"There is a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in."
- Leonard Cohen
As I sit like Henry the 8th in the fast food outlet salted up with nachos and fizziness, beyond the perspexed safe-haven of my takeaway delight, I can’t help but observe the homeless man sprawled across the road and the sinking feeling inside my bloated belly. The man lays horizontal clutching a cup of coffee in the icy temperatures. I notice a sense of frailty inside myself, yet I am moved by his resilience. Devastatingly, homelessness is becoming a more prominent fixture of Manchester life.
As I load my fork with an abundance of flavor, milliseconds from this empathic acknowledgment, I immediately become aware that my mind has migrated to less bountiful harvests. Thoughts of my own greed and a lack of appreciation consume my next few mouthfuls. I ask myself, perhaps arrogantly sitting behind the broader human condition are our own shortcomings and lack of gratitude? Not only for the abundance of food on our table but our personal relationship with gratitude. When I ponder appreciation and gratitude I notice the different forms it can manifest Its easy to find gratitude for the good things in your life but can you see it for the bad and the ugly as well?
Numerous neuroscientific studies point toward the negativity bias of our own brains, the pleasure-seeking treadmill of life that encapsulates our hamster like existence suggests it is a commonplace to yearn for more rather than harvest what we have. There it is a paradox of our age. Inequality is of not only a macro socio-economic scale but a micro bias towards our own thought processes and view of reality.
With this inequality of how much attention we give our negative thoughts, there is an equal if not greater bias towards how much gratitude we consequently show ourselves. Gratitude is natural to consider when confronted with so much absurdity, i.e. the homeless person in the streets; however, it is within the subtleties of life that gratitude becomes mostly ignored.
Thankfully, like a Tardis momentarily elevating us into the tender echelons of wisdom I remain anchored via mindfulness and compassion. As a mindful practitioner, I can experience occasional inner contentment due to meditative states and experience smatterings of unconditional love and compassion for the universe – albeit a minimal side dish that runs alongside a big fat juicy steak of mass consumption and sense gratification. That said, the beautiful aspects of life often get their wings clipped for the darker side of longing, not have and not getting what we want. Evolution of consciousness is not a fluffy ride.
Thoughts, fears, my bad diet, alcohol and the bid to receive cortisol rushes from intimate relationships and sexual gratification are amongst a few curve balls that stand in the way of my own inner peace. However, when I genuinely stare down the barrel of the gun of pain and torture … a shimmer of hope in the form of gratitude remains.
Asking myself the question, What is it that I really want? Only highlights what I already have. Can what I already have been the missing link? Can you be content in the moment without having your way right now? Playing around with these abstracts points towards a logical connection between pain and acceptance. Building the practice of gratitude means you hone in on positivity, on what you have rather than what you do not have. This inner strength acts as a form of self-compassion toward your own narrative.
In your life resisting what is suggests you remain in conflict and turmoil. Therefore, to highlight what you have and are grateful for, tips the balance of power in your favor. Whatever you genuinely have that’s great, opulent and puts you in a good mood becomes your practice.
The good, the bad and the ugly of life are all aspects of gratitude. To deny one over the other suggests your worldview remains relatively limited. We all have our stringent likes, dislikes, and neutralities towards the reality we experience. These form our feeling tones and thoughts. Emotions quickly follow. It’s easy to have a blinded veil of gratitude for the things that we already have… the water we drink, the food we eat the fact we have any choice at all. The endless realms of gratitude can extend a plethora of algorithms. The house over our heads, the friends and loved ones that care, the car that takes us to work that then pays the bills that keep us afloat.
Yet, how often do these seemingly mundane eventualities request our attention? Usually, the ugly side of life takes center stage.
Therefore we must nurture gratitude towards the good, the bad and the ugly of life. Each aspect adding balance and harmony to our being; teaching, torturing and touching the chasms and schisms of our journey.
Gratitude for the good reinforces our own sense of fortune; appreciation for the bad teaches us humility. The nasty side of life shows us what we lack, what we hope, and where we need to grow. Pain can actually encompass the right node of spiritual growth, even more so than what we already have. Through this, we can manifest compassion to others who undoubtedly experience their own good, the bad and the ugly.
Joey Weber is a university lecturer who is doing a PhD in equanimity. He has spent a lifetime walking the tightrope between mindfulness and mindlessness. He is a trained mindfulness teacher, and was brought up in a Tibetan Buddhist monastery! Read more of his writing on his blog.
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