MythBlast | Attitudes of Gratitude
Meister Eckhart, a German theologian born in the mid-13th century, once remarked that if the only prayer one ever uttered was “thank you,” that would be enough. Eckhart reminds us of how important it may be to actually give voice to the feelings of gratitude that we so often are aware of only as a sensation or a feeling of gratification, satisfaction, relief, delight, self-worth, competence, or a generalized sense of amour-propre. These are the feelings we have witnessing the babble of infants, the happiness of our children, the sounds of sea gulls and a breath-taking ocean view, soft summer nights and the sounds of crickets and flashes of lightening bugs, comfortable communities and loving friends. It’s impossible to not feel gratitude at the recognition of life at its best.
But where do we find gratitude when life isn’t at its best—an arguably more important task. Perhaps not surprisingly, Campbell has something to say about this as well. In a 1976 Parabola magazine interview Campbell is quoted saying, “I’ve described in my books what I call the four main functions of myth […] The second is the cosmological function of relating us to the cosmos as now known in such a way that its mystery can be experienced, that we can relate to it with gratitude” (italics are mine). First, and this is extremely important, Campbell notes that the cosmological function relates us to the universe as we now know it; that somehow in the ongoing mytho-imaginal conceptualization of the universe, contemporary science and cosmological cartography have an important role to play. Secondly, and perhaps even more importantly, myth allows us to relate to the cosmos—the universe of all that exists, including everything that is in our lives and all that we presently experience—with gratitude.
Finding and expressing genuine gratitude for everything we are experiencing is a tall order, a difficult thing to find within oneself in difficult times. And yet, finding gratitude in challenging times is an essential component that leads one to continue building the psychological quality called resilience. Resiliency is predicated upon a series of struggles—gratitude may be born of a single struggle—and a willingness to explore deeply for oneself the meaning of the impact of the events one faces and not dismiss or hurry through painful and often tragic situations by uttering the banal and insipid platitudes we all hear all too often in times of pain and tragedy. Gratitude results from being willing to sit with and slowly wander through, as best as one can, all the nuances of one’s life in this particular moment.
I think it’s important to give voice to our gratitude, to say it aloud, or as Meister Eckhart put it, utter the prayer of thanks. It’s important to talk about gratitude even if only to ourselves, because as most of us have found, speaking about something, naming the experience, makes it seem more real. Words are magical that way. Witches and warlocks, for instance, cast spells via incantations, a word derived from the Latin word, incantare, which means “to chant upon,” and suggests that words somehow have the ability to materialize image, power, and desire, among other familiar artifacts of magic. In the Gospel of John is the phrase, “The word became flesh…” and that suggests to me that words, quite literally, matter.
I am grateful for your reading and your interest in the work of Joseph Campbell; thank you.
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Bradley Olson, Ph.D.
Bradley Olson, Ph.D., is the editor of the Joseph Campbell Foundation’s MythBlast series. Dr. Olson is a Depth Psychologist in private practice in Flagstaff, Arizona; his work with clients is heavily influenced by his interest in Jungian Analytical Psychology, literature, and Mythological Studies.