November 25, 2013
If the only prayer you say in your entire life is ‘Thank You,’ that would suffice.
-Meister Eckhart (1260-1329)
It’s Thanksgiving week, and a good time to think a little more about gratitude.
I recently spent a day hiking in the desert near Joshua Tree with Sachi, a woman from Burma, formerly a Bhikkuni (Buddhist nun), who struck me as the most naturally happy, at ease, and fully present person I’ve met in a long time.
We hiked up and down through vast stretches of huge monzogranite boulders, in and around dry creek beds, and through prickly dry shrubs trying to avoid the stinging needles of the cholla cactus as we climbed to the top of Black Mountain. There were the black twisted trunks of fallen ancient mesquite trees, the blooming Flaming Red Penny Desert Fuchsia coming out of an unlikely crevice, and the massive rock formations that had their own unofficial names like The Sphinx, Split Rock, Falling Rock, and The Penguin that served as land marks to guide our way back.
At one point from the bottom of a draw, when we saw a young mule deer with a budding rack up above us, Sachi stretched her arms above her head, waved her hands and called out “thank you….thank you!” She said thank-you many times that day, particularly whenever she felt astonished or taken by the beauty around us. Her natural gratitude and keen awareness were inspiring and I think, have a lot to do with her happiness. It made me stop and think about my own awareness and expression of gratitude.
Happiness, or a sense of well-being and gratitude are inextricably bound. I think it’s impossible to feel happiness without being grateful for something or someone. Likewise, having gratitude or feeling grateful brings about a sense of contentment and well-being that defines happiness. This is not to say that we cannot feel sadness and gratitude. But in the moment of tapping into gratitude, no matter what’s going on, any state of distress decreases. Try it out sometime.
Here’s what Norman Fischer writes in his new book Training in Compassion, Zen Teachings on the Practice of Lojong. Lojong are the Tibetan Buddhist mind training slogans.
Be Grateful to Everyone is to cultivate every day this sense of gratitude, the happiest of all attitudes. Unhappiness and gratitude simply cannot exist in the same moment. If you feel grateful, you are a happy person. If you feel grateful for what is possible for you in this moment, no matter what your challenges are, grateful, first that you are alive at all, that you can think, that you can feel, that you can stand, sit, walk, talk-if you feel grateful, you are happy and you maximize your chances for well-being and for sharing happiness with others.
As we come into the holidays, it can be easy to get overwhelmed by the demands of our consumer culture and difficult to find a way to participate that feels genuine and balanced. Practicing gratitude by pausing, noticing and taking in moments of well-being, or just thinking of someone you care for can go a long way. And if you’re not feeling especially well, try thinking of something that brings you joy and contentment. The memory of well-being itself can have a profound effect on your state of mind.
There are two ways to live your life: one is as though nothing is a miracle, the other is as though everything is a miracle.
Early morning light on the monzogranite boulders