We all bring so much fear into our core belief systems, and more often than not, our religious/spiritual concepts are also subtly or not so subtly infected with it, regardless of our nominal affiliation. The preachers traditionally warn that death is lurking just around the corner, and could strike us down at any time, so we must put on our serious costumes and get straight with God, Tao, the Universe, Shiva, Dharma, or whatever programmed concept we employ to insure we stay clean and sober in the face of our inevitable death and potential afterlife destination.
“I’m not worthy, I haven’t done enough, I’ve accumulated more karma than I can possibly balance out, I’m a sinner, I’m a poor practitioner, I’ll never measure up, I’m unenlightened, etc…” are all conditioned notions which we tend to fixate on and then habitually reinforce as we ponder our fate. The proposition that life is a wonderful gift to be lived, appreciated, and enjoyed, rather than some sort of uphill path that must be traversed, a race to be won by the high achievers, or a struggle to be endured, is still a rare attitude in this realm.
Even the lamas and zen masters who one day proclaim that everything is perfect, just as it is, will turn around the next day and warn of dire consequences unless we keep our nose to the Dharmic grindstone and practice their prescribed method to achieve liberation from all this supposed perfection.
Truly, it’s fear that forms the emotional contraction at the heart. Most of us humans are implanted with the seeds of that fear early on, and carry the resulting contraction in life and relationships throughout the length of our sojourn here. The more we investigate our core motivations, the more we come to recognize that we tend to be driven by fear in our thoughts and behaviors.
Moreover, it is that contractive fear which keeps the full enjoyment of life’s adventure so out of reach. Even our greatest joys are tinged with the intuition of inherent evanescence, and so we tend to grow increasingly desperate as we sense some cosmic sword hanging over us, ready to drop without warning. It is also that same fear which interferes with any genuine sense of gratitude, even though such gratitude is the only truly effective antidote to the emotional contraction at the heart.
Real gratitude is a living, graceful expression of a love that is without conditions, the love that isn’t based on some needy clinging, nor is granted as a pay-off in exchange for services rendered. Gratitude is not only an expression of unconditional love, but by alleviating our fearful contraction, creates the space for an ever-fuller embodiment of such love.
Indeed, as we observe our human condition, we can notice something very interesting. That is, the more we tend to be fearful and complain about the way things seem to be, the more we will be given to complain about. Alternately, the greater our sense of gratitude, the more we find within our lives that for which we can be grateful. When we are grateful, we are no longer fearful, and without that fear, the rationale for all the greed, envy, and hatred that chronically plagues this realm is no longer ruling us. Even our subconscious sense of lack is neutralized by gratitude, as is our conditioned intolerance for those who appear different than us in their life orientations.
Moreover, gratitude also gives birth to a powerful sense of trust in the functioning of the totality of the universal manifestation, and so even death is not feared, but accepted as part of the natural rhythm of things. It is not perceived as an end, but simply another door that opens in time and invites us to partake of new level of consciousness and appreciation.
When we live life as the gift that it is, then those with whom we come in contact are also affected by the fear-free frequency, and because of our natural connectivity, their own vibration is lifted accordingly. It is such a joyful practice, because its fruits are immediately recognizable, and requires no exotic rituals, complex text study, physical stamina, or revered master teacher.
As we humbly commit ourselves to the practice of gratitude, the circuitry of thought which registers our consciousness to the vibration of love, the vibration of our spirit connection, is increasingly enhanced. This joyful circuitry is established throughout our cellular and consciousness memory, connecting and reinforcing pathways of positive energy communication between our neural processes and physical body functions, resulting in an increasingly positive field of love’s energy abundance.
Essentially, we all know what it is like to be grateful, but by unconscious habit we have allowed fear to have its way. Once we begin to see how that fear has come to dominate our life, we can stop fueling it, refuse its seductions, and instead allow our natural gratitude to return to the forefront. We are not victims, we are not in any real danger, we are immortal spiritual beings of the highest order. Moreover, we have been blessed with exactly what we want, which in this case is life itself (even though at times it may not seem like such a gift, due to the veil of amnesia which accompanies human birth).
Gratitude is the real joy that is present in our being, regardless of what appears to transpire in the dreamy play of causes and conditions. The more that life’s inherent beauty and perfection is seen and appreciated, the more our capacity for such appreciation grows too. Even the very simple things, the little parts of life that we tend to overlook or take for granted, shine with a luminous luster when we pause to allow them to reveal themselves – the gently falling autumn leaf, the soft summer breeze, the freshness of a bright spring day, the majestic silence of falling snow, the smile of a child, the happy bark of a playful dog, a lover’s touch – all are gifts that are abundantly being showered on us, a feast for the soul that we must learn to value, if we are to realize our true potential for happiness.
Indeed, to immerse ourselves fully in the human experience is the very reason we came here, so we can see in that light that there is really nothing to fear, but only gifts for which to be thankful. Even our difficult challenges are gifts, because their experience permits us to appreciate the full range of life, its sorrows and difficulties, as well as its triumphs. They also bestow on us a level of humility, empathy, and deeper intimacy with our fellow beings, whose lot is often fraught with suffering and tears.
Yes, we can even be grateful for our tears, because they are a beautiful benediction in themselves. The more of this vibrational circuitry of gratitude we create and can access, regardless of the apparent circumstances we encounter, the easier it becomes to maintain a more naturally positive state of mind, body and spirit in this life, and the more of a blessing we become to all with whom we encounter.
“The root of joy is gratefulness. It is not joy that makes us grateful; it is gratitude that makes us joyful. Look closely and you will find that people are happy because they are grateful. The opposite of gratefulness is just taking everything for granted.
Everything is a gift. The degree to which we are awake to this truth is a measure of our gratefulness, and gratefulness is a measure of our aliveness.
We are never more than one grateful thought away from peace of heart. Gratefulness is the key to a happy life that we hold in our hands, because if we are not grateful, then no matter how much we have we will not be happy — because we will always want to have something else or something more.”
~ David Steindl-Rast