If you’ve been following our blog you must have realized that we are hippies.
Personally, I feel like I never had a choice.
My journey could have placed me nowhere else, I have become this way directly from the circumstances I have existed in.
Of course, I get ridiculed for having more liberal ideas, or having dreads, or my “spiritual” beliefs.
But you see, as is written in the Upanishads;
“Those who think they know the Brahma (Hindu god of creation) know it not,
and have yet to be instructed further..
Those who know that they do not understand, than they truly understand.
For the Brahmin is unknown to those who know it,
and known to those who know it not.”
So my reconciliation comes with acceptance.
Acceptance of my past, acceptance of my ego, acceptance of extinct ill desires, and acceptance that I know that I do not know.
This trail of thought led me to one destination:
Why is gratefulness such a powerful tool?
First, consider how difficult it can be to experience gratefulness.
You’ve come home from a long day at work and the first thing you walk in to is the smell of the pile of poop your dog kindly left you.
You come home after a full workweek and the children are driving you crazy. They won’t listen, they won’t help you, and for some reason they are the ones in a bad mood.
You wake up by the sound of an alarm clock and begin thinking; “Jesus, do I really need this job? Maybe if I call in they’ll just fire me and I won’t have to go back to that hellhole ever again. Then again, if previous jobs are any indication of what could come after this one, perhaps I should just commit suicide.”
My life is pointless, I have no job, I sit around all day just being a useless shell of who I was, and moreover a hollow version of who I would like to Become.
We’ve all thought at least one of these things, or at least something very similar.
It’s not always easy to be grateful, so are we left to stew in our negativity forever?
Of course not…
Years ago, I read Civilization and its Discontents by Sigmund Freud. In this book, he makes an argument I found preposterous when I first read it. It took me a while to really feel and comprehend what he had to say.
The idea is basically that life is too hard for us.
My initial thought was, “That’s not reassuring, we should be able to create a life for ourselves which is not too difficult.”
My understanding of it now is that life absolutely is too hard for us at times.
Simply by virtue of existing as living beings means that we are vulnerable to scrutiny, embarrassment, humility, jealousy, anger, disgust, and a myriad of other negative emotions.
We experience death, disease, famine, and other atrocities
of understanding and acceptance.
Others continue to live defending their egos,
leading to the continuation of inner-conflict
Solving all of our difficulties with force is not the point. That will send you further down the path of confusion and arrogance.
What I needed was to suspend my judgment of all things in order to “re-identify” what I considered bad or good, noble or cowardly, right or wrong.
This came to me after deeper research on the famous Rene Descartes quote;
“I think, therefore I am.”
Descartes was attempting to find the fundamental truth.
He decided that he must clear himself of all concepts and find what the fundamental essence of his reality. Being a skeptic, he continued naming things that are abstractions rather than reality, and he found that his thoughts are the most fundamental thing, that which facilitates his existence.
Though I would argue, as Nietzsche and others have, that Descartes had a bit too simplistic an evaluation, but it led the way to major future philosophical proposals.
My point is that our concepts of these things can become corrupted. We must ensure that we keep our consciousness as pure of faulty conditioning as possible, and that requires a great deal of mindfulness.
You see, when we live in a society that struggles to deal with and understand mental illness, we begin to have our definitions blurred by the concepts we create.
We could create an image that homeless people are all drug addicts, they all are mooching off of our society, and that we shouldn’t assist them in any way.
Or, you could see homeless people as souls that have become lost in a society that has evolved into something that is unbearable for too many people.
Perhaps they do have a drug issue, or perhaps they are a veteran that is unable to return to our society fully, and now deal with crippling PTSD while having next to no psychotherapeutic help. Perhaps they went through something so drastically tragic that they have completely lost the will to live, which is another concern altogether.
I would like to add here another misconception that people have of others, and one that I am guilty to holding previously. Often times we look at people who use hard drugs as failures and embarrassments. We say we should lock them all up and never let them come out because they are “immoral.”
I can tell you I’ve met many people who use heroin, but I’ve never known a single person that necessarily wanted to shoot up heroin. In every case I have ever found, every single one, the user was abused sexually, physically, or mentally throughout their lives.
No one wants to be looked at as a “drug addict” or any other negative label we could put on them. What they want is help, whether or not they are ready or willing to admit that.
Back to my point, life absolutely gets too difficult for all of us more frequently than I’m sure our egos would like to admit.
So, again, are we damned to a life of difficulty, toil, frustration, depression, and loneliness?
Of course not…
Gratefulness, which in itself is a virtue, comes from continuous development of other virtues, such as acceptance, understanding, or compassion. Of course there are more, but we shouldn’t push ourselves too hard, as every moment available is a moment to develop these habits.
Beginning the Path of Gratefulness
As I mentioned above, separating faulty concepts from your mind can be deeply difficult.
