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Gratitude Embodied

“The roots of all goodness lie in the soil of appreciation for goodness.” – Dalai Lama

I once had a friend who for many years taught me volumes about gratitude, while also teaching me quite a bit about my own capacity for envy. At first glance, it may have been her inherited wealthy lifestyle or seemingly effortless marriage, or her devoted relationships with her loving mother and sister… There were a lot of stories I could tell to justify my feelings of jealousy that poisoned our relationship and made it difficult for me to feel happy for her happiness. But in retrospect, what I realize I was most envious about was her remarkable capacity for gratitude.

She saw goodness everywhere around her. Wild animals and children were drawn to her side. She laughed and snorted freely at things that I barely perceived. She was such a powerful teacher for me because she was miles ahead of me in understanding her intrinsic worthiness in life. At the time, I attributed all of her joy and gratitude to the happy circumstances of her life, but what I didn’t understand was that it was actually her joyful gratitude that was generating the gifts life kept sending her way.

I share this story because the more years that go by, the more I realize that it was my own feelings of unworthiness (often showing up masquerading as judgment and jealousy over someone else’s good fortune) that prevented me from both receiving her love and- more damaging still- feeling grateful for the pure seed of love inside of me. What is clear to me now is how we often sabotage the thing we most want through our inability to see our own loveliness. Indeed the loss of that special friendship, which I still sometimes mourn, happened because of my inability to receive love.

The irony is not lost on me about how often I talk about love as an action verb, but spent so many years not able to understand that the actions most needed to make love real in my own life were not really about the actions going out, as much as they are about the actions we need to take to allow love to come in. Receiving love is how the cycle of love is completed. Without the capacity to receive, which is founded in the belief of our own worthiness, we remain forever on the sidelines of our heart. Feeling grateful- in the fullness of joy, the wonder of curiosity, or the peace of acceptance- is not available to us when we close off the back of our hearts to love. And to be clear, this is not a conceptual closing, it is a visceral reality, which explains the chronic back pain that so many experience between their shoulders. It also explains how perfectly workable relationships stop working. Love that is perpetually blocked inhibits our ability to relate, like starvation does to the body. Without it, there is no fuel to grow on, to heal. 

It has taken me years of meditation practice and deliberate paying attention to learn how to feel and to experience the energy of love coming into me. Receiving is a skill that is built into our DNA, just as worthiness is the truth of who each of us are. And although it requires our full attention and continuous practice, it is worth every moment you give it, because as the small crack behind your heart enlarges to let in more love, that opening changes everything else in life. Every relationship, every night of sleep, every effort you make will be fuller, richer and more meaningful because you feel it through love. It is literally how we embody the feeling of gratitude.