Filled With Gratitude

thanksgivingAs we move headlong toward Thanksgiving and toward all that accompanies that holiday (last-minute runs to the grocery store, trying to beat the traffic out-of-town, family gatherings, preparations for Black Friday), I thought it might be a good time to reflect a bit on gratitude.  After all, the core prerequisite of gratitude is reflection. (Of course, the great irony of this holiday is that time for reflection–for many of us–is in very short supply.)  If we’re honest, when we talk about gratitude most of the time what we talk about is an idea. “That was an awfully nice thing for that person to do. And I really feel grateful.” Or it might be a sense of relief, “Whew, things have been slow lately. I’m glad I just opened a new file.” We talk about being grateful for something happening, but it’s not a visceral experience of gratitude. The same kind of thing happens when we close our eyes and rush through the Thanksgiving blessing so we can start eating before the food gets cold. We give a quick nod to the fact that we are grateful for life’s blessings, but we don’t experience that deep upwelling of appreciation that’s embodied when we sense something beautiful or experience someone else’s goodness. The idea of gratitude and the experience of gratitude seem to be two different things. And again, being honest, the experience is much rarer than the idea. But why is that? Why is it that it’s much easier for us to think about gratitude than actually experience it? Maybe one reason is that we have to be here to feel appreciation. We can’t be hanging out in a virtual reality (as attorneys are wont to do). To really experience gratitude, we have to be connected to what’s going on right here. There has to be a sense that now is enough. How often does that happen for us? How many moments do we say,  “I can just rest in this. I don’t have to have anything, do anything, get somewhere. This–right here–is enough.”? Our problem as lawyers is that we’re not conditioned to be present. We are eager for the next thing or apprehensive about the next thing. Most of the time there is a sense that we have to be on our way to something else. We’re restless. We’re preoccupied…i.e. already occupied.  And it’s tough to be grateful if you’re already occupied. Maybe one of the things this holiday can offer us is the opportunity to find at least one moment to experience what it’s like to be unoccupied. To pay attention to what’s right here…The sunlight on your niece’s hair. The warm hand you hold during the Thanksgiving blessing. The perfect gold of the Turkey’s crust. The deep purple of the beets on the white plate. The hum of conversation in a room filled with the people you love. Maybe at some point this week we can just stop and pay attention…and experience, in a moment, the deep upwelling of gratefulness that comes with all of life’s beauty and all of life’s gifts. Happy Thanksgiving.

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