How quickly we forget! In early summer I find myself resenting a cool 60 degree morning, when not three months earlier I would have given my right arm for that sort of tropical delight. How easily we take things for granted, and forget the miracle and gift of being alive.
Entitlement is the nemesis of inner peace. It is an insatiable beast. Even laying the whole world at the feet of entitlement is not enough. His first response is, “what took you so long”, the second, “Where is the moon?” Entitlement convinces you that the world owes you a debt, and multiple gifts are barely enough payback for what you deserve.
Gratitude is the anti-venom that neutralizes entitlement’s poison. Gratitude is the opposite of entitlement. Gratitude begins with acceptance of what arises exactly as it is, rather than as you wish they were or expect them to be. Gratitude is not about benefits or usefulness or outcomes. You are thankful that things are just as they are — diverse, surprising, authentic and real. Gratitude is the beauty to entitlement’s beast.
We can’t have enough reminders to dwell in gratitude. Thanksgiving in America was traditionally a time to give thanks for the harvest. By regaining a sense of the original harvest thanksgiving, we learn so much about our own inner lives. Harvest was all about cycles, and each cycle carried a large degree of uncertainty. A bumper crop would mean long and luscious lunches. A lean harvest would mean winter diets of turnips and cabbage soup; dried beans if you were lucky. For some it would mean starvation, or dependence on charity, just to survive. They waited each year with bated breath.
We don’t have this challenge anymore. We just truck over and tuck in, fly down and fry up. We buy bananas from the local store, oblivious to their long flight from Ecuador. We fly in whatever takes our fancy from anywhere in the world, no matter what the season. It doesn’t even cost more. Why would we be grateful for our food, when it all seems so easy? As Bart Simpson prayed before one meal- “Dear God, we paid for this stuff ourselves, so thanks for nothing,”
Of course there is a cost and there is a cycle, even if we are oblivious to it. The journey of the banana from Ecuador leaves a trail of ecological disaster behind it – a reminder of our lack of gratitude, a massive carbon footprint that stamps “thanks for nothing” all over the sky. If we really understood the cycle; where our food came from, and its seasonal sojourn, we would never eat a thing without enormous gratitude for the web of nature/ human collaboration that brought it to us; the earth that prepared it for us, and the future life of the planet that depends on our choices. Gratitude is active and compassionate.
Comedian Louis CK satirized entitlement. In the old days, he said, you spent the money you had in your wallet, and then when you ran out of money you stopped buying things. Now we feel entitled to credit. Then there is travel. Louis was flying next to someone who complained about losing his internet connection midflight. “How quickly the world owes him something he knew existed only 20 seconds ago.”
Everyone has a story about travel woes. “We were delayed for 20 minutes. We sat on the tarmac for 40 minutes. “Then what happened”, Louis said, “Did you partake in the miracle of flight?” “You are sitting in a chair in the sky” and you complain about how far it reclines?
Catch yourself when you start complaining. When you hear yourself moaning about the weather or how much work you have or how inconvenient this is or how boring that is, say to yourself “and then what. Do I get to partake in the miracle and gift of life?”
The grass is never green enough for entitlement. The grass may be greener on the other side, but even that is unlikely to be green enough. Gratitude reminds us that there is no other side. This is it right now. The grass is greener where you water it. So water this moment with your love and appreciation. You will be amazed at the results. You will grow a whole garden of inner peace.
Gratitude is the parent of all other virtues. Gratitude’s children include optimism, generosity and kindness. Her cousins include abundance, joy and contentment. What came before gratitude? Only the awareness of gratitude. What comes after gratitude? Your life lived with joy and goodwill.
Life is a gift, given as a loan, to regift to future generations.