Sansaku: A Start on Gratitude
Although she wouldn’t call it a sermon, Chyako is going to give one on gratitude next month. As usual, we talk about it and I get over-involved. I’m an enthusiastic thinker.
I was taking notes, also as usual, and she asked if I would give them to her. She’s probably asking for more than she wants. That, by the way, is one of the definitions of symbolic: getting more than what you bargained for.
Gratitude is something I grew up with. It was fundamental to the grace I was taught to say before dinner. I doubt I felt or understood what it meant, but it was growing like a seed and thankfully it took.
For food and health and happy days, accept our gratitude and praise. In serving others, Lord may we, repay our debt of love to thee. Amen
I’ve said it thousands of times, and while my education in gratitude and praise (I often pair the two words) might have started with that grace, I’m grateful that’s not where it stopped.
When I asked about prayer, which I thought was linked, mom said that gratitude was prayer. She was also one who could praise. Gratitude and praise, two of the most potent agents of peace and good-will.
I wish the language of psychotherapy, both the art and science, recognized the role both gratitude and praise play in what we do and how we choose to relate. It’s not something that is educated as consciously as it needs to be, and I’ve often wondered why.
Maybe because I hadn’t gone to graduate school in counseling before I started, I wasn’t as confused. I worked as the counselor at an alternative boarding school for wild adolescents. I had to self-educate.
I soon learned that counselors did two things that are very rare in ordinary life. First of all, rather than thinking so much about what they wanted to say, they did their best to listen in an active way. And this one, most of all, they valued problems and didn’t try to talk them away.
Of the many definitions I know for counseling, one of my favorites is learning to find problems interesting, and choosing to explore them. In group, if you’re skilled at disclosing your vulnerabilities, everyone will listen with gratitude and respect. In fact, they’ll praise you.
The hero in the story is the one who turns adversity to advantage.
Yesterday, when Chyako was wondering if gratitude was a good topic, I said, “Absolutely. On top of that, you’ve had a formal gratitude practice for at least seven if not eight years.” “Yeah,” she said, “But do you see me as a grateful person?” It’s quite a question.
We talked about temperament and disposition, and then she remembered. “It’s not happiness that makes you grateful, it’s gratitude that makes you happy.” She’ll have twenty minutes to explain that.
We both decided that gratitude was not differentiated or articulated to the degree it needed. It’s like having one word for love.
She thought that gratitude could easily slip into should and guilt, but that wasn’t what it meant. Too often the early graces I heard at meals tipped in that direction, “We should be grateful for this food we eat.” That’s a yes, but; it misses the mark.
I started thinking about gratitude east and west. I don’t even know the word for gratitude in Japanese, although I have often heard them praise. They have taken praise of beauty, for instance, to an art. And I know this comes from gratitude.
But this is just a start.