This week the question is about gratitude in the face of adversity. It's a timely question, fitting with both the opening of George Draffan's discussion on the ning site
of Opening A Path to the Ocean of Awakening Mind
and the latest transcript of the talks on the four immeasurables.
Several people commented on last week's newsletter, noting particularly this quotation:
Don't use practice to improve the situation of your life.
Use the situation of your life to practice.
This wording comes from a friend and colleague, Ruth Gilbert
, who teaches in Vancouver, WA.
Also, if you are in the LA area, this evening I'll be leading meditation and responding to questions at Against the Stream
in Santa Monica.
- Transcript: The Four Immeasurables - Talk 6
Gratitude in the face of adversity
In the aftermath of extraordinary hardship or cruelty, some people are able to express deep gratitude. Others are left with bitterness. What makes the difference?
The difference, I think, is a matter of acceptance.
When you encounter extraordinary hardship or cruelty, even a natural disaster, your ideas about how the world is crumble. You cannot find any reason, any rationale, for why this is happening to you.
In the end, there is no reason. It is hard to accept that.
I don't mean that there aren't medical explanations for chronic pain or disease, or political or psychological explanations for why someone subjects you to abuse or why you are imprisoned. Of course there are.
Still, when you encounter such adversity, something in you asks, "Why me?"
The silence of the universe is deafening.
In some cultures, you are taught or you believe that it is God's will or your karma.
These aren't explanations or reasons, but descriptions of how you relate to life.
And that's where acceptance comes in. Can you accept the world, your world, whatever or however it is?
This isn't a rational process. You can't talk or reason your way into it.
The pain, the cruelty, strips away layers of protection, layers of conditioning, one by one, until you are left naked, raw and alone. And at that point, something kicks in.
And sometimes it doesn't.
If it does, you accept that this is what the world, your life, God, your karma, whatever, brought you. You stop struggling against the pain. You find a way to be with it, not against it, without anger or resentment.
In the case of cruelty, you recognize that, however cruel and vicious your assailant, you understand, even though it makes no rational sense. Yet you have no sense of moral superiority or righteousness.
In other words, you find a place to stand and touch your humanity. In touching that, you touch the humanity of all people, of all beings.
And for that, you are, in time, profoundly and deeply grateful.
This isn't something you decide to do. It's something that happens.
It is a result, not a method of practice.
Why does it happen in some and not in others?
I don't know.
All I can say is that if you constantly and consistently turn your heart to the sufferings and struggles of others, you probably increase the likelihood that in your darkest hour something will kick in.
In the context of Buddhist practice, this is the intention of instructions you find in Mahayana mind training.
In Mind Training in Seven Points, Chekawa writes, "Be grateful to everyone." In The 37 Practices, particularly verses 12-17, Tokm� Zongpo takes up the same theme.
Many people don't appreciate the depth to which the authors intended you to take these instructions. Indeed, most people seem to use them more as a way to feel better, to assuage pain and disappointment, when they encounter adversity.
But that isn't the intended use.
No, these instructions are intended to strip away the layers of self-protection until you find yourself naked and raw -- with nothing to hold on to. They are intended to put you in touch with your humanity in the most visceral way possible and with the courage, compassion, and understanding that are your human heritage.
You are a different person then, and for that, you are forever grateful.
In the desert
I saw a creature, naked, bestial,
Who, squatting upon the ground,
Held his heart in his hands,
And ate of it.
I said: "Is it good, friend?"
"It is bitter -- bitter," he answered,
"But I like it
Because it is bitter
And because it is my heart."
~ Stephen Crane
All the best,