by Barbara Ford
“Gratefulness is the great task, the how of our spiritual work, because, rightly understood, it re-roots us.” – David Steindl-Rast
We are in a massive time of transition: transition from an industrial growth society to, hopefully, a sustainable, more just society. This era, sometimes called the Great Turning, is a time of change, with massive conflict, resistance, inspiration, fear, courage, vision, and uncertainty. All hearts and hands are needed, and with that all the skills, qualities, and grounded practices which can support and sustain us through this journey.
Anybody committed to any part of this transition–whether working to stop the destruction, create and support life and justice affirming systems and practices, or enabling and embodying a shift in consciousness for collective healing–must necessarily do this work while we are embedded within the challenges of our dysfunctional culture. The more we have personal and collective practices to support us through these times, the stronger, more effective, and more joyful we can be in the process.
Gratitude is one of the most venerated practices in virtually all spiritual traditions. In these times–particularly in a culture based on consumerism that depends on feelings of inadequacy, powerlessness, and separation–gratitude is a form of resistance to a dysfunctional culture and messages of disempowerment.
Gratitude has most often been discussed as a way to personal happiness and growth. The kind of radical form of gratitude explored in this project affirms the intention to grow in joy, and strives to take the idea deeper and wider, beyond simple lists of things to be grateful for, and into a living, growing practice to support our capacity to offer our unique gifts in service to the healing of our world.
The initial impetus for this project came out of work and studies with Joanna Macy. Gratitude is an important part of the practices she has called Despair and Empowerment work, The Work That Reconnects, or Active Hope. Working with these ideas for the past decade or so, I’ve longed for a deeper grounding and exploration of the core ideas and practices of gratitude. Here’s what I’ve come up with so far. The following is a list of qualities–mutually supportive and amplifying–that has emerged from this exploration.
Seven Qualities of Radical Gratitude
Radical Gratitude is…
1. Emergent– Radical Gratitude is born out of mindfulness in the present moment, the capacity to be present to what is, to what is offering itself or supporting us, now.
2. Embodied– Radical Gratitude, like many practices of consciousness, deepens experience through the physical and energetic realms. Hence movement, body-awareness, breath, song, gesture–all help to ground and grow the experience.
3. Empathic– Radical Gratitude grows our capacity to connect to others. Compassion,
generosity, kindness, and solidarity are natural responses to the experience of thankfulness.
4. Expressive– This is true in two ways. One, gratitude expressed is often experienced more deeply, whether in word, gesture, or prayer. Two, the creative process itself reinforces and grows gratitude, and creates new language–verbal or otherwise–for the experience.
5. Enduring– Radical gratitude is available under any circumstance. In times of challenge, pain, or separation, gratitude can ground, ease, and reconnect us to the larger world of support and beauty. This is not a path of denial, minimization, or acceptance of injustice. It is a ground we stand on, a lifeline, as we face the pain with compassion for ourselves and for the larger world.
6. Ecological– Radical Gratitude strengthens our experience of interconnectedness and belonging to the larger world, to beauty, and the cosmos.
7. Empowering– Radical Gratitude supports our sense of sufficiency, strength, creativity, and capacity to offer ourselves in service to the world.
I also note that while these qualities expand the experience of gratitude, gratitude in turn expands and deepens the qualities themselves–mindfulness, embodiment, expressiveness, etc.–thus, they are mutually strengthened and grounded.
The Goals of the Radical Gratitude Project
Initially, I hope to explore these ideas with a wide variety of people–activists, theologians, educators, artists, and others–to gather ideas, to challenge, and to expand the conversation.
Questions may include: What sustains you in your work in the world? Does gratitude play any role for you, or in your community? What familial or cultural experiences might inform this question? Do you have any personal or community-based practices that are resonant with these ideas? What might be the challenges to this conversation about gratitude in your community? What assumptions might be influencing, limiting, or expanding this conversation? What needs to be added to this conversation?
I’m in the process of scheduling interviews, and am hoping to meet and talk with many folks. These ideally would be recorded (in audio and/or video format), curated, and perhaps shared on a website, video presentation, and/or perhaps in written form in articles or a book. Additionally, I hope to collect personal and community gratitude practices to share with those wanting to explore them.
About Barbara Ford
I’m an activist, facilitator, singer, artist, with over thirty years working with folks at the convergence of healing, creativity, spirit, and activism. I offer workshops, classes and webinars on Active Hope, Radical Gratitude, Circlesinging, and other practices of cultural artisanship. I’m presently active as an arts organizer in the climate justice movement. More information about me at www.barbaraford.net.
Thank you for your interest! If you are interested in being interviewed, or know of folks who might have some important contribution to this conversation, please contact me on my website.
I love the terminology that you use in this piece. ‘Radical gratitude’ is something that I take from this. I have a blog that I write on a fairly regular basis which shares something of whom I am. I would love to get involved in what you are trying to do. I will pop over to your website!