by: Patrícia Nascimento, PhD
Can we just be grateful to all that is given, independent of the conditions, not depending on external circumstance, with no gaining or transactional idea, just be grateful for the sake of being grateful? Is it possible for us to be grateful without desire, without directing our gratitude toward accomplishing some goal (for example, become enlightened), or the desire to being good, to look good, to address some hidden agenda, or being recognized? What if we have a grateful way of being that springs from nothing? From no-thing: non-transactional ideas, from no-judgments, or no-self-referential? What if we just be grateful, full stop?
Yes, that is challenging! Perhaps, because most of our time because we most often tend to be grateful for the good things that happen to us, for our individual success, and accomplishments, for things going well for us and for those who favored or helped us, for good times, and favorable relations. Often, consciously or subconsciously, we want a reward for being grateful. If we expand our seeing, we will understand how this is still is a limited and self-centered gratitude. Because obstacles, adverse people and situations, and failure also call for our gratefulness as they can significantly teach us. Think about it…
Then, I am inviting you to explore with me about gratitude coming from nothing/no-thing, and refine our seeing regard gratefulness. Let’s start seeing gratitude as a non-transactional attention, then more as a question of love and care, from a more refined perception about life and the world, from a developed and embodied sense of our interconnectedness and interdependence, and finally being grateful to people’s intentions rather than only to what they actually do for us.
Why do we need to care about ‘being grateful from nothing’? Why is this idea significant? Because it can be very liberating and it can help us getting closer to our most genuine being.
Are you ready to listen fully? Let’s delve into this topic!
1. Being grateful as non-transactional attention
Let’s start talking on a gratitude that is without any desire or requirement for reward, without anchoring our gratefulness in specific goals, wanted results, hidden agenda, our fascination for changing people and situations, without expectations of how we think things and people should be, and any kind of reciprocity. We are talking about being grateful without a sense of transaction, of exchange.
A grateful way of being can be fostered not for attaining a specific goal in the future, but instead, it can be activated from nothing/no-thing, from the silencing or suspension of our expectations, desires, interferences, illusions, ruminations, discriminations, self-centeredness or egocentrism. At least, from a temporary silencing. We can all start with baby steps!
‘Just being grateful’ depends on our hearts, our caring, and our openness and readiness to see or to learn seeing without so much interference of a desired result, an impact, a reward, or ulterior motives. When we just allow ourselves to be grateful for whatever without pursuing anything, we can experience a sense of liberation.
Can we become more grateful with nothing to be pursued, with no calculating motives or hidden agenda? What if we learn to not be grateful expecting to achieve anything – no enlightenment, no rewards, no recognition, or no desired transformation? Let it just be! Let gratefulness be you!
What if we start to prepare ourselves and develop a not transactional gratefulness?
When I am grateful to you because I owe you something, there is imbalance and the loving energy of gratitude simply fades. A transactional gratefulness, a gratitude that reacts and always feels in debt, or ones that is just related to good manners and proper etiquette, or the desire to be accepted and recognized, is a very superficial and fleeting gratefulness. But we are surrounded by it. We all have inhibitors and limitations for that and we are living a challenging time. But, we can do more than that!
What can we start doing now to move ourselves more towards this way of seeing gratefulness as a non-transactional attention? What have you tried already?
What if we expect less and appreciate more?
2. Being grateful is a question of love
Being grateful can also come from a way of being that does not discriminates loving one and not another. Loving this kind of situation and not another. Loving some ideas and not others. We can cultivate a grateful heart that can be grateful unreservedly for whatever situations, ideas, things, kind of people we encounter in our journey. Because people and situations we do not ‘like’ are also essential masters in our learning, as they teach us a lot if we are open to that. Gratefulness can be a response that comes from our heart in response to intentions of others and of everything that surround and sustains us. Let’s see gratefulness not only as a response to those we love, those that meet our expectations and agree with your judgments. We can move beyond that. It is time for us to reflect what ‘love’ really and deeply means to us in-practice, not in theoretical, generic, stereotyped, and grandiose statements.
