Once a self-help term becomes shopworn, it needs to be refreshed. I think this is true of terms like faith, compassion, unconditional love and gratitude. Let me address the last one. How is gratitude a useful expression of spirituality? No one argues that it makes others feel good if you are grateful, but is that useful to their personal growth and yours? Many people find it much easier to give than to receive, for example, which makes it hard for them to feel grateful when they are on the receiving end of a gift, favor, appreciation or love. They look embarrassed and uncomfortable instead.
Until we get to the bottom of why gratitude is so hard, we cannot really understand what gratitude actually is. A few points need to be made.
You are genuinely grateful when your ego gets out of the way.
Real gratitude isn’t passing and temporary.
Gratitude takes openness and the willingness to set your ego aside.
No one is grateful for things they think they deserve. Therefore, gratitude is unearned, like grace.
When it is deeply felt, gratitude applies to everything, not simply to goodies that come your way.
These points focus on gratitude as a state where “I, me and mine” has been set aside. In a grateful state you are vulnerable, as the ego sees it. In reality, this feeling of openness must exist in order to receive grace, love, beauty and inspiration. More than one painter and composer has thanked God formally, knowing that there is a higher source — something beyond the isolated individual — that brings inspiration. There is a spiritual reason for such a sense of receiving from “on high,” and it doesn’t need to involve God or religion.
I’m talking about connection, feeling joined to and upheld by a higher intelligence. “Intelligence” is a more neutral word than God, and to me a more appropriate one, because we all possess intelligence, and if it suddenly expands or brings us an unexpected gift (such as insight, inspiration, a creative leap), it’s only natural to feel grateful. You know at those special moments that something beyond your control has made itself known.
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