Journey to the Heart of Gratitude

Susan Shannon

Sermon, Sept. 2011

Berkeley, CA




Gratitude is a slippery fish; one minute you have it, the next you don’t.


Gratitude is a circular river: It may appear to start and stop, but does it?


Gratitude is a gateway drug.


It leads to other, more refined and beneficial states of consciousness and being such as unconditional love, generosity, and interconnectedness. One must not embark on the path of gratitude lightly, for it will change your life. There will be no turning back once the fires of gratitude have engulfed your heart.


You may end up like Hafiz, dancing in the moonlight drunk with divine love, or, forever moved to a life propelled by the rocket fuel of Bodhicitta, awakened mind, a life transformed by the resolute vow to live for the betterment of all sentient beings.


I love Bodhicitta, which to me is interchangeable with the meaning and feeling of Gratitude. My journey to the Heart of GRA-TI-TUDE paralleled closely the path to Bodhicitta and uncovered some treasures of understanding about Gratitude which I want share with you.


In long-distance bicycling, there is a concept of “spinning.” When most of us amateurs get on a bicycle we push one pedal, then the other, and our forward motion is directed by this divided push, push. However when one has attained correct spinning, your feet are turning the pedals in a perfectly singular circular motion, creating a dynamo of sorts, a perpetual motion machine, a perfect Zen Circle, enabling the energy of the spin to recharge itself over, and over, so the cyclist can ride tirelessly on.


What does this have to do with Bodhicitta or Gratitude?



As awakening people who are going into the world as ministers, chaplains, friends of souls, we must always remember both sides of the circle; the relative and ultimate manifestation of such rarified states as compassion, mindfulness and gratitude.



As the right pedal moves, so does the left.

I encourage you to examine every personal expression of gratitude on your list, see it as one of the pedals in the perpetual cycle of giving.


When one thought of YOUR gratitude arises, immediately try to match it with an ultimate, trans-personal more expanded expression of gratitude.


Allow yourself to think big, think really big. Be bold. Big Brush strokes.


This could be something so simple as adding a sentence to what you are being grateful for that includes all the forgotten and unknown others of all times!


And visualize that intention going out and joining the endless circular river of essence, of being, that we all are and always will be a part of.


We owe it to ourselves, as temporary visitors to this place we call home, to honor that temporal home in name, and breath, but always remember that in doing so we are also honoring the home in our hearts, the home of essential being, of pure consciousness, of grace and beauty, our eternal home of love, so that our journey and celebration of the Heart of Gratitude can be offered up in all its wholeness.



We are living in a time where if we have Compassion Fatigue, we can be refreshed at Cafe Gratitude, or, if we live in San Francisco, Cafe Good Karma.



We must be especially diligent in how we name things and what the consequences of those names evoke.



My friend Hugh Swift, Himalayan Explorer and author said many times,

“We kill the things we love.”



Terms like compassion, gratitude and mindfulness can become wolves in sheep’s clothing.



One day one of my biker friends got hit by a car as she was leaving a popular meditation center. As she painfully picked her broken bicycle off the pavement the driver who hit her rolled down the window and said in a far away voice


“Oh, sorry, I didn’t see you, I was too busy being mindful.”



We do not want to be too busy being mindful.


My housemate Jay says his spiritual life went through a major shift when after decades, his tried and true daily prayer took on a few extra words.


The energetic shift from “let me help you help us” found the sweet spot of transformation when it changed to

“let me help you help us  AND ALL OUR RELATIONS AND ALL NATURE.” He realized that his joy was all joys and his sufferings were all sufferings. A mountain moved miles. Mary, smiled.


And now, I would like to lead you in a Body Prayer.


Stand up, shake out your arms and legs if you need to. Remember a time when you had gratitude for something that either did or did not happen to you, but for which you were grateful regardless. Allow that memory to fill your body with your complete, deep breaths. Sculpt your own body into an image of that gratitude. Notice the sensations, quality of awareness, thoughts, inner voices, parts of your body that want to be sculpted willingly, and parts that don’t. Allow your whole body to be accompanied by your deep breath, which is bringing this memory of gratitude into every inch of your body sculpture canvas.


Now, remember a time when you felt a universal, expanded, transpersonal gratitude, a gratitude for simply being, a gratitude of pure awareness. If this has never happened to you, it doesn’t matter, imagine how it might feel. On your own slow count of eight, allow yourself to resculpt your body into a shape of what this Divine Gratitude feels like. Let your arms, hands, fingers, torso, heart, viscera, legs, feet, toes, all be filled with this Divine essence of Gratitude. Hold that shape and remember it.


Now, again on your own count of 7, transition back into your sculpted shape of personal gratitude, noticing where your body wants to move easily quickly and where it feels slower and reluctant. Bring your deep attention to these points, registering them with a curiosity and a confidence that all of this is perfect, and part f the circle.


Once again and finally, on your own slow count of 6, transition back into your sculpted form image representing Ultimate, Divine, Essential Gratitude. As you release yourself into this form, feel the dynamic change and peace that fills your body, your heart, your mind. If you are comfortable opening your eyes, do so, and look around at all of us, standing shapes of the Divine essence of Gratitude. Ask yourself, what will remind you of this sensation, this fullness, especially at times when you will most need to recall this feeling?


As we release ourselves back into our place in this gathering, our familiar posture, may us all be strengthened by this reminder of our capacity to expand, and may we go forward in peace, love and light into the rest of our lives.


Thank you!















Home is Where the Heart is