We may always have to remind ourselves that being grateful is rooted in an attitude of loving-kindness to ourselves and to those people and things we love and we don’t love. It just goes beyond our likes and dislikes, requiring us to keep our hearts open for loving-kindness and compassion for all. Why is this significant? Because basically, we all want to be happy and to be free from suffering without any exception. So, if in the end of the day we are all essentially seeking similar things, why can’t we try to learn how to not differentiate our love for each other and consequently our gratefulness?
Currently, our loving-kindness is particularly biased, because of our conflicting tendencies of loving and being grateful only to like-minded people, close friends and family members, and people who somehow favored us. Often, our primary love and gratefulness, attention, focus and concern are with our own and that of our loved ones. But we can expand our loving-kindness capacity, because it is our capacity! So we are the ones responsible for cultivating and enliven it in relation to those we have an adverse, or a favorable relationship, or no relationship at all! We can look to others and events with increasing lovingkindness and become aware that in a very deepest and basic level, we are all the same, that I am no different from anyone else, as we have the innermost impulse or motivation to all human beings: we want to be happy, safe, content, we want to love and be loved, and to be free of suffering. In expanding our seeing and understanding in this way we enable our seeing and gratefulness to spring from within another place in ourselves and hearts, from a more caring and open place; we begin being grateful with less discrimination. Our hearts are limitless!
If we need reasons to love and be grateful to someone, then these are love and gratefulness that looks for or expects a return. They are transactional, like a trade. These love and gratefulness have a hidden agenda, they have strings attached. Just being grateful has no conditions; it does not depend on our likes and dislikes or pleasure. It does not impose our wish to shape people and situations into the ways we like or think they should be. This takes courage. And time. And attention, attention and attention.
What do we need to start activating this kind of gratefulness that is more rooted in loving-kindness? To cultivate gratitude that is less self-referential and partial, that is more centered on loving-kindness towards all?
When we are able to see love as touching something much bigger than our judgments, likes and dislikes, our situation, ideas, judgment, opinions, or our big concepts and theories, then we start activating the very powerful forces of gratefulness and loving-kindness.
What do you think we need to start letting go our aversions and dislikes and expand our loving-kindness and gratefulness beyond that?
Then, no matter what comes, we work ourselves to learn to love and be grateful to everyone and everything, whether it is of this or of another culture, if it is of this type or that type of human being … Can we be grateful to all? This may seem too demanding in the polarized and fragmented times we are living, full of loneliness, frustration, starving, and hopeless, but this may help soften the sorrow and suffering we are all facing. We are all in a time permeated by a lot of hate, fear of the stranger, and disrespect… What can we do to return ourselves to a place of more loving-kindness and, from there, learn to be grateful to all people and our surroundings?
Can we start cultivating a gratitude from a non-hatred way of being now? Essentially, we all want to be happy and free of suffering, including those we do not ‘love’.
Just being grateful is a practice of our heart, of a kind, open and caring heart. A heart that works to learn and be free of our reactive and self-centered responses that spring and grow from the boundaries we encounter or impose to ourselves: things we like and dislike, good and bad, love and hate.
What do we need to activate in our being to become more grateful from such extended loving-kindness to all? Can we start going into our hearts and feel loving-kindness and gratefulness for all? Be grateful from nothing/no-thing, no matter our likes and dislikes? What can you learn and be grateful for from those you do not understand, like or love?
What if we replace judgment with curiosity?
3. Being grateful from a more refined perception
As we all know, we tend to be grateful only for what happens to us, and for only what is ‘good’, for our success, luck, and blessings. It is very easy for us to feel grateful for what makes us joyful, happy, and that makes our life easier. Can we also welcome and appreciate the challenges, adversity, and obstacles that we encounter in our journeys?
