Gratitude is the only way to respond to Life

You don’t see Life’s beauty and magic in everyday situations because you are not present. If you are in the now, the only way you can respond is by overflowing with gratitude for this Life and this experience!
On this morning’s walk, my wife pointed out how beautifully the sun lit up the leaves of a tree. We walk along that route almost daily. I must have seen that tree several hundred times. Even so, this morning it looked exceptionally beautiful and full of Life. Was there anything different about the tree or the sunlight this morning? Or was it that I was looking at it differently?
I have learned that gratitude arises in you and overflows when you pause to feel Life’s energy in and around you. It is this sense of gratitude that makes you realize that everything about your Life is beautiful, everything is the way it should be – irrespective of context or time. When the Life energy in you is charged with an overwhelming sense of thanksgiving,  you are filled with joy and peace.
Yet, you don’t always feel this way because you are forever rushing through Life. Even a morning walk is a chore. You push yourself through it. You are constantly thinking of all the tasks and schedules that await you later in the day. Or you are lost in worry and anxiety over problems that you don’t seem to have the solutions for. Instead of enjoying, with gratitude, whatever is, you pine for what isn’t. That’s why, pretty much like the way I had been missing that tree and its well-lit leaves, you miss Life – and living!
On the same walk this morning I noticed an old man, with bent knees making a valiant effort to walk. He carried a bottle of water in one hand and tried to make slow progress with each step that he managed to take. We walked briskly past him, finishing more than two laps around the block, while he struggled to complete even half of one. That’s when I realized how much I too tend to take Life for granted. I realized that my briskness comes from a pair for legs and knees that are still strong. It dawned on me that it may not be too long before I may struggle to walk just a few steps like my senior fellow-walker.
Because you take Life for granted, it has come to mean a set of things that you don’t have or keep aspiring or searching for. Which is why you never feel grateful for what you have! Life’s far more meaningful when you appreciate the value of what you have and stop complaining about what you don’t have.
I am reminded of Baal Shem Tov (1698~1760), the Jewish mystical Rabbi and founder of Hasidism (a spiritual branch of Judaism), who implored his followers to drop all rituals, all methods and all practices and simply trust Life. He used to say: “Trust Life, trust God, and whatsoever has been given to you, enjoy it! Enjoy it with such deep gratitude that every small thing matters and becomes holy, becomes sacred, becomes God.” If you think about Life deeply you don’t have any other way to look at Life than with gratitude. This whole Life is a gift. The experiences that you have been through and are going through are unique gifts – that teach you and awaken you – too. When you realize this you will wonder why did you ever complain about Life, why did you have to struggle and endure Life – instead of celebrating it?
Life is happening in every moment. If you are not present you will miss the most spectacular show in, and of, your “entire lifetime”! You may define some moments of your Life as good and great and several others as plain drudgery. That’s perhaps because you don’t see the blessing in each moment. If you pause to look, every leaf looks beautiful in the sunlight, every cloud has a silver lining and everything around you, in you, is a miracle! When you do awaken to Life’s magic and beauty, you will know only one way to respond – which is, with gratitude!

Simply blow your whistle if you feel you must

To live a Life of meaning, you must first understand the meaning of Life. And the truth is, in reality, Life has no meaning. Think about it – what kind of a meaning does Life offer when you are born, without choice, empty-handed and you have to die, again empty-handed; even all the experiences that you have during a lifetime and the learnings, they would seem futile because no one knows if there is an afterlife and if you will even remember any of these in that Life!!! So, the whole Life experience is meaningless at one level. But there’s every opportunity to create your own meaning in Life. To do that, though, you must participate in and with Life.

Most people find their lives listless, meaningless, because they are passive. They are lost in earning-a-living, as opposed to living. Earning-a-living is but one aspect of Life. But if you get obsessed with that one single aspect then you lose yourself to its trappings – worry, anxiety, fear, insecurity, sorrow, grief, anger, jealousy, hatred! Then you are not living. You are merely existing.

To participate in Life, be with it in each moment! Whatever Life throws at you, be with it. Don’t be lost in your idea of Life. You will never find it. Because Life conforms to no (one’s) fixed idea. When you say and expect that Life has to be this way only – you have surely consigned your lifetime to misery and suffering. Because Life’s not going to oblige. Instead be open to receiving anything in Life, from Life, in totality, fully. Let your energy flow into Life’s every moment. Something makes you exult, rejoice over it. Something makes you sad, grieve over it. Whatever makes you offer yourself fully to Life, as it is happening to you in a given moment, do it. Don’t stick to one idea of Life, else you will get stuck in a rut!  

There’s this beautiful story of the Hassidic Master Baal Shem. It was a holiday and several of the Master’s faithful followers had gathered for a communion. 

A man had come with his retarded son. He was a little worried about the boy. He was worried that the boy may do something embarrassing. So he was keeping an eye on the boy. When the prayers were said, the boy asked his father, “I have got a whistle – can I play on it?”

The father said, “Absolutely not – where is your whistle?” Because the father was afraid that the boy may not even listen to his “no”. The boy pointed to his trouser pocket, that revealed the bulge of the whistle and the father kept his hand on the son’s pocket to ensure that the boy does not get adventurous.

Soon, Baal Shem led the congregation to ecstatic prayer. Then there was dancing, and the father forgot about his son’s whistle – taking his hand off his son’s trouser pocket – and he also started dancing. Hassids in prayer are dancers, joyous people – the very idea of Judaism is to let go, to be free, to dance as if there’s no tomorrow. When everybody was praying to God and dancing, suddenly the boy could not resist it any more. He pulled out his whistle and blew on it. Everybody was shocked. And the father was embarrassed. But Baal Shem came up to the boy, hugged him and said: “Our prayers are heard. Without this whistle, all was futile – because this was the only spontaneous thing here. All else was ritual.”

There’s a huge learning here for each one of us. Are you living spontaneously like that boy? Or are you trapped in your own rituals – even if you are subconsciously? Do you feel like doing something else – like dancing or singing or blowing a whistle – but restrain yourself because you think you have ‘outgrown’ that stage or think it to be ‘inappropriate’ to do such a thing? Why not abandon all fixed notions and ideas you have of Life and stop searching for meaning in Life? Instead simply let go and create your own meaning of Life! And if that requires you to blow your whistle, whenever you feel like it, you possibly simply MUST!