The weather has officially "turned" here in the States, the last autumn leaves are covered with snowfall, pumpkin-flavored-everything has hit a fever pitch and a finale, and Holiday shopping season has been ushered in with Door Busters and Cyber Monday.
I was grateful to spend this Thanksgiving with my big, loud and loving Italian family in Coastal Ohio. I brought my beau home for the first time (who my Grandpa playfully dubbed “Zonk, King of New York.”), cuddled a tribe of toddlers, carb loaded like a marathoner, downloaded old family photos (including the foxy shot of my Grandma, above), and went on a thrift store treasure hunt with my cousin, Cyllie.
I also contemplated Gratitude. The Giving of Thanks, and the heartbeat of the holiday we were all celebrating.
Gratitude has been a buzz word for quite some time now, pulling rank on Instagram and Twitter (#blessed #grateful #humblebrag) and the glossy personal journals sold in Barnes and Noble.
But, really, what is Gratitude when it's not just a hashtag that expresses our good fortune, or a warm feeling between our collar bones?
Is gratitude something that we can do? Activate? Cultivate? Expand?
Brother David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine monk, who has dedicated his life to exploring this question gives a gorgeous understanding of Gratitude that I love so much I had to share. It's simply this: Practice Gratefulness and Thanksgiving.
The first branch is Gratefulness. Open hearted appreciation for what we have right here in it’s naked, mundane state. It's the sense of being touched by the moment. Letting our lives penetrate us. Break us open.
Hands palms up in the mudra of Receiving.
The mantra: Fill ‘er up, please.
In action, the Fill'er Up branch looks like
•spending time with children, animals, wildlife, or anything else that brings you close to your essential nature.
•Saying “yes” when someone offers you their resources. Even if it’s awkward, or difficult. We all like to help. Let us.
•Unpluging your internet for 2 hours. (Literally, take the router plug out of the socket.) Crawling under the covers and reading for pleasure.
•Stargazing, Cloud watching, connecting to that place inside that recognizes the paradox of our immensity and tinyness when we turn our gaze upward.
•Asking for what we need, while trusting that our Ask is based in mutual respect and the spirit of Generosity. Even if it’s awkward or difficult. We all like to help. Really, please let us.
•Keeping a journal. It doesn’t matter what you write, it’s simply a commitment to converse with yourself. An act of friendship and solidarity.
The second branch is Thanksgiving. It's described as the moment when our vessel is full from the generosity of life-stuff, and we feel moved into the action of expression. We're compelled to contribute, freely transfer, and furnish others with our inspiration and good fortune. This is the juice of creative bursts and authentic exchanges. Our levy overflows.
Hands palms up in the mudra of Giving.
The mantra: Pour it out, thank you.
In action, Pouring it Out looks like
•Making something and sharing it. Whatever floats your creative boat. A CD mix with a magazine collage cover, a pecan pie, a workshop, your writing, a stick figure comic strip, a limerick or a sock puppet. Infuse it with your inspiration, and then give that sh*t away with love.
•Introducing people, unprovoked, because you think they might really dig each other, as new friends, lovers, or co-conspirators. Good things happen when good people meet.
•Looking at the woman behind the counter in the eye as you take your change and thank her while thinking “you’re lovely.” See her beautiful humanness, and reflect it back to her.
•Writing a thank you note to someone who’s support has allowed you to flourish, and be specific about the qualities you admire and appreciate about them. Send it via snail mail. We all like to get presents in the mail.
Generosity and Greatfulness are perfect bed buddies, flip sides of the same coin, two branches of the same tree, and what Gratitude looks like in action.