gratitude vs appreciation

Driving down the road yesterday on one of those perfect autumn days, feeling like I could just explode with the joy of being alive, I had another ah-ha moment.

I have been using the terms gratitude and appreciation interchangeably for years and years. Suddenly it occured to me that they are not the same thing.

Gratitude, for me, is directed at something external. It's a big Thank You to whatever or whoever brings me something I really like.

Appreciation, on the other hand, is not directed anywhere. It doesn't thank anything or anyone. It just expands in all directions in the blissful enjoyment of the moment.

In a sense, I experience expansion when I appreciate a beautiful day, but gratitude brings contraction. Appreciation connects me with everything. Gratitude sets me outside of it ... separates me from the source of it, makes me smaller than it, identifies me as a witness but not a full participant.

This seems to be some sort of corollary to an insight I experienced earlier this year: Prayer is just a way of talking to the part of me that is bigger than my conscious mind and ego can identify with.

When I was a kid, prayer consisted of imploring some Magical Being to grant my wishes. In early adulthood, my concept of Divinity became decidedly female, and my prayers became songs and dances. At some point, the concept of a Deity stopped feeling real to me. I could no longer make that leap of faith. Praying seemed like sending messages into some kind of black hole, so I stopped bothering with it.

But it all made sense again when I realized that prayer was just talking to myself. I am the Deity. (And so are you, since we are all drops of the same divine ocean.) It took no leap of faith to realize that miracles had happened in my life -- intuitions, synchronicities, benevolent conspiracies -- that I could not explain with my rational mind.

I had no trouble acknowledging that part of me seemed to be operating beyond my conscious control, and was working behind the scenes for my highest good. It was easy to conceptualize myself as an iceberg, with just the tip of it being consciously aware of itself. Prayer became a vehicle ... a way to send and receive communication from the part that was submerged beneath my awareness.

For now, that works for me. It will be interesting to see what comes next.

For now, I don't know whom to thank for this glorious day. Luckily, appreciation needs no recipient. It's just a joyful expansion of connection and bliss.

give something

Times appear to be tough all over. So many things that seem critically important to us are happening outside our sphere of personal influence and control.

But there is one thing we can each do to change things for the better, if we want to:

Give something.

Anything.

To anyone.

Counter the collective tendency to contract in fear. Expand instead. Reach out.

Go through your closet and give away clothes you haven't worn in the past year.
Go through your pantry and donate the cans that have gathered dust.
Clean out your garage and take a load over to Goodwill.

Give your time and attention to someone new every day - even if it's just making genuine eye contact with the cashier or someone you normally don't look at, and silently sending good wishes their way.

Give a kind word. Open a door. Let someone else have that parking spot in the first row.

I promise you that someone needs what you have to give. Possibly today more than ever. And I promise you that no matter what your circumstances, you can find something worth giving. Smiles are still free, and you can never run out of them no matter how many you give away.

Some folks say that giving IS receiving, and that feels true for me. When I give something -- anything -- it reminds me that my cup can overflow regardless of my bank balance. It's gratifying to make a difference, even if it's a tiny one.

Giving something just might be the ultimate antidote to feeling powerless and out of control. We don't have to wait for the world or the adminstration to change -- we can set the ripple effect in motion today.