Q: How do we get to the feeling of gratitude and joy regardless of the circumstances we are in?
A: That’s totally the $64,000 question, isn’t it? That’s probably the question that’s been asked for millennia. Will I have anything fresh to add? Well, we’ll see.
There is something in the Buddhist tradition called the “Middle Way,” which speaks of the importance of just being present to your life, present to whatever is unfolding at the time, and of not judging it either good or bad. If something happens, it just happens. Then we decide if it’s a good thing or a bad thing. If we think it’s good, we’re going to try to hang onto it. If we think it’s bad, we’re going to try to keep it away, or to run from it. The thought is that we expend a lot of energy manipulating our circumstances.
I say it’s like driving a speedboat. If we see a dark object way up ahead, we may decide it’s a rock, so veer sharply to the right to avoid it. Or we decide it’s a friend’s boat, so start following it, wanting it to stay in our line of vision, veering us now off-course because of our perceptions. It may not even be a rock OR our friend. We just don’t know until we face it. At that point we can then steer whichever way we need to steer, but not so dramatically or frequently. If we just stick to our path, stay in the Middle, we can change direction at any moment, still keeping our bearings, until we can return to our Path. But we shouldn’t stay on that detour, because that will only serve to bring us further off-course.
Having said all of that, however, what I think you’re talking about is the deep, permanent state of gratitude of joy that’s not only desirable but possible. But it’s not dependent on our outside circumstances. It’s more about a decision made beforehand, a decision to see the world and approach the world in a certain way. It’s not reacting to the perceived positive or negative – it’s a state of being.
The first thing you might do is take some time to explore your behavior, your tendencies, your reactions to events. Do you freak out over things, do you see the glass as half full or half empty? Do you get angry frequently? How often do you smile? Laugh? Do you feel calm or riled up most of the time?
Getting acquainted with how you “drive your speedboat” will give you clues as to how you may want to alter your ‘driving.’ Once you make the automatic more conscious, you can now clean the slate to accommodate a new vision. One that includes gratitude and joy. You can start by keeping a gratitude journal. At the end of the day list five things that happened during the day that you are grateful for. Even just the motion of focusing on the gratitude reinforces it in your life and consciousness. What you focus on, you make stronger.
The second thing you might do is make the decision beforehand to be open to the joy and gratitude your life presents to you. I’m not talking about the Pollyannish “everything is always great and I’m always smiling and happy – see? See? See me smiling? I’m happy, I am, and everything is just great…” kind of attitude that you see from people, usually through their gritted teeth. That’s what I was talking about earlier; the tendency to want to force everything to the positive and then force it to stay there because it’s ‘better.’
I think it’s empowering to be open to your world, 360 degrees – all of it – what you would term good AND bad. Because face it – sometimes life DOES suck. Your mother dies, your child gets sick, your husband loses his job, Hurricane Rick threatens your home. But what I’m proposing is that even in THOSE times there is grace available to us. There are gifts and potentials for great understanding and growth, if we’re open to it. Pain is, well, painful, and of course we don’t like pain, but I love this quote from Kahlil Gibran that reads “Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding… Much of your pain is self-chosen. It is the bitter potion by which the physician within you heals your sick self.”
Gibran is speaking about how we are molded and transformed by our Pain, and how “you would accept the seasons of your heart, even as you have always accepted the seasons that pass over your fields. And you would watch with serenity through the winters of your grief.” Okay, you should maybe just read the whole poem, as I’ve just quoted most of it, but you get the idea.
We may need to change our whole perception of pain and joy and gratitude. It gets exhausting to run FROM or run TO anything. When we stop, and are open to our lives, and choose to SEE the joy, or at least the possibility of joy, we become empowered. We no longer rely on anyone or anything to bring us joy, and we no longer need to be afraid that anyone or anything can make our life painful. WE get to decide how we feel about the events in our lives.
I used to be a really good pain avoider. It scared me, so I’d do most anything to distract myself when I felt it coming on. I’d even zone out emotionally, detach from people so I wouldn’t get hurt. But something magical happened (yes, I believe in magic). As I began practicing the Middle Way, I could feel myself integrating all of my emotions. As I integrated the ‘bad’ ones (fear, pain, anger, jealousy), and stopped running from them or pushing them away, I could feel them lessen in me, and I could feel myself becoming more naturally joyous and grateful – just because.
I think that’s what you’re talking about, isn’t it? Not the forced junk, but the foundation that’s based on love and openness. I think it’s possible, and I think you can start right now, where you are. By accepting yourself, all of yourself, by making the decision beforehand to be open to your Life, and by practicing gratitude by keeping a journal (or just taking the time to think of what you’re grateful for), you will transform your Life.
You will notice others looking at you differently, and treating you differently, because you WILL be different. And that will be a very good thing, because you will be on your way to being totally YOU. And the real “you” is perfect and whole and just waiting for you. And yes, that ‘you’ is joyous and grateful.
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