Most of the time, we naturally have a limited perception related to gratefulness, as a result of an equal partial perception of life and the world. It may be very liberating and healing to expand such perception and engage in learning to also be grateful for the difficult and unfavorable situations and people. For example, we have a global migration crisis. Do you think we are prepared to see this migration crisis, the refugees, migrants, and immigrants, as a unique learning opportunity and be grateful for such? Because this crisis can help us learning very much about compassion, empathy, humility, borders, differences, our idea of borders and differences (like race and ethnicity), and our common reaction of stereotyping. Or we are still seeing it just as a problem, an obstacle? What would happen if we start bringing gratefulness to the unique learning opportunity that this immigration crisis brings us? Can you stop for a minute and think about this as a significant learning opportunity?
If you are answering these questions with a “Oh! I know all of that!” you are just closing yourself off, missing an amazing opportunity to listen to a way of seeing your gratitude for life that is a deeper, more liberating and with much more potential for learning. Why should we care about seeing life and our gratefulness from this perspective? Because we can learn much more! And our gratefulness can become much deeper and genuine! Can we start refining and extending our perception and human capacity for learning and create a quality of gratitude that goes beyond our often focus on only considering the good and favorable situations?
Let’s see another example. Hunger is a universal challenge and threat because of Covid, poverty, conflict, and climate change. Between 720 and 811 million people went hungry in 202022 (United Nations), more than double the entire population of the U.S. This crisis leads us to think and learn a lot about food waste, meals, human needs, our consumerism, and what is relevant or not in terms of nutrition….or are we still only seeing it as a problem as well? Can we bring compassion to it and be grateful because this crisis can also teach all of us a lot about our food waste and trendy diets?
Yes, I know it is a challenging change of perspective. As we become open to and aware of how much we can learn with all kinds of situations and sense how it can free us from our own limiting perception (good and bad, likes and dislikes) and fixed grasping on our own concepts and judgments, we can engage in refining our seeing related to gratefulness. Let’s start taking baby steps.
What is necessary for us to also feel gratitude even for the challenges, adversity, and obstacles in our life? If some situation is not working as you wish, it may be an opportunity to learn what does not work for you! Or that you have no control over everything and everybody! Or to learn what does not fit into your intentions at all! Or that you need to refine the quality of your speaking and listening … There is always something to learn in all situations.
Can we just begin dedicating more attention and open ourselves to better look, observe, see, listen and learn towards becoming more gratefully with the obstacles and challenges, as they can be great teachers in our journey? Can we give enough attention and time to see beyond what is explicitly presented by a situation and move beyond our immediate judgments and labeling as “good” or “bad” situation? What if we start being grateful from nothing to all of them, from a non-confining perception?
What is in your mind or culture that may be preventing you from seeing your gratefulness from a no-limited, no-judgmental, no-biased perception?
4. Being grateful from a sense of interconnectedness and interdependence
‘Just being grateful’ calls us to be aware and embody our interdependence and interconnectedness with all people and things in life, rather than the sense of separateness that has been dominated our times. Being grateful is all about human interconnections and our interdependence with all that surround and sustain us. Each one of us exists within a tapestry of interconnected support from all things and beings. Can we remember that not only life, but everything we have, eat, use, our health, houses, work, our meals, without exception, has come to us through the work and kindness of others? And also through the power of nature? What is necessary for us to become more aware of such and move beyond our beautiful discourse? Even something we made or create with our own hands, depend and come from the kindness of nature – the sun, the rain, the wind – or of others – the farmer, the baker, the garbage man, the engineers, and the driver. We all depend on the air we breathe. Stop for a moment, and think of everything that you thought it was yours, or you thought that you were the only contributor for its existence or success, and consider how it came to you. ‘Your’ health, house, food, clothing, work tools, garden, car, that report ‘you’ made, that service ‘you’ created, the coffee/tea you are drinking now ….
