the Alchemy of Gratitude
- What is gratefulness for you?
I experience gratefulness as a light state of being, relaxed and expanded. It comes with a deep appreciation of life and a feeling that all is well, that I am receiving exactly what I need.
It definitely comes from deep inside my heart, and makes me trusting and receptive towards existence.
Of course, existence is not linear like our minds, so things might not come the way we think they should. It is more like an organic happening, and sometimes only at the end of challenging experiences we can recognize what was nourishing, what was the hidden blessing in them.
The last time I experienced a deep sense of gratefulness was a few months ago, in a hospital room in Istanbul, after a strong accident that forced Premartha and me to stop “doing” for a while and switch to “being” mode.
It happened on the holiest night for Islam, called Bhairam, where it is said that anything you wish will be granted. I was in a deep shock after the accident, and that night my mind could not really find out what I wished for.
But the following morning, just as I woke up in this alien hospital room with full view on an endless line of skyscrapers, I got it. I remembered our little home on the island of Lesbos, and my heart opened. My deepest wish for a while had been to experience a bit of ordinary life, and just enjoy being there. Life in its wisdom had led me exactly there where I needed to be. I had not imagined it would happen in this way, and yet from the depth of my heart I knew that this “stop” was part of the “larger plan”…
This opened up slowly an even larger space of gratefulness, for us being alive and for all the friends and fellow travelers surrounding us in a circle of love and light….
That gratefulness was alchemical. I started seeing also the hospital staff in another light, like friendly and sensitive human beings.
By the time we left, homebound to our olive grove in Greece, we shared with them an intimacy and a sweetness that was truly healing.
They actually asked us if we were teachers of some kind, because there was such a positive energy around us…I could see Osho chuckling on the side…
Gratefulness is a state of being. It is not necessarily an action, or visible. It is a private feeling, not something that you can produce. In fact, it is all the time there. Without gratefulness we would not be able to live for long.
There is gratefulness in each action, because in any action there is an exchange. You can feel right now that in your present life there is always gratefulness. It makes you move, it makes you act.
Gratefulness comes to you and makes you soft and sweetens you. It makes your life tender, it takes the pain out of the body.
I have experienced gratefulness in many forms: gratefulness that was received, gratefulness that was given. Both forms are equally valuable. There is a grace in it, of being there and giving gratefulness, but equally important is to receive it.
Lately I had this accident. I fell down the mountain in Hizir Camp in Turkish Anatolia. My body was squashed, burst open and broken. It felt like this was it..
But in the period after there was such a support and loving care that there was no way to leave life. At one point, my body had to be transported from Turkey to Lesbos, our Greek home. We stopped at a place along the road, a simple place. With the help of everyone, I was carried out of the car. I could hardly recognize my body, but that didn’t affect everybody’s joyful mood. Suddenly I was swept by a wave of gratefulness, so delicious, so beautiful, so mysterious…I didn’t know what was happening, I did not know its origin, but tears ran down my face. For no reason I felt gratefulness touch my heart.
- Why is it so important?
Gratefulness is important because it is related to trust, relaxation and receptivity. All qualities that are essential for living life in a loving, creative and meditative way.
But it is not so easy not to fight with life and to surrender to what comes. We are often too busy trying hard to get where we think we should be, or isolating ourselves because we cannot trust life any more. This inner pressure, this stress, often comes from childhood.
In our Primal groups, finding back gratefulness is an essential stage of the work.
As kids, we all had to learn to say “thank you” to what was given to us by our parents, the good and the bad. We could not select what we wanted from them and what we did not want: we felt obliged to take it all, including their hidden pain and burdens. We tried in every possible way to make our parents happy, at the cost of our true nature.
Later, in our adult life, this sense of obligation and pressure becomes a solid wall that prevents us from being receptive and trusting. It becomes an inner tension, a stress, that blocks our capacity to recognize and receive the nourishment and blessings that life sends us in many different ways.
