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Life is suffering...
Let's have even more gratitude
Another morning’s hour so ordinary, yet new
This day that’s never been before
Never seen, tasted, nor used
Was it minted in the sky or rose
as roiling magma from earth’s core?
The crows caw in the pine
in boisterous consensus
“The day’s new, never seen this one before!”
I hesitate, not crossing the threshold
as if pausing time, holding steady,
not letting it hew away
my claims to its vaporous promise.
For now I simply stand
in hopeful command of the hour,
Holding grief’s volcano that
turns, rumbles in me, carving
it’s trails, trials and travails
The day’s new relief, a percolation
that rises away, relieving me
leaving me wading in warm sulfur pools
of temporary respite.
A sigh for this moment
that frees me from grief’s
scalding touch for what I lost.
This little poem came to me a few mornings ago, as I woke up. The previous night I had talked to my daughter for a long while. She’s graduating college soon and loves to wrangle many of life’s big questions - like I remember doing at that age. Given the horrible state of the economy she’s struggling in her job search. I was giving her a pep-talk about how wonderful life is, how lucky we are, the love we have, so gratitude, yada-yada-yada... I don’t think that helped her feel better at all. Right now, especially at her age and stage, life doesn’t feel all that wonderful. Besides, I too remember leaving college full of worry and insecurity about what was next; oh and thinking my parents just didn’t get it :-).
So it made me wonder why we mindlessly talk about how beautiful life is, especially, to those who’re struggling? And indeed there’s so much suffering in the world. As the great Buddha formulated in his first noble truth, everyone suffers and suffering is inherent in life. It then struck me that pretending that the world or the universe is benevolent or that life is beautiful, is to cultivate a falsehood, perhaps in the misplaced hope that it will make us feel better.
Fact is, the universe is neither benevolent, nor malevolent. It just is. And it doesn’t really care about anyone! There’s no one out there looking out for us. Bad things happen to good people, innocent victims abound, as does random good luck. And no, there’s no grand purpose behind any of it. Of course, there’s love, generosity, fruits we reap from our toil, innate talents and good fortune. And along with all of that — a lot of suffering. We arrive wailing and (often) leave struggling.
So what are we to do in between? Not have gratitude or hope, and walk about in despondence? Quite the reverse!
It occurred to me, rather counterintuitively, that a greater gratitude should come from remembering that so much suffering is the norm. And because of that, each day that we’re healthy, happy, prosperous and in/with love is a day to be treasured as a rarity, to be thankful for. No this isn’t some psychological gimmick that I’m positing here; although it works that way too. What I’m saying is that precisely because so much of the norm, for so many, is suffering, we should find gratitude in even our smallest joys.
Happiness will never come to those who fail to appreciate what they already have.
I find it dramatically easier to absorb this truth rather than a disingenuous formulation that the universe is good. So when struck by good fortune, I still romantically declare: life is beautiful…right now! But adding on that latter qualification makes the gratitude feel more genuine, in sharp relief to the rarity and impermanence of it all.
Ironically, this way of thinking also unveils a path to being a little less attached to what we love. Attachment exacerbates our suffering (yes, Buddha again). But it’s not to be confused with love. Loving without the need to own, keep or possess and with a keen awareness that we’ll eventually have to let go of this beautiful thing, is indeed the final frontier.
Finding gratitude in the years I had with my parents is a little more attainable when I remember those years were far from guaranteed. It’s a subtle difference. As for overcoming my attachment to conquer my grief, I fail at a lot of that. But I strive.
Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened.
—Winnie the Pooh
Plus, there’s always hope for tomorrow - for getting better at this; and alleviating our suffering from what ails, wounds or keeps us enchained - regardless of whether the universe is conspiring or shrugging with indifference.
What do you think?