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The Thaddeus Gazette



It's been a big couple-odd years for gratitude meditation. All over the on- and off-line media, self-designated lifestyle coaches and spiritual psychologists having been pumping the cultivation of appreciation as an antidote to the innate human tendency, long established by researchers, to only think about things that can kill you because, y'know, they can. Humans, they contend, have evolved a very high capacity for trouble avoidance through imaginative modeling of possible said trouble. But, they continue, that capacity can itself turn human life into one long dour slog through the swamps of dismal suspicion, a destination resort of last resort. What fun is it to not be dead if you're just going to worry about it all the time?

Enter gratitude practice, with bells and whistles and sistrums and a light touch (just the right touch) of pixie dust. Growing out of the larger meditation movement that's been roaming the earth since at least the 60's (the 1060's, I mean), the not-exactly-profound One Weird Trick of fixing your attention on being thankful for the good in your life is touted as providing relief from the endless existential pain in the neck resulting from constantly looking over your shoulder to see what's gaining on you. The outsized claims of attending benefits, from peace of mind to eternal youth, health, wealth and comely {insert preferred gender here} falling at your feet (because of course they will), are best left as an exercise for the unwholesome imagination of the reader.

Norman Vincent Peale's lawyers are on line two, as the on hold music plays You'll Fall Asleep Counting Your Blessings. While this is unquestionably a perfectly fine way to pass the time, and might even lead to desirable results vis a vis your mental state, it's a little froward to accredit or expect Great Big Whoopee Things from a technique that's been around long enough to have depopulated the world through soul ascension if it was actually as effective as it says on the tin. Or as Opus querulously queries regarding being a Coffee Achiever, is it all just a bunch of hooey? While Steve Dallas nods vigorously over a hard shot of Tennessee courage.

Here and there amidst the infosphere, you'll find the odd contrarian retort, sourfaced denunciations of the virtue of better living thru self-hypnosis, usually devolving into variations on what's so great about feeling better, anyway? It's typical in philosophical discussions to find the strongest arguments in favor of a premise embedded in their strongest detractions, but here the denial is kinda on the nose. Still, point taken: sometimes feeling grateful runs into a certain reality problem. Just as it's hard to play the blues when you're a millionaire, as Nobel Laureate Robert Dylan pointed out, it's kinda burdensome to give a big positive shoutout to the universe for your herpes, your tanked bank account and your recently-deceased dog.

But between the saccarine platitudes and the acrid critiques, what's a poor softcore yogi like me to do? Apart from lie awake half the night fretting about that pesky ol' Impending Doom, I mean? In my case (yes, I'm a case, why do you ask?), the whole thing comes down, as Plucky Purcell would say, to a matter of a buck.

As I've somewhat previously reported, a lifetime of avoiding adulthood by playing swing music on street corners has led me, oddly enough, to a good paying steady contract job with the Seattle Associated Recreation Council (or at least that's who signs the checks) — wait for it — playing swing music on street corners, or rather in city parks. My Mommy would be so proud. Okay, my Mommy would be flat astonished, right after she laid me flat for calling her "Mommy." The program is intended both to make parks more welcoming to citizens and tourists and such and to encourage active n'erdowells to mebe find a less active location to do their n'erwells in. So: half muzak, half scarecrow. What the mumble, it's a living.

As in all outdoor entertainment, a significant portion of that living is gifted by passing and lounging listeners. Don't call them tips — the IRS doesn't. Busking has an innate resemblance to fishing, hitchhiking and similar forms of genteel recreation in which the participant basically waits, preferably in a favorable location, for something to drop. And waits. And waits.

That passive stance can lead to a pretty intense response when something actually does fall into the box, one rooted more deeply in the ol' wetware than passing whims and wishes. I've speculated more than once that there's a whole quasi-addictive dopamine rush tied to getting a buck in the jar. And a fiver! Great Googlymoogly!

I've had occasion to beat myself up a little over my unseemly enthusiasm over what generally amounts to chump change. But it isn't that I'm some kinda Scrooge McThaddeus, fingering my pitiful winnings and cackling with demented glee. Okay, not only that. Donations, like birthday presents or a corsage on a date, are sincere tokens of affection, saying only "I like you," or in the case of donations, "I like your music." Maybe more sincere even than imitation. And that can (and does) lead to a big spontaneous burst of, yeah, gratitude.

And since a big part of the problem with gratitude practice is finding something to be really grateful for really, I'm presented here with a diamond-clad supply of Just What The Doctor Ordered. No matter how minuscule my take might be, just the fact that somebody is listening is enough to rev up the ol' neural transmitters and escort me to a temporary state of peace and tranquility. While other old age new agers drift off to tranquil repose imagining puppies and kittens and cute children and kindly policemen and other pleasant fictions, my nightly meditation visualizes the plump bundle of one's and five's (and the occasional 20! Halleluja!) I took in down at the pitch. Do I sleep well? Reader, I do.

Call them gratituities. I'll let you.

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