Gratitude or Entitlement?

Gratitude or Entitlement?

Gratitude or Entitlement?

“If the only prayer you ever said in your life was Thank You, it would be enough.”

– Meister Eckhart

On an early morning walk during a recent weekend retreat, I felt a strong impulse to get to a high point on a hill as quickly as possible. It was the kind of urge that felt like it had a message in it. Rather than find a path to the top, I scrambled through tall prairie grasses and dried brambles. Once I reached my destination I realized what message was in the urgency I felt. Laid out before me in the eastern sky, early morning colors of the sunrise were spreading like wings across the horizon. That moment’s awareness is still with me and came to me as a crystal clear voice:

Any moment not spent in gratitude is a moment acting out of entitlement.”

This took me by surprise at first for its admonishing tone. I let it sink in; and instead of feeling a guilt that comes with admonishment, I felt thrilled with the wake-up call.

The majesty of the universe produced an extraordinary spectacle for me to see – a wake-up call to attend to a simple and undeniable truth – everything is a gift. And the only appropriate response is gratitude.

You may wonder – can that be said for the experiences that are unwanted, inconvenient, painful or tragic? Surely that can’t be true. I know that when I’m in the midst this kind of experience, I’m not aware of feeling grateful. I want to resist in some way, to act from the position that life shouldn’t be this way. And yet it is the way it is. So where can gratefulness come in? Even though gratitude is an emotion that comes and goes like all feelings do in response to a benefit we’ve received, it needs also to be cultivated as a way of life – as a state of whole bodymind being that brings sensitive awareness and appreciative acknowledgement to any and all moments of our lives. What I noticed that morning standing on the hill was that anything else is to take life for granted as if I were entitled to expect everything to go my way.

When I act out of entitlement I’m ignoring that I didn’t get myself here, that there are countless generations of ancestors who brought life forward for me to exist, that there isn’t anything that I’ve created or accomplished on my own, that I’m surrounded by love and care from the people in my life, and that as a human being I have the power of consciousness to notice it all. And with this power of consciousness, I’m presented with choices. We all are. When the choice is between gratefulness that creates expansive well-being in body and mind and entitlement that elicits body tension and mind contraction, I choose and recommend gratitude.

On the hilltop, I stood there for a while taking it in and then noticed that another person was standing nearby, doing the same thing. I joined her, and an e.e. cummings poem I had memorized a number of years ago burst forth from my lips.

i  thank You God for most this amazing

i thank You God for most this amazing
day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any—lifted from the no
of all nothing—human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

I’m offering it here as my Thanksgiving aspiration to you. May you have a full and grateful heart always and in all ways.

About the author

Suzanne Kilkus

Suzanne Kilkus is a Soto Zen meditation practitioner and teacher and has practiced as a therapist and counselor for over three decades. She is dedicated to assisting people in expanding their capacity for giving and receiving love, and for recognizing and expressing their basic goodness in everyday life. Her path to live with wholehearted compassion and care is an invitation to everyone. She is a teacher with Open Door Zen Community in Madison, WI.