Gratitude as a Quality of Being


  • How would you define the concept of gratitude?
  • Do you agree with the assertion that life is fundamentally a gift? If so, how do you stay rooted in the ongoing practice of gratitude?
  • Have you ever wondered why there is something rather than nothing? If so, where have your wonderings taken you?

As little kids we’re taught to say thank you. After a child is given something, the parent asks: “What do you say?” My mom had a rule that we weren’t allowed to use or play with a gift until we’d written the thank you card. And while my sister and I didn’t love this rule, the act of saying thank you is now deeply ingrained in us.

Gratitude is a common place and often used word. It’s defined as the quality of being thankful and the readiness to show appreciation for kindness. We easily understand the 2nd part of this definition. We know what it means to thank someone when we’re shown generosity, given an opportunity, or have been well-cared for.

But I’d like to dig a little deeper into the first part of the definition: the quality of being thankful. Which means we have to unpack the words quality and being. Quality is used to describe the essential characteristics of something, the fundamental nature of a thing. And the word being describes existence. A being is alive. A “quality of being” then describes the fundamental nature of any given creature. If gratitude is a quality of our being, then our thankfulness isn’t reactionary. It just is.

In his book Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words, poet David Whyte says:

“Gratitude is not a passive response to something we have been given, gratitude arises from paying attention, from being awake in the presence of everything that lives within and without us.”

Whyte is saying that gratitude is active not passive. And it comes from being awake to the truth of who we are. It isn’t just sitting back and saying “oh I’m glad I have this.” Gratitude is a way of understanding ourselves in relationship with all that is.

Whyte continues by saying:

“Gratitude is the understanding that many millions of things come together and live together and mesh together and breathe together in order for us to take even one more breath of air, that the underlying gift of life and incarnation as a living, participating human being is a privilege; that we are miraculously part of something, rather than nothing. Even if that something is temporarily pain or despair, we inhabit a living world, with real faces, real voices, laughter, the color blue, the green of the fields, the freshness of a cold wind, or the tawny hue of a winter landscape.”

We are part of something. We exist! What a miraculous and strange thing. Existence is certainly not a given. It’s actually somewhat of a mystery. I’ve been wondering about the philosophical question “why is there something rather than nothing?” for years. I long ago accepted that I’ll more than likely never find an answer to this question. But my searching has left me in a deep state of gratitude for the reality that there is something—we do exist. When I say that gratitude is a quality of being, this is what I mean. Life, even when it’s hard, is an inexplicable gift—or as David Whyte might say, an inexplicable privilege. He continues:

“We sit at the table as part of every other person’s world while making our own world without will or effort, this is what is extraordinary and gifted, this is the essence of gratefulness, seeing to the heart of privilege.”

In Eastern tradition it is considered a great boon to be born a human being. While I don’t subscribe to a fully human-centered worldview, I understand the privilege of my existence. And I am grateful for my ability to be curious about the world around me and to participate in this life.

David Whyte ends his meditation by saying:

“Thanksgiving happens when our sense of presence meets all other presences. Being unappreciative might mean we are simply not paying attention.”

Which beautifully describers the practice of being present with any given moment. The path of yoga is a journey toward the heart of Truth. It’s a path of awakening to the reality that we are one with All that is. Let me read the last part of this quote again. As you listen, remember the truth that we are one with all that is:

“Thanksgiving happens when our sense of presence meets all other presences. Being unappreciative might mean we are simply not paying attention.”

I invite you to cultivate the quality of gratitude by remembering your fundamental privilege of Being. Take a moment to look around the world—and everyone in it—with awe. There is something. This beautiful, complicated world exists.

What shall we do with this gift?


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