Sometimes, a mantra, such as repeating the words “I think I can, I think I can,” is able to deliver to us enough of a psychological boost to get us past our stuck places. In Judaism, the sacred verbal formula that supplies that enhancement is “thank-you.” That “thank-you,” furthermore, is directed to G-d.
Rabbi Shalom Arush, as translated by Rabbi Lazer Brody, has written a series of books on the wisdoms of Rabbi Nachman. The core of each of these books is the message that we need to perform, per se, not merely to occasionally think about, gratitude.
Functionally, acknowledging benefits, which we have or will receive, pulls us out of the isolation and helplessness of “I,” of ego, and repositions us safely in the greater cosmic consciousness. When we embrace that all eventualities occur for our good, we necessarily cease to assume a posture of mastery and we are able to relax into a posture of powerlessness. Although we never were and never will be omnipotent, we waste a lot of our limited days and nights acting as if we were infinitely wise. Thereafter, we waste yet more resources feeling thwarted that we are not all-knowing (ironically, that we foolishly repeat this frittering away of our assets is yet one more proof that we are, indeed, finite).
When we transform ourselves from our alleged role in causing or maintaining creation to our genuine role of being an aspect of the Creator, we emancipate ourselves. That is, when we release the illusion that we are able to determine any dimension of our respective destinies, we clinch our true identity, that of being just one element in an all encompassing universe.
Taking from a different perspective, the metamorphosis works as follows. Let’s say we are feeling resentful because someone, whom we perceive is less worthy than us, gets a shidduch, finds a job, or makes successful passage through a bureaucratic hoop. One option, which, sadly, we often take up, is to rant and rave. What’s more, since there are plenty of folks around who would not only listen to such madness, but who would, additionally, provoke further complaining, we are all but deterred from that preference.
Alternatively, we could, if not gush, then, at least, whisper, thanksgiving. We could recite thank-yous, even we don’t believe in them. We could be appreciative of our perceived loss. We could be glad about what we think of as our ill-fated outcomes. We could elect to live fully.
As humans, we lack the insight to understand why certain mechanisms become operational in the scheme of the heavens and others don’t. Sometimes, the veil is lifted briefly and we catch a glance of goings on that are well beyond our ken. Other times, the rationale for happenstance gets revealed to us after the fact of events. Most often, though, we go about life not grasping why certain things work some time, but not others, or why “fairness” does not seem to undergird the maneuvers of reality. Simply, we can’t, currently, and we never will, in the future, really know why our existence gets actualized in the way that it does.
The only veritable power we do have is to respond favorably to all that occurs in our lives. On the one hand, no one wants to be passed over for a promotion, a marriage partner, or a passport. On the other hand, as Holocaust survivors, and folks who failed to get out of bed for work on the day of 9-11, consistently attest, sometimes, what looks bad is really good.
In point of fact, all of the time, results that look bad are really good. Our work is not to impact consequences as much as it is to trust that the process of living, in which we find ourselves, is a benevolent one. It’s not necessary for us to pretend to suspend all of our beliefs. Rather than an either/or epistemic model, i.e. “either we have complete faith” or “we have no faith,” we can employ a both/and basis for living; “we can’t believe and probably don’t like a lot of what we are experiencing,” AND “everything we experience is for our good.”
Consider the following. Some dawn, a woman stumbles into the center of her home only to notice that her family’s dishwasher has flooded and that, earlier, no family member took out the trash en route to work or school. Thus, she begins her day by having to attend to soggy, smelly trash that is strewn throughout her home’s living area. Legitimately, the lady could kvetch; she’s faced with a mess of unpleasant dimensions first thing in the morning.
Alternatively, she could praise. She could say: “thank-you for the flood,” “thank-you for having a dishwasher that flooded,” “thank-you for the unemptied garbage cans,” “that you for an abundance that includes unneeded bits and things,” “thank-you for a family that neglects its responsibilities,” “thank-you for a family,” “thank-you for chaos before breakfast,” “thank-you for breakfast,” and so forth.
Such a grouping of positive words will not get the woman’s domestic disorder cleaned up; she will still have to mop, to toss, and to sanitize. However, when articulated, even internally, such expressions of thanks do create spiritual makeovers, do elevate souls (even when the person making such pronouncements considers their speech to be hokey).
On a fairly superficial level, the woman makes and gets to keep a litany of some of the goodnesses in her life, such as the fact of her appliances, and, more importantly, the fact of her loved ones. On a more sublime level, the woman experiences the notion of “problem” beginning to merge, not with the notion of “solution,” but with the notion of “gift.”
Gratitude is much more than mawkish sentimentalism. Once that lady gets accustomed to issuing a repetitive series of thanks when confronted with events ranging from disappointments to disasters, not only will she be better able to cope when she forgets that she is not the boss of her world, but she will feel an increased ability to muddle through, and maybe even to manage, more and more of her trials and tribulations, too.