Dearest monks and artists,
The United States celebrates the feast of Thanksgiving this week. I have always loved this time of gratefulness and sharing with loved ones. My heart overflows with gratitude for this beautiful community we have created together. I delight daily in knowing there are dancing monks all over the world.
The 5th century monk and mystic Benedict of Nursia counsels in his Rule for monastic life an attitude of contentment among his community. Whatever the circumstances they find themselves in, they are to find some satisfaction with what is in the moment. In a world of self-entitlement and inflated sense of need, learning to be content with what we have has the potential to be quite revolutionary. It means craving less and being more satisfied with what one has.
One way to encourage this posture of contentment in our lives is gratitude. Gratitude is a way of being in the world that does not assume we are owed anything, and the fact that we have something at all, whether our lives, our breath, families, friends, shelter, laughter, or other simple pleasures, are all causes for celebration. We can cultivate a way of being in the world that treats all these things as gifts, knowing none of us “deserves” particular graces.
We might begin each day simply with an expression of gratitude for the most basic of gifts, life itself. Awakening each morning for another day to live and love, grateful for our breath and a body that allows us to move through our day. Then we can offer gratitude for a home and all the things that are important to us about this place of shelter.
Environmental activist and author Joanna Macy describes gratitude as a revolutionary act “because it counters the thrust of the industrial growth society, or the consumer society, which breeds dissatisfaction. You have to make people dissatisfied with what they have and who they are in order that they keep buying.” Gratitude is a way for us to cultivate a healthy asceticism and reject consumerism.
Gratitude is a practice that can begin with the smallest acknowledgement and be expanded out to every facet of our existence. A simple way to nurture this awareness in our lives is to end each day with a gratitude list. You might write 5-10 things for which you feel grateful each day, lifting up both the large and small moments of grace. It is a way to end the day by honoring the gifts we have received rather than dwelling on where life came up short for us. Consider saving these grateful noticings together somewhere, and after a season of time reading back over the things that made your heart expand and notice what patterns you find there.
Gratitude has a way of transforming our approach to life into one that is more open-hearted, generous, and joyful. Rather than moving through our day feeling cynical or burdened, we can consciously choose our thoughts. This doesn’t mean that we have to offer gratitude for injustices or abuse, we are always called to resist those. But it does mean we might be able to tap into greater joy to replenish us for those moments when we do need to fight for dignity and kindness. Gratitude overflows into joy and makes us feel connected to something bigger than ourselves.
With great and growing love,
Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, REACE
Photo © Christine Valters Paintner