The longer I live and older I get, the more I come to realize this simple phrase“thank you” is amongst my most favorite.
When “thank you“ is offered with true presence and intention, it becomes one and the same in sentiment as “I love you” and “I see you;” a simultaneous extension and receiving of blessing. These simple words have such a magical way of opening the heart the moment they leave the mouth, only to then open the heart of the one who hears them!
I must confess: sometimes walking through life I find myself searching out any place I might be able to voice my appreciation, my genuine acknowledgment, my seeing and naming what I am thankful for. This might strike you as odd, or funny. It’s a bit selfish, really~ this addictive love for giving thanks~ because it feels so amazing, so life-affirming, so connecting and rewarding to simply let the gratitude wash through the heart, off the tongue, and land upon the open ears of the world.
Thank you Fig Tree growing so wild and leafy in my yard. Thank you Sun for the way you brighten my face in your direction. Thank you pink roses on my altar bursting open with such naked exquisiteness. Thank you Great Spirit for this new day, this chance to let my heart be lived, this holy chance to say thank you, once again.
It is especially delicious to thank the frequently un-thanked ones. We can take a moment before we eat our bountiful plate of food to honor with humble acknowledgment the many hands through which our food passed in order to reach our lucky mouths. Thank you soil, rain, sun, seeds. Who might be touching and blessing our lives behind the scenes, or along the mundane periphery, without us ever really seeing them or thanking them?
How wondrous to stretch beyond the rote expressions of life exchange we tend to take for granted~ and when that barista hands us our drink, to really look her in the eye and say from our hearts: “Thank you!” and when someone bags our groceries for us to take a moment and just say “Thank you. You did that so well.” Thanking the person who changes the oil in our car, who brings us our mail, who takes our phone reservation, our bank deposit, our order in the restaurant. Thanking the one who graciously holds the door open for us so we can walk through it.
Sometimes we get confused, and think that our payment, or perhaps even our tip, is our best way of thanking someone. Payment and tipping are necessary, wonderful, and appreciated, but they are not one and the same as genuinely extending thanks.
Sometimes we (who are amongst the most privileged on the planet,) are so busy running an internal story of lack and complaint~ about what isn’t going right, what annoys us about living, what (or who) stands in the way of our ease and joy; about our unresolved failures of the past and yet-to-be-realized desires for the future, our long list of wants and un-wants~ that we chronically overlook the abundance of good fortune, of beauty, of kindness; the fruits of our great good luck that we are literally surrounded by, if only we dare to notice.
When I tuck my children into bed I often look for new ways of thanking them for sharing their precious lives with me, for being the exceptional people that they are and for letting me love them; for putting up with my moods and moments of stress, and teaching me in all the incredible ways they do. Their little ears open wide in the dark, just to hear me acknowledge freshly what I truly love, what I simply cherish and am thankful for!
My kids know better than anyone how challenged I can be as a single, working mother, juggling the complexity of my profession alongside intimate relating and a fierce commitment to self-care. It’s a lot to hold, and they witness firsthand my many humbling moments of disgrace; moments when thankfulness simply eludes me. So it’s especially fulfilling to feel my earnest expression of gratitude resonate within them, inspiring self-appreciation while watering the sprouts of their own growing thankfulness.
Towards the end of a prayer ceremony I have been participating in for many years, we pass the sweet medicine bowl around the circle, for everyone to have a chance to speak our gratitude.
It can take time and practice to learn how to truly say “Thank you.”
I notice sometimes people who are newer to the ceremony will dread the arrival of the bowl, and then let it only briefly touch their hands, only the merest of thanks leave their lips before they quickly pass it on. It can feel so vulnerable, so naked and exposed to openly name what we are grateful for.
Sometimes in the beginning of learning how to say “thank you” to Life, we feel painfully shy, almost as though we are saying “I love you” to a lover for the first time.