A genuine quality of being grateful asks us to go beyond the common thought of ourselves as special, unique, as the sole contributor of success, the great hero of the whole story, as the only one making everything possible. Being grateful call us, for example, to recognize the contributions of all stakeholders in an organization, all direct and indirect participants in a project, and to listen and value the opinions and perspectives of others. Genuine leaders with gratitude are often, in practice, humble, open, permeable to others’ contributions, participations, and opinions and to the insights that all what surround them can help generate. Our perspective, our words, our work, our life are never without the insights and efforts of others and the nature.
As we become more aware of our interconnectedness and interdependence, we start seeing that all our own efforts are limited and imperfect without the effort and kindness of others. We also begin getting a sense of humor about our own and others’ shortcomings, a sense of humility, and we become more patient in relation to our and others’ limitations. This can lead us to an extended and more open gratefulness to others, without so much differentiation and transactional-attention, as we already talked about.
I am inviting you to start feeling grateful for the countless efforts of others and the resources nature provide us, seeing that all of them are involved in this tapestry of relationships that contribute to make things happen and flourish. Regardless of how much effort and dedication we put, how hard we work, how efficient, intelligent and creative we are (or think we are), we never accomplish our tasks and achieve our objectives on our own. This unfolding moment is the product of countless efforts of others, including our ancestors. Everything is intricately connected and interdependent to support and sustain us through our journey. Our genuine awareness of such interconnection and interdependence among all of us are the basis of being grateful.
Can we just be grateful to all as we are all in a crisis of attention, with our often very poor and conditioned perception of each other and surroundings? Our culture keeps us not looking around and not seeing each other. How to be grateful to others if we are not even paying attention on them and their interconnections with us? How to be grateful for what our surroundings provide us if we still do not pay attention to them?
What does it mean to you to be grateful from this sense of no-independence to the sense of interdependence?
5. Being grateful to people and their intentions
As we saw, being grateful is also a question of love, of our heart. It is also about being grateful to people, not only to things. Being grateful involves to be aware of what was done to you by others and the intentions, whichever they are. Instead of only being grateful for the things themselves, for example, for our food, we can also be grateful to the person who cooked it, or to the person who plant it or brought it to us to eat. This is about being grateful to someone’s skillful intention and attention, to what they choose to do for us, to someone’s time, and to their motives. Because moved by compassionate motives or not, by generosity or not, as I pointed out previously, at a very basic and deep level we all want the same: to be happy and free of suffering.
Most of the time we get attached to things themselves, to our house, to our food, and to our job, by thinking that the goodness lies in the thing itself or in the situation itself. I am encouraging you to move your attention and gratitude beyond the things themselves. If we are grateful to people we realize that the goodness lies in action and intention.
Do you think we can learn to respond gratefully to whatever people’s intentions in doing things for us? Being grateful to their intentions without judgment, non-transactional ideas, labels, likes and dislikes?
Why should we care about their intentions? Because of an essential quality of gratefulness, which is most needed in our turbulent time: it expands our perception and understanding of us as a society towards being interwoven together not by things, but by intentions.
This also encourages us to start looking and seeing beyond the WHATs (what they do for us, things) and also more towards the WHYs (intentions, motivations) deepening our perception of gratefulness. It is just a much more powerful and foundational basis for our grateful way of being.
What new or different opportunities do you think this might create for you?
Thus, since the beginning the kind invitation here has been for us to start thinking and embodying gratefulness from nothing – from the silence of our judgments, desires, expectations, illusions, limited perception and sense of complete independence, individualism, egocentrism, transactional mind, and discriminatory love – and expand it to all, to all people, situations, relationships, to all things and what surrounds us. From nothing to everything….
I already started my baby steps towards this… And you?
“Appreciation arises spontaneously when you reflect on all that has made your life possible. Consider the uncountable number of people and events that have brought you to this present moment: your biological parents, all the people who raised you and served you as your teachers; this sheltering earth; the chemicals that came together to create you. Thanks t the causes, and so many others, you have the opportunity now to enjoy all life presents. You can hug life to you, embracing it with an open heart”
(Tarthang Tulku, 2022, Gesture of Great Love, pp. 18-19)
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