I’m in quarantine! Nothing at all related to Covid-19. I underwent foot surgery this past week for repair of a peroneal tendon which, medical literature says, usually develops for people who are extremely active athletes. Or, as my doctor says, who are undergoing physical degeneration, the euphemism for aging. Guess which category I fit in! Tendons are like taffy holding muscle to bone. My tendon just wore down probably from indiscreet jogging many years ago and a walking program in later years. And, of course, age! The taffy wore thin and began tearing so much so that a sizable hole needed a bit of needlework. The upshot of this is that for practical reasons, I’ve had to relocate my basement workspace to my second floor bedroom in this old farmhouse of many stairs! The doctor made it clear, absolutely no weight on this foot for at least four weeks. In the quiet of my self-imposed isolation, I am confronted with the challenge of being grateful.
Jack Kornfield is a well-known psychologist, American practitioner and teacher of Buddism who founded the Insight Meditation Center in Massachusetts. Along with just about every Buddhist I have ever read, especially the Dali Lama, Kornfield says, “Gratitude is to be cultivated as a habit, or attitude of mind, not dependent on conditions.” In other words, one is to BE gratitude, to live it from within your core being. Don’t just be grateful when handed a gift or a favor. Live gratitude. It will make you, Kornfield adds, a person of integrity. To emphasize the beauty of living as gratitude, Saint Ignatius Loyola instructed his followers in what he called, “an attitude of gratitude.” For him, gratitude was a manifestation of the awareness that we are redeemed. How could we be anything but joyful and grateful for this? Kornfield also said, “Don’t take life so seriously, or get so wrapped up in your everyday drama, that you forget to see the beauty around you.” He inferred later that the more you see of spirituality in beauty, the more grateful you will become.
This year we have so much to be grateful for despite the overwhelming pain and struggle of the pandemic. Situations and people we would not ordinarily think of thanking God for have emerged as heroes in need of our gratitude. Health care professionals, scientists, service employees, retailers, single parents, businesses struggling to stay open for us. How about families making valiant efforts to secure safety for their elderly, and for their example of keeping watch where the granite of separation prevents them from touch or an embrace. What about the many people doing extraordinary kindnesses at their own expense to help others. Think of landlords who are forgiving the monthly rent for as long as possible, business owners giving their salaries to their employees. Thousands of such kindnesses are happening daily.
Kornfield points out that Buddhism encourages the believer to request sorrows and challenges so the heart can be remade, kneaded, mellowed into deeper humanness. In some Buddhist temples there are prayers carved into walls asking for pain so as to be made humble and open for others.
During this Season of Thanksgiving, I want to acknowledge you, my faithful readers and anonymous angels and thank you for your notes and comments and simple connectedness. I pray for you in my gratitude. I know some of you and your intentions are dear to me. Let us live our gratitude by giving to others when we rise from our prayer.
Make a list of that for which you are most grateful. Then ask yourself: How will I express my gratitude?
The salient reason for Thanksgiving is to express gratitude for our country. The pilgrims saw great promise in the land, the expansive sky, the majestic mountains. Centuries later, we are still excavating that promise, finding treasures waiting for our hands to bring forth. What small things can I do to secure the continued search for peace and prosperity for all in this land of promise?