The Three Levels of Thanks

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“Sure, I’m thankful.” she said. “There is always someone who is worse off than me.” This got me thinking, we all have a varying experience of gratitude. So I’d like to explore today the changes that take place within us which deepen our sense of thankfulness.

Level 1: Toddler Gratitude

The first change is like that of a new birth. It’s a radical transformation from living in an unthankful disposition to a thankful disposition. As toddlers we must be taught to say thank you or we may never be thankful. Even still, we say the perfunctory words long before we experience thanks upon our heart. At some point, in our toddler state, we recognize that mother could just as well have not given us a cookie and so we are glad to have been given the cookie.

This is basic thanks. It’s the recognition that we have something, while others don’t. It’s the realization that things could be otherwise worse for us. It’s an object based gratitude that emerges from differentiation. Our mind of duality is glad for our position primarily because we are seeing it as distinct from the position of others. Toddler gratitude has an evil twin which reveals to us the low level of this gratitude, that is: jealousy. When we see the position of others as better than ours, we become unthankful for our lot and envious of others. While toddler thanks is a great first start, we must grow up beyond this.

Level 2: Gift Gratitude

As we mature, we care less about comparing ourselves to others and begin in earnest to focus on our own journey. We recognize people are all at different places in their lives and we’ve come to accept our own place in the process. Along the way, people will want to be generous to us or show their affection to us through the means of gifts. A gift can be time, talent, treasure, or even words that express our sentiments and love.

Gift gratitude recognizes that someone is doing something specifically for us which cost them something. It goes deeper than the gesture itself and it reflects our growth and ability to see beyond the surface of things into the realm of meaning and beauty. When someone gives to us in an unmerited way, it has the effect of enlarging our hearts.

Gift gratitude is experienced in the soul through the sense of unbelief or even unworthiness. The presence of the gift transfigures these feelings into a belief into that immeasurable “something more.” In this form of thankfulness, the object gives way to the subject and it opens us to a new world. The man who gives a priceless piece of jewelry to his beloved, reveals that his intention for love transcends the jewelry. The beloved who likes the object of the jewelry is more moved by the giver than the gift.

Level 3: Subject-Subject Gratitude

The higher level of gratitude is when we move entirely beyond our corporeal framework and enter the esoteric space of our ontology (true-being). As we deconstruct our cause and effect world, our place within it, and all that we have been graced to experience, we move into a gratitude for who we are, who we are becoming, and how we got here through a serendipitous course. Many moderns have this experience, but lack a vital piece of it. It’s too easy, in our examinations of our lives, to conclude that certain events or objects have brought us to where we are. (“I thank my lucky stars...”, or “If it weren’t for my accident, I wouldn’t be here…“) When we do this we are back in level two or even level one, though with a much shinier veneer.

Some will go as far as to conclude that life has a design or purpose and even an energy that has worked to bring them to this place of self-awareness and gratitude. This, while an improvement to the former, still lacks the vital piece which truly not only satisfies our soul, but completes the purpose of gratitude. Namely, the recognition that we did not become who we are by a nebulous force or object, but rather but a subject, a persona, with a name.

For example: Gratitude for the electricity coming out of my walls is a far cry from the gratitude to the army of people who have brought me electricity my entire life. If we miss this vital aspect of subject to subject gratitude, then we never really experience gratitude. We miss the bigger interconnected picture and remain dis-integrated. Moving on then, if we are able to see the subject behind something as everyday as electricity, then we must have eyes to see the subject beyond everything, beyond our ontology. For in order to have a subject behind our being, there must first be a subject who is the ground of all being, from whom we all exist. If you think this to be your mother, you’re on the right track, but haven’t gone far enough.

Gratitude in our deepest place of being moves us beyond all the things for which we are thankful. Gratitude in a subject to subject experience is to thank Life itself, for being life within us, in and as the shape of our life. Gratitude is not a feeling, but the flow of conscious engagement in life. It is to become so full of our Maker and Sustainer that our concerns for all else fade into the backdrop.

This is True Thanksgiving. May we all experience this kind of gratitude and learn to flow within it today and everyday.