The Practice of Gratitude


The practice of gratitude is a powerful, profound spiritual practice.
Often, gratitude is not offered in this deep way.

It’s easy to be grateful, to give thanks to The Powers, when things are good.  It’s easy to give thanks when you get the job, when the wound heals, when your kid gets into the school you wanted, when life feels abundant, when you are happy.

It’s another thing, entirely, to give thanks when life is not giving you what you want.  Then, the true practice of gratitude kicks in.

Corrie ten Boom writes of her years in a concentration camp during World War II.  During those years, she survived by being grateful.  How does a human being survive the most dire, the most hopeless,  of all of life experience by being grateful?

“Be joyful always, pray at all times, give thanks in all circumstances…”

The deep practice of gratitude comes from the deep knowing that you, your small self, your ego, your desires and plans, are not in your control.  The deep practice of gratitude comes from the wisdom that there may be some power at work – something outside your ability to understand or to know – in the very circumstances you are given, whatever they may be.

A long time ago, I visited a woman, then in her 90’s, who was hospitalized for a grave illness.  Surely she would not leave the hospital to go home again.  When I walked into the room and walked toward her bed, I saw her back turned to me.  When I walked around the bed to let her know that I was there to see her, she turned toward me and said:  “I was counting my blessings.”

“Give thanks in all circumstances…”

I’m not suggesting that this is easy.  The spiritual path, that deeper journey, is not easy.  It takes work.  It takes surrender.  The spiritual path may ask that you surrender your most heart-felt desire to What Is.  We all know this is not easy.  This is hard work.  This is the real work of life, whoever you are, wherever you are, whatever circumstances you may find yourself in at this moment.

This work involves your facing your feelings, and giving thanks, even for those difficult and even painful feelings.  This work involves saying “Yes!” to life, whatever life brings.  This life involves staying with what is happening – inside of you as well as outside of you – and knowing this is what you are given, this is a gift, this moment, this life.

So often we have been promised a spiritual path that is no more than positive thinking.  We want to believe the suggestion that if only we believe this or that, if only we think the right way, or that if we think positively, our lives will change, we will be different.  That approach avoids the work of surrender, of gratitude, come what may.  That promise points to an easy grace, a grace that does not exist.

Without facing into the storm, you will not exit the storm.  This is truth, this is wisdom.

“For all that has been – thanks.  For all that shall be – Yes.”  – Dag Hammarskjold, Markings