From Gratitude to Gratuitousness

I brought an indigent man a muffin from a cart the other day.  He walked up to the cart and motioned toward it but was not able to speak, except to grunt something that sounded like “muffin.”  After paying, I offered my gratitude to God for giving me the opportunity to perform this gratuitous act.

Recently, I felt pain in the right lower back.  As I experienced this discomfort I offered gratitude to God for alerting me to an imbalance in the physical system prompting me to pay attention at the same time to what might be going on in an unbalanced way in the emotional, mental, social, and moral dimensions of my life.  I know all five of those aspects of living are all intimately connected to each other, acting actually as one unitary system, giving me a whole, integrated picture of my life to look into, to act on to repair the imbalance.

I am grateful to be alive and for the blessings afforded me by God:  family, career, long-lasting friendships, and for the ability to act gratuitously (acting freely, happily, genially, giving without necessity to receive anything back, no reward, nothing to get).  Along with the gift of gratuitous action we also experience serendipity, humor, and generosity.

I was prompted to pen those words after reading an article from the New York Times of January 3, 2015, by Barbara Ehrenreich on the “Selfishness of Gratitude.”  In this thoughtful and somewhat provocative essay, Ms. Ehrenreich states her humanistic exhortation that self-gratitude comments ignore the disadvantages bore by others to make one’s personal blessings possible.

Spiritually:  we are not only to be “unselfishly” grateful to others, but also to the Absolute One Mind from whence we have been invited to this grand estate called Earth and the benefits it bestows on us. For God loves us and wants us to know when we have strayed from this marital bond between this IS-NESS and us (as in my low back pain). In this way, we need to be grateful not only for the pleasant side of things, but also for the disturbances that may beset us:  the pain, suffering, and other discomforts coming to us. Gratitude has to extend to all that pleases and displeases us. 

Ms. Ehrenreich (and perhaps amongst the “positivist” psychologists she mentioned) may miss this necessary point.  Additionally, with regard to this sound point, Dr. Jeffrey Levin, of University of Kansas Medical School, wrote a large study on the power of salutary effects of prayer and spiritual community in synagogues and churches across ethnic and income groups. Dr. Levin’s research demonstrates that gratitude to a higher source has salutary effects. To learn more of his work, see my abstract of his work on pages 2-4 of my book Healing into Immortality.

Ms. Ehrenreich makes a meaningful comment that gratitude, as an inner act of thanks, does not seem to be followed by an action in the world connecting outwardly this inward praise.  She is unaware of the admonition mentioned 50 times in the Bible to help the “widows and orphans” in their troubles, to share our largesse with them. This biblical exhortation refers to the unfoldment of gratitude mentioned in my opening paragraph:  to act gratuitously: to give of yourself happily, cheerfully, freely, without the need for a return, reward, or to otherwise get something back. Simultaneously, always act prudently not go overboard so as to injure or do harm to yourself in the process. As my teacher’s Colette’s oft-stated maxim, “too much is too much.”

Act gratuitously, anywhere is a good start: hold the elevator door for someone, help someone cross the street, buy someone a muffin, give the beggar a dollar or five—acting gratuitously isn’t going to make you rich or poor. In doing so you engage your light currents of will to give, share, renounce. These caring acts counteract the prevailing world system of dark currents of will:  take, keep, hold onto, and advance at the expense of others. Ms. Ehrenreich didn’t understand the spiritual significance of gratitude (certainly not in her essay), but she got an answer she was seeking.  Above all, her heart was certainly in the right place.



Dr. Jerry