Gratefulness helps us return to ourselves, restoring our equilibrium and helping us to see beyond what’s broken to the beauty and wholeness of life.
I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s just over three years ago when I was 50. Receiving the diagnosis from a matter-of-fact doctor was a traumatizing experience, and I felt that my life and my family’s identity had collapsed. Life was difficult and still is difficult, yet something amazing is beginning to happen. I have slowly started to shift my attitude from the anger, fear, and loneliness brought on by the Parkinson’s and the grim predictions of a Parkinson’s future to a more body-based feeling of gratefulness for the wholeness of life as I experience it second by second.
I have discovered not only profound wonder and indebtedness for the gift of my life and relationships but also a physical softening in the area of my heart and a growing ability to feel with my body joy, awe, and the interconnectedness that is hidden in plain sight all around us. I feel in a very real and physical way that, as Chögyam Trungpa said, there is no such thing as an underdeveloped moment. Each moment is actually a continually flowing river of love and creativity pouring through all of existence and through us because we are not set apart from this river of life, no matter our circumstance or diagnosis. I continue to learn that gratefulness is a personal, physical, and soulful opening to the life that surges all around us and to the life that is beating our heart and living us. The more I allow gratefulness to wash through me, the clearer I become and the more ease expands within me.
Gratefulness is a portal through which life gazes at itself.
Although living in gratefulness is still something I need to practice, fleeting experiences of a richer fabric of existence have begun to reveal themselves. One beautiful evening, in the honeyed glow just before twilight, I was gazing into a rose. For a fraction of a second something relaxed within me, and I got the distinct impression that it was actually the universe looking through my eyes at the rose and the universe looking back as the rose at me. Gratefulness is a portal through which life gazes at itself.
This moment with the rose stopped me in my tracks — and then it was gone, probably because mental tension reasserted itself. I don’t know how to describe the depth of the experience, though — it was as if the same deep response was taking place in the rose that was taking place in me, and together we were responding to the ancient echo of creation that still resonates – provided we are not too cluttered by the hectic and highly intellectualized lives that so many of us lead.
Gratefulness is a transparency of the heart. But it is one thing to be grateful for a rose or a sunset or something else beautiful and non-threatening, and it is quite another thing to be grateful for challenging life events, for example Parkinson’s. I am working at it. Gratefulness offers me the energetic space to do this because it allows me to notice hostile thoughts arising before they lock into place and trigger restrictive habits; gratefulness is also able to hold tenderly life’s paradoxes without prematurely trying to shut them down to immature solutions that are misleading.
I relate to Parkinson’s …as an alienated aspect of my stifled creativity that needs gentle integration so that it can ignite my soul’s creative fire.
Supported by my gratefulness practice I have started to build a relationship with Parkinson’s. I relate to Parkinson’s in four ways: as an initiation into love, humility and courage; as a much-needed teacher offering learning and wisdom; as a manifestation of distress in need of compassion and love; and as an alienated aspect of my stifled creativity that needs gentle integration so that it can ignite my soul’s creative fire. I don’t manage to sustain this all the time. But I intend to love completely, so this must include loving what seems unlovable. I refuse to divide myself by making Parkinson’s my enemy. As Mahatma Gandhi said, “No man could look upon another as his enemy, unless he first became his own enemy.” Gratefulness is a simple and profound way of building such a relationship with life, and it is a powerful healing force that is always available if we are willing to risk redefining ourselves and just slow down and open up.
In chronic disease, when so much is wrong, people can lose sight of what they actually need. Gratefulness helps us return to ourselves, restoring our equilibrium and helping us to see beyond what’s broken to the beauty and wholeness of life. Gratefulness even helps us recognize a new story of our life with fresh purpose and sustaining motivations that nourish us and in so doing nourish others. The more we are steeped in gratefulness, the more it absorbs us until we start to radiate it from within.
