Before listening to this talk, we suggest you do the Appreciating the Body Meditation.
Summary of the “Appreciate Everything” Talk
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).
Let Gratitude Be Your Mind’s Stick
Elephants are curious, playful creatures. 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 elephant’s guardian solves this problem by giving her a stick to hold with her trunk. When her trunk is occupied, her trunk is less likely to 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 new to meditation, we typically cannot silence our minds for any significant length of time. Thus, we need to give it a “stick” to keep it out of trouble. Some wholesome, healthy, life-enhancing, and skillful “sticks” for the mind include appreciation and blessings. By generating words of thanks and loving-kindness, non-stop, throughout the day, we will help keep our mind out of trouble and significantly improve the love, peace, and joy in our lives.
Thanks for All This Stuff I Hate
In her book, Beyond Codependency, Melody Beattie writes how her old, dilapidated, house—with no furniture, and no grass in the yard—caused her to sob in misery every night for months. Desperate for some relief from her misery, she decided to try gratitude.
Rather than bemoan all of the problems she saw, she decided to be thankful for them. She gave thanks for the house; thanks for the holes in the wall; thanks for the stains in the carpet; even thanks for her hatred of the house. Her gratitude didn’t make much rational sense, but it did pull her out of her slump. Her gratitude practice helped her appreciate what she did have, and the possibilities contained within it. Seeing this, her gratitude practice then moved her to improve what she did have 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.”
Agape Arsenal Technique: Gratuitous Gratitude
Melody practiced the agape arsenal technique known as Gratuitous Gratitude. In Gratuitous Gratitude we consciously direct our mind to notice what is good, beautiful, beneficial, and praiseworthy about everything: our situation, the people in our lives, the challenges we face, the pains that we feel, and so on. If we can’t see the good in something, we just offer thanks for it anyway, knowing that there is good in it, even though our mind can’t see it right now.
By practicing Gratuitous Gratitude, we gradually come to see how our challenges and difficulties cause us to grow, cause us to deepen our practice, and serve us in a variety of ways. As we appreciate the positive in all things, aversion drops away. Aversion is a delusional mental state that feels unpleasant and causes needless suffering. Aversion arises as hostile, hate-filled, judgmental, or complaining thoughts that we mistakenly believe to be true. Examples of aversive thoughts include, “I don’t want to…,” “I can’t…,” “I hate…,” and ”No! No! No! No!”
Gratuitous Gratitude challenges our aversive thoughts, and develops our capacity to mindfully hold more and more unpleasant situations with peaceful equanimity. As we enter challenging situations with more mindfulness, we become better able to respond to challenges with mindfulness, compassion, and skill.
Given gratitude’s power to overcome aversion, it is no surprise that wise people the world over have learned to appreciate situations that unwise people resist, fight, and lament.
Thanks for This Suffering, Misery, and Death
Take for example 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 her book, she rejoiced in suffering. She viewed her willingness to accept, hold, and be intimate with suffering as the way to spiritually purify her mind, and grow the love and compassion in her heart.
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. Her gratitude in these moments gave her great mental comfort and joy, despite much physical distress.
Thanks for the Beatings
When we appreciate all that is annoying, boring, inconvenient, or painful, we become a healer who uses toxic plants as good medicine to heal our hearts, minds, and the world. One such healer was Jawaharlal Nehru (1889-1964), an activist for India’s independence.
Jawaharlal saw physical pain as the necessary price he had to pay to use nonviolent action to achieve gains for India’s independence from Britain. He wrote, nonviolent action, “…has considerable effect on the opponent... 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.”
At one nonviolent protest Jawaharlal attended, the police charged and started beating him and others with lathis; 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.
When India finally won its independence from Britain in 1947, Jawaharlal became the first Prime Minister of India. He transformed the toxic plant of enduring police beatings into the medicine required to free the people of India.
Wise People Turn Lead Into Gold
By seeing what’s good, wholesome, and worthy in the unpleasant aspects of life, you become an alchemist who turns the lead of unpleasant life situations into the gold of mental peace and joy.
Consider Joanna Montgomery, who contracted cancer, and wrote an article posted on CafeMom.com titled, “Cancer Might Be the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me.” The article shares over twenty ways that cancer 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 that I'm stronger than I ever thought I was.” I encourage you to read the article to fully experience her beautiful example of Gratuitous Gratitude in action.
Commit to Non-Stop Gratuitous Gratitude
If you want to stop suffering, then commit to look for the good, beautiful, skillful, praiseworthy, and wonderful in all people, and all situations, at all times. Melody Beattie appreciated her dilapidated house. Saint Thérèse of Lisieux rejoiced at her painful death. Jawaharlal Nehru delighted in being beaten by the police. Joanna Montgomery celebrates her cancer. Let these wise people inspire us to continuously practice Gratuitous Gratitude.
Let gratitude be the stick that occupies your wild and unruly mind. Through Gratuitous Gratitude, you help prevent your mind from making mischief and causing trouble. Through Gratuitous Gratitude, you will start to see the good in all things. Through Gratuitous Gratitude, you can be the healer who uses toxic plants as medicine to heal your troubled mind and heart. Through Gratuitous Gratitude you can turn the lead of unpleasant life situations, into the gold of mental peace and joy.
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 situation help you? What does it teach you? Consider what formless/intangible/spiritual qualities the situation helps you develop? Does it help you develop empathy and compassion for others in a similar situation? Does it teach you patience, kindness, courage? What skills and abilities must you develop to skillfully respond to the situation? How has this situation helped you grow and deepen? Generate at least 20 ways that this situation helps 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 situation as a blessing?
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May you know your deepest essence to be boundless love, peace, joy, and compassion.