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November 28, 2013

by Stephen Damon

Standing or walking, sitting or lying down, during all ones waking hours let one practice the Way with gratitude—Metta Sutta

During the past week or so, I have tried to keep today’s holiday in my mind. I did this because I’ve experienced several serious disappointments in the past couple of months and it’s been hard for me to feel grateful.  Keeping the idea of gratitude in my mind, I have begun to see that the point is not to feel grateful for “things that have happened” but to have a general attitude of gratefulness toward everything—for life itself!  I now see that to pick and choose one moment over another is to miss the point. Gratitude is before all picking and choosing. It is just an acceptance for everything that is, before the mind labels it “good” or “bad,” “pleasant” or “unpleasant.” Yes, I have been disappointed by certain things that I have labeled “bad,” but each of those disappointments has shown me parts of myself that had been hidden before. Each disappointment has helped me to live more fully in the moment. One part of myself labeled these things bad, but a deeper part saw them as expressions of “what is.”  Nothing more, and nothing less.

Each moment is a unique expression of love, with its own “causes and conditions,” that gives us an opportunity to “return to the vast inconceivable source.” When I am aware of this, the only thing I can do is to try to be open enough to experience what is being offered and to accept it wholeheartedly with nothing left over. It is neither deserved nor underserved. It just is. The Catholic monk, David Steindl-Rast, says, “The degree to which we are awake to [what is being offered] is a measure of our gratefulness, and gratefulness is a measure of our aliveness.” When we feel totally alive, we feel grateful and when we feel grateful, we feel alive. How wonderful!

Once we experience our life as a gift freely given, our practice becomes a grateful response. In the Metta Sutta, we are told: Standing or walking, sitting or lying down, during all ones waking hours let one practice the Way with gratitude. Following these instructions, Dogen said, “Continuous practice, day after day, is the most appropriate way of expressing gratitude for being alive.” As Meister Eckhart said, “If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, ‘thank you,’ that would suffice.” Going further, we could experience each of our exhalations as a thank you.

And so when I gather with friends this afternoon and our host asks us to acknowledge something that we are grateful for, I won’t try to reach into my memory for some thing that happened to me since the last time we gathered together, I will try to settle into the moment as deeply as I can.  I will try to be open to the love of my friends seated around the table.  I will try to put into words the awe and wonder of being alive at just that moment. And if I can’t find words to express what I am feeling, I will just bow—not only to my friends but to life itself.



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