Gratitude and grateful are words that have been used, misinterpreted and abused by many people, disciplines and philosophies. In speaking of them with others we can never be sure how another will perceive them or apply them to action. In this light I think the best place to begin in order to establish a conventional point of reference for a continuity of our understanding should be with definitions as defined by the academicians. Etymonline.com, who defines the origins and original meanings of words, gives the most basic and original meanings, the cultures they emerged from and the meanings as used by those cultures.
Both words derive from the word grace which was first recorded in 13th century Old French as the word graciier meaning to favor. Favor, also from the 13th century French adds the meanings of to laud, to commend, to flatter or to be partial to, feel mercy for and praise which comes from the Late Latin preciare.
Lastly, grateful also derives from the word grace but its meaning shifted in the 1550s taking on flavor of being disposed to repay favors bestowed. This is where the word blessing came into play involving religion.
I’ve done this so there will be no disagreement in how someone may view gratitude. There are two applications and one assumption that the word is often applied to. Let’s first look at the most mundane and the most tangible. This will set our framework.
The first perspective seems to apply to an expected repayment of a shared, given advantage or preference applied by someone else to us. That is, if someone gives us something that might be needed or assists in a way that we either solicited, implied the need for or appeared to need or want in the eyes of the giver, there will be assumed debt on the part of the receiver that they believe must either be repaid or simply acknowledged in the form of thanks, praise, deference or gratitude. Remember, one of the definitions of gratitude is our disposal to repay a favor bestowed.
The second perspective is a little more involved in that it includes being trained by someone into regarding them as someone who is deserving of our attention and deference in all our dealings with them. That is, we should regard them in a way that we accept their indispensability in our lives and always show unconditional gratitude. This is obviously a form of emotional blackmail as our perceived punishment for not doing so or feeling obligated will be either loss of love, inclusion or some form of support from them. This may be the parent that responds to our undesirable behavior with. “After all I’ve done for you go off and…”
The similarity between both these perspectives is that they both include earthly recognizable poles or sides that must be accepted in relating to our obligation and their repayment. They both exist within the time constrained polar opposing physical world. The assumption is that there is to be recognition, attention and or repayment as our gratitude for all the interchanges that can be viewed as their personal sacrifice in the interest of our retaining their favor, or in the case of religion, a deity. The resulting punishment for not acknowledging their efforts or not being grateful is either some form of self-instilled guilt (constructed in childhood training) or an actual loss of favor, approval or assistance from them.
In light of the fact that no one does anything by virtue of only one motivation, a play for gratitude or repayment is often disguised as a “noble” deed on the part of the “giver” which will serve as a sacrifice in the eyes of their peers but must be perceived as an accepted obligation on the part of the receiver. A simple example would be our eating in a restaurant, over tipping, being socially perceived by our peer group as being overly generous while conditioning the future behavior of the waiter or waitress into feeling that they “owe” us deference in our future visits.This dynamic may either be conscious or below the threshold of a perpetrator. Accusation of their doing so may receive a staunch denial due to their lack of awareness and thorough childhood training received directly or through unconscious emulation.
When we apply these perspectives and divisive rapport to the way that we apply our essence to the world we become extremely destructive and cripple our abilities and accountability in being creative and effective in how we move through this mentally polarized world. We begin to see ourselves in an adversarial relationship with our essence through applying the polarizing principles of repayment, owing, obligation and sometimes subjugation by personifying the dynamics of the universe with the mentally polarized perspectives of give and take, have and not have, want and not want.This becomes the most blatant when we construct a deity personified with demands and expectations of us that we believe ourselves to be unequal to if not inadequate in accomplishing. This also becomes applicable but less obvious in metaphysics when we apply the same polarized personification to natural universe giving it the quality of judgment overus that demands that we be grateful to it for circumstances that we put into motion ourselves through our own actions and choices. This same dynamic is resonant with the psychological dynamic that we call our Shadow where we would apply admirable qualities to an external hero or idol instead of ourselves, keeping them at a distance from our own egoic persona and feeling petrified that if we actualized them within ourselves we would lose our perceived security in our present circumstances and known behaviors while having to actualize those characteristics within ourselves and finding ourselves in unknown and “out of control” egoic territory. We have to understand that the mind is extremely clever in creating its own logic in separating us from parts of ourselves that might sabotage our preferred and perceivably secure image of ourselves. We simply bury the qualities in our unconscious or apply them to a deity or the universe around us.
To understand this dynamic a little better, please consider that before we were born we were in a state where there was no need for food, warmth, shelter or nurturance. They were all intrinsic to the state of not being incarnate. This is our essence: all inclusive, whole, complete and without any need or requirement. To the simplistic mind we might call this Heaven, Nirvana, Paradise. Then a curious thing happens. We emerge into an environment where everything becomes divided. We experience the traumatic separation of birth. I say traumatic because it divides our world into previously unknown polarities; warm versus cold, loud versus quiet, sated versus hungry, bright versus dark, nurtured versus lonely. We translate this division into pain and pleasure. To distinguish between these two states, the mind is born in tandem with our physical birth giving us the capacity to register this division in the forms of thought and language in order to describe and manage ourselves in the new environment. Our mentally polarized mind rapidly develops overshadowing the remembrance of our previous unity and essence rapidly burying it in an avalanche of divisive and separative mental assessments. We now have the foundation for our polarized rapport with our world. Now, in the same way that if we only have a hammer we see everything as a nail, our mind sees the world in terms of division and separation as that is the dynamic that the mind was formed in and only has the capacity to operate within. So, let’s now move back to our concept of gratitude.
So, when we say we are grateful to someone, we can easily understand the dynamic because we understand and accept our separation from the person that we are grateful to. But when we say we feel gratitude or are grateful to a deity or the universe for our circumstances, what are we actually doing by saying so? We are creating a separation and dividing ourselves off from our own ability and accountability in creating our own circumstances. We are creating a metaphysical Shadow where there was none before. We are, literally and perceptually, separating ourselves from our own essence.
As many of the enlightened souls of the world have attempted, mostly in vain, to teach us that we are never separated from our essence, the mind of the common man is virtually incompetent in making the connection to his essence without seeing it through the separation inherent in an adversarial format. So we have become so ingrained and mentally accustomed to being of the world that we can no longer see that our essence is actually in the world but not of it. Showing gratitude to a deity or the universe is actually enforcing our separation from them.
As adults and relating to our childhood, it’s easy for us to see and understand the need for the authority, the guidance and how our acceptance of our parents as an external director is necessary for the assurance of our safety and tutelage into becoming accountable adults. We can even see the continuation and sometimes even the necessity of transferring that stewardship to an external deity or discipline…temporarily. But there comes a time in our lives where we must accept the responsibility for our own creations and choices by acknowledging the essence within us that is constantly steering us toward our own pre-birth unity, through feeling and intuition, that still exists within us and was buried after our birth under a mountain of mental constructs.
Being gratuitous to our earthly brothers and sisters is understandable and even acceptable in the context of our physically polarized and worldly lives. But when we conceive of the universe and our essence, gratitude and gratefulness are not the rapports that activate our essence but rather divides and fractures the unity to which we all have access. To rest into our essence, simply be aware and in the moment. There’s nothing and no one to be thankful for or grateful to. Life simply is. Our essence is eternal. It’s always “there.” So are we. We are all creators. It’s time that we acknowledge that and accept the responsibility for our creations, not pass them off to making a universe or deity responsible for them. We must acknowledge our own power. Don’t defer. We are all gods in the making.