Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Prayer of Gratitude

First, I'm grateful to my son for fixing my bizarre computer problems (malware). Second, I'm grateful for the break from blogging these problems brought on, since it gave me time to do some more samyama on the issues raised by commentators and others. I now have a backlog of interesting ideas to write about in the coming days and weeks. I'm not sure if I'll have time over the next few days to write much, however, since I'm with family and friends over the holidays. I hope all you are too. Busy making pumpkin pie and basting turkey right now. Catching just a brief break.

The thing about gratitude is that we tend only to be grateful for the good things that happen, and seldom for the bad things. Maybe you could call that human nature, but it's not terribly smart. Ramana used to say that the biggest mistake people make in their ordinary lives is just this - being grateful (to God or fate or whatever) for the good and pleasurable things in our lives, and yet not to be grateful for the rest. He points out that this weds us to duality, to an endless cycle of seeking the good and eschewing the bad, and this distorts our minds and hearts. Yet even on the basic human level, this approach isn't very smart, in that it keeps us from appreciating the difficult, tragic, and unfortunate aspects of life. The truth is, unless we appreciate the virtues of the tragic, we are not receiving the wisdom this life has to offer us. We are separating the parts from the whole, and witholding our love from those parts which displease us. It doesn't mean we have to pretend that these things please us - they may never - but we can at least appreciate what they have done for us.

Without the difficult and challenging dimensions of life, including the most tragic, even what is often called evil, we would not rise up or be broken down in spirit sufficiently to truly appreciate what is beyond this world, what is beautiful, loving, magnificent, ordinary. In my own life, I've experienced all kinds of tragic and disappointing experiences - like everyone else. I've learned, slowly but surely, to be grateful for these things. In fact, one of the most powerful spiritual exercises I've ever engaged is what I call "The Prayer of Gratitude", in which I express and feel my gratitude for all the difficulties of my life as well as for all the enjoyable and easeful things that have come to me. Life always comes at us two-sided, with varying measures of pleasurable and unpleasurable, good and evil, easeful and frustrating. It's important that we be grateful for all of that.

One of my occasional vices, if you could call it that, is playing online poker (very small stakes). I manage to stay pretty much even at the game, but you have to wonder why I bother, since I don't win much, I don't lose much, and yet the game is still entertaining. I always remember an interview I saw with one of the more famous current poker players, Daniel Negreneau, who boiled poker down to the basics. There are two great pleasures in poker, he said: the first is winning, and the second is losing. The point being that even losing is actually a highly pleasurable experience in its own way, despite the pain it brings. This is because there's nothing quite like losing to penetrate our hearts. In life, tragedy and loss has the capacity to open us up in ways that success and pleasure may not. It is this capacity that tragedy can brings that we must be grateful for.

That's the whole point, in some ways, of this blog of mine. I began using the name "Broken Yogi" when I was in the midst of leaving Adidam, and realizing the tragic dimensions of my experience there. I was posting about these things at the Lightmind Adidam forums, and there were a few pranksters using variations on the "yogi" theme as screen handles, such as "smoking yogi" and the like. I said to myself, well, I feel like a broken yogi - and the name somehow stuck. The point being, that being broken down, even especially by our own tragic choices in life, can open us up and help us grow. So to me "broken yogi" is not a negative name, it's a sign of a recognition that having one's heart broken in love is often the best thing for us, that it can open us up in ways that being fulfilled never can. The feeling heart, laid bare to the universe by its tragic failures, opens us to the meaning of genuine "success", which is not measured in any worldly or mental values, but by our own direct, unfettered openness itself. It's important that we be grateful to God, or whatever, for this experience. It is the real window to the non-dual, to what is beyond the rise and fall of experience.

In some ways, that was the best experience of my life - and I can't even separate that opening from the mistakes that came before it, including all the years of my life in Adidam. I realized over time that it was important to be grateful for it all, and not to harbor any resentment or feelings of being screwed over. I'm glad it happened that way, because it helped open me in ways that would not have been likely if my life in Adidam had "succeeded". If it had been a pleasant experience, it would not have pushed me as far as it did. Clearly, I needed to be pushed to certain extremes to get the point. And it's clear that life has many more difficulties for me, and yet also many more loving pleasures as well. In fact, the loving pleasures often lead to the tragic losses by their very nature. Nothing lasts forever, and if it did, that would not be "good" for us anyway. The universe, contrary to popular opinion, is always conspiring to make us happy, even when it deals us a crappy hand to play. It just has a funny way of going about the job.

What I've noticed over the years is that the power of this prayer of gratitude is surprisingly penetrating. When I find myself mired in some kind of trouble, I try to remember this pray, and to actively engage it. When I do, it transforms my relationship to the experience I've been suffering, and that alone is an immense relief. I wouldn't say that it magically changes things, but it does change my own relationship to them sufficiently that I can see ways of working with the problem that I couldn't before, and this leads to a much more favorable outcome. When I don't, when I remain resentful or disappointed, the problem tends to persist and become more and more deeply rooted in my mind and life, and harder to work with. This all changes when the power of gratitude is activated.

So on this Thanksgiving Day, let's all remember to be grateful not just for the loving and wonderful things we enjoy in our lives, but for the difficult, frustrating, troublesome and tragic things we suffer. We can actually transform our relationship to experience by being grateful for what we suffer, and this raises our suffering to a higher dimension, and allows for redemption and atonement, not just from the sins of others, but from our own sins. To give thanks for all of this experience is the beginning of real wisdom.


Elias said...

Nice thoughts. Your post reminded me of Jung's view that getting what we want in life can set us back psychologically. As he put it to one patient, "So, you have suffered a success!"

By the same token, as you suggest, suffering and disappointment are invariably keys to wisdom...which is also Christ's teaching, come to think of it.

Happy Thanksgiving!


Randy said...

LOVE your new tag line - "these are just thoughts"! By the way, have you explained the meaning of the Duck Murti and I just missed it somehow? :-)

Losing M. Mind said...

Very inspiring and well put.