Event shares ‘Gratitude’ with local community

Musicians Gentle Thunder (left) and Beth Wood perform a duet during The Nature of Gratitude community event at the Opal Center on Dec. 6.

Live music, poetry and spoken word performances filled the Opal Center for Arts and Education on Dec. 6 for the fifth community gathering of The Nature of Gratitude, an annual exploration of the concept of gratitude through the arts.

“Our mission is to increase the awareness and practice of gratitude in our lives,” said Tom Titus, co-creator of the event. “Our core belief is that gratitude is a foundational practice for living, not just an emotional response when things go well in our lives.”

The all-volunteer event explored the concept of “returning” through various artistic media.

Titus and co-creator Eric Alan conceived of the project more than five years ago when a discussion about nature literature and gratitude revealed a strong relationship with the sentiment and the arts.

“Just as we were ready to roll out the first program at Tsunami Books in 2015, I had a fortuitous encounter with an essay by writer David Whyte in which he said that gratitude ‘is the deep, a priori state of attention that shows we understand and are equal to the gifted nature of life,’” said Titus. “This blew my doors off. It meant that I could decide to be grateful without actually having a feeling of gratitude.”

Since its inception, the event has been a labor of love for the organizers.

“Building The Nature of Gratitude has been life-changing for me, as have the relationships that I’ve developed with our collaborating artists,” said Titus. “When Eric and I created The Nature of Gratitude five years ago, neither of us had a clue that the program would continue for another four years, or that it would expand to four cities.”

The event is ending its four-city tour tonight in Corvallis.

The project has served as a catalyst for personal growth among participants.

“As I’ve deepened my gratitude practice through these events and through my related forthcoming book ‘Grateful by Nature,’ my gratitude mission and philosophy have distilled into one succinct concept,” said Alan. “For me, being grateful is like being a carpenter: the skills are only fully realized when I use them to build shelter for others.”

The project’s debut event in 2015 seemed ill-timed, however, as the Paris terrorist attacks had just occurred.

“We held our breath and strode into that angst-filled room, and the spirit in the place began to lift from the beginning,” Titus said. “You could feel it happen. And people were so grateful. So, there it is — decide to have gratitude and embrace the sometimes dark reality of the world. It’s complex, and it’s beautiful.”

Since the first event, Alan and Titus have shared the fundamental duties of organization and creative inspiration to breathe life into the project. Alan draws on his experience in the music industry to connect with artists while Titus uses his ties to the literary community to find performers.

“The tasks of that have blessedly grown by an order of magnitude as NOG (Nature of Gratitude) has grown from a one-time event intended to give back to our community to a larger annual touring project still focused on community service,” said Alan.

Friday night’s event began with a Native American flute performance by Gentle Thunder, a Grammy-nominated multi-instrumentalist from Mount Shasta, Calif. A sound healer, teacher and performer by trade, Gentle Thunder set a soothing opening tone for the evening with ethereal woodwind melodies.

Other performances included music from poet and singer-songwriter Beth Wood, songs from jazz-pop singer-songwriter Halie Loren, spoken word poetry from writer-performer Jorah LaFleur of Eugene Poetry Slam and a Trashion Show presentation by Michel Rose, Fyona Rose, Monica Venice and Charles Mattoon.

Alan and Titus shared their written work through spoken word, sometimes with musical accompaniment.

For each event, one beneficiary in the community is selected to receive proceeds and awareness from the event. Local food pantry Community Sharing was this year’s recipient, bringing in $378.

“We choose a different cause with each event, always centered in the community in which we’re gathering in gratitude,” said Alan.

To be considered, recipients must be nonprofit, apolitical, non-divisive, community-oriented and fill a universal human need.

Other recent recipients have included Occupy Medical, Hearts for Hospice, Eugene Area Gleaners, Transition Projects, Oregon State University’s “Food for Thought” program, Eugene Poetry Slam and Marys Peak Alliance.

“Even though we focus on a single awareness cause for each event, we believe that our program inspires more widespread gratitude that ripples out to other people and organizations in all kinds of ways,” said Titus. “Our hope is that people will choose to become less divisive.”

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