Before listening to this talk, we suggest you do the Appreciating the Body Meditation.
Gratitude is a powerful practice in its own right. When practiced with sincerity, gratitude helps drive out the delusions of greed (lust, wanting, clinging, etc.), aversion (hatred, fear, anger, judgment, etc.) and self-view (mistaking the content of your life, such as your thoughts, stories, emotions, body, accomplishments, possessions, and so on, to be who you are).
Elephants are curious, playful creatures, and in India, when someone brings their elephant to the market the elephant will use her trunk to smell, touch, and grab everything, causing lots of mischief and chaos. The solution is to give the elephant a stick to hold with her trunk. If her trunk is occupied, it can’t cause trouble.
Our minds are like this too. Our minds are curious and playful, and prone to get entangled with all kinds of egoic and delusional thoughts. When we are new to meditation, we are still unable to silence our minds for any significant length of time, so we need to give it a stick to keep it out of trouble. Some wholesome, healthy, life-enhancing, and skillful sticks we can occupy our minds with is appreciation and blessings. Words of thanks and loving-kindness, non-stop, throughout the day. That will keep our mind out of trouble and significantly improving the love, peace, and joy in our lives.
We read about the Gratitude Principle from Beyond Codependency by Melody Beattie, and how her old, dilapidated, house with no furniture, no grass in the yard caused her to sob in misery every night for months until she decided to try gratitude and be thankful for everything. She was thankful to have the house. Thankful for the holes in the wall. Thankful for the stains in the carpet. Thankful for hating the house. It didn’t make much rational sense, but it did pull her out of her slump and start appreciating what she had and improving it for the better.
As Beattie wrote, “Being grateful for what we have today doesn’t mean we have to have that forever. It means we acknowledge that what we have today is what we’re supposed to have today. There is enough, we’re enough, and all we need will come to us. We don’t have to be desperate, fearful, jealous, resentful, or miserly. We don’t have to worry about what someone else has; they don’t have ours. The trick is, we need to be grateful first—before we get anything else, not afterward.”
Moreover, when we fill our mind with grateful thoughts, it directs the mind to see what is good in everything, including those things that are unpleasant. It is no surprise that wise people the world over have learned to appreciate the negative aspects of life.
One of these Wise people was Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, also known as the Little Flower. She was born in 1873 and died from Tuberculosis at age 24. She wrote in her book, The Story of a Soul, "It's surprising to see how much my mind developed in the midst of suffering." Throughout the book, she rejoiced in suffering. She saw her willingness to accept, hold, and be with suffering that naturally arose during the course of her life as the way to spiritually purify her mind, and be more loving and compassion.
She even rejoiced in her imminent and painful death by Tuberculosis. She described the sensations of blood bubbling up into her mouth as a beautiful invitation by the Creator for her to come home, which gave her great comfort.
Another wise person who saw the good in unpleasant situations was Jawaharlal Nehru (1889-1964), an activist for Indian independence. He was the first Prime Minister of India once it obtained its independence from Britain and close friend of Mohandas Gandhi.
He saw pain as the price necessary to use the power of nonviolence to achieve gains for India’s independence from Britain. He wrote, "That [Nonviolence] has considerable effect on the opponent is undoubted. It exposes his moral defenses, it unnerves him, it appeals to the best in him, it leaves the door open for conciliation. There can be no doubt that the approach of love and self-suffering has powerful psychic reactions on the adversary as well as on the onlookers
Nehru even wrote about how at one of their nonviolent protests, the police charged and started beating him and others with lathis; which are heavy sticks bound with iron. When he felt the first blows, he felt the pain, but then he also wrote of feeling “exhilaration.” While getting savagely beaten, he was ecstatically happy that he could take the beatings, that he could face his fears with courage, that he could stand up to violence with nonviolence and not back down.
By seeing the good, wholesome, and worthy in the unpleasant aspects of life, you become an alchemist who turns lead into gold. By being able to appreciate that which is annoying, boring, or inconvenient, you become the herbalist who uses the toxic plant as good medicine to heal your mind, body, and heart.
We closed the talk by reading the article from CafeMom.com, “Cancer Might Be the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me” by Joanna Montgomery. The article shares over twenty ways that cancer has helped to improve her life. For example, she wrote, “Cancer has given me courage and confidence. It has also given me more compassion and empathy. It has made me realize than I'm stronger than I ever thought I was.”
So look for the good, the beautiful, and the wonderful in all people, and all situations. Let blessings, loving-kindness, and appreciation be the stick that you give to your wild and unruly mind to keep it occupied, so it doesn’t get you in to trouble. In this way, you can turn your lead into gold, your water into wine, and use the toxic plants to be your medicine.
- Get out your journal. Think of a major “problem” in your life that causes you a lot of suffering, and write it down.
- Brainstorm a list of all the ways that this problem serves you and benefits you. How does this problem help you? Consider what spiritual (or invisible and intangible) qualities the problem helps develop in you? Does it help you develop empathy and compassion for others in a similar situation? What skills and abilities is it encouraging your to develop to skillfully address it? What are you learning from it? How are you growing from it? Try to come up with 20 ways that it is helping you.
- Review the list you have come up with. Look at all that this situation has given you. Can you now start to see it, even if only a tiny bit, as a blessing? Can you open your heart some to be thankful and appreciative for it? If so, how does it feel to start to see this problem as a blessing?
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