I recently had a refugee primary school friend come down with chickenpox. She was constantly contacting me with her concerns and worries. As I looked back on the contents of my text messages, I found that really I was teaching her to have radical gratitude.
Radical gratitude is more than an acceptance for what is happening. It is a kind of content wisdom, knowing that everything happens for a reason and is part of a much bigger picture beyond what we can see now. I like to think of myself as a stitch on a huge intricate tapestry. It’s always tricky to fully appreciate the tapestry when you are a part of it rather than as an onlooker observing the tapestry from afar.
I tried to help my small friend remain positive about the experience by reminding her that it was a good thing that she was getting the chickenpox now as a primary school student and not on the eve of her wedding or as she was about to fly overseas or maybe on the day of an important job interview. Also, knowing this student was a Christian, I tried to get her to have faith and to trust in her God – no matter what the weather.
Another positive outcome of radical gratitude is compassion for others who may be suffering from a similar sickness or even worse. If we always feel healthy, strong and fine then it is somewhat difficult to feel heart-felt empathy or compassion for our fellow human beings. When we ourselves, however, have some physical or mental pain so acutely then we can relate better to others when they are in a similar situation. That’s how it is for me, anyway.
Of course my messages were also filled with Get Well type GIFS and happy emoticons to make her feel better but like a dripping tap, I kept reminding her to be consistent with her normally positive, happy attitude. “But I don’t feel happy,” she would moan. “I’m really worried. Every day it gets worse.”
I found myself trying to reassure her with words like, “You’ll be fine. Relax and rest. We’ve all been through it.” I was also looking up like crazy reliable information on the Internet. You know, you become a bit of an expert when these things happen to yourself or those you care about.
This friend has a copy of my book, Life’s a Mango, so to help her to understand radical gratitude a bit better I asked her to turn to page 34 to the poem, Sickness. Here is an extract I thought maybe helpful:
Sickness can take us
Where we’d never go.
Incredible journey –
Just go with the flow.
Don’t see it as hostile,
Threatening or mean.
Use it to grow now.
Let the sickness be seen.
If you can see it
As friend and not foe,
You will suffer less.
Your spirit you’ll know.©
When we don’t fight the sickness or disease like an enemy but instead acknowledge the pain and even send it healing or loving thoughts, it actually seems to lessen the pain. I’m now trying to convince my nearest and dearest of this as he suffers with back pain. He tells himself it’s going to be a life long condition and he’ll never be the same again. Here’s the thing though – there are billions of us on this planet with all sorts of physical ailments. Some of us become depressed, inward looking and miserable. Others of us with the same condition or worse maintain a sense of positivity and radical gratitude – a sense of wisdom, acceptance and transformation. The three people that instantly come to mind are Stephen Hawking, Turia Pitt and Christopher Reeve. Their physical disability actually took them on an incredible journey that they may not have taken otherwise. I have a quote from Stephen Hawking in Life’s a Mango. He said:
People won’t have time for you if you are always angry or complaining. Gosh, if he can say that then who are we to complain!
So next time you get that migraine or sprain that ankle, get back pain or feel sick, try to choose radical gratitude and actually say, Thank you for this. You have come to teach me something and I am willing to listen and learn.
A Polish author and friend, Andrew Bienkowski, has written a beautiful book actually called Radical Gratitude (One Life to Give). He has kindly written the Foreword to the soon-to-be-released second edition of Life’s a Mango and I couldn’t be more delighted.
Hippocrates knew about radical gratitude when he reminded us, Healing is a matter of time, but it is sometimes also a matter of opportunity.