In the Primal work, the first step is to understand and express all the feelings that we accumulated as kids. But once our unhealthy bonding with the parents is dissolved, we are bound to feel empty and vulnerable. The child in us needs its parents… This is the right opening for true gratefulness.
When we understand that there is no price to pay and no burden to carry for our parents, we can look at them differently. Like human beings, with a dark and a light side. It becomes much easier to recognize then what are their true gifts to us. We can finally open up to receive them.
The moment of gratefulness is very touching in every single group. It is nourishing for us to see how everyone rediscovers what they really received from their mother and father, and how they can accept their gift and bring it into their lives. Mother and father become vehicles of existence: even if their personal gifts were not so many, through them life in all its wonders came to us…
Even though gratefulness is not something you can produce, it can be something that you need to learn.
We have lost our touch with gratefulness. You may even consider it as a weakness, the attitude of a loser, one who cannot compete and ends up being grateful for everything without really experiencing it.
But what we can learn is to open up to the mystery of a life lived in precious gratefulness. We have to prepare the ground for thankfulness to find its place.
When we open up to the inner child in us, we open up the most innocent and sweetest part of ourselves.
This child is overflowing with joy for life. We, as adults, need to find a way to turn this into gratefulness, to receive. We need to teach the child in us about gratefulness without manipulating it.
The gratefulness woken up in our inner child turns spontaneously towards its parents. The child, the adult, and the parents can dance and celebrate with the happiness of making friends again.
- When does gratefulness become meditation?
The highest form of gratefulness is like meditation, choiceless, no longer selective. The object of gratefulness becomes irrelevant. We learn to trust that any situation, good or bad, painful or sweet, is an opportunity to experience the hidden gifts of life. In this feeling, we can attain true and ultimate freedom.
Very few women have attained to the Zen ultimate.
This one is one of those rare women.
She was on a pilgrimage, and she came to a village at sunset
and begged for lodging for the night, but the villagers slammed
their doors. They were against Zen. Zen is so revolutionary, so
utterly rebellious, that it is very difficult to accept it. By
accepting it you are going to be transformed; by accepting it
you will be passing through a fire, you will never be the same
So traditional people have always been against ALL that it
true in religion. Tradition is all that is untrue in religion. So those
must have been traditional Buddhists in the town, and they
didn’t allow this woman to stay in the town; they threw her out.
It was a cold night, and the old woman with no lodging… and
hungry. She had to make a cherry tree in the fields her shelter. It
was really cold, and she could not sleep well. And it was
dangerous too — wild animals and all.
At midnight she awoke — because of too much cold — and
saw, as it were, in the spring night sky, the fully opened cherry
blossoms laughing to the misty moon. Overcome with the
beauty, she got up and made a reverence in the direction of the
This is what TATHATA IS.
Through their kindness in refusing me lodging
I found myself
beneath the blossoms
on the night of this misty moon.
She feels grateful. With great gratitude she thanks those
people who refused her lodging, otherwise she would be sleeping
under an ordinary roof, and she would have missed this blessing
— these cherry blossoms, and this whispering with the misty
moon, and this silence of the night, this utter silence of the
night. She is not angry, she accepts it. Not only accepts it,
welcomes it — she feels grateful.
Zen: The Path of ParadoxVol.3
You can try it out as a meditation:
Find a place in nature where you are undisturbed.
Relax your body, sit or lie down, and close your eyes. Bring your attention to the moment.
Start a deep and regular breathing, softly massaging your heart chakra with your breath.
Now add to this the experience of gratefulness: with each in breath, receive gratefulness, with each out breath give gratefulness.
After a while, add to it also movement. Start letting your body move and dance with the feeling of gratefulness. It can be a soft movement, it can be an ecstatic movement, it can be silent.
At the end, sit or stand silently, and experience gratefulness all around you.
Send that gratefulness to everyone and everything. Gratefulness for the good, gratefulness for the bad, gratefulness for the sweetness, gratefulness for the pain.
This will transform the way you experience life