Through gratefulness I had a surprise. I thought the greatest crisis of my life was Parkinson’s, and in many ways it is. But I have been shocked to realize that I had been living with an invisible crisis equal to the Parkinson’s: the contemporary epidemic of isolation and separation fueled by materialism, consumerism, urgency, and stress. I was living this shallow and clichéd way, disconnected from the present moment and dissociated from my body.
Gratefulness seems to relax the psyche and loosen those tight defensive patterns that many of us have grown up with and don’t even notice but through which we are constantly evaluating and interpreting life and judging ourselves.
In the space of isolation and disconnection, no one can be authentic and no one can really love magnificently because we are too self-protected. Thanks to gratefulness, I feel different — more a part of life, less a spectator, and capable of increased intimacy with living. Gratefulness seems to relax the psyche and loosen those tight defensive patterns that many of us have grown up with and don’t even notice but through which we are constantly evaluating and interpreting life and judging ourselves. It is these defensive patterns that alienate us from our True Self, and gratefulness can slowly dissolve these tendencies and relax us back to wholeness.
This very relaxation opens us to life’s infinite creativity, and this is transformation of the highest order. Gratefulness to me is a gateway to an embodied and conscious life. Like many people these days, I was so compressed by stress that I had lost touch with my heart and mistrusted my enoughness. This meant I couldn’t expand into life, and more than anything else life seems to want to expand itself through us so that we become ever more transparent to its unity.
I am delighted that now I wake up eager to bathe in gratefulness and radiate what love I have to the world. I feel very lucky to be part of life, and I’m confident that, as Zen master Dogen said, we are all connected, and so I pray that my gratefulness will somehow help you.
The true person is
not anyone in particular,
but, like the deep blue colour
of the limitless sky,
it is everyone, everywhere in the world.
-Zen master Dogen, (1200-1253)
I am especially grateful to Brother David Steindl-Rast who models this way of living so elegantly.
Ryokan, Dewdrops on a lotus leaf: Zen poems of Ryokan. Translated by John Stevens
Dogen, (1200-1253) Zen poems of Dogen. Translated by Steven Heine
Robert J.Miller, ed, Gospel of Thomas (67): The Complete Gospels: Annotated Scholars Version, Polebridge Press 1994
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I’m sorry to be such a “downer” in comparison to so many of the blog postings and the comments I read here at Gratefulness.org. But I don’t know *how* to get to a place of gratitude in the face of really very scary things in my life and I am alone, aging and have no family/friend support system.
This is a marvelous blog post. To quote one passage: . “I have slowly started to shift my attitude from the anger, fear, and loneliness brought on by the Parkinson’s and the grim predictions of a Parkinson’s future to a more body-based feeling of gratefulness for the wholeness of life as I experience it second by second.”
But *HOW* … where did the fear and anger go? What exactly does one do to slowly shift focus to gratitude?
So many blogs and comments on this site do the same thing – talk about “embracing” gratitude or “have come to learn the way of gratitude” and the resulting balance that has ensued.
My life situation is one of being in the midst of losing my home to foreclosure after spending 15 yrs as a solo private practice pro bono litigator protecting the indigent from illegal attempts by giant banks to collect money from people in court without *ever* having sufficient proof that my client owed anything. I worked so hard and so long going days and weeks with little sleep bcuz there was so much work on my plate that I finally had stress-induced mini-stroke and was forced to retire.
How does one go from where I’m alone in the world, facing such scary stuff, have major depression episodes and then just start to develop gratitude.
Please help me understand how it’s done, how that magical path is actually embarked upon,..PLEASE…
Thk u for listening… and for this wonderful blog post.
Thank you for sharing your heart and situation with us here, dear Creek. To be honest, the very fact that you were moved by Tim’s writing and can see the beauty and possibility in his story makes me think that you have indeed already stepped on to the “magical path” of gratefulness. And what a very difficult time you are going through, goodness me, no wonder you are feeling challenged in finding a way to shift your focus.
Your asking for concrete steps to take brought to mind some writing from Br. David (who also has experienced depression and hardship in his life). The first is his response to a site visitor in a Q&A https://gratefulness.org/resource/step-back-step-up-step-out and from there he directs the reader to his essay: Awake, Aware, and Alert which outlines steps one might take to open to gratefulness.
