By Kuya Minogue, resident teacher at Sakura-ji, Creston’s zendo
In my last column, I asked readers to notice and name something or someone they love, and then express gratitude to the people and conditions that helped bring forth what they had named. I love our home in Creston. I’m grateful to the previous owner for how she cared for the house. I’m grateful to the real estate agent who helped us buy it. I’m grateful to our employers who helped us pay for it. And I’m grateful to the lawyers who helped us process the sale. And that is just the beginning. This kind of gratitude is a communal act. (I already feel warmer towards real estate agents and lawyers.)
In this column, I want to talk about gratitude as a revolutionary act. The personal benefits of gratitude have long been touted by neuroscientists, psychologists, and self-help groups. Making a daily gratitude list is an established practice of myself and many of my friends, because evoking and expressing gratitude cheers us up. That is, it activates the various happiness centres in the brain and gives us a strong sense that we are supported in a community of care. How great is that?
This heat wave has activated my concerns for the future. If those concerns feel overwhelming, I can turn to gratitude for sustenance at the snap of a finger. Appreciation of what I love switches me into my gratitude channel. Fortunately, because gratitude is not dependent on external circumstances, things don’t have to be going my way for me to feel grateful.
As Joanna Macy says, “Gratitude is a stance of life, and it comes like the breath. It is a primal movement of all spiritual traditions and all earth wisdom traditions. It’s that primal, ‘Wow! I’m alive.’ Of course, I’d prefer a different government, (one that doesn’t clear-cut old growth), and a different kind of political economy.” And I, Kuya, would prefer not to be physically limited by arthritis. But we are all on this rollercoaster called life and it’s both delicious and terrifying. The practice of gratitude always gives me a lift.
Joanna Macy points out that one of the cruelest aspects of consumer society is that it breeds profound dissatisfaction. She says that the whole corporate world is infecting us with a virus named “need to acquire”. And so we put ourselves into debt and bondage to the junk we have acquired and don’t need. Fast food corporations invent foods, and I use the term “foods” loosely, and then convince teenagers that they desperately need to eat it, even though they had been perfectly fine without it. They even convinced my generation that it was ‘cool’ to inhale noxious smoke. Clearly, the whole purpose of marketing is to convince me that happiness can be found at a cash register.
By so skillfully creating feelings of dissatisfaction and inadequacy, corporations of the industrial growth economy work to rob me of my birthright to be happy about, and grateful for, all that I love about the life I am living right now. I thoroughly enjoy caring for my family, home, and garden. I love studying and writing about active hope. So even while facing these dire times, I can enjoy my life. I am so grateful to all the helpers and teachers along the way who have helped me to realize contentment with things-as-it-is.
Each time I remember to experience and express gratitude and thankfulness I am rebelling against the brainwashing of the industrial growth society. Not only that, I have immediate access to gratitude’s benefits: the first one being a sense of satisfaction and contentment. Whew! My brain can relax — and so can my pocketbook. Gratitude underlies a quiet revolution.
Please continue the practice of noticing what you love and then naming the network that has helped bring forth what you have named. I also invite you to join me in an additional practice for the next two weeks. Make an effort to notice each time an urge to buy a non-biodegradable object arises, and ask yourself, “Do I really need that? Will it bring true happiness?”
This column is a local adaptation of a talk by Joanna Macy.