It’s difficult to be grateful with what we have.
We have been educated to get ahead. To grow, to look for the next thing. We have been educated to be discontent with the current state of things. Also, what we have seems to be boring. There seems to be no novelty.
We feel life should be more exciting.
When was the last time we said, “Wow, I am breathing this air and I am so grateful for it. Wow, look at this floor!!!! I have a floor to walk on!!!! I have roof and four walls that keep me warm! I have a car that I can drive!”
We tend to look for what is missing. We tend to notice how we need to get a newer car because it is lacking in many ways, or a newer something in our home. We tend to notice what is not working and what needs upgrading.
I feel it is important to notice these things. It is important to see the areas of our lives that we need to grow in and fix the things that need fixing.
I feel what makes our lives miserable though, is that it lacks a balanced view of also seeing what we have. When we actually count the things in our lives, we notice that we have a lot more than what is missing or what is lacking or what needs to be fixed. But the current problems in our lives seem dire and urgent. What we already have, we already have and thus we don’t need to worry about them. But the things that we are missing, if we don’t get them soon, we feel we are going to lose the current quality of life we are having. It’s going to ruin us. This urgency really amplifies this misery where it takes a hold of our lives.
But what if we notice that we are alive. That we get to listen to music. That if we wanted to, we could take a moment and turn on music and listen to it while we work. What if we enjoyed the clothes that we had, that we actually have clothes that we can wear. To remember that we could not have these clothes or have worse clothes because at some point we did. To notice that we have so much, and that if we didn’t have all that we did, we would have the kind of life we are having.
If we were missing just some of the things we were having, what would life be like? We take the fundamentals for granted, but what would life be like if we were missing the things we take for granted? Hearing? Sight? Smell? Taste? Our senses?
I am not saying that we should just be satisfied with just what we have. But I do believe we should be deeply grateful for what we do have.
I feel it colors things quite differently.
I used to hate doing dishes or any kind of cleaning. I realized that the reason I feel this way is because I feel I have more important things to do. Then I realized the reason I feel this way is because if felt so scattered and it felt painful to bring my mind to focus to be able to do a mundane repetitive task. I realized it is hard for my mind to focus on something that is not stimulating.
I realized that I was grateful for the opportunity to vacuum and to do dishes and to do other menial tasks because it allowed me to train my mind to be not so scattered. It literally felt like I was weight training with my mind.
Then I realized that when I got into a groove with cleaning, such as vacuuming (I love vacuuming) or loading the dishwasher, etc, I don’t want to switch. So, I would just waste time doing the same task even though I was done and really should be moving on. Then I realized that I wanted someone else to do it because it felt like I had done more than my share. Then I realized that what was really going on was that I didn’t want the pain of setting up the new task. I realized the most painful part of a job was starting it since starting a new task involves more energy. Once the task is started, you can just continue the groove with minimal energy. It’s pleasant. I realized that I was avoiding this initial expenditure of effort. There was also the slight pain of having to figure out the specifics of the uncertainty that comes in whenever you start a new task. I realized that this resistance was especially big when it came to a task that I was not as familiar with.
I realized this was causing me to be inflexible and waste more time doing the inevitable. Most importantly, this prevented me from being a good learner, someone who could adapt to the unknown. I realized that being adaptive with the unknown was important to me and that it excited me to learn how to switch sooner than later when I was done with the previous task or it was time to switch for one reason or another. I was grateful for the opportunity to having to do multiple things.
These realizations came because I decided to be grateful but at the same time allowed my awareness to explore what prevented me from being grateful. When I was waiting tables during my training days with Master Chin, I did a lot of menial labor at a restaurant. The wait staff had to pick up all kinds of slack. We weren’t just waiting, but busing and loading and unloading the dishes, the groceries, and cleaning, mopping the whole restaurant.
At first I was supposed to be paid but then I found that I couldn’t be paid because of visa issues (I didn’t have my green card or my work visa). I was told that I could be paid under the table, but that didn’t feel good so I decided to work for free since I needed to do something and my friend who was the restaurant owner needed the help.
At first I was grateful that I was working close to Master Chin’s place, and I was grateful that I could help my friend, and I was grateful that I could have a similar experience as Master Chin’s restaurant days.
This simple experience later grew to me being grateful that I could relate to Master Chin better when he talked about his days when he owned a restaurant and when he was catering. It also allowed me to realize that I really liked waiting on people. This also helped me realize that I enjoying work and appreciating work because you make more money are two different things. Later when I got a job as an engineer, to my surprise I realized that I would much rather work as a waiter if it hadn’t been for the pay I needed to support my family.
Since my orientation was to be grateful for what I had (this was my daily spiritual practice, to notice what I am grateful for in each moment), I was also aware of the things I resisted, such as menial labor. I loved talking to the clients, but I didn’t like doing some of the menial labor as much. What helped was that I started all menial labor as an extension of my Tai-Chi practice since this was what Master Chin talked about, practicing Tai-Chi while doing any kind of labor. He would even show me how to beat an egg, how to mop, how to chop with a knife… these are some fond memories I have with my master.
Anyway, when I would engage in my practice, since I engaged it with the practice of awareness and a practice of gratitude, I would notice where I was resisting, and I would be grateful for noticing where I was resisting. Resistance is tension or where you are feeling pain. So, when most people would lament about feeling tension or pain, I would be grateful that I would be shown where my pain and tension is so I could work on learning how to let go of these.
This, to this day remains as a bedrock of my practice. It’s so fundamental that I often don’t notice I am doing it, but I am grateful for any practice that shows where my resistance to life is and grateful for my opportunity to work through it so that I can let go of my point of resistance in that particular area of my life. I find every time I get to work through these points I find out something fundamental about my nature that I didn’t know before, and when I grow beyond my point of resistance, I gain mastery over that part of my life.
I think for me, that is the most exciting part. When awareness does it’s work and works through it until it has a new understanding and what was once a problem is no longer a problem, I feel so capable in that area of my life and there is a real sense of mastery.
After experiencing this enough times, I had a realization for myself that whenever I resist life, I was resisting it because I didn’t have the skills to handle that particular manifestation of life. Then I realized that life presents me with these challenges when I need a new set of skills to get to the next stage in my life. Another way of saying it is, when I have grown and I have new responsibilities, I will be a novice in that area of my life and I have to learn my new responsibilities. And like with anything new, there is always some having to work thing out, which translates to tension that is caused from awkwardness. When the student is ready, the teacher will appear. This helped me realize that if I am excited about my challenges, then I can learn the skills I need to have to handle my new responsibilities better. Besides, I realized that this is a pain that will never go away as long as I am growing, and if I am not growing, then I will experience the pain of atrophy, of my life diminishing and getting more and more limited and confined. I realized that I’d rather of have the pain of growth than atrophy.
The good news is that the more we practice growing, the easier it gets to relax and let go of your resistance. We get better and better at graceful learning.
Gratitude seems to be the emotional equivalent of just relaxing through with your body until your body figures it out. Just like relaxing through it, when we are in gratitude, it seem like our heart figures out what we should be grateful for.