Portrait of Saint Dominic (Meister Eckhart), 1515. Fine Art Images / Getty Images
“If the only prayer you said was thank you, that would be enough.”
― Meister Eckhart
Walk into any newsagent and you are likely to find a ‘Gratefulness Journal’, to record what you are grateful for each day. This might be feeling thankful for the important relationships in your life or the small, often overlooked, details such as noticing a bee land on a flower. It is a centering practice to help us focus on the beauty of life rather than fixate on our tribulations.
While it may look as if this is a fad which has come to us from the positive psychology movement, there is a far longer and much deeper history to consider. Gratefulness has been a religious practice for eons and not just in the Christian faith. It is present in Buddhism, in Judaism and Islam.
While it is easy to be grateful for the wonderful things we come across in life, it requires a much deeper practice to be grateful for our trials. When tragedy strikes or when things simply don’t go our way, it is difficult to see what to be grateful for. How can you be grateful for the death of a loved one or bushfires burning out of control? These are questions which have plagued humanity from time immemorial.
This is where I turn to people like Viktor Frankl and Etty Hillesum who have gone through the most horrific ordeals and could still be thankful for the small joys in their life. Viktor Frankl survived Hitler’s concentration camps, but Etty Hillesum didn’t.
My lived experience has been so much easier than theirs, but I too have had my share of grief and sorrow, as no doubt you have too. I look to Viktor and Etty and to people such as Brother David Steindl-Rast for spiritual guidance. I admire their resilience and depth of practice in difficult times. If Etty could be grateful for the beauty of life whilst in a concentration camp, I can be grateful for the small irritations that assail me daily.
This morning, late for work, I found I had a flat tyre. My first instinct was to curse and be annoyed. I drove to the local mechanic who kindly pumped it up so I could get to the next town where there was a tyre shop. Once there, I couldn’t be helped until much later in the day but I had to get to work. I took my chances and drove the 100km on what I thought was a dodgy tyre. I then left my car at a tyre shop expecting to get a whopping bill that I couldn’t afford. Instead, I was told that the problem was simply a valve, and it had been fixed when it was inflated by the mechanic. No charge.
Looking back, was I feeling stressed this morning? Of course I was! Did I get to work late? Yes! Was I grateful for all the people who helped me? Absolutely! I wanted nothing more but to say a heartfelt thank you to my colleague who was willing to cover for me, to the mechanic in my village who pumped up the tyre, to the salespeople in Cowra who wouldn’t charge me for their inspection. From what I perceived to be a miserable start to my day, I can only look back with gratitude to friends and strangers who have helped me along the way.
I strive to be thankful for each day and for whatever it may bring. I am grateful for my existence, that chance event that has bought me into this world. I know my life is but a brief flicker in the expanse of time and I am ever so grateful to have been given the opportunity to shine for that briefest moment that is mine.