It’s so simple and so common and so universal, really, to be grateful that we think, well that can’t be a practice like Zen, or yoga, or something like that, but when you look carefully, and when you make it your practice it can be really on the same level as these great traditional practices, and in a sense it is a traditional practice. 

Br. David: Well, you mentioned a keyword that we had not discussed before and that is, complaining, so I would like to say a little more about complaining later on, but since you asked me to speak about gratefulness I will start with gratefulness. I will stress what you said and that gratefulness is really a practice. It’s so simple, and so common, and so universal really to be grateful that we think, well that can’t be a practice like Zen, or yoga, or something like that, but when you look carefully, and when you make it your practice it can be really on the same level as these great traditional practices, and in a sense it is a traditional practice.

If you just think of your mother, or your grandmother, maybe even your great-grandmother, as I was lucky to know two of them, they were grateful people, and they taught you gratefulness, so it comes to us in a less formal setting, but it is really a tradition. It’s a traditional practice that comes to us. It has many advantages. Its naturalness, its simplicity is a great advantage if you just think of all the pain that you have to go through when you do say, Hatha yoga and you pretzel yourself there, and being grateful is a lot easier, and then it takes so long. Every other practice takes so long, and gratefulness doesn’t take very long at all if you make up your mind, okay from now on it’ll be my practice, and you start right now this very evening it will have made you a lot more joyful. You can check it if you find that it does something for you immediately.

The essence of being grateful… is accepting what is.

I would like to look with you at what is essential for a guide with us, because if you look at it, what’s essential, you will find that this is the same that’s essential in Zen and in Yoga and in any Christian practice or any other practice. And the essence of being grateful, and obviously, we’re not just talking about saying, “thank you,” we’re talking about that in a gesture, in an attitude from which saying, “thank you,” springs when it is genuine, and that gratefulness, the essence of it is accepting what is. Accepting what is, and that of course implies being in the now because what is is always now, as TS Elliot says so beautifully in the Four Quartets, all is always now. Now that seems like obvious, but it’s very important to remind ourselves that all is always now. If it isn’t now, it is not.

It was or will be, but it is not. Whatever is is now. So accepting what is means being in the now, and being in the now means dissolving the illusion of our little ego, and that’s the goal of our practices. Because when you’re in the now, this little me dissolves because it feeds on past and future. The little me, if you look carefully at it, is made up of your past, of all the things that you have done or that you pride yourself in or that are these groups that you belong to. If you ask, who am I? If somebody asks you “who are you,” you will describe you as being an Austrian, an American or a Hungarian. So that’s something in the past where you come from or that you have such a name, that means you belong to such and such a family and all that, and all the things that you have suffered. The little me has suffered so much and prides itself in always having suffered more than everybody else.

Well, that’s not the way it works. If it isn’t now, don’t expect it coming later.

If you can’t be better than anybody, with all your degrees and the other things that you have. But if you can’t be better than somebody, can at least be much worse than everybody. That’s also something of the past. And the future, all the things that you expect and hope for, and hope for in the sense of hopes, that you pin your hopes on things that you will still accomplish. I will still accomplish enlightenment. That’s something for the future. Well, that’s not the way it works. If it isn’t now, don’t expect it coming later. But this now is just what this little self is so afraid of because if you’re in the now, it vanishes. It is not foretold in the now. So those are the three essential aspects of being grateful. The first one is obvious, accepting what is now, accepting what is. The second that must be in the now, because if it is, it is in the now, and if you are grateful in the now and where else can you be grateful, you are grateful. Your little self, your little me dissolves.

And that’s the goal of our practices. So if you start being grateful, that’s what you’re in for. And sometimes it’s difficult to track this little me down. It’s quite evasive because we identify with it, and it’s quite evasive, and one way of tracking it down is catching it when it complains. It does really complain under the surface. It has a habit of complaining. And so I’d like you, and since you mentioned this worth complaining, I’d like you to tell us more about complaining and then I will tell you something about complaining to start us off.

The conversation continues next week with these wise elders’ thoughts on complaining and altruism…

Roshi Joan Halifax – Buddhist teacher, Zen priest, anthropologist, civil-rights activist, and author – is Founder and Abbot of Upaya Zen Center in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Br. David and Roshi Joan have been friends since the ’70s. This conversation took place in May, 2007. Learn more about Br. David Steindl-Rast and his prolific teachings HERE.

Br. David Steindl-Rast
Br. David Steindl-Rast, OSB

Br. David Steindl-Rast, OSB

About the author

Brother David Steindl-Rast — author, scholar, and Benedictine monk — is beloved the world over for his enduring message about gratefulness as the true source of lasting happiness. Known to many as the “grandfather of gratitude,” Br. David has been a source of inspiration and spiritual friendship to countless leaders and luminaries around the world including Desmond Tutu, the Dalai Lama, Thich Nhat Hanh, Thomas Merton, and more. He has been one of the most important figures in the modern interfaith dialogue movement, and has taught with thought-leaders such as Eckhart Tolle, Jack Kornfield, and Roshi Joan Halifax. His wisdom has been featured in recent interviews with Oprah Winfrey, Krista Tippett, and Tami Simon and his TED talk has been viewed almost 10,000,000 times. Learn more about Br. David here.

Roshi Joan Halifax

Roshi Joan Halifax

About the author

Roshi Joan Halifax, a Buddhist teacher, Founder and Head Teacher of Upaya Zen Center in Santa Fe, New Mexico, a social activist, author, and in her early years was an anthropologist at Columbia University (1964-68) and University of Miami School of Medicine (1970-72). She is a pioneer in the field of end-of-life care. Her books include: The Human Encounter with Death (with Stanislav Grof); The Fruitful Darkness, A Journey Through Buddhist PracticeSimplicity in the ComplexA Buddhist Life in AmericaBeing with Dying: Cultivating Compassion and Wisdom in the Presence of DeathStanding at the Edge: Finding Freedom Where Fear and Courage Meet; and Sophie Learns to Be Brave.