Dear Friends —
Like many of you, I have just returned from the Thanksgiving holiday. It was a trip full of emotional contradictions. On the one hand, I was grateful for being with Jim’s father and on the other, I felt a deep veil of sadness pervade my spirit in the absence of Jim’s mother, Leslie. As for so many of us, this time of year is a call to action to reflect on bountiful blessings and feelings of gratitude. Ironically, as my family goes through this time of grief, one finds a remarkable sense of clarity of what’s good in the world which ultimately creates a heightened state of awareness of what you have and who you love. I found this to be true this past week and I am grateful for that.
I also wanted to share a special moment we experienced at our company. Before we left for the Thanksgiving break my team shared in a practice of gratitude. We all participated in a “compliment angel” activity where we each shared something about each other that we appreciate. It was amazing to see the eyes light up across the room as people read their notes placed inside each bag. As the acclaimed Irish poet John O’ Donohue so eloquently stated in this passage from Beauty:
We are not as near each other as we would like to imagine. Words create bridges between us. Without them we would be lost islands. Affection, recognition and understanding travel across these fragile bridges and enable us to discover each other and awaken friendship and intimacy. Words are never just words. The range and depth of a person’s soul is inevitably revealed in the quality of the words used. When chosen with reverence and care, words not only describe what they say but also suggest what can never be said.”
This beautiful excerpt brings me to my latest passion — poetry. I have been doing a lot of reading and reflection throughout this past year. It’s not by accident that I have become taken with this form of expression. My sixteen year old son is taking a poetry class this year and I have been inspired by his passion for the medium. As I witness his enjoyment in writing poetry, I’ve become passionate about learning poetry and voraciously reading as much poetry as possible. It has brought me a much needed sense of solace in my times of grief this past year. As Robert Frost said, “Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words.”
I have been especially taken with poetry of John O’Donohue and David Whyte. They are both Irish! What is it about the Irish? I mean, seriously, I have been obsessed with Bono since I was ten years old. I guess the Irish have a unique ability in bridging darkness with light. They show us how to fully embrace our wounds while still remaining humorously hopeful. Both O’Donohue and Whyte are acclaimed authors, poets and philosophers. Their voices and writings continue to bring ancient mystical wisdom to modern day confusions and longings. Ironically, they were also very good friends and inspired each other through their works. Unfortunately O’Donohue passed away in 2008. I encourage you to learn more about them by clicking through the links provided in this post. I know you will be inspired.
In keeping with our monthly message of gratitude and giving, I think it’s fitting to close the month with this essay on gratitude from the book Consolations by David Whyte. Happy Holidays!
Gratitude is not a passive response to something we have been given, gratitude arises from paying attention, from being awake in the presence of everything that lives within and without us. Gratitude is not necessarily something that is shown after the event, it is the deep, a-priori state of attention that shows we understand and are equal to the gifted nature of life.
Gratitude is the understanding that many millions of things come together and live together and mesh together and breathe together in order for us to take even one more breath of air, that the underlying gift of life and incarnation as a living, participating human being is a privilege; that we are miraculously part of something, rather than nothing. Even if that something is temporarily pain or despair, we inhabit a living world, with real faces, real voices, laughter, the color blue, the green of the fields, the freshness of a cold wind, or the tawny hue of a winter landscape.
To see the full miraculous essentiality of the color blue is to be grateful with no necessity for a word of thanks. To see fully, the beauty of a daughter’s face across the table, of a son’s outline against the mountains, is to be fully grateful without having to seek a God to thank him. To sit among friends and strangers, hearing many voices, strange opinions; to intuit even stranger inner lives beneath calm surface lives, to inhabit many worlds at once in this world, to be a someone amongst all other someones, and therefore to make a conversation without saying a word, is to deepen our sense of presence and therefore our natural sense of thankfulness that everything happens both with us and without us, that we are participants and witness all at once.
Thankfulness finds its full measure in generosity of presence, both through participation and witness. We sit at the table as part of every other person’s strange world while making our own world without will or effort, this is what is extraordinary and gifted, this is the essence of gratefulness, seeing to the heart of privilege.
Thanksgiving happens when our sense of presence meets and fully beholds all other presences. Being unappreciative, feeling distant, might mean we are simply not paying attention
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