“You thank God for the good things that come to you, but you don’t thank him for the things that seem to you bad; that is where you go wrong.” --Ramana Marharshi
This was my Facebook status for Thanksgiving Day, because that’s one of the things that has been on my mind lately, kind of flopping around in there like a fish,
along with this other flopping fish-- something Soygal Rinpoche said at a lecture I attended. He said that that after Tibetan monks were held captive and tortured by the Chinese, the monks said they were grateful to their captors, because they provided the suffering that accelerated their journeys to enlightenment.
I think both of the quote and the example are about the importance of working to make our experiences meaningful, even if things don’t happen the way they were supposed to, or the way we wanted them to happen.
So here’s a randomly ordered list of just a few things I’m grateful for—randomly ordered, that is, except for the fact that every other item is something that I have to “work” to be grateful for—maybe, for clarity, I’ll go with “good” and “bad.”
1) (GOOD) I am grateful for my job and my new, part time work hours! Starting in the new year sometime, I will work from 10-3 each day, instead of 8:30-5. I’m hoping this will be very good for my morale and my writing productivity. I’m grateful to still have a job that offers a sense of security, and benefits.
2) (BAD) I am grateful for genteel poverty. This helps me feel greater compassion for everyone who lives close to the edge everyday, and makes me want to reach out into the world and help, where and when I can. It makes me aware of the other kinds of support I have from family and friends, and it keeps us working to find success in our fields, when it might otherwise be easy to give up.
3) (GOOD) I am thankful for my family. My sister and brother-in-law open their home to my brother and Paul and myself every Sunday night, and their efforts have kept my siblings and their kids part of our lives, when life makes it so easy to let time pass and grow apart. And now my mom is visiting for two months, and I am thankful for that.
4) (BAD) I’m thankful for my cancer. I think this is a little loaded, and I can’t be thanks for anyone else's cancer, for radiation and chemo and suffering in general—but I have to be grateful to MY cancer. It taught me about myself, made me more open, strengthened my relationships with family and friends and was the conduit to other relationships. Because of cancer, I gained tools and knowledge that I think will help me for the rest of my life.
5) (GOOD) I’m grateful for Paul. Ten years into our marriage, he can still surprise me, delight me, infuriates me, and of course, make me laugh.
6) (BAD) I’m thankful for extra weight. I’ve lived my life lucky in this arena—but I think a day job at a desk and a night job at a desk have conspire with my changing metabolism, and now I have an extra ten pounds that feel extraneous—and I gotta say, the gratitude’s not exactly there yet. Perhaps I should be grateful because they helped force my decisions when I was cleaning out my closets…when things don’t fit, it is easier to let them go. Perhaps I can claim more compassion for others who have this struggle—although, in truth, I have lived my life with many people who have struggled with weight in different ways, and I have never doubted it is a difficult task. It could be that this outward manifestation of my new metabolism will encourage me, in the coming months and years, to work with the ideas of aging, to work more with the pain and rewards of self-discipline, with want versus need and struggle versus acceptance. Time will tell.
And I wonder if that is part of things too—I’m grateful because I have “reasons” to be grateful. Maybe part of it is learning to being grateful without any reasons—either through faith that reasons are forthcoming…or maybe not even that. Maybe it’s just exercising our capacity to embrace whatever experience comes to us. Maybe, like the monks say, the things we struggle with most provide us with a path to enlightenment.