As I go on in training it seems to me that acceptance and gratitude are deeply intertwined. In coming to accept all that comes into my life, I am more easily able to feel gratitude for whatever happens. Recently one of my neighbours made the comment to me of how horrible this wet and misty weather is. I did not contradict her but that is not at all how I see it. Actually, I think the misty mornings with that lovely half-light are exceptionally beautiful. But the weather is something we cannot change and having lived in hot dry countries; I know only too well how blessed we are to have rain here.
In not simply accepting something (especially something so much beyond our power to change) we cause ourselves great suffering – complaining, feeling fed up at the weather, frustrated at being unable to go outside. Finding acceptance of whatever is, brings inner peace. From that place of peace, it is natural to feel gratitude for whatever comes our way. As our acceptance and gratitude deepen, so an inner warmth and love for all beings is fostered.
2000 years ago, the Roman philosopher Seneca wrote:
“I am grateful, not in order that my neighbour, provoked by the earlier act of kindness, may be more ready to benefit me, but simply in order that I may perform a most pleasant and beautiful act.”
Surely Seneca is describing what we would call the way of the Bodhisattva. We give because it is natural to give without thought of return in trying to follow the Bodhisattva path. Indeed, if we give with an ulterior motive, the act of giving is debased. As the American author Annie Dillard says:
“Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.”
When we give to our fellow beings, we can face a conundrum, particularly when undertaking voluntary work or doing charitable acts. It is natural to feel good in the act of giving; one may well receive thanks in return but the extent to which these are part of the driving force can devalue the spiritual value of the acts, even though they may benefit other beings on some level. Giving from a place of gratitude is of paramount importance.
I have experienced much learning and also much heart searching in some voluntary work I do. I go into a primary school every week (though sadly not at present due to covid) to help 6- and 7-year olds with their reading. The teachers are so overworked that it is hard for them to find one on one time with the children.
The work is important and of course my prime reason for being there is to help with the reading. However, there are other benefits in that the children can develop a relationship with an adult (inter-generational contact is valuable) and I can offer them love and acceptance simply for who they are, no matter their reading ability and especially for those struggling who may feel inferior.
I am grateful for my life; I have time now that I am retired and giving to these little ones feltlike a good thing to do when I started it. Since then I have been amazed at the love and warmth that has blossomed with these wonderful little ‘teachers’ – so honest and open in their interaction with me. Not having had children, this has been an eye-opener for me. Sometimes I worry that I might be tending towards being there because of what I get from them. I constantly try to remind myself that my focus is on each child, not on me. I worry that selfishness is creeping into my being there.
However, dealing with this is made a little easier by the fact that at the end of my 2 days I disappear from their lives till the next week. I can then focus on other things.
And even in the worry and concern that I have, there is the lesson of acceptance. This worry, self-questioning and concern are what I have to deal with. I must accept them and not push them away. Indeed, if I can sit with these feelings and go behind what brings them up, then I am sure that I will be able to take another small step in training. So, I am grateful to my little ‘teachers’ not only for the love they give me but also for the heart searching they cause me.The cycle of acceptance, gratitude and love continues.