Gratitude and Its Expression 4

Belongingness in Our Dependency

My own daily gratitude list extends beyond five items, and every day it includes Unitarian Universalism. Well, almost every day. I’m grateful that there is such a thing in this world as us. There is this amazing fact. There exist people – over 220,000 thousand of them in the world and about 250 or so adults and 100 or so kids in the congregation that I get to serve – people who, for historical reasons stretching back many generations, go by the name Unitarian Universalist. Every service we have washes us in the wonder and joy of that fact. It does me, anyway.

Medical Students
I understand myself within a context of dependence and belonging – dependence upon and belonging to something that I did not create, could never have created, and do not control. To give thanks is to honor our network of dependence and belonging. Expressing thanks to specific people in our lives happens to be helpful for keeping the relationship going smoothly. But gratitude also has this function that goes beyond facilitating specific relationships with other people. Being grateful for mountains, rivers, the great wide earth, the sun and the moon and the stars -- being grateful to all those who came before who built the institutions that nurture us (institutions of marriage and family, schools, universities, libraries, legal systems to temper power with principle, our congregation) – doesn’t have any direct connection to relationships with living people. But having that gratitude and expressing it -- written in a journal or whispered in a prayer -- does change us. Gratitude and its expression makes us happier and more at peace with our world and our life. Expressing gratitude cultivates delight and the joy of belongingness in our dependency.

Without ever meeting or knowing the name or face of my doctor’s teacher or teachers’ teacher, I know they existed, and I’m grateful for the vast institutions of learning that they, and so many others back over the centuries nurtured and expanded and developed. Is there something to do? Yes. Notice everything I am grateful for. Write a few of them down every day. As I cultivate an abiding expansive gratitude, I know my natural generosity of spirit will slowly grow.

Each of us is held in a relationship of belonging and dependence with the whole universe: teachers, doctors, engineers, lawyers, secretaries, clerks, the unemployed, the homeless, friends, family, forebears, and all the humans who currently or have ever lived (estimated to be 115 billion humans); ocelots, ospreys, octopi, and all 7.8 million or so animal species; grass, grains, grapes, and all 600,000 plant species; phytoplankton and fungi; oceans, deserts, savannahs, and rainforests; red giants, blue dwarfs, black holes, and supernovae; oil and gas, cars and refrigerators, transatlantic cables and geopositioned satellites; wind, rain, and beautiful days.

All of that made me – and you – made us what we are, constitutes our being and sustains our lives as we know them.

It’s one thing to know that there is an interconnected web. It’s another thing to remember it, to keep it always in mind, and always with a tinge of awe. Gratitude is the practice of training ourselves to remember that, to maintain consciousness of it, to delight in things, understanding they are parts of the vast plexus on which we depend and in which we belong. Your every breath, your every thought and every move is then a paying it forward of everything. It is all of reality paying forward all of reality, instant by instant, in a form known to you as your life.

By expressing gratitude – saying thank you to particular people, or writing in our journals, or remembering in prayer, what we are grateful for – we are re-wiring our brains. We are practicing the opening of our hearts to the inherent joy of being. Thank you.

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This is part 4 of 4 of "Gratitude and Its Expression"
Previous: Part 3
Beginning: Part 1
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