Before Buddhist’s eat a meal they take a moment to acknowledge all the efforts by the countless beings that contributed to the possibility of this meal — the worms, farmers, pickers, truckers, grocery store clerks, even bacteria. This acknowledgement helps to inspire a sense of gratitude and overcome the pervasive tendency to take things for granted (“I have this food because I paid for it.”).
We can move through our entire life with this sense of entitlement and, with it, get caught up in focusing on what we don’t have, or what is not right. Gratitude takes nothing for granted. It’s a miracle that we can do the things that we can do. To breathe, to walk, to love. We only tend to notice when something goes wrong. These breaches wake us out of the trance of entitlement.
And still, that awakening can be into complaint. I’ve injured my knee, so I could complain about how I can’t do the things I usually do. Or, instead, I could reflect on all the unencumbered time that I enjoyed before the injury. I can realize it is not a right to walk but a wonderful happenstance. Once I have touched this gratitude, I can also reflect on the impermanence of this injury, and indeed, everything.
Everything is changing all of the time and in ways that I can neither predict or control. I am about the same age as Steve Job’s when he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Life can change in an instant and over the long haul. Eventually my body will break down, so it behooves me to enjoy my mobility, health, and so forth while I have it. It behooves me to be grateful because gratitude helps to awaken me to what is happening in the moment. It helps to prevent me from sleepwalking through life.
Gratitude is an antidote to cynicism. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of negative thinking, after all, it’s how we are wired. We don’t need to practice negativity, yet, for many of us, we do need to practice positivity. Gratitude is available in any moment to move us into a positive frame. What are you grateful for? Make a list, read it often, add to it often.
For those of us with means living in the privileged developed world, there is so much to be grateful for. We don’t have to struggle to survive. We have ample food, shelter. As individuals, we consume enough resources to sustain a small developing country. We live in a warped bubble of entitlement with cars, clothes, medicines, dining out, vacations and so forth. We are so immured to material that we lose sight of how little much of the rest of the world has. The fact that we moan and complain in the midst of all this materials wealth is, perhaps, a form of psychosis. We are removed from reality; out of touch with the way things are.
So, if you are reading this, you are likely enjoying a high level of material wealth and privilege. This can, and perhaps should, blow your mind with gratitude. Today, I write on my MacBook Pro computer, listen to music streaming over the Internet and from my iTunes collection. After I have eaten all that I care to eat, I will take a hot shower, and select clothes from a large closetful of possibilities. I will drive my car from my secluded country home to my office where I will sit on comfortable furniture listening to my patients. I may go out to dinner afterwards or take in a movie. I do not live in a war zone; I do not suffer political oppression; I am not experiencing starvation; I am healthy, if a little gimpy; I make and spend ridiculous sums of money relative to most my planet mates living in Africa and Asia.
During the meditation hour that I host at my office, I will have the opportunity to reflect on my fortune. I can be grateful for my material privilege and reflect on I am using this privilege – for good, for awakening?
It’s an amazing day to be alive. What a precious opportunity. I am grateful for this day. I could generate a list of ten thousand complaints, but I choose to embrace the sun shining and the grace of this moment.