Gratitude as a healer and unifier

Category : General advice, Philosophy 13th April 2020

Inside Yoga 300 (13/4/20)

It is something so simple, but at the same time, it can be so hard to feel when we are struggling: gratitude is a healer of the heart and mind.

It is a meditational practice as well as a straight forward piece of advice which simply says, when we feel down, when we feel angry at this or that, when we cynical about everything or anything, or quite simply when we feel any sort of negativity within, instead of letting it brew and fester, before exploding forth on someone or something around us, try this exercise as a way of disarming our own worst thoughts: summon up the feeling of gratitude. Just say to yourself: “Thank you, I have no complaints”.

It works well any part of the day, but why not start the day like this; on waking up, do not let those worries and negativities take over our day and ruin it. Lying in bed, think of something positive, something we feel grateful for, it can be something our daughter or son did or said, it could be gratitude that we have enough food on the table, or it could be gratitude that at least its sunny. There are so many things we can be grateful for, but at times, our dark cloud of a mind can block our view of these.

This process is all about transforming something negative into a positive. With the coronavirus causing so many changes in what was our normal life we are learning to adapt and accept what is happening, but at times, the current situation can make us feel frustrated and angry.

We can feel gratitude for so many things: gratitude for being alive, especially with a deadly virus out there, we can feel gratitude to our family and friends. We can extend this thought to include the local shopkeeper keeping us supplied during the lock-down, the recycling and rubbish collectors still cleaning up our mess, and of course we can feel gratitude to the health workers on the front line fighting Covid-19.

It is really a simple exercise in healing our heart and mind, but one which we might ignore, believing that something so simple as saying “thank you” cannot help or work. It is a standard Buddhist meditation, and also a form of contemplation found in most spiritual traditions, because humanity realised long ago, we can make it worse for ourselves by allowing bad thoughts to rise or we can push out the negative by focussing on the positive. So why not squash them, nip them in the bud, by transformation of thought and feeling, by saying “thank you, I have no complaints”.

As we stay at home and self-isolate many people now feel more connected to the word we live in, and closer to people, than we did prior to the lockdown, which does sound strange considering the lack of contact we are now having with other people. Before the lockdown we probably took everything for granted, including the people we saw in the streets as we made our way, or the shopkeepers who sold us stuff, and the co-workers we really did not pay attention to, and now it has all changed. Forced apart we want to feel more connected, for example, notice how we engage with our neighbours, as we meet them in our street (of course, observing social distancing of 2m at the same time), we have a proper conversation filled with care and interest in the other’s well-being.

What we are seeing here is something called interdependency or dependent arising as taught in the Buddhist traditions. One of the main causes of a person’s suffering is the feeling of being alone and isolated. The Buddha taught that if we examine and delve into every facet of our lives we will see that we are not alone, and we will see how connected we really are to everything around us. We will see how dependent we are on so many people around us; and equally how they are dependent upon us thereby adding value to our otherwise depleted sense of self-worth. From the food we eat to the home we live in, someone else made or supplied this for us, and equally without our need for food or shelter the suppliers and builders would not be needed. Our society is a fabric woven with such complexity that we sometimes take for granted how connected we all are. (It is also apparent that our global inter-connectedness is the reason why Covid-19 spread all over the world with such speed.)

So when we feel down, this is where gratitude comes into play: by being grateful for what we have, however little or abundant this might be, we can help improve how we feel. It might feel at the time that there is nothing, but there is usually something we can feel gratitude for; focus on this. Force out the negative by not giving it time and space.

Nothing comes from nothing, so equally everything in our lives comes from somewhere and in most cases made and supplied by someone. We are not an isolated island devoid of contact with other islands but we are an archipelago of islands. Alone with others.

It takes a crisis to reveal what is really important, and with the coronavirus pandemic we are seeing this take place. In normal times it is amazing how angry and annoyed we can become over what is in truth trivial, like the length of the shopping queue, but when in crisis we often react differently, seeing what is important and what is not. We must get on, we must savour every moment, and not waste time being miserable and angry with this or that. Just remember to keep saying: “thank you, I have no complaints”.

During this crisis, we are seeing the best of humanity: we are seeing families coming together to support each other, as we are seeing communities working together to support their people, and we are seeing our health workers and the emergency services putting the health and welfare of others first. In a crisis, we realise we are connected, and we need to work together.

Remember to say: “thank you, I have no complaints”.

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