Posted on June 15, 2005 at 8:19 a.m.
By: Daniela Abbott
Gratitude. It’s such an elemental concept. Simply put, it means Give Thanks: for what you have, what you’re glad you don’t have, and for the simple fact that we’re alive and here on this earth. Zen Master Ling Chi is quoted as saying, “…the miracle is not to walk on burning charcoal or in the thin air or on the water; the miracle is just to walk on earth. You breathe in. You become aware of the fact that you are alive. You are still alive and you are walking on this beautiful planet…The greatest of all miracles is to be alive.”
Gratitude has the potential to flow like a river. It flows and flows wherever you allow it, gaining momentum as you add your appreciation of each and every thing that is good in life. Its current IS strong. In fact, gratitude can flow amidst unhappiness, grief, and loss. At times, it may feel like the only source of movement or life when we are in our deepest states of pain.
As strong as its current may be, however gratitude cannot flow where resentment has settled in. It cannot move that which is intractable, i.e. fear, anger, and the protective walls we erect when we’ve been hurt.
This is where, just like a river, gratitude can split itself into smaller streams, working their way around the hard and embittered boulders in our hearts while continuing to flow to softer, more receptive places.
Sometimes we confuse protective walls with boundaries. We erect walls that keep the risk of future hurt out. We say “No” to people, “No” to relationships, without offering what it would take to find “Yes.” Possibility, as gray as it is since it’s neither a sure “Yes” or a hard “No,” creates discomfort. And rather than offering degrees of connection that allow us to test things out with safety, we operate off of a toggle-switch of “you’re in” or “you’re out” with no options in between.
A woman I know, Melanie, tells the story of growing up in a household of horrific, daily abuse. Everyday, she’d return home and wonder whether she’d be beaten by her mother. No one was there to protect her, and it was always a matter of time before calm was broken by physical, verbal, or emotional. Her case was severe. She can hardly remember a day without violence, and everyday of her childhood and adolescence, she lived with daily escape plans since the violence was so predictable.
Yet, she also remembers willing himself to stay “open.” She knew that abuse was wrong and that it had the power to turn her into an angry, violent person much like those in her family. Yet, she did not want to become so filled with hatred and rage. And she knew that she would have to operate differently on the inside if she was to hold onto her sense of right and wrong, and prevent what was most likely, i.e. becoming an out-of-control, abusive bully, ready to victimize those she loved.
Amazingly, Melanie’s will prevailed. She willed her heart to stay open. And she learned to run really fast! She found a way to protect her values and her internal experience of herself as a kind, open, and loving young woman. And while she had to adapt to survive her family, she did not compromise her values.
Melinda’s story is one of placing a protective wall between her internal sense of self, and the violence that surrounded her yet neither reflected nor affirmed her. It is also the story of creating boundaries: a variety of gates, fences, and borders placed within an internal garden of Melinda’s core self and values, so that people and ideas could come in and out, and growth could continue even in the harshest of conditions.
Life is a balance. Rarely do we have it all. Common scenarios include: right children, wrong partner. Right life partner, wrong for parenting. Loving family of procreation, hard family of origin. Great job, no relationship; great relationship, dead-end job; and great job, great relationships, poor health. Life is SUCH a balancing act. Perhaps that’s why gratitude is an attitude. And why it’s important to leave room for it to flow from one area to another so that it nurtures your inner world even when your outer world feels invalidating of who you are and who you hope to be.
May gratitude flow in and around you, bringing your inner and outer world into a true reflection of ALL that is you!