When we are gratefully engaged, we want to DO something to make a difference.
This week I am house-sitting for a friend who lives on a small cove in Northern Massachusetts. I was thrilled when he asked me to take care of his home while he is away at a conference, as being here affords me many of my favorite, rare treasures — deep quiet, big sky, the sound of birds, and beachfront.
On my morning beach walk today, I reflected on what it means to live gratefully, and some of the challenges of establishing what I see as the power of grateful living’s most far-reaching ripples of impact, considering questions such as:
- How might grateful living truly, positively impact “more distant” others?
- How does living gratefully lead to a better world?
- What is the connection between feeling grateful and social responsibility?
- What are the impulses we follow when we “act” based on gratefulness?
In my gut, I am convinced that the cause-and-effect thread of these connections is dynamic and strong; I believe that grateful living ultimately fosters a more robust sense of openness, accountability, and engagement with the world and all its inhabitants. But, how to effectively transmit this conviction?
This awareness was a big “aha” for me; realizing that my unequivocal gratitude for the preciousness of the natural world makes me want to protect, help, and share it.
As I was walking, I noticed that I was doing what I always do when I walk a beach — I had found a plastic bag and cup washed up on shore among the seaweed and occasional shells and stones, and I was bending down every few feet to pick up pieces of trash and abundant shards of colorful, recyclable plastic to bring home and dispose. In the midst of my mind’s preoccupied thinking, my heart and body were organically doing what they love to do when we all go out walking — pick up litter!
This awareness was a big “aha” for me; realizing that my unequivocal gratitude for the preciousness of the natural world moves me to want to protect, help, and share it. It often feels that there is little I can do to have a significant impact in the face of so much ecological trauma these days, but picking up litter makes me feel as if I am throwing a starfish back into the sea. At least I am doing something…
After about 40 minutes of pacing a patch of beach, and clearing it of all the garbage I could see, I was heading back to the house, my hands now laden. An elderly woman stopped and asked what I was “collecting.” “Trash,” I said, “especially recyclables. Look at all the colors of plastic I found today.” She bent to look at the cup and baggies filled with a rainbow of plastic pieces. At that point, a group of three children came running over, brimming with youthful inquisitiveness and boldness, wanting to see what I had found. As I showed them, I suggested that they too could make a game of picking up plastic pieces — bad for the birds and fish — and see who could collect the most colors. “See if you can find a rainbow, just make sure to throw it away or recycle it,” I yelled as they scampered down the beach toward their buckets.
The more that we allow our hearts to expand to love, deeply appreciate, and feel inextricably tied to the places, things and people of this world, the more we are likely to take a stand on behalf of what we value.
Settled back into the house I knew something more fully in my heart:
- When we are in touch with deep appreciation for something (or someone), it means we are open to experience its value. Gratitude + Valuing = Gratefulness
- When we are in touch with gratefulness — or “great fullness of heart” — for things and people, we are moved to want to protect and care for them. Gratefulness + Valuing = Accountability
- When our hearts are moved by accountability, taking action to care and share emerges naturally. Gratefulness + Accountability = Engagement
- When we are gratefully engaged, we want to DO something to make a difference. Gratefulness + Engagement = Grateful Living/Doing
The secret to Grateful Living may lie within this: the more that we allow our hearts to expand to love, deeply appreciate, and feel inextricably tied to the places, things, and people of this world, the more we are likely to take a stand on behalf of what we value. Our work is to keep opening our hearts to include more of the world as our own. I can feel it in my bones: Grateful Living is actively heart-opening but it also inspires us to consider and act from conscience.
Sorting and recycling my beach trash this evening, I was overcome by a sense of opportunity and possibility, which Br. David Steindl-Rast speaks of as a hallmark of Grateful Living. What if those three children actually made a regular ritual of picking up litter? What if they could feel themselves protecting the birds and creatures of the sea? What if they encouraged their parents not to leave trash behind? And what if that one encounter had the possibility to inspire these children to teach other children to help protect our precious earth? This is the ripple effect for which I yearn…
The burden of making the case for grateful living feels lighter to me now. Committing to all the vast possibility within living gratefully, as if it can make as much of a difference as any other way to make the world better, will result in a better world. There is no right or wrong, more or less way. It only matters that we actually commit, and from this commitment, follow our hearts to be moved to truly do something…