Esteemed Reader of Our Magazine:
The family was sitting in front of our food, awaiting inspiration for some sort of prayer before the meal. We never know what form the prayer will take. It can be a song, or an ee cummings poem, or a zen gatha. Sometimes the prayer is simply a moment of silence holding hands. After some moments at the table, the six-year old, a nephew visiting from France, spoke up with his painfully charming French accent.
"I want to talk about what I'm grateful for."
As he uttered the words, the atmosphere in the room seemed to become more rarified, like we had emerged from fog into mountain sunlight. Everyone felt the rightness of the suggestion each person spoke, formulating an expression of gratitude. Mostly, these referred to what was present here and now—appreciation for being together with people we love, sharing a meal, and being alive.
When it was my turn to speak I found that I felt thankful for the boy's invitation to be grateful. The suggestion had brought warmth into my heart and recognition of abundance, so that's what I said.
"That's a good one," the little boy commented, and my gratitude increased.
Since that evening, I've taken gratitude as a theme, considering where I feel it naturally and where appreciation is supplanted by less abundant emotions like resentment, impatience, dissatisfaction, and regret. When I notice these creeping in, I sometimes remember that gratitude is a possibility, and gratitude comes to light.
I am left with the impression that gratitude and recognition of abundance in the moment is the normal, native condition, like the natural state of pure water, clear and translucent, that becomes muddy only when turbulence disturbs sediment at the bottom.
I see that gratitude is not a result of having something to be grateful for. Gratitude is a disposition of being in contact with and naturally appreciating what is, with what is right. The opposite of this disposition is dwelling on what isn't, focusing on what's wrong. The reality is that what's lacking is an illusion. The notion of what's lacking is a construct. It isn't real.
For instance, when I am with what is, I can appreciate the person in front of me. I see what the person means when they speak, and that the thing the person sees is true in the way they see it, even if I see something else. When I really understand what someone else sees, I cannot disagree with them. When I acknowledge that others see something true, I am able to connect that truth with the truth of what I see, and form a larger body of truth.
A long time ago, I had a teacher who was fond of aphorisms. He even wrote them, creating a distillate from otherwise long-winded advice. One that I recall was a mere three words long. It said: Gratitude increases capacity.
Perceiving and appreciating what is, I observe that I open to a subtle or pronounced enthusiasm. When I am filled with some of this finer emotion of appreciation and gratitude, it increases the energy and force available to suffer, feel joy, and work towards an aim. Capacity is increased.
The message of the boy at the table coincided a day later with a conversation with my friend and colleague, Ralph. He told me that he has been doing an exercise of writing down three things for which he is grateful at the end of every day and found the practice helpful. It was clear I needed to try this, so I took it up. The results are subtle but pronounced.
Each night I write three things for which I am grateful, and as a result I'm on the lookout for things to write in my journal all day, seeking objects for which to be grateful. In the evening, I write about what I've collected.
So, given that it's past midnight and we go to print with this issue tomorrow morning, I will do the exercise here and now.
1. I'm grateful for Ralph and the colleagues I work with publishing this magazine (see the masthead for details). These amazing people work hard and with profound dedication and creativity day after day, deadline after deadline. I am honored and to work in this milieu.
2. I'm grateful to have work that allows me to promote and amplify the creative and cultural life of this rich network of communities, and to have the privilege of contributing meaning and participating in the cultural commons of the Hudson Valley.
3. As I sit here listening to the peepers outside my window, feeling the cool, end-of-summer air, I'm grateful for the privilege of living in this paradise. The Hudson Valley is a place among places, so beautiful, and full of inspired people, businesses, and organizations cocreating a community and way of living for which everyone can feel grateful.