Updated: Apr 4, 2020
Everyone talks about the importance of having and expressing gratitude for all the blessings that come our way – although less emphasis is placed upon when they are tough situations that ultimately turn out to be blessings in disguise. Many say gratitude is paramount to keeping the flow of abundance in our lives non-stagnant, but picking and choosing what we are grateful for based on our comfort level or perceived gains materially is still a form of selfish gratitude.
When one grows beyond the limitations of basic consciousness-expanding practices and embraces a deeper, innerevolutionary, 100% behaviorally accountable, self-reflective and self-honest framework of living their life, his or her gratitude matures as well. In his book A Separate Reality, Carlos Castaneda quotes his mentor don Juan Matus who spoke so eloquently about facing life's challenges gracefully, and in a way that can foster gratitude for the blessings and gifts inherent in each of them:
"Only as a warrior can one withstand the path of knowledge. A warrior cannot complain or regret anything. His life is an endless challenge, and challenges cannot possibly be good or bad. Challenges are simply challenges."
In other words, challenges are doorways of consciousness, and how we choose to approach and deal with them (or run away from them in fear and attachment) determine whether we advance, stay stuck in our personal status quo, or regress. If we perceive challenges as opportunities - no matter how difficult they are - a full-spectrum comprehension of gratitude can be actualized.
That sounds great, and generally inarguable, but in practice it gets a bit trickier. Having the financial rug pulled out from underneath your feet, your heart shattered in a million pieces from a love relationship turned sour, abuse of your trust by another, a diagnosis of a terminal disease – these and similar types of deeply affecting personal challenges are hard to wrap pure gratitude around. Shock, anger and grief are natural first tier responses, and gratitude may never arrive in one's being until much later – if at all. Realistically, it's difficult to find gratitude if all you're experiencing is loss.
But if that's all you are focusing on, then you are missing the opportunities for inner growth inherent in each of these scenarios. That's where you can discover the spiritual blessings within the challenge, which leads you in the direction of not only gratitude, but greater compassion and empathy for any type of suffering that anyone experiences, and what keeps you from falling into the snares of victimhood.
Someone who has made the commitment to perpetual personal growth and refinement for the beneficial impact it has not only in their own lives - but also upon others through the inspiring energy their everyday attitude and behavior exudes is grateful for everything that reveals any unaddressed inner shadows that sit between them and the doors of greater conscious awareness. Courageous and humble self-ownership of the non-productive and harmful repetitive behavioral grooves each of us possesses, and their subsequent transcendence via radically honest self-inquiry and corresponding action is the purest gift we can give to humanity, as it allows us to lead by clean example. And when we see that we all have old unproductive and even self-destructive patterns as an innate part of being human, it brings forth a deep sense of compassion for the universal imperfect human-ness in all people.
In all my Ethically Intelligent skills training and advising work I try to frame the courageous journey of bringing our behavioral shadows to light to be acknowledged and transcended in such a way as to hopefully side-step resistance to doing the work. It is impressive, really, how strong and tenacious the grip of the ego is upon all that we do. Defensiveness, denial, justification, negation, blame, and projection all stand at the gate with their clever tactics to fend off anything that will oppress the mighty hold of our identification with the small, limited self. Even distorting spiritual truths and using them as weapons is not beyond the realm of the ego.
But sooner or later, such resistance and distraction is futile for those who truly wish to reach more evolved states of consciousness. Surrender is handed over not with a sense of defeat, but rather with enormous gratitude that the petty battles with the ego are subsiding, and the process of transcendence is commencing.
If it were easy, then it wouldn't be valued for the investment in consciousness it is. We have to do the work, and there is no "instant enlightenment" we can "manifest" just because we want it. As we grow in conscious awareness, the "I" that desired it in the first place begins to dissolve by default. It has to be that way. But in my humble opinion, shedding the skin of the small self isn't as scary as we think it is. Going to the dentist can be much more painful! Framed as a Big Adventure, it is a Hero's journey of self-discovery that becomes more interesting and exciting with each step we take, each dumping of our own trash, each new level we reach.
If you genuinely want to lead the change you wish to see, you have to authentically be that change within yourself. That includes rising up from the depths of a "me me me" to a "we" mindset, because doing the sometimes scary, messy and uncomfortable (at best) work of innerevolutionary growth and change is a lot easier when it's not all about you. It becomes much easier when you a) get over your self-importance, b) see that no one is more or less important than anyone else, and c) see we all have a part to play in service to the whole of humanity and the planet we all call Home.
Gratitude fosters humility, which shifts our focus away from our own wants and needs, and toward the wholeness of humanity by cultivating what is perhaps the only true form of empathy - connecting to universal experiences of joy and pain we all have as fellow human beings, even if we cannot feel the exact physical, emotional, mental and/or spiritual impact they have upon us as unique individuals. Shifting away from a self-focused only perspective into an others-focused one widens our net of expressing gratitude for that which makes us feel we are not alone on this journey of life.
We don't have control over all the many the challenging events that come our way, but we do have control as to how we respond to them. Time and again we hear stories of people who have survived a great tragedy that ultimately changed their lives in empowering ways, and instead of allowing it to take them out, turned it into a vehicle to help others who are facing similar hardships. His or her life was transformed into one with renewed meaning and purpose, instead of one filled with incessantly choosing to focus on loss, hardship and whomever or whatever they can blame.
We all have the capacity to be grateful for whatever challenges life brings our way if we choose to, and sharing our stories of surviving hardships widens our lens to see what we all have in common regardless of our surface differences We see that what impacts us collectively is what can unite us.
Although it is not clear who actually said this, the message is clear:
Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.
Take some time to look at the hard battles you have survived, the old buggy internal operating system upgrades you performed because they were holding you back from growing and playing Big in Life, with the recollection they probably didn't come about surrounded by daisies, rainbows and unicorns.
Be grateful for each hard-earned victory. See every challenge as an opportunity based solely on how you choose to relate to it, and authentically be the change you wish to see in the world in a tangible, dynamic way, leading by virtuous, fear-less, humble example in whatever sphere of influence you have: with family, your significant other, friends, work, school, in social media - and wherever you find yourself in any given moment.
© 2020, Suzanne Matthiessen, innerevolution media. All rights reserved.