There are entire religious and philosophical movements for this attainment, there are people who work towards their idea of enlightenment tirelessly for their entire lives.
It is important work, because we all want to be better people for ourselves and those around us.
The cultivation of virtues in the mind is tricky because the “mind” is a deeply complex interrelated phenomenon. The psyche can also be weak, bending and contorting itself around concepts that make the ego feel better, but may not be of any actual help to the mental well-being of the individual.
As Confucius said, “The goody-goodies are the thieves of virtue.”
This is similar to our own Western idiom;
“The path to hell is paved with good intentions.”
We may intend to “fix” or improve ourselves, but how are we to improve ourselves when we are the ones who are in need of improving? If we could be better, wouldn’t we already be?
It is my belief that there is no need to try to become better, or wiser. It is not necessary because it is already within us.
We have the seeds of virtues,
but we have not worked diligently enough to cultivate these crops.
This is a visualization I learned from a legendary monk who I have mentioned and will continue to mention, Thich Nhat Hanh.
He relates our emotions to plants. If you sow seeds of corn, you should obviously reap corn.
If you plant seeds of contempt, hatred will be the only fruit to harvest.
If you plant seeds of insecurity, jealousy will be what you shall reap.
Mindfulness is a tool we can use to understand our mental garden.
Mindfulness is simply the practice of becoming aware of your mental happenings. Your emotions, your thoughts, your biases or prejudices are all transient mental happenings, or mental states.
When we feel the energy of contempt, we should be mindful and consider what is making us feel this way.
My Path Towards Attaining Gratefulness
Ungrateful thoughts previously ran rampant through my mind.
I constantly was shifting between hating who I was, where I worked, how much money I had, whether or not I was pushing towards being a failure, and it began to be an all-consuming demon.
My demon was primarily caused by my low self-esteem. I thought low of myself and didn’t care if my views would change.
I simply went from one day to the next being completely ungrateful for what was presented to me.
In fact, there were years of my life where I prayed for death. It hasn’t been until relatively recently that I have been willing to learn how to live.
My path felt long, though I am aware it has been much shorter than others, and I do still have much to learn. The path to gratefulness required three major virtues to be cultivated.
While I was growing up I was always curious of thoughts.
Why do we think the things we do, good or bad?
Furthermore, why does it often feel that I have no control over the thoughts which I have deemed “bad.”
Acceptance is the practice of coming to terms with that which happens in your mind.
We may have had thoughts that we find terrifying or atrocious.
But who are we to say that this is our fault?
Consider that from birth to around age 7, most of what happens to our mind is unconscious. We receive different beliefs or thought patterns from others without our knowledge of it.
So, is it really fair of us to feel negatively towards our thoughts?
We may not be responsible directly, and furthermore, what could those thoughts show us about ourselves?
Is our subconscious trying to tell us something?
There is always a possibility of that!
Our mind is far more than just our consciousness, so an unconscious intention may be trying to surface. It may just be met with resistance, causing anxieties and neuroses which may be the very thoughts we feel bad about.
We must accept that our thoughts are all different forms of energy, and that none are permanent. They may feel permanent, but that only seems to be the case when we grasp towards something rather than allowing ourselves to relax.
Grasping for contentment is much like trying to bite your own teeth.
In relation with how much we try to find ourselves, we begin to lose ourselves. However, sometimes we may feel that we are lost and unable to find ourselves. I would argue that before you have the potential of finding who you think you want to be, you must first lose yourself.
The way to wisdom is to lose yourself in your folly. It is possible to remove your ego through the process of participating in your own fallacious and conditioned ideas.
We may think that we must go to college, we must get a desk job, we must have a traditional family, then rot away as a useless elderly person sitting in their own feces.
Many of us are pushed into these lines of thoughts, and for some of us it is wrong!
I went to college and I absolutely hated it.
I had a desk job and it was deeply depressing and unhealthy for me.
While I did these things, however, it forcibly taught me that these things are not right for me.
Since I left college, I have read hundreds and hundreds of books, compared to the few overpriced textbooks that I wasted money and time on.
I have found that teaching myself is what works for me, rather than being stressed about what part of the text I am required to read, what tests I get, or how much I couldn’t stand my teachers.
Instead, I dropped school and read what I want, how much I want, and whenever I want without worrying about being told that I’m wasting time and energy.
Let’s face it, our school system only cares about two things: Funding and Grades
These are interrelated, if a school has a high grade average among students, obviously it will receive more funding.
My complaint, is that the current school system encourages children to dislike reading.
Think about it, a child goes to school and is told that he is required to read “x” amount of books within “x” amount of time. Then, after reading a book they may or may not have wanted to, they will be tested on it.
This has caused children to grow up viewing reading as a chore, rather than a gift.
