I have a theory about gratitude. Here it is: People who have nothing experience gratitude sooner and more often than people who have something.
I think that if people who had something; some-thing(s); made a list of what they have it would probably be a long one.
And I don’t just mean material things like a roof over your head, food, car, job and such. I mean emotional support of other human beings who touch your life. And I also mean you should add to your some-things the ability to walk, hear, see, touch, taste, smell, your personal skills, your creativity, your literacy, your education, decent health, a sense of humor, some good memories. Add all the intangibles that make your life unique. Go ahead. Make a list, and make one especially when you’re in some dark hole of self-pity. All of your *things* really start to add up when you count them. And all of those *things* are the plus side of what you have.
It makes us wonder about some people who appear to have so much yet they complain the loudest about their lack; about their diminished opportunity for more. And maybe they melt down into complaint when any one of those things they already have is threatened or taken away. It’s then that the rest of the *things* we have don’t seem to matter anymore because that one precious *thing* is no more.
When we lose some-thing(s) we quickly spread a thick layer of panic over the place the missing thing once was in our life. Panic becomes a salve to fill the void. And we continue applying layers of panic when we give it all our attention; encouraging the panic to self-replicate. Eventually, it seeps down like sad syrup into everything else in our collection of stuff and cuts off our supply of joy, of possibility and, of gratitude. Here’s when we experience what I like to call a spiritual panic attack.
In a *regular* panic attack, people can’t seem to get enough air into their lungs and it sends them straight into a meltdown. What they need is that air, and quickly. And air can only enter into a space where it can be held. An empty lung; not one that’s restricted by a crushing sensation in their diaphragm. They need some space immediately in order to bring their breathing back into balance and their mind down from Def-Con 1.
In the clutches of a spiritual panic attack, every available place of calm is already filled to the brim with our concern over our missing things. Our inner wisdom starts looking for an open field, an empty beach, a mountain top view, a sweeping vista; somewhere, anywhere-where it can experience less. It seeks out a place where the things we worry about simply, are not.
You see, gratitude needs room to expand. It needs room inside your head so it can fill you up and push out the sticky residue of panic syrup that has immobilized your thoughts. Gratitude is like helium and when it fills you up it expands your awareness and it lifts you up. We must give it an empty space to fill. But we have to ready that space; prepare it by first emptying it so that gratitude can enter and expand us.
Because gratitude is big. It’s enormous. I dare say that gratitude is the Grand Canyon of emotions. Love. Yes. That’s big too. And love can be the key that unlocks the gate leading out to the big open space where gratitude can enter. But it’s gratitude that actually inspires us to not only embrace our lives with love, but it’s the booster rocket that makes us want to reach out and help others. Ironically, those others we may be moved to help are often the ones who have nothing. The same ones who experience gratitude sooner and more often than those of us who have all the some-thing(s).
Our mission, when the warning signs of an impending spiritual panic attack encroach on us, is to find the empty space to focus on that can serve as a mirror of what we need to do internally to experience gratitude. Calm and steady, open and expansive; this is what our mind needs to be to make a space for gratitude.
For those who live by water, or on a mountain top or looking out across a field of dreams on an Iowa farm; all they need to do is raise their eyes and the view alone can start to unravel the mess inside their heads. You know that’s true if you’ve spent time with people who have the rare gift of living in awe inspiring places. Most of them are living in a near constant state of gratitude. At least that is so for those that are not reclusive and panicked over some imaginary threat to their fortune; their some-thing(s). Those who intentionally create open space internally and externally, take a page from the book of Buddhist monks. These people who own nothing and recognize every grain of rice as the gift that it is. And like those who live with nothing through circumstance of war or socio-economics- like refugees and people who are displaced. They are hungry and homeless and in the nothing of their day to day lives, they recognize every cup of water, every pair of shoes and every bit of bread as the gift that it is.
We with a home, food, job, transportation and other little luxuries are the biggest complainers and the most frequent sufferers of spiritual panic attacks.
I’m currently watching several women friends as they consciously unload *things* that are cluttering their lives. Cable TV: gone. Dozens of clothing items they never wear: gone. Boxes of books on dozens of shelves: gone. They are in the process of creating a physical open, empty space so there will be room to feel the gratitude they would rather be feeling.
This winter, my family is buying a business and there are hundreds of things that must be done to get it up and running by the coming summer season. I can feel the sticky panic starting to cover all of my *things* that I’ll be leaving behind for six months of the year. Can I live without my husband for all that time? My pets? My books? I’m ramping up for a doozey of a spiritual panic attack. The only wide open spaces near my Mid-Michigan home are someone else’s farmland that I’d have to trespass on to to get all the air and all the room I feel I need to allow the first sweet inhales of gratitude to enter.
Last week a friend asked how excited I was about this amazing opportunity I’m embarking on. I realized that I haven’t even let myself jump up and down like a kid at the wonder of it all yet. I haven’t sat down and cried some tears of gratitude for all the moving parts coming together to make this new place mine. My life in East Lansing is filled with all the *things* one collects when they’ve lived in a house for 23 years, and so there’s no empty spaces to focus on to show me where to let the gratitude in. Where’s the map key? Where’s the doorway to let it in? More panic. Got to find the room. Then it hit me. The photograph.
I had taken a picture with my cell phone as I stood in the beautiful room that will soon be my “office”. The first time I walked in there I fell silent and just breathed in the openness. In the quiet and expanse, I could see every couple dance across that floor on their wedding day. I could see all the smiling faces who passed through it when it used to be an ice cream place. I could see glimmers of all the events and workshops, the lectures and parties that will be happening in the future.
That room immediately became my happy place. My empty place where everything is possible. My zero-point where there was room for gratitude. And so I’m using the photo as the focal point, the entry way for gratitude to come on in and expand me.
The reason those with nothing feel gratitude sooner and more often than others is because they have nothing but room for gratitude.
Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu (601-530 B.C.)
Thirty spokes share the wheel’s hub;
It is the center hole that makes it useful.
Shape clay into a vessel;
It is the space within that makes it useful.
Cut doors and windows for a room;
It is the holes which make it useful.
Therefore profit comes from what is there;
Usefulness from what is not there.
If we can just find a way to let gratitude in, it will transform our spiritual landscape. I’ve got my photograph to focus on. I hope that you find someplace, some photo, some memory or image of your own that represents the portal where gratitude can enter.
Make the space ready. It’s knocking and trying to enter. We just need to make room for gratitude.
Ahh. Thank you, new world- Willowbrook Mill, Northport, MI