It’s Easter Monday, and around the world Christians are celebrating the resurrection of Christ. This Easter Monday, I feel a powerful sense of gratitude, and I’m driven to sit in that and write about it for a bit. I’m blessed to have enough diversity in my family and friends to know that spiritual gratitude comes in many forms and is by no means restricted to Christianity. Most wonderfully of all, gratitude doesn’t even require spirituality to feel – it’s more about widening your perspective.
The gift of gratitude is that it’s a multiplier. It has a rather bizarre way of expanding, the more you apply yourself to it. It’s also deeply connected to calm – which isn’t something that many of us feel often these days – and yet it seems impossible to feel grateful without quieting your spirit for a moment, no matter what you’re standing in the middle of.
A world away, Notre Dame Cathedral lies in ashes. I was picking up my Mum from the airport when the first pictures and news reports hit the TV screens in the terminal, and it’s the first thing I’m aware of watching open-mouthed since I switched on the TV on 9/11. My nearly-13-year-old had no context for what was wrong and I struggled to explain it to him, yet when I greeted my Mum with the words “Notre Dame is on fire”, her tears were instant.
Both she and I have read Ken Follett’s book “The Pillars of The Earth” written about the building of a cathedral in the fictional town of Kingsbridge, England. It provides a lengthy and in-depth insight into the generations of dedication it took to construct cathedrals and the human spirit poured into creating masterpieces few who worked on them would ever see finished. We were talking about just that when Sky News interviewed him about whether there would be anything remaining of the cathedral now ablaze.
The news footage showed a crowded and yet eerily quiet Paris watching their lady, in shock. Worldwide, sentiments poured in from those who felt it deep in their gut too. Certainly, there were those who couldn’t appreciate the loss; those who felt it was just a building and were grateful there were no lives lost. I’m sure there were some who celebrated. One of the overwhelming sentiments for me came from those who have been there, or were there last week, or live in Paris. As much as they have marvelled at her intricate beauty, this feat of human dedication and skill, they had taken her glory for granted. This was brought home to them whilst they watched a monument that had taken 200 years to build and has survived numerous wars and devastations over the past 856 years, destroyed in hours.
Often, we don’t appreciate what we have whilst we have it. We crave more, or better. Often, gratitude is something we only feel with the contrast of loss. And yet gratitude, as I mentioned before, is not only a powerful multiplier, but a great source of serenity. There is a reason that gratitude is a principle taught throughout all religions, through the 12 Step Program, and through all life mastery theories. Gratitude keeps us present and allows us to live fully with what we have today. It draws us back from the inefficiencies, sadnesses, disagreements and disappointments that we’re surrounded by on a daily basis.
We have a choice as to whether those are the things that occupy our minds, or whether we allow their obvious contrast with how we believe things should be to lead us to gratitude for what we currently have and what is coming. Albert Einstein said “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”
There are many recommendations about how and when to feel gratitude. Write a list. Think it through. Do it when you first wake up. Do it when you go to bed. I’m not sure it matters when or how, really. For many who are in a tough space, gratitude can be a hard emotion to find. The simplest direction I was given to expanding my list of appreciation was “what if everything you weren’t grateful for today wasn’t there when you woke up again tomorrow?”. Take a moment to think about that.
I am grateful for so many things – that I will wake up tomorrow in a bed and not on the street; that I will wake with the knowledge and excitement that the child I’m blessed with is waking just down the passage; that we will shower in warm water, dress in respectable clothes, and eat. That we have people who love and support us. That we have more than enough. That we have people to learn from and expand ourselves and the means to make that happen. I’m grateful that I can be of service to others. I’m grateful that I can be that person of support to some. I’m grateful that I’m healthy, able bodied, happy and determined. The list seems endless, and I haven’t gotten out of bed yet. I can be grateful for the difficult things too. Ralph Waldo Emerson said “Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.”
Why gratitude? Because, in this day and age, there seems too much in opposition to that. So many things that you could choose to be afflicted and consumed by rather than gratitude that are not helpful and which are, quite frankly, soul destroying. There are daily indications that we’re failing dismally as a human race. Those failures make losses like Notre Dame that much more devastating in comparison to a time when people dedicated themselves to building things that stood the test of time. And yet, if we all did the work daily to see the awesomeness that we DO have and are presented with repeatedly, we’d predicate an entirely different attitude in everything that we do.
In my opinion, occasionally (often) we need to pause. For our own sanity, we need to pause. We need to disconnect from the hustle, the fear, the worry, the lack of control, and sit quietly with our gratitude. Appreciate things whilst they are there, rather than once they are lost.
What would you miss if it wasn’t there tomorrow? What do you have that is more than enough? In what ways are you able to be a blessing to others? What contrast does the world show you in others that reminds you that you’re doing okay? How can you encourage others to feel gratitude, and how can you allow those powerful ripples to flow outward? We’re doing okay. We’re all still here. The journey isn’t done with yet.
Photo credit: Christophe Ena
by Christen Killick
April 22nd, 2019