Thanksgiving inspires diverse discussions about gratitude. Recently, a friend asked me how I experience gratitude. Is it a thought? Does it arise in my experiential body, beyond where thinking reaches? Does it begin with a thought and then seep into feeling? Is gratitude something else altogether?
Since I didn’t answer her clearly, I decide to go ask the trees. That’s best, when I’m stumped. I’m just a listener.
I feel drawn to the majestic oaks that ring our meadows. When I reach them, I notice how quickly recent storms have receded, leaving drier than average ground.
I imagine myself as an oak. How do I experience gratitude? Well, how does an oak experience water? It becomes the same question. It becomes my answer.
In one way, an oak experiences water through its leaves. It may absorb rain through leaves and bark; and leaves are one of water’s most obvious results. Without water, oak leaves shrivel and fall off; eventually, the whole oak dies. Leaves aren’t an oak's main water source, though.
With gratitude as with water, my life would shrivel and fall away without it. I may absorb it from around me, when it’s in the air. And my gratitude is most obvious in the leaves of my thoughts and words. Yet they aren’t my gratitude’s main source, either.
Water’s primally drawn into an oak through its roots, arising within from the earth below—the same place from which my gratitude is sourced. My gratitude isn’t mine, any more than the water is the oak’s. It’s drawn into me from a greater well, and then returns to the earth when I release it. New gratitude I’ll soon experience is already flowing towards me, as the water in the creeks is already flowing towards the oaks. Once the oaks draw from it, water will be found in every fiber of their being: roots, trunk, branches, leaves. It passes on to wasps who make their galls on the trees; to other insects who pause for a sip from the droplets leaves cradle.
My gratitude too inhabits every fiber of my being, when I’m open from my roots to absorbing it—and mine must pass through to others as well. I may first sense it as an experience, moving upward from within; but by the time I do, it’s already arrived from beyond me. Only then does gratitude become a feeling or a thought that I can translate and release to you. Only then can I turn gratitude into active growth, and act to shelter others with my gnarled canopy.
My gratitude’s role will only be complete when I’ve served the earth as completely as I can—when I too am a stump, needing water no longer. Then it’ll be free to evaporate and move on.
My thoughts evaporate, and I move on. The oaks and I could still use a little more rain.