Another practice that may offer some support is one related to hard feelings: https://gratefulness.org/resource/healing-feelings/
This piece might prove helpful too: https://gratefulness.org/blog/cultivating-practice-grateful-living-as-a-way-of-life/
We will be publishing a book next year that will offer more “How do I do this?” support and suggestions too.
We hope some of the above will get you started. Please know we are so glad you are here and are grateful for your presence.
Thank you SO MUCH Serafina. Ur reply was so kind and gentle. I am not accustomed to being treated in such a way perhaps bcuz I’ve unwittingly isolated so much apparently in an attempt to protect myself.
I will review the sources you so generously list here as soon as i possibly can. Thank you and I guess u r right, I’m starting to “get it” about practicing gratitude. That is, I see how thankful I am, how I “SO MUCH” appreciate that anyone even noticed, much less so kindly and helpfully, lovingly replied as what I see here and with other replies after yours.
I need a way to replenish my self-parched soul to become increasingly grateful, to develop a practice, a daily lifestyle of gratitude and begin to truly see all that is truly around me in Nature, in being as much as possible in Pesence (ie, Tolle’s words in today’s Gatitude daily posting.
Thank you… I am ‘grateful’ for ur help here and even more telling, I’m finding a way to trust here a bit again. Namaste & blessings be yours. C
Dear Creek, I do not have a ‘magical’ answer for you, but I will pray that the peace of God enfolds you. Thank-you for your honest sharing from your heart.
With love and caring thoughts, Sheila?
Thank you Sheila. I do believe in the power of sincere, from the heart, prayer. Please do so for me; I know that concentrated power of prayer, even that of persons new to us, does have “magical” impact on us and the world.
Thank you for offering to do so for me – what a precious gift. Creek
Dear Creek, you are welcome and thank-you so much for your kind reply. As Ram Dass says, “we are all walking each other home”. ?
I had never heard/seen that quote and it is so warming and gentle. Thank u so much. Im wondering how one gets such warming ways of looking at things, or the world in general, to sink into their heart and their self, their being from their head…much less how gets to a place where they generate for themselves and then can share with others such concepts like Ram Das or Br. David. Maybe it’s not something one “wonders” (like in their heads) about but something one feels instead. Thx for sharing, tho. It’s very enlightening. Maybe I need to learn better how to practice staying out of my head so much. Much love and appreciation.
I write this to convey great admiration and respect for your ability to see through what some might call a “sad or unfortunate” situation while you see it as opportunity!
It is is unfortunate that most modern medicine and health sciences tend to see all de-eases as “the enemy” and call for more and more $money$ to solve the so-called “problem” rather the stand back and (ironically as it may seem) look within …a suggestion both you and Br David ( in the article here Gratitude just before yours ) make.
That “standing back” is IMO the return to reasons, using the gift of Mind as it was meant to be used, achieving Self Realization, and not for material gains and/or power over others. To quote Br David “The one who watches — when you step back far enough to be the observer whom no one can observe — that is your Self. “
Indeed, use the Mind correctly and be the “observer” and then “you will know the truth” as the God-Man Joshua Emmanuel reminded us.
My first thought while reading your words was actually the echo of T.S. Elliot, ending his “The Little Gidding” with “And the fire and the Rose are One”. Fire is the domain of Archangel Michael and when understood correctly, it is not the destroying but the bringer of clarity so that true growth can happen. Your Michael must be very attracted to your particular progression towards Self Realization.
Your article will be shared with friends and likeminded around the world.
With Respect and Gratitude …Be Well Be Present
My dear Tim, I am sitting here teary-eyed after reading your most beautiful, touching essay! A resounding yes, your gratefulness has helped me immensely! You are such an inspiration! Through this site, I have learned to be grateful and it has transformed my life. God bless you and your family, Tim! Thank-you from the deepest place in my heart for your sharing!!! ☮