As Autumn is swiftly approaching and we experience the impermanence of those lovely summer days, we can be reminded of and reflect on the limited time we have in our own life to manifest what we came here to do.
Probing pole in hand, shadowing grass around him, sometimes he wraps a ball of silk in iron, sometimes he wraps a special stone with silk. To determine the soft by means of the hard is of course right; what about the matter of being weak when meeting strength?
Attendant Huo asked Deshan, “Where have all the sages since antiquity gone?” Deshan said, “What? How’s that?” Huo said, “The order was for a ‘flying dragon’ horse but a ‘lame tortoise’ shows up.” Deshan let it rest. The next day when Deshan came out of the bath, Huo passed him some tea. Deshan patted Huo on the back. Huo said, “This old fellow has finally gotten a glimpse.” Again Deshan let the matter rest
How do you experience gratitude? Gratefulness, as David Steindl-Rast writes, happens when the heart flows over and must be expressed. Gratefulness arises like the surf or a fresh breath, natural and in accord—a basic, personal awareness that something good has happened. When we look at our lives for these moments, we find them filled with gifts: a sudden smile; caring and being cared for; meeting a teacher of the Dharma; finding our way through the twisted tangles of our greed, anger and ignorance; and, being in the company of good friends and guides.
It is ironic that in countries where food is abundant, disharmony with food and eating is most common. Americans appear to have a particularly unbalanced and often negative relationship with food. In the 1990s, a research team led by an American psychologist and a French sociologist teamed up to do a study of cross-cultural attitudes toward food. They surveyed people in the United States, France, Flemish Belgium, and Japan. They found that Americans associated food with health the most and pleasure the least. For example, when Americans were asked what comes to mind when they hear the words “chocolate cake,” they were more likely to say “guilt,” while the French said “celebration.” The words “heavy cream” elicited “unhealthy” from Americans and “whipped” from the French. The researchers found that Americans worry more about food and derive less pleasure than people in any other nation they surveyed.
Thanks for the tree between me & a sniper’s bullet. I don’t know what made the grass sway seconds before the Viet Cong raised his soundless rifle. Some voice always followed, telling me which foot to put down first.
These two people are hard to find in the world. Which two? The one who is first to do a kindness, and the one who is grateful and thankful for a kindness done.”
In saying that kind and grateful people are rare, the Buddha isn’t simply stating a harsh truth about the human race. He’s advising you to treasure these people when you find them, and—more importantly—showing how you can become a rare person yourself.
Kindness and gratitude are virtues you can cultivate, but they have to be cultivated together. Each needs the other to be genuine —a point that becomes obvious when you think about the three things most likely to make gratitude heartfelt:
I walked against the stream in this river all of my life because I used to believe I did not deserve anything unless I suffered first. It was disheartening and often excruciating yet I always told myself Don’t be a wuss. Try a little harder and just a little longer. I did not acknowledge the pain and suffering for so many years because that would have meant admitting defeat.
One day, I found myself paralyzed in the stream. I could no longer move. Utterly exhausted, I had no strength or will left to step forward.
Just let go, said the voice. Trust me, the river said.
Learning how to listen to, recognize and act upon my longing has pulled the strings of my discernment. This is how I have made decisions in my life about my life and my Zen practice. But I don’t always know this. And I have had to be patient. It almost feels like I am being discerned.