It's that time of the year where we see the word "gratitude" popping up everywhere we look! Naturally then, it's time to look at the elusive concept of gratitude. 

Gratitude as a concept transcends cultures and spans generations. It’s more than a polite gesture or a fleeting feeling; it’s a fundamental human experience that's associated with our well-being, radiance and creativity. And yet, we tend to think of gratitude as the cause of such well-being, when in reality, it's the result of deep healing.  

In other words, you can't be authentically or radically grateful until you've healed the parts of yourself that divide reality into nice little pieces of good and bad, and profitable or not.

Like everything else, the difference in our perception of Reality depends on how what we experience and express as gratitude, and specifically, from where it arises - the limbic system of reward-seeking or the prefrontal cortex of integration.


Gratitude: Because or Despite? 

Think of the traditional teaching around gratitude. You're asked to count your blessings and be thankful for all the things you have. 

Pause for a moment and consider this: in comparison to what?

Well,

  • others who have less or none
  • yourself when you had less or none
  • yourself if you had less or none
  • yourself in the place of others who may not even care about having what you value

So, our everyday practice of gratitude relies heavily on the principle of lack and comparison with someone else that has less (literally or hypothetically).

This wouldn't be an issue if we were equally thankful for what we don't have, for what we will never have, and for what we have had and lost.

Before you jump in and say you're grateful for what you lost, pause and consider this as well: are you thankful from a place of hierarchy or equanimity?

Hierarchy is where we place the other (person, place, thing or situation) above or beneath us. Equanimity subsumes and transcends otherness. 

Remember the biology of the masquerade?

Hierarchy is a limbic system thing. Equanimity is a prefrontal cortex thing.


Hierarchy is a limbic system thing. Equanimity is a prefrontal cortex thing.


Gratitude can come from both, the limbic system and the prefrontal cortex, but that coming from the dualistic mindset of the limbic system is rooted in fear and insecurity whereas that coming from the prefrontal cortex is based in higher understanding and acceptance.

Yes, of course, gratitude of any kind will lead to peace and well-being. It's better to be grateful than not. However, if freedom is what we seek, gratitude arising from the lower brain must evolve and subsume it.

Let's take a look at the biology of gratitude coming from the two aspects of the nervous system.



Emotional Gratitude of the Limbic System

The limbic system, often referred to as the emotional brain, includes structures like the amygdala and hippocampus. This region plays a crucial role in processing emotions and forming emotional memories.

Gratitude originating from the limbic system is primarily an emotional response. It often involves a spontaneous and instinctive feeling of thankfulness or appreciation for something we receive that validates us on any level. We feel seen and worthy, and the gift fills our inherent sense of lack. The appreciation we experience is delicious, rapid and automatic because it makes us feel good about ourselves. There's not much conscious processing in this response.

This type of gratitude is intimately linked to the reward system, driven by the neurotransmitter dopamine. When we encounter something that is rewarding and validating to our sense of self, our brains release dopamine, creating a sense of enjoyment and reinforcing the behavior associated with that reward. If being grateful to the other person who treats us well brings us more of the gifts of validation and feeling good about ourselves, we will keep up that activity.

Most importantly, gratitude stemming from the limbic system keeps us safe, and creates a pathway of constantly seeking safety. Gratitude in this sense activates the same neural pathways as other rewarding experiences, triggering the release of dopamine.


Lower-order gratitude is intimately linked to the reward system, driven by the neurotransmitter dopamine.


Cognitive Gratitude of the Prefrontal Cortex

Gratitude arising from the prefrontal cortex involves more cognitive processing and conscious reflection. This type of gratitude is associated with intentional thoughts and deliberation about what one is thankful for, as well as deliberate acts of appreciation.

The prefrontal cortex is involved in higher-order cognitive functions, including decision-making, reasoning, and regulating emotions.

The prefrontal cortex allows us to regulate emotions and behaviors consciously. Gratitude that arises from this cognitive processing tends to involve deliberate efforts to focus on holistic aspects of life, even in the absence of immediate external stimuli prompting the emotion.

This type of gratitude arises from a change in perspective around the need for validation, and requires a deep healing from the reliance on dopamine to feel good about ourselves.

This type of gratitude requires deep work.

Can you be thankful for humiliation? Betrayal? Terrible loss? Unsolvable uncertainty?


Can you be thankful for humiliation? Betrayal? Terrible loss? Unsolvable uncertainty?


How can you possibly be thankful for utter rips and gaping holes in your being that leaves you nowhere to land for safety? Can you be thankful in the midst of chaos?

You can... when you heal from the emotional complexes of shame, rage, grief, and pride.

Shame, Rage, Grief, and Pride:

Shame:
Shame is a dense emotion that arises from taking pervasive blame for everything that happens to us. As opposed to guilt that is associated with specific circumstances, shame feels like a deep sense of unworthiness. Instead of "I was wrong about what I did," that is the narrative of guilt, shame's story is "My essence is wrongness." While guilt is about action, shame is about being. We feel inadequate and small, not because of any specific thing we did but about who we are.  Shame, while being internalized in a powerful way, project out as blame. In a vicious cycle, blame comes back to us from others and adds more layers to the shame story. 


While guilt is about action, shame is about being.


Take the example of a loss of a relationship. The initial shock of the loss can become internalized as shame, guilt and blame.

While shame can keep us in apathy, when it starts to move into healing, it can also be volatile and manifest as rage.

Rage:
Rage typically arises from a sense of injustice or feeling wronged. In the sequence of resolution, shame, which is a congealed mass of energy can begin to flow as rage. Although rage is usually considered to be destructive and negative, it is often a sign of healing, where the frozen energy of shame begins to thaw and flow toward integration. Its energy can be harnessed toward meaningful change and most importantly, to examine our stuckness and stagnation. The novelty of this flowing energy can become the fuel for creativity, severing old and non-serving patterns, creating new habits, and breathing freshness into our lives.


