Spiritual foundations of logotherapy: The skill of gratitude

So far we’ve considered two aspects to human beings that are not so readily apparent. Seeing the spiritual essence and seeing hidden potential requires seeing with spiritual eyes.

Seeing good things in life should be easier to find than hidden talents. For various reasons we take the obvious for granted.

When we do notice the good that’s been given us the emotion we feel is gratitude. In Hebrew gratitude is hakarat ha’tov (recognition of the good). The Hebrew is a helpful way to put it.

Gratitude means acknowledging, recognizing and feeling good about goodness that was done to us. Helping to nurture and expand this emotion in ourselves and in others is very healing.

Before I put down some thoughts about gratitude, I want to explain something about the process you’re going to find here. I’m not interested in making assertions for you to agree or disagree with. Furthermore you won’t find a structured presentation telling you “This is what I’m going to say” and then say it and then “Here is my conclusion.”

Instead I’m going to invite you inside a very precious space – the chevruta experience – an encounter and process of my friend and myself helping each other to learn and grow. Lately we’ve been studying together the meaning of and ways to develop gratitude from the book Alei Shur.

Our learning process is very inspirational and I’m very curious about how it works. One thought I had today is that my friend and I are in the habit of talking about events in our lives – not in order to see how the text is relevant but in order to pull meaning out of the text, that would not fully make sense without the real-life connection. It’s easier for me to demonstrate the process to you than to try to describe it so let’s start

The Talmud says two contradictory things – yes you do, and no you don’t need to inform someone that you are giving him a gift. The source of the contradiction becomes clear when we see the examples used. On one hand there is no need to inform the person that we are giving him a gift because after all, Moses was not informed when God illuminated his face with a special aura.

On the other hand there is a need to inform the person that we are giving him a gift because after all, God told Moses to inform the Jewish people that he is giving them the gift of Sabbath.

To complicate matters still more, another rabbi in the Talmud adds that when giving food to a child one should inform its mother. The conclusion is that if the person will eventually find out about the gift anyway, don’t send a message that you gave it to him but if it won’t become known to him, tell him now.

Rashi, the classic commentary that Jews have always relied upon states that the significance of the gift eventually becoming revealed is that the person receiving the gift (the mother in the case of a child) will realize that the giver is a friend, someone who cares about him. Gifts increase warm feelings of good-will and friendship between people.

Incidentally, charity is different from a friendly gift because the recipient of charity might be embarrassed and in this case it’s preferable to give without the recipient’s knowledge, if possible. But a gift brings feelings of affinity and warmth, and the close feelings come mostly from knowing the person wanted to give a gift, even more than the gift itself.

Since the purpose of gratitude is primarily the feelings of friendship it engenders, to be ungrateful for a gift is stealing from the person an opportunity for closeness.

While studying this together, my friend and I thought about how sometimes people give gifts for the sake of getting acknowledgment but that if one’s worth is a given then one is free to focus only on what needs to be given to the other person.

Sometimes people give one another acknowledgment but it’s not what the act was worthy of. What sacrifice did it require from him to give me this gift? What did it mean to him to give it to me? What does it mean to me to receive it from him?

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