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Living This Life Fully

thanks for everything

At the Thanksgiving dinner my husband and I attended last week, the hostess shared a story about one of the patients she had recently taken care of in the emergency room of a city hospital. Feeling unwell, an 80-year-old man had walked in all alone seeking medical attention. Once she looked after his needs and released him, our friend generously put him in a taxi to go back to the residents' hotel where he lives in a downtrodden part of town. Sadly, he tried to resist her kind gesture, practically pleading to stay at the hospital.

Another person at the gathering gave a similar account, this time of an 80-year-old woman who was sharing a room with his mother in a hospital in a Latin American country. Determined not to have any more blood taken from her, she refused the attending doctor, removed all the tubes that had been inserted during her stay, and walked out all alone at one in the morning. Where was her family at a time like this? No one knew.

Our friend looked at us sitting around the dining table--family and friends alike--and expressed gratitude for our being part of her life and for seeing her through a hugely challenging year. Unlike the two elderly patients, she has people who are there for her in good times and in bad.

As the Buddha said to his cousin Ananda, "This is the entire holy life, that is, good friendship, good companionship, good comradeship."

Gratitude is essential to living this life fully, to living the holy life: gratitude for the caring presence of others, gratitude for the means not only to survive but to thrive and to share our resources with others. Yet, surprisingly, thankfulness is not listed as one of the qualities or factors that lead to awakening. But that doesn't mean it's not part of the Dharma path. Deep gratitude is the wholesome motivation that underlies the manifestation of those qualities.

photo by Arlene Bernstein

Take virtuous conduct (sila) and generosity (dana). Munindra believed that, in return for all that we receive--from Mother Earth, from our parents, from our teachers, and from so many others--we should be an asset to society and a blessing to the world by doing good karma [action, deed]. Feeling a sense of indebtedness and social responsibility, he said, "Through our good karma--not being harmful in any way to society--we repay that debt." Receiving so much, in turn, we want to give.

Other examples include loving-kindness (metta) and compassion (karuna). When we come from a place of gratitude, we naturally respond with these heart qualities to others. We embrace them and try to ease their suffering.

Yet another quality is mindfulness (sati). When we eat mindfully, it is with appreciation to all the creatures and forces of nature and all the individuals that made it possible to have the food with which to nourish ourselves.

Grateful for our life, for the Dharma, for the glorious planet we live on, for the people we know and love, we are moved to do right by them, to love them, to care for the Earth, and to practice wholeheartedly.

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