With the thawing of shame, we can now feel the implications of the loss down in our bones. The shame of being rejected or discarded plays tug-of-war with the rage of being wronged. While shame pulls us into being wrong, rage begins to break the beingness of wrong into an action of being wronged.

This is an important step in healing. Beingness is all-pervasive, whereas action is discrete.

Rage offers a glimmer of self-respect in the chaos of loss.

When rage runs its course, it gives way to grief.  


Rage offers a glimmer of self-respect in the chaos of loss.


Grief:
Grief, as hard as it is, is a step in the right direction - for it's only possible to grieve when the heart is open. While shame had shut us off to all possibility of healing, grief acknowledges loss from a place of self-respect catalyzed by rage. In grief, we have the ability to stand apart from the loss and examine its significance to our life and sense of self.  

Grief holds the key to an important aspect of healing - love. We can't grieve what we don't love. If grief can be channeled into seeing the love that drives it, we can heal in spades.

While the self-respect instigated by rage and grief is a much-needed stage of arriving at radical gratitude, it can take many twists and turns such as morphing into pride.


If grief can be channeled into seeing the love that drives it, we can heal in spades.


Pride:
Pride is tricky, and a slippery slope. The line between empowerment and arrogance is so fine that nearly everyone will cross it! Rage rearranges our sense of self from the bottom of the hieararchy to the top. While shame puts us at the bottom, pride reverses the position. We put ourselves higher to feel better about ourselves.

Here, any gratitude we feel for anyone who supports this hieararchical rearragement is inauthentic to our sense of self and based in arrogance. It's inauthentic because we are still seeking validation of the self-image.


While shame puts us at the bottom, pride reverses the position. We put ourselves higher to feel better about ourselves.


If we choose to continue the healing process, however, pride will give way to authentic appreciation of our growth, which radiates as gratitude. 

While we are only discussing four emotions here in a linear way, the process is anything but simple. Many other emotions can come up, and we can go from shame to pride, rage to shame, and so on. It's an entirely non-linear (and messy) process!

However, a significant stepping stone to radical gratitude is courage.

Courage to be Wrong and be Wronged

The leap to courage occurs when we arrive at true empowerment that involves taking back our power and separating responsibility.

Separating responsibility is simple in theory and difficult in practice - it's distinguishing who or what is responsible for everything that arises in our sphere of influence.

I am responsible for how I feel, what I think and what I do.

I'm NOT responsible for how you feel, what you think (of anything, including me) and what you do.

If what you do comes my way, I'll still be responsible for my choice in responding to your energy.  

If you can make me do anything, you are the boss of me.

I have total freedom to think and feel as I want, regardless of what you think, feel or do.

Accordingly, you have total freedom to think and feel as you want - even about me.

When we enter the realm of courage, we can be ok with what others think of us. Shame, rage, grief and pride are the games we engage in with others in our attempt to manipulate their view of us.

In other words, I have a view of my self and I struggle not only to keep it up for you but strive to "correct" your "erroneous" views of me... whew, SO much of my energy goes into maintaining your view of me!

Courage takes back and gives back power. You are free to think whatever you want of me, and create whatever image you want of me. It makes no difference to me. Besides, you do that anyway!

Coming to courage affords the realization that my life journey is about me, and I take responsibility for my path, including all the wrong turns, setbacks and heartbreaks.

Your life journey, including your judgment of me, is about you, whether or not you take responsibility for it.

Allowing others to wrongly judge you is the greatest act of courage... and freedom.


Allowing others to wrongly judge you is the greatest act of courage... and freedom.


Radical gratitude is the natural outcome of arriving at courage by working through the murky, mucky territories of shame, rage, grief and pride.

This gratitude is not based in reward. It's the opposite - it occurs despite the loss of the reward mechanism. You could say that the reward here comes from losing the need to upkeep an image.

Higher-order gratitude encompasses all the terrible things that happen to us in addition to the gifts that come our way. The true gift of the journey to radical gratitude is that we can look upon the entirety of our life with awe and wonder. 


Can Radical Gratitude Be Practiced?

Absolutely.

Just don't stop at all the good and positive things in your life when reflecting on gratitude. Sweep in all the challenges, negativity, heartbreaks, pitfalls, mis-takes, losses and rejections. Examine each like a pristinely-cut diamond and see how each one contributed to your healing. If you feel like something should not have happened, it's time to work on higher-order thinking through embodied self-inquiry.

The foundational step to successful self-inquiry is to know how to intervene on your thought-stream.

We just released the POINT Self-Study Course, which is an exploration of the foundational techniques of The Renegade Method™.  This is a good starting point to delve into the algorithm, which we will be exploring at length during the 4-week Online Intensive starting in February 2024 as well as at the in-person retreat in Milan, Italy in April 2024.

3 Comments

  • Thank you so much for this perspective! The most surprising insight that came after reading it is that I continuously compare myself to myself or others, even in relation to gratitude. I see how it perpetuates the belief that gratitude is conditional and placed within a hierarchy of different kinds of ‘good’, the core belief being that I am still ‘on top’ in some way compared to others. Striking how pervasive the drive for competition is!

  • Shame, Rage, Grief and Pride…….boy, was the path murky? Indeed.
    When you finally arrive at Courage, and feel it deeply from within and have the strength to look back at the path you traversed with a smile…….where visions of pulling yourself up each time you stumbled flash before your minds eye like lightning along the dark path .You can’t but help feel radical gratitude!
    “Allowing others to wrongly judge you is the greatest act of courage… and freedom.”

    Thank you, for explaining this beautiful but hard truth and saying it as is.

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