By: Rev. Dr. Brian Shen-Jin Kenna 长金
“Continuous practice, day after day, is the most appropriate way of expressing gratitude. This means that you practice continuously, without wasting a single day of your life, without using it for your own sake. Why is it so? Your life is a fortunate outcome of the continuous practice of the past. You should express your gratitude immediately.” — Dogen (Kazuako Tanahashi, trans.)
Gratitude can be an antidote for the poisons of greed, jealousy, resentment, and grief. When we are grateful we do not wish for more than we have, but accept and appreciate that which is already present in our lives. We do not resent others for what they may have that we may not. We do not mourn over what is lost and gone, or perhaps never had in the first place. The desire for more can be all consuming but ultimately is a dead end road. We can always find one more thing to want.
Acceptance and gratitude are feelings that can occur spontaneously, but they are also attitudes that can be cultivated. The more space we make for them in our lives, the more we practice them, the less room there is for unsatisfactory thoughts to take hold and make themselves at home.
As sentient beings in this place and time can we be grateful for our lives? That we live in a time and place where we can hear and study the dharma? When we take time to meditate on gratefulness we begin to clear away the negative filters and move from a place of want to a place of appreciation for all that we DO have. As the world seems to get faster and faster with each passing day it’s easy to overlook all that is there in front of us. Can we be grateful for the earth that holds us up, the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food that nourishes us? Can we be grateful for the presence in our lives of people who love us, and people that we love? Can we be grateful that, whatever ailments afflict us, we are still able to breathe and think and move? Can we be grateful that, whatever financial reverses we may have suffered, we still have shelter, clothing, and food to eat? Can we be grateful for our parents who gave us life and kept us alive through childhood, who fed and clothed us, who cared for us when we were ill?
Of course there will be times in your practice where negativity will arise. The “if only” and you can fill in the rest with a myriad of answers. Or the “Yes…but….” Negative thoughts will happen, how we respond to them is what counts. Practicing mindfulness of gratitude consistently leads to a direct experience of being connected to the people around us. We see that our lives are a small part being woven into the greater tapestry of the Universe. When we let go of the endless desires, wants and worries of the drama that life throws at us we begin to feel liberated. Cultivating thankfulness for being part of life blossoms into a more refined appreciation for the interdependent/interconnected nature of life. It also elicits feelings of generosity, which create further joy. Gratitude can soften a heart that has become too guarded, and it builds the capacity for forgiveness, which creates the clarity of mind that is ideal for spiritual development.