Last week I found myself doing what I have done nearly every morning for the past six decades: taking a shower. The routine of the shower, what to do, where to stand, which way to turn, are all so familiar to me. I shower on autopilot, almost without any thought at all.
But then, as I almost always do, I began thinking. The voice inside my head powered up. The shower quickly vanished. I found myself getting keyed up for the day ahead, my inner voice rehearsing a conversation that has never, will never, go the way I want, trying to score the points that only I can imagine will bring me comfort and satisfaction.
And then something strange happened. Partway through my inner speech, I caught myself. As I began the next round of scrubbing, I picked up the soap and silently greeted it. “Hello, soap!” My eloquent, impassioned diatribe against the injustices in my life was gone.
I felt the water raining down on me and greeted it too. “Hello, water!” I felt transformed. Back in the shower. With everything I needed in that moment. And a feeling of gratitude for the simple joys of a too-often taken-for-granted morning shower.
It’s hard to go through a full day without wishing for something. A sample: I often wish that my body was more fit, healthy, that my mind was a kinder, more stable companion, and that I might find something entertaining or meaningful to fill my time. Even when I stop to meditate, I am not above hoping that something great will happen: I will become calm, maybe I’ll bliss out.
Wishing isn’t a bad thing, but it would be sad if we accepted it as the complete story of our life. Meditation offers a chance to step out of the wishing story. By sitting still and paying attention, we can discover that most of our storytelling (“I’m sick, unhappy, bored, … so I wish …”) is just a story, a passing cloud in our mental atmosphere, and that there are aspects of our seemingly imperfect lives that, in fact, are perfect and gratifying just as they are. Kevin Kling’s beautiful fable of The Cracked Pot (On Being, 19 May 2016) shows how it is possible to appreciate life by looking at it from a new perspective:
The Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, or CCARE, is part of Stanford’s School of Medicine. It was established and directed by Dr. James Doty, Clinical Professor of Neurosurgery, with the explicit goal of “promoting, supporting, and conducting rigorous scientific studies of compassion and altruistic behavior.”
Maybe when the football game is over, and the conversation is dying down, and you’re ready to just sit and digest your food, don’t go for the TV. Not yet. Instead, give a listen to The Science of Gratitude from WNYC (56 min):
On this Thanksgiving, take a few moments to feel the nature of thankfulness. As thoughts arise – What am I thankful for? Whom am I indebted to? Which of the gifts I have received have been larger, which smaller? – just let the thoughts run dry. Experience gratitude just for itself, because its there, because you can.
The poem Worms, by Carl Dennis, is a sweet reminder that the opportunities to give thanks are boundless. Have a happy Thanksgiving.
WORMS by Carl Dennis
Aren’t you glad at least that the earthworms
Under the grass are ignorant, as they eat the earth,
Of the good they confer on us, that their silence
Isn’t a silent reproof for our bad manners,
Our never casting earthward a crumb of thanks
For their keeping the soil from packing so tight
That no root, however determined, could pierce it?