My spiritual memoir Spiritual Audacity is built around six spiritual disciplines of which the third is gratitude. Is this an important discipline in your spiritual life? Robert Emmons, PhD, in his book Thanks! says it is key to our health and well being:
Grateful people experience higher levels of positive emotions such as joy, enthusiasm, love, happiness, and optimism. The practice of gratitude as a discipline protects a person from the destructive impulses of envy, resentment, greed, and bitterness.
So what role does gratitude play in your happiness with life? I love the metaphor of how we see the world in The Joy of Living by Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche
“Imagine spending your life in a little room with only one locked window so dirty it barely admits any light. You’d probably think the world was a pretty dim and dreary place, full of strangely shaped creatures that cast terrifying shadows against the dirty glass as they passed your room. But suppose one day you spill some water on the window. . . . A little of the dirt that had accumulated on the glass comes away. Suddenly a small patch of light comes through the glass. Curious, you might rub a little harder, and as more dirt comes away, more light streams in. Maybe, you think, the world isn’t so dark and dreary after all. Maybe it’s the window. . . . In truth, you have not changed anything at all. The world, the light, and the people were always there. You just couldn’t see them because your vision was obscured. But now you see it all, and what a difference it makes!”
I would say gratitude transforms us from spiritual consumers to people of faith. This sounds easy. We all know how to practice gratitude, but how often do we actually do it? We are grateful for our loved ones, our children, our friends, blessed things that happen to us. But what beyond these gifts? When does gratitude actually becoem an important spiritual practice?
How many of us can be like Rumi—grateful for the joys of life but also our depressions; grateful for random acts of kindness and also random acts of meanness; grateful for momentary awareness of the breaking dawn but also our accidental micro-aggressions? As Rumi would ask: Do we welcome and entertain them all? Do we recognize they may be preparing us for the people we were born to be?
The dark thought, the shame, the malice—can we meet them at the door laughing, grateful for whatever comes? For this is truly to know the practice of gratitude. Being grateful for whoever comes because each could have been sent as a guide from beyond.