They begin seeing reading as something that we must do in order to get praise from teachers or parents, to outperform other students, or to receive positive reinforcement such as candy.
So now, the child has left school and no longer receives the incentive to read books regularly.
In fact, the grown child now hates reading because he has spent his entire life under the impression that reading and self-education is useless and boring.
It is no longer a chore which we are rewarded for performing, so why read?
Reading is vital to our understanding of anything.
Read everything and anything you can, because it allows you to open yourself up to things beyond you. It is the single thing that has pushed me to the level of enlightenment I currently am.
Anyway, to leave this rant behind…
We must accept ourselves, whatever we may be in the current moment.
Even if we have disgusting and vile thoughts, acceptance will at least initiate the process of healing those disturbing thoughts.
We must accept that we have these thoughts, that they’re nothing but mental happenings, we have control over their effect on us.
I accept that I am many things that others despise. I would rather that than being many things that I despise.
This one is tricky, because as we said earlier, you may think that you know without knowing at all.
For example, let’s say that a man, John, had a father that was terrible.
He drank in excess regularly, he was abusive, he cheated on John’s mother, he used hard drugs, etc.
Naturally, John’s reaction might be aggressive;
“My father is such an asshole,
he is pretentious scum who cares more about having alcohol or drugs than any time with his children!
He obviously only cares about himself and I understand that,
so he can go to hell.”
However, does he really understand his father?
Perhaps John is unaware that his father was abused far more than himself.
Perhaps John’s grandfather was far more abusive, he could have molested John’s father, he could have mercilessly tortured him throughout his life.
Consequently, John’s father has been left severely traumatized without seeking help, and is now lost and has no option other than to mask his misery through any means possible.
As I mentioned, I know many people that use hard drugs.
I know not one who is truly happy about it.
That is understanding. If John was able to come to the realization that his father, regardless of how flawed, is still a better caretaker than his father.
So, if John can no longer blame his father, he must blame his grandfather.
He must then ask, “What did he go through.”
We could continue on…
It could be viewed this way:
“You know too much psychology when you find yourself able to forgive anyone for anything.”
Blaming others for how you feel is not the key to understanding, rather it is what is holding you down from the heights of your understanding.
The key to understanding is to continually ask yourself, “Who is to blame for ‘x’?”
No one, because it gets nothing done and answers no questions.
We must move forward with the understanding that our past may have been terrible, but the only reason that our present moment feels the same way is because we allow it to.
Each moment is a new opportunity to grow, we are not the same person that we were yesterday.
We have learned things, we have experienced things, and we have come one step closer to understanding.
Compassion is the last of my three virtues.
What does compassion entail?
Compassion is the reason we take care of ourselves.
Compassion is the reason we care for others.
Compassion is the key to love, the key to deeply caring for anything.
I found compassion by meditation. I don’t know a lot of people who regularly meditate, and I now do it far less than I used to.
Meditation is important to so many religions and philosophy not because it helps you reach anything. It assists you in losing things.
Let me explain, when I sit down to meditate, I lose my will to want. I do not enter a period of meditation wanting to calm down, wanting to feel better, or wanting to reach something.
Meditation is useful because if you’ve never tried it, once you do you may realize that it isn’t exactly easy. Your eyes flutter a bit, a muscle here of there might twitch, or your dog might bark in the other room.
Meditation is the practice of narrowing your consciousness to focus on one thing: Nothing!
You may ask, as I have been before; “What is the point of just sitting there silently when there is no ‘worth’?”
The worth comes with time and practice. As you practice, you start losing things like anxiety, abstractions, fallacious concepts, and grudges.
If you are able to sit with yourself for long enough it becomes draining.
We begin to notice that our minds chatter infinitely more than we had thought before. We have no T.V. or videos vibrating our temporal lobes and disrupting our silence, so our mind will begin to speak.
Sometimes that’s not always a good thing, we have discussed that our minds easily harbor bad seeds that grow.
Being able to sit with yourself and your demons will allow compassion to arise.
That is because, if you are able to sit down and understand your suffering, eventually you will also understand the suffering of others.
Compassion arose in me after I was able to come to grips with what haunted me, because I find often that my demons are the same as everyone else’s. They just haunt me for different reasons than they do others.
Once I reached this point, I felt the impact of al three of these virtues they have towards each other. If you understand someone’s suffering, then you become compassionate, but until you understand your own it is impossible to know others.
Compassion is the fundamental essence of love. You can be compassionate towards others without loving them, but you cannot love someone without compassion.
There is always more one could include when discussing this topic, but I would like to end with a final story from Zen Buddhism;
A Zen Master explains to his disciples;
“My teaching is much like using your fist to deceive a child.
You can hold it out and they’ll try to peek and pry your hand open,
only to find that once they have there is nothing there.”
There isn’t anything you need to learn to be grateful; there is only that which you must unlearn.