The Third Path:
Gratitude, Not Happiness
Happiness is an illusion. That is one
reason why no two people ever agree on what constitutes happiness. No matter how one
chooses to define happiness, it is an empty notionnow you have it, now you don't.
Few things make people more unhappy than the search for happiness.
The best reason for practicing gratitude that
I know is that it makes getting out of the bed in the morning less demanding. For others,
it makes the morning hours a profoundly spiritual time.
Practicing gratitude does not require
elaborate rituals or travel to exotic places. It can be practiced anywhere, at any time.
It requires neither outside support nor special inner capacity. I have seen patients live
with profound gratitude even as they suffer a progressive paralysis of body muscles caused
by multiple sclerosis or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. I know many young people who are
incarcerated at home with disabling chronic fatigue, yet they are grateful for simply
being alive. I also know chronically ill and angry patients for whom the word gratitude is
a cruel joke. They rage, without quite understanding why they are consumed by overwhelming
resentment. For the former group, gratitude is a river that flows endlessly, neither
revealing its true origin nor its destiny. For the latter, gratitude is an impenetrable
How does one practice gratitude? How does one learn to know,
trust and surrender to the larger presence that surrounds and permeates each of us at all
timesthe divinity within each human being? There are, of course, no simple
prescriptions. First and foremost, one must learn to live with the essential insecurity of
life. What is freedom? To the extent that human beings can be free, it is the freedom from
the need to be free that sets us free. To the extent that we can feel secure, it is the
recognition that there can be no complete security in life. Thus, freedom and security are
the gifts we receive when we learn to trust that larger presence.
How does one become aware of that presence? Natural beauty
requires no endorsement from mere mortals. Yet when we see a sun lowering behind crimson
clouds, we speak of the magnificence of that scene. Then we try to do justice to that
scene. But does that magnificence really need our endorsement? Does the presence in that
magnificence really need us to do justice to it? We look at the snow-capped peaks of a
tall mountain and excitedly talk about its stunning grandeur. We strive to do justice to
it. But does the presence in that mountain really need our justice? We witness the
innocent beauty of a wildflower, marvel at it, then seek words to do justice to it. Does
the presence in that wildflower require any justification from us to be? How did we get so
messed up? How did we get so infatuated with ourselves? And with the notion that sunsets,
mountains and wildflowers need our approval for their existence?
How does one become aware of that presence? I return to the
question. We cannot do so by doing justice to that presence. Rather, we need to let that
presence do justice to us, approve and endorse our existence. It takes a certain innocence
free from the cortical clutter to know that presence in that sunset, that mountain peak
and that windflower. That is the simple way.
The energy of that presence surrounds and permeates us, just as
geomagnetic fields do. We can discern the magnetic fields only when we open ourselves to
them with appropriate sensors. It is a crude analogy, but to be aware of that presence we
also need to open ourselves. Then we don't need stunning sunsets or lofty mountain peaks
to become aware of that presence. We can do so just as well by looking at dust particles
shining in the shaft of light entering a room through a window, or through the dim flame
of a candle reflected in a rusty door knob. That awareness is the gratitude that sets us
free. So it follows that we can receive all the freedom and security we need through the
light reflected from a door knobor, when walking on a sidewalk, by the light
absorbed in a shriveled dry leaf that the wind might blow toward us.
Gratitude may be practiced anywhere, anytime, through any
trivial objectfor there is divinity in all trivia just as there is divinity is each
We can know only as much divinity as
exists within us.
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