The freshness and allure of a rainbow is, at least partly, due to their rarity. It’s a unique moment, one worthy of stopping to see and take in. If there was a rainbow every day, at nearly the same time every day, their colors would begin to gray in the mind and it would begin to fade into the background.
If you’ve ever stopped to truly watch a sunrise or sunset, you may have some awareness of this. It is a gorgeous event, awe-inspiring, and every day is different. Yet because of its dailiness, we lose interest. It becomes mundane.
So it is with much of life. For many of us, it is easier for the mind to fixate on problems, fears, and worries than it is to feel awe and gratitude at all the good, supportive experiences we have daily. We take things for granted.
There are two experiences that tend to wake us up from this taking for granted—grief, and gratitude. Losing what we took for granted really helps us to see how much we depended upon it, how important it was to us. Then we might feel regret at having not taken more time to appreciate it. Maybe the rest of life becomes more colorful and alive as we recognize that we could, and will, lose everything.
Fortunately, we can actively work on cultivating more gratitude and appreciation, before we lose something dear. We can practice gratitude in a way that activates gratefulness, and not waiting for gratitude or fixating on ingratitude.
Cultivating gratitude is a practice of connecting to that which feels supportive, nourishing, wonderful, or joy-inspiring. We can be grateful even when we feel suffering, when we feel guilt, when the things we feel grateful about are endangered or morally ambiguous. Gratitude does not eclipse harm, does not mean life is purely okay. It is more about widening the scope of vision. Instead of focusing narrowly on what is wrong, we widen the lens to also see what is beneficial about what is.
The practice of gratitude recorded in the following meditation engages with the often complex nature of gratitude. If I feel gratitude at the trees and plants for providing the oxygen that keeps me alive, a part of me recalls that these trees and plants may be endangered by certain economic and political practices. I feel a natural want to protect them, one that comes from love and not guilt and obligation.
The recorded meditation engages with cultivating gratitude for things about which we might feel guilt, shame, or hurt about. This is not about making excuses or minimizing harm. What has happened in the past, we cannot change, but we can change the meaning of that event. We can feel grateful for the ways we’ve learned to survive or thrive in spite of harm. We can feel grateful for what we’ve experienced since the harm. We can feel grateful for the strengths and supports that got us through those moments.
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