I have something that is hard for me to admit. But with radical honesty I shall confess that I have had an aversion to the “days of gratitude” nominations that went around Facebook not too long ago. It’s not that I am hardened or a pessimist or displeased by people’s ability to express their gratitude towards all the goodness in their life, but there was something empty about it for me.
I recently read about a book of published letters from Mother Teresa, that were written to a spiritual confidant never meant to be seen by the public. In Mother Teresa’s early years, she wrote about having several mystical experiences with Jesus speaking to her directly with guidance. She vowed to deny this “voice” nothing, and had made a promise to love Jesus in a way no one had ever done before. The voice asked her to serve the poorest of the poor, so she went to Calcutta to begin the greatest work of her life, serving those who were indeed the poorest humans on the planet. No sooner did she arrive did she discover the voice to have disappeared. For the remainder of her life, while she did the most important work of her career, she felt a complete absence of Jesus.
As Yogis, there is the presumption that as we work with this practice we should hope to increase our connection with the divine. That very “holy” or deeply “enlightened” souls have a more direct access to such guidance. And here is this woman who was made a Saint for her work, all the while writing to this spiritual confidant confessing her deep struggle with losing her mystical union with the Divine. But she didn’t leave her work to return to the convent and chase after that high, she continued to obey that voice which told her to serve. She had to “go into the darkness to become the light”.
It is very easy to be grateful for the things we love. In fact, if we love something, the gratitude is just built in. If we don’t show it, then we are just forgetful, the gratitude is still lurking about. But what about being grateful for the things we don’t want, or don’t love, or want but don’t have. Why would do such a thing? This is where the real work lies. If we are to embark on the road as a Spiritual Warrior then we can’t just surround ourselves with all the things we effortlessly love and desire and barricade everything else out. Every situation, every relationship, every thought has the opportunity to teach us something. If we look to everything which we come up against with gratitude, then we make our hearts available to receive those teachings. We do not need to intellectualize what the lesson is, when we will learn it, or how it will affect us; but just keep our hearts available to receive. This is not to deny the anger, the fear, the resentment, the unsettled-ness we might experience as we come up against these challenging experiences, but as we become more available with our hearts, we begin the soften and make room to receive the teachings. This isn’t a magic switch we flip and gratitude appears, but it is a skill we are developing of remaining available.
So what if that Facebook gratitude list were to include not just a loving husband, or an inspiring class, or a kind stranger, but an angry boss, or challenging conversation with a loved one, or broken ankle? What if gratitude existed for the full spectrum of our human experiences. Mother Teresa is not a Saint for just her compassion and selfless service, but for doing so with the full spectrum of her humanness. We are all capable of living in this fullness.
Rian’s Gratitude List
- Louie thinking he’s the pack leader
- My ugly old winter coat
- my amazing rice cooker
- my lease renewal challenge
- the distance between my best friends
- the distance between my family
- my lower back
- my beautiful Jai Mala Rose mala
- last Friday night’s discomfort
- last Friday day’s wonderful gathering of love