“There is only one heroism in the world; to see the world as it is, and to love it.” Romaine Rolland
In making the journey from often rabidly despairing, typically self-loathing and self-pitying younger man to the mostly joyous, responsible and empowered being experienced today there is a tool I have utilised and recommend highly to anyone seeking to enhance their life experience – taking time daily to feel gratitude for that in your life and in you which you value and appreciate. Apart from being an enjoyable experience and a powerful antidote to any lurking victim consciousness, if you understand that your thoughts, beliefs, feelings, intentions and attitudes directly create your life you will appreciate that is also an effective means of bringing you more of that which you like and enjoy.
Radical Gratitude is altogether different from such appreciation or gratitude exercises. ‘Radical’ for it involves giving gratitude to aspects of one’s life which you really do not wish to be present ; maybe a large credit card bill, a depression or a brain tumour. It is especially valuable with aspects of experience which seem to keep showing up for you in spite of your attempts to experience otherwise. This might seem counterintuitive and even counterproductive – of course one would not practise this in the same way as a typical gratitude exercise, sustained and repetitive attention to that which you do not desire – so let me explain.
The tendency of mind, the brain being evolutionarily wired to give more attention to ‘danger’, allied with the perpetual stress of modern life, often results in fretting, obsessing, fearing and worrying about something happening or persisting that we would rather not. This of course results in a lot of attention on the ‘bad stuff’ which not only increases misery yet will in addition achieve the opposite of which we desire. How to interrupt what can become well-worn neural pathways? One way is gratitude.
I have found it to be very funny to interrupt my suffering ‘ I really don’t want to be feeling this’ or ‘This should definitely not be happening’ with a, perhaps initially half-hearted or through gritted teeth, ‘I am thankful for this’. When we are able to create that transition*, from resisting what is to accepting, there is instant relief by virtue of access to a different way of being; feeling improves, perspective broadens and it becomes possible to recognise it will pass or even see a solution rather than bemoaning the problem. As this practise deepens it becomes clear that the suffering and discomfort experienced with any circumstance, is not, as we may have assumed, essential to or even part of the circumstance; rather, it is our creation. Seeing this it becomes possible to choose a more pleasing way of being.
“The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.” Carl Rogers
Ultimately Radical Gratitude is about bringing gratitude for being itself into this moment and everything in it; for example if I react with anger to finding myself in heavy traffic I choose to feel grateful for the existing that the experience of moving slowly or being late is dependent upon. In forgetting the mortality of our body and this personality we lose the contrast which allows the glory of this and every moment to dazzle. What would you be and feel right now if you realised death might occur any moment? Guess what? It might. My situation has minimal difference accept the occasional tingling of my cranium prevents forgetting. (What if Death Is Not All It’s Cracked Up To Be?!). As you practise this way you might see that this apparently annoying circumstance or feeling can be experienced as a gift and an opportunity to develop such insight. Everything is such, should you determine it to be.
In all the processes above we are taking a bigger view, expanding beyond our narrow self into the awareness within which ideas of me, and all else, occurs. When we learn to associate with this awareness, rather than its contents, we begin to experience a life of great peace and joy. When we realise we are this awareness, there is only peace and joy.
* and of course sometimes we will experience not being able. We will in effect insist on our contraction or malaise, maybe cynically dismissing the very notion that I could transform this, and hold on to our suffering. And that’s perfect too, something else to be grateful for!