True Gratitude – Thanksgiving without Fear of Loss
I have recently been re-reading some of my favorite Buddhist books, most notably Chogyam Trungpa’s Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism, which was released in a new hardcover version in October. This is a timeless Buddhist classic by a true master. In my opinion, anyone who considers themselves a ‘spiritual seeker’, regardless of whether or not they are Buddhist, should read this book at least once a year. This book always grounds me, and if I am indulging in any particular spiritual delusion, it will surface while I read.
In the last week or so, while I have been reading this book, many of the spiritual websites and forums that I regularly visit have had articles about gratitude, in celebration of Thanksgiving. Gratitude is trendy right now, since the huge success of The Secret two years ago. Focusing on abundance brings us more abundance, so the theory goes, in one interpretation of the law of attraction. And I believe that, to a point. Certainly focusing on what we have, instead of what we don’t, shifts our awareness and perspective in a way that can only improve how we act and interact in the world. And in a culture where we are marketed to 24/7, constantly being told that we ‘need’ this or that to feel happy, attract a mate, or stay healthy, focusing on feeling grateful can ground us, defusing the state of constant desire that this advertising seeks to create in us.
What I have observed however, in myself and others, is that focusing on gratitude can be a sham – a trick we play on ourselves to feel good. We can be reciting a list of ‘thank-yous’, but our real focus, at the emotional level of our awareness, is how much we want to keep those things, or how we really want more. Then, instead of feeling grateful, what we are really feeling is desire for more of something, or a fear of losing it. Desire and fear are the pillars of the human ego, and are really two sides of the same state – a grasping outside of ourselves. Much of what we think and feel is based on trying to get something that we are sure will fulfill us, or trying to prevent something that we are sure will destroy us. In either case, we are focused on controlling out external circumstances.
True gratitude is almost a surprised state. It is a spontaneous appreciation, that keeps us fully focused in the moment, on what we are experiencing right now. We don’t feel a need to possess and keep the experience, so it doesn’t give rise to a desire for more or a fear of loss. At the risk of sounding cliche, we can just be. To live this way on a daily basis requires a deep spiritual connection, whatever you think that connection is (and every religion conceives of it differently.) When we live from that place, we know nothing can ever destroy us, no matter how much pain it causes, so we don’t live in fear. And we know nothing external can ever complete us, so we don’t depend on getting what we want for temporary ‘happy’ highs.
As many spiritual teachers have said over the centuries (in one form or another), living in this state of gratitude is very simple, but it isn’t easy. It is less about striving then surrendering. Heading into the holiday season – which is so often about desire -during these difficult economic times – which are all about fear – we are confronted with the perfect opportunity to face these twin patterns. Moving beyond desire and fear, or beneath them inside ourselves, is really what the spiritual journey is all about.