Last week we talked about how our meditation practice allows us to discover that whatever you may be feeling or experiencing does not define you. Bad news happens, as it will from time to time, but it doesn’t diminish your new found sense of well-being, the well of being.
You see this sense of well-being is independent of conditions. That as your practice matures over time, it arises more frequently and in all kinds of situations. We may feel a little chagrinned finding ourselves in those old emotional haunts, and can laugh at ourselves more readily.
This marvelous discovery prompted former Google engineer Chade-Meng Tan to pen his bestselling book “Joy on Demand.”
This week let’s explore some implications of this discovery, specifically regarding trust, courage, compassion and the attitude of gratefulness. These qualities add richness and depth, transforming this well-being into a truly spiritual endowment.
During a talk he was giving on “grateful living”, David Steindl-Rast, a Catholic Benedictine monk, was asked by an audience member how she could possibly feel grateful after just being laid off from her job, and feeling overwhelmed at how she can continue to care for her sick father, and help one of her kids who is in trouble with the law?
His answer is remarkable for its depth and clarity.
When I ask myself, would I feel grateful if I had just been laid off from my job–not to mention the other challenges you are facing–the answer is no. How could anyone in your position feel grateful? But gratefulness is not a feeling; gratefulness is an attitude. Even though we have a grateful attitude toward life, we may or may not feel grateful. No should applies here. Our feelings are not under our control; only our attitude is.
He went on to explain:
You feel a trust in life that overcomes fear. This trust makes your heart feel wide open and free, the very opposite of those anxious feelings that squeeze your chest until you can hardly breathe.
Now, that deep trust in life is not a feeling but a stance that you deliberately take. It is the attitude we call courage; and courage is quite compatible with feeling afraid. Courage presupposes fear; it is the attitude of one who goes ahead in spite of fear, anxiety, and fatigue.
A grateful person trusts enough to give life another chance, to stay open for surprises. As you stay open in grateful trust, grateful feelings will start to bud. By living the gratefulness we don’t feel, we begin to feel the gratefulness we live. This is not a quick and easy recipe, but you will find that it works.
Take a moment right now. Sit down. Make yourself comfortable. Close your eyes. Become aware of your breath breathing itself. Notice the enoughness of your life in this moment, full and complete lacking nothing (as they say in Zen).
Our practice is about coming back to the present and finding the well of being that comforts us and dis-inclines us from being pulled and pushed around so much by everything that we like and everything we don’t like.
The Buddha said we suffer because we don’t have what we want. Or we have what we want, but we’re afraid to lose it. If we judge everything by likes and dislikes, we’re always unhappy.
But we discovered that happiness need not be based on our likes and dislikes, remember?
There is something deeper. There is something more fundamental.
Our life just as it is!
Or as Brother Steindl-Rast puts it – contentment comes from an inner knowing of the gift that is unceasingly being given to you.
So what’s the takeaway this week?
It’s simple: meditate, discover the happiness independent of circumstances, trust your life as it is, lean into the suffering of yourself and others with courage, and open to the flowering of gratefulness, compassion and loving-kindness for all beings everywhere.
This is our path. It’s what we signed up for.