It’s Thanksgiving week in the USA, and gratitude is a natural theme for this week’s article. And, as important as gratitude is, the reality is that we don’t always experience as much of it as we might wish.
This got me thinking: How do we relate to gratitude when we aren’t feeling grateful? That led to musing about the gap between what we aspire to and what we embody on any given day. And that led to wondering about alternatives to self-criticism and self-doubt. After all, it isn’t very helpful to layer self-judgment on top of a lack of gratitude.
Because here’s the deal, unless we understand aspiration in a generous and generative way, our aspirations become grist for the self-critical mill. We end up always on our own cases, endlessly dissatisfied with our failures to be endlessly compassionate, flexible, intelligent, patient, resourceful, vigorous, visionary…
It makes me tired just to write about it.
But notice what happens if we shift from requiring ourselves to be virtuous to simply aspiring to virtue. I mean, aspiring to be compassionate, flexible, etc., etc. says really good things about you. You’ve gotta love someone who truly yearns to embody those qualities.
The problem arises when we hold them as minimum requirements instead of as honorable goals.
Notice what happens when you shift from requiring yourself to perfectly embody gratitude and other virtues to embracing and celebrating your heartfelt aspiration to embody them. For me it’s been a powerful and liberating shift from an imposed and impossible standard to an interior and irresistible call.
Aspiration Versus Wishful Thinking
It’s important to distinguish aspiration from wishful thinking. True aspiration implies a real commitment, a connection with the quality or result we aspire to. Far from being a wimpy fall back position, aspiration honors the yearnings of our souls to be great and shapes our choices so that we move in the direction of that greatness.
When I acknowledge aspiration, I’m just as far from perfect as ever, but I experience that distant perfection as my true and eventual home. In one sense, I have no idea how that can be true, given what I know about my limitations. Yet given what I am coming to know of my aspirations, I know that my homecoming is inevitable.
So certain is this sense of inevitability that I believe we can rest in our aspirations. We can find in them a still point to ground and focus our sometimes frantic efforts to learn and grow. Our aspirations are both compass and map, at least at this stage of the journey.
What have you been reaching for? How does this reflect your essential gifts, your great good fortune?