Harvesting Gratitude

Our world is sacred through and through. We have a Zen saying: "There is no where you can spit." When you lose sight of this, it's easy to imagine you are a victim rather than a player. This is a time of year to express gratitude and thanks, to feel the fullness and abundance of our lives. Yet, scarcity always seems to be close at hand, so you can easily substitute this for the fullness of a bumper crop. Harvesting gratitude doesn't happen automatically. It's an active spiritual practice that requires intention and courage. Your life may be full of dismal failures, obstructions and conflicts. When you practice an active spiritual practice rooted in mindfulness awareness, you can learn to begin harvesting gratitude.

At the Zen Life & Meditation Center of Chicago we teach a spiritual path that is grounded in mindfulness meditation. This practice helps you begin to be more pro-active and less reactive. You learn to trust that you are worthy. Your own authenticity is rooted in unconditional goodness and sanity. When you trust this, you can harvest gratitude which is how you transform suffering into gold.

There is today an epidemic of shame sweeping through our culture. Caught in the grip of shame, you are never good enough. Shame always has a prerequisite. You are not good enough until __________. And the sad thing is that we can all fill in that blank. So shame is universal. And it lives in secrecy. It's difficult to talk about. It's difficult to get at it, because in many ways it's unconscious. Shame disconnects you from others and in the end it disconnects you from trusting your own worthiness. Shame is a hustle. You do what you do to please others. You perform various acts to garner the approval of your peers, friends, parents, or teachers.

The antidote for shame is empathic awareness and drawing boundaries. When you have your own lived experience, without need for outside confirmation, and stand your ground, you are beginning the practice of harvesting gratitude by overcoming shame.

Harvesting gratitude is the way you begin to overcome the scarcity that sets in when you trade in your unconditional sanity for the trinkets of other people's approval. This is not easy. It requires courage to overcome shame, because it is a brave person who stands in their own experience and risks ridicule and disapproval from others. With practice you can do this because standing in your experience brings forth increased joy and gratitude. We have been taught that being vulnerable is weak, but risking being emotionally available is an act of courage that can inspire others to be braver too.

For gratitude to be alive in this world, it needs to be expressed. You may really admire and love someone and think, "They must know how grateful I am for the ways they have helped me in my life." But they may not know. When in doubt, express your gratitude. It helps reconnect you to them and to your own natural generosity. Gratitude works wonders!

Sometimes it's not easy to see what you appreciate. Scarcity can have it's way with you. When I was working as the Director of the Zen Peacemaker Order with Bernie Glassman Roshi, I went through a period where I was working really hard. And I remember coming home from work one day and telling my wife, June, how discouraged I was because no one seemed to appreciate all the work I was doing. June asked me if I was expressing appreciation to anyone around me. I said no. I thought about that, and decided to be more aware of things people did around me that I appreciated. Once I began telling people how much I appreciated what they were doing, everything shifted. I felt more connected with others and less resentful. And amazingly, people started telling me how much they appreciated what I was doing.

So I want to encourage you to practice harvesting gratitude. It's a wonderful, deep, and endless practice that will bring forth more joy, connection and playfulness. No matter how difficult your life may be or how much you may dislike your relationship, your job or your family; you can always add value. You can always shift from scarcity to abundance. And what better time of year to begin than Thanksgiving! So happy harvesting. I hope you have a bumper crop!

by Robert Joshin Althouse