You've heard it all before. My yoga teacher used to end every session by saying:
A grateful heart leads to a peaceful life.I had to say out loud at least one thing for which I was grateful. Then, I had to do it without rolling my eyes. Then, I had express my gratitude for something other then my yoga teacher . Let me tell you, it weren't easy for a dyed-in-the-mind, affirmation-scoffing wise-ass like me.
But here's the thing: She was right. I am here to testify: A grateful heart leads-- at the very least-- to a more peaceful life.
And here's the other thing, the secret thing, as ee cummings would say,
"... here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life:"
Cultivating a grateful heart leads to a grateful heart.
It really works. Gratitude replicates itself. Once you start the habit, you find yourself experiencing more gratitude more often. I am talking real, authenticate, spontaneous gratitude-- NOT the "I know I should feel grateful" bullshit, which really only serves to re-enforce what a sorry, selfish ass you think you are.
No. This does not even smell anything like that. I have to tell you, even the very things which raise one's hackles can begin to engender gratitude. Sounds crazy, I know. I will not claim it always works for me-- I can still get pissy and grouchy and filled with delusion and despair, as anyone who knows me can well attest. But the mere possibility that this state can spontaneously transform into something like gratitude is stunning and profound. It is a fascinating phenomenon.
But this kind of ordinary magic works against how we have been culturally programed to see the world: Us v Them, Winners/ Losers, With Me Or Against Me.
Years ago I drove cross country with my Dad. Anyone going slower than us was deemed an idiot, anyone going faster than us, an asshole. Sound familiar? Don't we all do that to some extent? My Dad, caught up in the ongoing tele-novella of the highway, would swear, pound the steering wheel, and spew general dissatisfaction with every other vehicle on the road. Do you suppose those idiots and assholes were doing the same inside the little world of their own cars? Probably.
There is an old zen story about a monk in a boat in the fog. Another boat smacks into him.
Why don't you watch where you are going? Don't you see how thick the fog is? You should be more careful!
His boat gets hit again. Then again.
What do you think you are doing? You idiot!
The boat pulls up beside him, close enough so the monk can at last see it through the thick fog. The boat is empty. The monk's emotion evaporates. He laughs. He realizes all boats are empty.
All boats are empty.
For me this is a story about how something that hooks you (a klesha in yoga or buddhist terms) can turn into an opportunity for gratitude. The world is always there for us, Pema Chodron says. It is always in response to us. We can be grateful for that. It is our patient teacher who never gives up on us. It stands aside while we beat the shit out of ourselves if that is what we want or need to do. When we turn back to re-engage, our world is right there for us. Always ready to teach us as much as we are ready to learn about ourselves.
Two last things:
I started this post in response to a weekend full of kindness visited upon me by good friends, mere acquaintances and family. I am so grateful for each of them. Grateful to be part of a world where the exchange of love in thought, word and deed is not merely possible, but actually takes place. I love that about human beings. I love it when we live up to our potential to love one another. Go, team!
And that trip I took cross country with my Dad? I was on my way to a month-long meditation retreat at Gampo Abbey. The whole way there I was aware of how reactive my Dad was to the traffic around us. The whole way back I was aware of how reactive I was to my Dad.
For this, too, I am grateful.
As I am for you, gentle reader.