblind woman seeing color for the first time.
Moments in life bless us with gratitude. The more grateful we are the more the gift seems to manifest in new ways. That is why saints of all religions remind us to be grateful every day.
The Indian saint Parmahansa Yogananda likens the act of gratitude and positivity to a magnate. A magnet draws more positive energy to itself. It captures more like- minded goodness and draws it closer.
Yogananda writes: “There is a magnet in your heart that will attract true friends. That magnet is unselfishness, thinking of others first; when you learn to live for others, they will learn to live for you.” The saint goes on to write that this positivity brings more positive vibrations closer to you.
When speaking about gratitude for justice and social improvement, Robert Kennedy wrote: “Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”
I feel as if gratitude works that way on us too. Every time we begin with a simple recognition of gratitude, it’s that pebble drop into the pond of knowing. It forms a “ripple of hope” within us and fosters larger rings of fulfillment that extend themselves to others.
Every time we express our gratitude for life in service to others we are initiating centers of energy, working its golden threads of goodness to other parts of our body.
The man with the stew gave thanks for the simple acts of students being present to him and caring for him. Tears ran down his face as he offered his gratitude to them. They fed him with their presence of care. They gave of themselves and taught him that we are not alone as we face the struggle of death. There are people doing their part in big and small ways to make it easier for him.
He walked the streets of Cleveland and the musty stench of sewers weren’t so grimy and sickening. The sauna steam rising from manhole covers played on his skin and fed his mind with richness and moistened his inclinations of beauty in cleanliness after a shower. The honk of a horn that jarred him with surprise now played its role in waking him to know the greater symphony – a cacophony of sound — at his disposal for this time. Now.
Gratitude expresses itself in the bounty of nature wherever we are and whenever we are truly open to the moment. You don’t have to be in a field of flowers or a green pasture to experience it. You don’t have to be in an art museum to see it. You can look at the treasures of invention in a room and find it in a common object like a lamp that gives light or a bookcase brimming with books of illumination.
Every day is a new offering of gratitude. We may not always be present to the greatness life offers, but to sit back in a day and offer a few minutes to reflect on how it’s worked on you, offers an exercise that can serve the soul well.
Gratitude is a power that needs to be harnessed. The only way to harness it is to start by taking note of it and truly getting to know it. Bring it in to your being and let it activate the energy centers of blessing and wholeness.