We might even feel superstitious in naming our thanks, as though to do so might tempt the angry Gods and beckon plenty to feel unthankful for! Or perhaps we feel conflicted in naming our gratitude, as though to say “thank you” to Life negates how much pain we still feel; how much unresolved anger, trauma, and grief we still feel pulsing in our personal and collective heart; as if in our bold proclamation of thanks, we are then overlooking everything in the world that is disastrous and horrifying and begging repair.
But we cannot wait for our lives to be perfectly healed and manifest, our work and relationships to feel altogether harmonious and flowing, the larger world to feel saved from imminent crisis, to begin to feel our gratitude.
We must start where we are, and start small, if need be.
What are we thankful for in this very moment? (And if it is truly nothing~ then can we be thankful even for the chance to notice this?)
Sometimes, as the holy bowl rests in my hands, it surprises me what arises in my heart to be thanked. There are all the undeniable blessings~ my children, my mentors, my amazing community of friendships, the mysterious grace of my livelihood as a healer, teacher and writer~ that are so easy to feel grateful for.
But what I discover as the bowl rests in my hands is that it is the times, experiences and relationships in my life that have rocked my world and challenged me in the deepest ways, worked my heart and soul in the hardest ways, that reveal their shameless thirst for my genuine, generous thanks.
In this, then “thank you” becomes one and the same with a prayer for forgiveness, a granting of grace, a humble acknowledgment of the utterly mysterious way in which every single thing can serve our heart’s coming all the way home to peace.
Thank you to my ex-husband for being my most challenging mirror in moments, and in this my greatest teacher of forgiveness, generosity and compassion; for giving me these children I am so blessed to cherish with all my heart.
Thank you for the illness I have suffered in this lifetime and witnessed my dearest loved ones suffering, for the holy humbling this delivers, illuminating the supreme preciousness of health, the delicate precariousness of our aliveness, the invitation to cherish every breath.
Thank you for every heartbreak, every dark night of the soul, every depression, every life moment that has brought me to my knees in grief and despair~ as these have united me with the pain of humanity, seasoned my heart’s wisdom, while teaching me how to bow, how to pray and ask for help. What else could have so brilliantly shown me how to open wider to Grace, tell a deeper truth, and surrender?
Some of the people in my life who have known the greatest losses and whose faith has been tested in the deepest of ways are the ones I notice living most intimately with gratitude.
I’m talking about the ones who have buried their own kids, the ones who were severely abused as children~ their innocence robbed in horrific ways, or the ones who have lost all their belongings to fire, the ones who have lost control of their bodily functions due to illness, the ones who have suffered one miscarriage after another, one death of a loved one after another. You know the ones, the ones who make our hearts throb and skip a beat with painful empathy when we hear of their trials?
These are some of the ones I know who live with the deepest, most profound gratitude. Maybe it doesn’t make sense, but I’ve seen it again and again.
It’s not that in suffering losses we always become thankful for the loss itself. Sometimes, (I might even say usually) the loss remains a source of continuous grief. Trauma certainly takes its toll and its time to unwind inside a nervous system.
But in the gift of the loss comes the realization of what cannot be lost: this LOVE that we are, this love that we helplessly extend inside of impermanent lifetimes, this Great Love in which all life appears, in which stars and birds are born, in which the cycles of birth and death, illness and wellness, harm and repair, the breaking and the healing~ all rise and fall like waves upon the shore of God.
When we can walk through life alert for opportunities to give our thanks~ for the gifts and presence of others, for the preciousness of our own selves doing the best we can, for this wild-ride rascal of Life in all it includes~ what we become aware of most acutely, is the gorgeous grace of living from a thankful heart.
And we also notice, undoubtedly, that gratitude is tremendously contagious! (Have you caught even just a little, in reading this article??)
“Thank you.“ So simple and so powerful these words that arise, again and again, that extend themselves~ as prayer, as praise, and as promise.
Thank you for “Thank you,“ and the limitless bounty of healing wisdom these simple words so generously transmit, inspire, reveal, deliver.
Bowing, I thank you.
(photo credits: Lone Morch)