When the smoke cleared from the California fires, I deeply felt gratitude for clean air – for a few weeks. I felt enormous gratitude for firefighters and their huge sacrifices for a few weeks. Then, back to normal.
On Thanksgiving I always reflect on what I’m grateful for, and on gratitude, itself.
What are my options? When an experience is presented, how do I receive it? I might love it, appreciate the gesture, take it for granted, tolerate it, or resent it. We could slice it up further if you like.
While there is great benefit to looking at how to hold gratitude for the life lessons and course correction offered during negative experiences, what I’d like to hi-light here is where I take things for granted, and the simple shift into the warm feeling of gratitude, in my body, rather than an intellectual stance.
When I want something, that hungry feeling is palpable. I don’t have it, and I want it: There’s a fire out of control and the air is bad and everyone’s traumatized I’m feeling sick and I want clean air and I want people to be safe. I am so grateful people are working long shifts to take care of this. When the fire was first contained, the air was clear, and I felt gratitude and relief. Quickly, clean air and lack of fires became the norm again, and I could get back to my healing work.
Desire lives in the absence of having. Desire drives all action. Once I have, desire transforms into appreciation. When having becomes the norm, it moves into the background.
Of course I have clean air to breathe, of course I have a reliable car now, of course I have a supportive family and community, of course I have a highly functional body, of course I have people coming to my yoga class: taking for granted. Wow, that’s a lot of things going well: appreciation. There are issues, it all could be way better… desire.
The flip of the bumper sticker wisdom: “if you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention” becomes “if you’re not blown away with gratitude for the great bounty of life, you’re not paying attention” Can I hold both at the same time? Yes.
Here’s my two minute practice for shifting from a state of “taking for granted” to appreciation:
get still and as comfortable as possible
listen for the signals from the 100 billion nerve endings
feel for any signaling discomfort
shift attention to the “all clear” coming from the rest of the nervous system
appreciate the subtle pleasure of the “all clear” that is the great majority of my experience the great majority of the time (that I take for granted when I’m not in pain)
bathe in that for as long as possible
This leads to a state of contentment, of gratitude. I even learned to do this in the middle of a heated discussion. Sometimes. It moves me to a state of relative peace, closer to the state I’d want to end the disagreement with. As great as things are, I see an even greater future possible, I see where my work is needed.
Please take a moment to try it. Appreciate your breath, freely available, nourishing your body. Appreciate your body, the interface of every positive experience of your life. Appreciate everything that is going well enough in your life to have you able to sit still long enough to get this far into an article. Allow yourself to feel that, and have a happy Thanksgiving.