The Elusive Skill of Gratitude by Al Vreeland

Gratitude does not seem that difficult. In the pause before a meal, in the pause after a healthy baby is born, in the pauses surrounding many important events, gratitude is natural and flows easily. It is an embedded part of every tradition and every people around the world. Yet we can quickly think of many times in our lives when gratitude is not only elusive but it feels inappropriate. In the face of bad things, to express gratitude requires, at the least, mental gymnastics such as ‘it happened for a reason.’

For those of us who blog on Yoga Modern, these issues have provoked deep questioning of our usual assumptions. That questioning has led us into the nondual dialectics of ancient Eastern traditions. In that pursuit, I have come to the conclusion that the emotional implication of gratitude is far more than a ritual reaction to receiving or consuming. Moreover, it is my conclusion that gratitude is probably the wrong word to use for an emotional skill that is essential for bliss.

If I express gratitude for a meal that I have worked hard to provide, it is typically seen as an act of humility. Humility in this sense means I recognize that my paltry efforts pale in comparison to the total process of food on the table. I can sow, I can plow, I can harvest. But I cannot begin to pretend that I know how the soybean turns dirt into protein.

In this sense, gratitude and humility are not part of a nondual tradition. The basic flow in western dualistic thinking is that we should be grateful for receiving something that is granted to us. It leads to infinite complications about whether we deserve it, and if we deserve it, questions about exactly why we deserve it. You can see how the complications are much worse when we receive bad things.

The nondual approach, while subtle, is simpler. We belong in the world in an inseparable way, and our task is to participate skillfully. When we sow and plow, we are invoking the soybean. We and the soybean are participating together in larger nondual reality. I would suggest that the expression of the blissful feeling of participation is ‘appreciation’ rather than ‘gratitude.’ And I would suggest that the feeling of appreciation need not be lost when our experience is difficult or hurtful. When we learn to embrace nondual reality, bliss is the feeling of the simple opportunity for experience, any experience at all.

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Dr. Vreeland has been working to integrate eastern meditation wisdom and clinical psychology for 20 years. His expertise builds on eight years of training in Jungian analysis and includes extensive study with Tibetan masters in this country and in Tibet. He is gratified to be part of a wide collaborative effort on this new paradigm for genuine resolution of trauma, and for the achievement of authentic happiness. He has lectured nationally on this project. Click here to visit Dr. Vreeland's page in the Yoga Modern Community.

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