“The man who simply became ready to have God remove his judgmental attitudes was surprised to find God’s answer was to make him more trusting of others and less judgemental of himself.” – Anonymous
I recently attended a covenant group at a local Unitarian Universalist church. It was a group for parents and as is the case with groups of this kind, was accepting new members for a limited time. Most covenant groups close the “tent flap” seasonally in order to nurture trust within the circle and deep conversation and relationship among its members.
As the sounds of our playing (read: screaming) children rose up through the floor, a group of us young couples opened up our hearts and shared about the difficulties of turning the other cheek, setting a good example, frustration with family members and in-laws, fear of failure in front of our kids, and more.
One recurring theme emerged. Across the board and within all three dimensions of self, culture and nature — cultivating gratitude is hard work.
When it was suggested that part of the solution was to simply be more patient, gentle and forgiving with yourself, one of the fathers said, “I don’t know how to do that.”
At that moment, one (or more) of the kids started banging on a downstairs piano. The sound was jarring and discordant and came up through the floor in angular vibrations that momentarily put all of the parents on edge.
It occurred to me that the children didn’t know how to play the piano, but they were doing the best they could to make music with it. They, too, were ignorant to the workings of the instrument and so they simply wailed away at it, hamfisted and dispassionate. They were being too rough and too forceful, not patient or gentle.
This piano is a metaphor for our self-care. How often do we expect others to be maestros of communication, trust and compassion? How often do we expect others to be delicate, patient and gentle — to take their time, choose their words carefully, think before they speak or act, and to hold themselves with the utmost self-respect? And yet, how often, when it is our turn to do the same, do we bang out a rhythm or a half-baked melody and tell ourselves that it’s good enough. How often do we settle for less when it comes to finding pleasure or acceptance in ourselves?
Self-love and self care is not just about mindfulness. It’s not just about carving the time out of your day to pray, meditate or be present with your friends, co-workers and kids. It’s about moving beyond mindfulness to the difficult work of being in the world and witness to all its suffering. It’s about having the courage to put yourself out there when someone needs emotional or spiritual support, but also having the courage and intelligence to receive that support yourself.
Gratitude is also present in our attitude toward others.
Stephen Prothero has consistently proposed that the world’s faith traditions are an attempt to solve a specific human problem with a specific spiritual solution (sin/salvation, attachment/awakening, pride/submission, exile/return, etc.). Since pride is usually near the top of any list of cardinal sins, it is usually one of the first items to attract the attention of rigorous spiritual practice.
Gratitude can be seen as the opposite of pride. The process of becoming more grateful, more thankful and more humble is the process of letting go of our pridefulness, ego and will.