Gratitude can be practiced, sacredly remembered and said. Rather than clinging to possessions, previous relationships, reputation, money, or struggling to relive old memories, gratitude is the antidote to greed.
Be mindful of this moment, of all that has transpired to bring you here.
Do not judge yourself for where you are now but be thankful for what you have. Your total path is not known, even to you. What has been given to you will go away: youth, family, friends, money, beauty. Enjoy what is here now, for all things are transitory, changing. You will never step into the same river twice.
What you desire, you may not truly need. What you don’t want, you may come to accept later. Likewise, rejoice in even the simplest things without craving extravagance. As Alan Watts said, “You never know the consequences of misfortune. You never know the consequences of good fortune.”
Do not take your existence for granted. It is easy to wander in life, consuming, seeking comfort. Many people live in hard stone towers they have built out of greed. They hoard the fire inside until it dwindles and smothers into smoke. Then they die, clutching the shadows of flames.
Remember that you are not separate from your community. You are not isolated from this universe. Neil DeGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist and educator, once said that “We are all connected; To each other, biologically. To the earth, chemically. To the rest of the universe atomically.” In Buddhism, everything is empty of its own identity. All things arise dependently with each other. We exist in relation, formed of confluences of conditions: some we can foresee, some we cannot.
We must consider our roles as child, parent, son, daughter, boss, employee, student, teacher. We live in intricate relations, not only to our families and nations, but as citizens of the world. We may be born into certain roles that are not ideal. We cannot decide who our parents are, for instance. The world did not come into being based on our expectations, but we must have dignity in our roles. People will act as they do, despite our wishes. Rather than blaming them, carrying hate in us, we need to seek a higher purpose.
Charlotte Joko Beck, Zen teacher and author, once wrote, “Life always gives us exactly the teacher we need at every moment. This includes every mosquito, every misfortune, every red light, every traffic jam, every obnoxious supervisor (or employee), every illness, every loss, every moment of joy or depression, every addiction, every piece of garbage, every breath. Every moment is the guru.”
With awareness of this moment, we should say thanks. We thank misfortunes for teaching us patience, kindness, and generosity. We investigate what our sufferings have taught us, and accept them, but eventually let them go. Rather than clenching in pain, we are kind to ourselves. We must first wish ourselves health, love, happiness, and peace, over and again, until we can extend the same wishes to other people.
To some, loving oneself is much harder than loving an enemy. To soften is to feel exposed to everything within us. We are open to all our embarrassments, jealousies, resentments, anger, to all our darkness, in every moment. To look unflinchingly at our own weaknesses and imperfections and not judge them, is how we can look at the darkness of other people. We find a shared humanity with them. We thank them, honoring them as our teachers. They insult us and show us that we need to love ourselves. To begin with gratitude is to end with gratitude. To end in gratitude is to be here now. Appreciative even in sorrow.
To be appreciative, in youth and old age, in joy and pain, all begins now.
Pema Chödrön, Buddhist nun and author, once told the story of a woman running away from tigers. “She runs and runs and the tigers are getting closer and closer. When she comes to the edge of a cliff, she sees some vines there, so she climbs down and holds on to the vines. Looking down, she sees that there are tigers below her as well. She then notices that a mouse is gnawing away at the vine to which she is clinging. She also sees a beautiful little bunch of strawberries close to her, growing out of a clump of grass. She looks up and she looks down. She looks at the mouse. Then she just takes a strawberry, puts it in her mouth, and enjoys it thoroughly. Tigers above, tigers below. This is actually the predicament that we are always in, in terms of our birth and death. Each moment is just what it is. It might be the only moment of our life; it might be the only strawberry we’ll ever eat. We could get depressed about it, or we could finally appreciate it and delight in the preciousness of every single moment of our life.”