Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Gratitude as a Spiritual Practice

In this summer season (yes, summer- Memorial Day Weekend is the new American Summer Solstice), I have begun to root out dandelions, creeping Charlie, sour grass and other assorted “weeds” from our flowerbeds and garden. (By the way, Green Tooth, Eva’s cabbage is dong well despite being frosted upon a few times, massively windblown, rained on with torrents of water, and being dug up once by either a squirrel or, more likely, one of my beloved dogs.) I have enjoyed my forays into the beloved spaces that claim me for their own. Despite painful shoulder joints and muscles, sore knees, hips and sore-well, just about everything- I am enjoying the beautiful weather and hard work. A few times over the past couple of weeks, Deb and I both have overworked our bodies and moaned and groaned I pain for a couple of days, feeling like we should buy stock in the companies that make “Biofreeze” and acetegesic.

One day, as I attacked “trees of heaven” with loppers and dug up foot long dandelion roots and clumps of grass embedded in the chain-link fence where our butterfly bush is beginning to come back to life, I felt peace and uninvoked gratitude.

Conscious gratitude has long been one of my coping skills to help fend of the depression and anxiety that constantly lurk below my surface-like zits waiting to erupt and disrupt my balance at any moment. On one of those days of excessive weeds and excruciating pain, I experienced exquisite gratitude. I also had an epiphany in realizing that my practice of gratitude has become not simply a coping skill, but a deeply ingrained spiritual practice as well. (Perhaps that is precisely what a spiritual practice is, coping skills that become embedded in the soul.)

Someone recently pointed out to me that I am lucky, that I have everything. My internal knee-jerk reaction was a mental whine, “no I don’t!”, and I mentally began listing those things or states of mind that I desire but lack. I indulged myself for a moment in that self defeating, self imposed emotional poverty, and then I reminded myself: “I have enough, plus some.” Then the anxiety that my self indulgent whine stirred, seeped back down where Mother Earth wrapped it in a soothing hibernating rest for the moment.

My practice of gratitude is much like the Buddhist notion of wanting what you have instead of having to have what you think you want. My practice of gratitude is much like the Wiccan acknowledgement that balance is the natural state of things (it’s we humans that much everything up with our insatiable need to control). My practice of gratitude is much like the Christian recognition that the divine source will provide for my essential needs as long as I keep my heart and mind open to receive. My practice of gratitude is much like the Native American wisdom recognizing the interconnected relations between all beings, where each has an impact on the others. My practice of gratitude is much like the concept within the science of evolution where the fact that each species of plant, animal, insect, fungus and bacteria have a specific ecological niche and as a human being, I am part of that niche ecology as well, and if I do not pay attention, I can easily out-want my biological piece of the Earthly pie. (As an American, I probably already do.)

On that day of physical toil, while being actutely aware and intimately experiencing these interconnections on a deeper level than simply in my mind, I felt peaceful with my place in the world, peaceful-for the moment-with my physic\al limitations, and peacefully in sync with most of the beings that I was trying to eradicate from my designated planting areas. (Outside of those designated areas, I don’t take issue with most of them and don’t consider them weeds in other places.)

Even as I was yanking dandelions, I still was grateful for their cheerful yellow and fuzzy beauty, their healing properties and nutritional value, and I admired their tenacity. As I oh so carefully, with gloved hands, cut up and bagged the six foot tall dried out thistle plants, I thanked the plants and Mother Gaia for its exquisite purple display of flowers from last year. That ouchy plant provided succor and sustenance for a few local bees last year which had not succumbed to the mysterious disappearing bee syndrome. As I hacked away at the “trees of heaven” and renamed them, “the demon weed that wants to be a tree and is trying to take over the world”, I tried to find some sort of gratitude for them. To do so, I tried to find some sort of redeeming value that I could grasp onto in order to maintain my calm synergy-with-the-universe moment. I could not. But I was grateful for my new awesome loppers and fabulous pruning shears as I chopped the demon weeds up to get hauled away. (By the way-if anyone does know what value they have to the ecological balance of things, or some medicinal or other redeeming value, let me know, if you will.)

There are plenty of things that I want. I think about them each time I balance my checkbook or try to schedule some fun time with Deb and see my limited available vacation days. So, no, I don’t have everything, but I have plenty (including plenty of demon weeds). I have learned (and have to keep re-learning) that rather than dwell on what I think is lacking, I feel privileged and blessed when I take moments in time to experience gratitude for those things that I do have. There is always something to feel grateful for. Sometimes for me it is something as simple as a set of loppers, a beautiful sunset or a six foot tall thistle that most would name weed.

At least once a day, I feel myself start to panic about money. Then I realize that I have a job and health insurance, my house payment is up to date, my refrigerator is stocked, my garden is beginning to grow and my tuition is taken care of by treasured angels. At least once a day, I feel myself getting annoyed or angry (often unjustly) with Deb or the dogs or the cat drooling on my face. Then I realize that I hve a beautiful smart partner and codependent affectionate animals who remind me what unconditional love looks like.

How could I not feel grateful?

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