Well, I’m back. Back at Princeton, back to “life,” and back to myself, a little bit. The last week has been very rough, psychologically, and since arriving on campus I’ve tried to gain a little more groundedness and perspective. A lot of my problems come from not appreciating my actual situation and living instead in fear of the prospect of all the things I have to do – especially the ones I’m not so keen on. I spoke this evening with a friend about finding gratitude, and how to make yourself happiness. I want to think a little bit more about this question of gratitude.
Gratitude is the opposite of fear; it’s the opposite of false pride; it’s the opposite of resentment. It’s the identical twin of humility, or so I believed when I’ve felt these twin emotions. (not sure if they are emotions or some other hal?) It’s an appreciation of reality, not simply in the sense of appreciating the good (that can become trite) but in the sense of appreciating what is with a sense of fullness and, well, awareness.
But when not in a state of gratitude, it can be hard to even imagine it, or to imagine the words and practices that can take one there. I’ve benefited greatly from certain exercises like recording daily gratitudes or keeping a guided gratitude journal. I usually approach such exercises with some skepticism but, if I keep it up, find them very powerful. Short of written exercises, though, how can I find gratitude and be free from fear?
In the second chapter of the Bhagavad Gita, Arjuna’s appeal to Krishna includes his self-characterization that he is “miserly of heart” (2.7). I’ve come to believe that miserliness is the vice paired with the virtue of gratitude. Scrooge is the first thing that comes to mind when we think of miserliness: someone who has so much but doesn’t appreciate it at all, is obsessed with both gaining more and with protecting what he has, who would only grudgingly give to others, and who would not fully receive what others offer. The miser acts based on the fear that he won’t be able to sustain himself and is shackled to his own moral poverty. He is starving in the midst of abundance; thirsty in the midst of a rainstorm. Miserliness is an inability to give or to receive. It’s also, at root, a lack of appreciation for reality; a lack of humility; a lack of gratitude.
Of my many sinful tendencies, miserliness is a big one right now. Krishna has given me so many opportunities to serve, in answer to my prayers and far beyond. He has given me tremendous material wealth and every comfort far beyond my needs. He has given me a handful of dear friends and a small assembly of teachers and well-wishers. He has given me prayer, the Holy Name, and the love of my life. He is, verily, my very life.
Yet all throughout the day I’m thinking of this or that paper I haven’t started, this and that quantity of reading assigned, where I’ll eat next, that it’s too hot or too cold, how tired I am, my fears about the future, all the japa I’m not doing, how lonely I am, how much is asked of me, how many emails I have to write, and how much inconvenience everyone is giving me. This isn’t to say that I never think of Krishna, that I’m totally hopeless, or that there aren’t blessings and beauty in every moment. There are, but the very fact of their existence is often overwhelmed by the burdens of my thoughts and by this miserliness of heart. I’m more or less attuned to these things – to reality – according to the level of gratitude in my heart. Or, to put it differently: to the extent that I’m remembering to observe reality, to that extent I am able to feel grateful, appreciative, and touched by God.
Lord, let me remember to pause enough today to breathe, smile, and see the people and events around me as emanations of Your divine energy. Let me remember that You are my Provider and that whatever happens, and doesn’t happen, is by Your sweet will alone.