Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Grace of Gratitude

This is the month that we celebrate “Thanksgiving” in America, and it has always seemed among the best of holidays. Thanksgiving Day is a day of awareness of gratitude. Gratitude has inherent within it a divine grace that uplifts us and enriches our lives.

Gratitude attracts to us more of what we are grateful for. In the same way, criticism attracts more to us of what we are critical of, annoyance attracts to us more of what annoys us, and making someone wrong for their actions or words only attracts to us more apparent wrongdoings in the actions and words of others.

Gratitude is special in the sense that it rewards us more than any other feeling or attitude. It rewards us because it opens up the universal flow of all that we are thankful for, and this flow is infinite, limited only by our capacity to experience gratitude.

Too many of us experience gratitude only when something special happens. If we win the lottery, we feel gratitude—for a while, until we realize how much trouble it causes unless we use the winnings in totally unselfish ways. On the other side of gratitude is the desire for selfish gain.

Many of us rarely acknowledge all that exists in our lives that is worthy of great gratitude. We can have gratitude for this physical body, for this opportunity for a physical incarnation, in which it is possible to progress spiritually through harmonizing karma. We can have gratitude for our home, for the clothes we are wearing, for our family—no matter how troublesome they might seem from time to time. We have no idea how many people on earth live without the many things we take for granted every day.

The secret to experiencing gratitude is living in the present moment. If our attention strays too far to the past or to the future, our experience of gratitude fades and is finally forgotten as our mind once again becomes entangled with familiar egotistical melodramas that the ego has identified with as its “own” life, as what is “happening” to it.

It can be observed, however, by any individual being that clearly perceives, that in the present moment everything is fine. Someday we will realize that in the present moment everything is absolutely perfect. Nothing is ever going wrong in the present moment. It’s only when we begin putting words to stuff, describing conditions, situations, and other people, that we get caught up in the illusion of time and circumstance and lose touch with the Truth of the present moment.

Practice gratitude and see what happens as a result, see the palpable difference in your mental and emotional state. It is impossible to be in a bad mood, or possessed by a negative emotion, if we are absorbed in the experience of gratitude. This is an extremely natural experience; however it requires practice, like everything else, to perfect it and fully manifest it.

When you feel the impulse to be critical, or to think things aren’t going well in your life, or to blame someone else for your own feelings, look around you and see with the vision of the truth all that exists in your life that is worthy of your gratitude. There is so much more than we are aware of, so much more than we ever consciously acknowledge. Gratitude is a spiritual state, and through the consistent practice of it we are spiritually elevated. We can’t wait for it to come on its own account, however. We must generate it from within, through our own conscious intent, attention, and will. We must consciously attune ourselves to it. In the course we are taught how to do this.

Speaking of the course, a participant recently emailed this question: “If I take the attention off my mind and direct it inward toward the higher tattvas, will I still be able to perceive the world and function within it? How will my experience be different?”

By tattvas he is referring to the levels of creation as explained in Kashmir Shaivism, which are referred to in the course because they give a certain perspective of how the creation of our own personal universe happens, and how the Universal becomes the individual. For our purposes here and now, we can simply consider the “higher tattvas” as the higher qualities and feelings, such as love, compassion, kindness, cheerfulness, lightheartedness, and gratitude.

Yes indeed we are still able to perceive the world and function in it. Not only that, we perceive it even more clearly and function more effectively than ever. Simply because we become aware of a higher or more refined state of being doesn’t mean that we lose touch with practical life.

How will your experience be different? You’ll feel lighter, and definitely more lighthearted. You will experience gratitude for all the goodness that has been bestowed on you instead of focusing on the things or people that you assume cause your troubles. All your troubles are caused by your own troubled mind. It does no good to blame them on others, or on life. What we think is what we get.

You’ll stop thinking about things so much. In fact, you’ll no longer have to think. You will think only when it serves a useful function. Otherwise you’ll simply bask in this simple flow of life, appreciating each moment for whatever it contains. You will go beyond qualitative differences between things, and live in a state of pure equality-consciousness, where the only differences are obviously imaginings of the mind.

I was recently reviewing the last two chapters of Siddhartha, written by Herman Hesse and first published in 1951. These last two chapters of the book are among my favorite passages of all that I have read.

Govinda and Siddhartha were close friends in childhood. Govinda left to become a monk, while Siddhartha went through the experiences of worldly life, and finally became enlightened through his work as a ferryman. Late in life the two met again, and Govinda recognized Siddhartha’s attainment. The last chapter of the book is the dialogue between the two of them, and in it Govinda asks: “But what you call thing, is it something real, something intrinsic? Is it not only the illusion of Maya, only image and appearance? Your stone, your tree, are they real?”

“This also does not trouble me much,” said Siddhartha. “If they are illusion then I also am illusion, and so they are always of the same nature as myself. It is that which makes them so lovable and venerable. That is why I can love them. And here is a doctrine at which you will laugh. It seems to me, Govinda, that love is the most important thing in the world. It may be important to great thinkers to examine the world, to explain and despise it. But I think it is only important to love the world, not to despise it, not for us to hate each other, but to be able to regard the world and ourselves and all beings with love, admiration and respect.”

It seems to me that Siddhartha’s response pretty much sums up all that we need to understand or practice. Love of this world, of our life, of what we are doing at any given time, of all others around us, and of ourselves just as we are, allows us to live in a state not comprehended by the ordinary intellect, no matter how well “educated” we might happen to be. And with this love comes a great gratitude for all that life has to offer, for the exquisite fullness of one present moment after another, and there is a genuine appreciation of all that others contribute to our lives, whether we enjoy it at the time or not.

This time of the year is a time for gratitude. During this time practice feeling thankful for all the goodness you have been given. Such conscious practice soon becomes a subconscious habit, and the time will come when it will be as natural to automatically experience gratitude as it was previously to automatically experience emotional reactions, disapproval, fault-finding, and focusing on what is wrong.

If you have never consciously tried feeling gratitude as a consistent practice, then give it a go just as an experiment, just to see what happens as a result. You might be surprised at the life-transforming power that lies within this simple feeling of gratitude for the goodness in your life. There is so much grace in gratitude. Try it out and see what happens.