Last week, I posted about a teaching, allegedly given by a Zen master named Sono: "Thank you for everything. I have no complaint whatsoever." The story goes that Sono shared this mantra with everyone who came to her for advice or healing, no matter the problem. Unsurprisingly, people rarely appreciated this advice. Most left puzzled, irritated, and unsatisfied, but the few who chose to practice the mantra reportedly found peace and healing.
Alan Cohen, who wrote the article linked above, focused on the gratitude-building aspect of the teaching: "Thank you for everything." Indeed, the psychology research on the effectiveness of using gratitude practices to increase one's happiness is impressive. My personal experience with gratitude practices, though, is that they initially feel forced -- heck, they are forced -- and instead of hanging on, I give up too quickly in discouragement and exasperation before real gratitude has a chance to grow.
What piqued my interest last week was the second half of the teaching: "I have no complaint whatsoever." I complain a lot, outwardly and inwardly, focusing on what I think is wrong or missing in situations and people, especially myself. I believe that as a result, at least in part, of tending toward negativity, I struggle with depression and anxiety, so I wondered: what would it be like to meet events and thoughts, especially the ones I judge as negative, with this mantra of no complaint instead? I committed to practicing it, just for a week, to see if it made a difference in my mood and perception.
Reader, it did. For the better. First, I'm surprised that I remembered to practice it as often as I did because, generally speaking, I battle a hefty amount of halfheartedness and memory loss. There was something seductive about this practice that kept me returning to it, though. I think the allure is its sheer preposterousness. Something would happen in the course of a day that I found irritating, my mind would start its usual grousing or worrying, and then this ludicrous mantra -- Thank you for everything! I have no complaint whatsoever! Say what? -- would arise. Sometimes it would make me laugh, and I'd easily shrug off the irritation, but to be honest, sometimes I'd spit out the words grudgingly and roll my eyes, like "give me a break," and sometimes the whole concept would just piss me off.
But as the week passed, I'd laugh more often and shake my head at how silly it was to complain and fret to myself about all the little things that get under my skin in the course of a day. The mind just jabbers away, and most of the jabbering means absolutely nothing, like the "wah, wah, wah, wah" of the grownups in old Peanuts TV specials. The more I practiced the mantra, the faster the jabbering, irritation, or fretting lessened or dissolved.
In the case of more serious difficulties and concerns, both personal and societal, the practice helped me to accept what was happening rather than resist it. Is a family member struggling? Normally, I find that upsetting and worrisome. Injecting the mantra into the upset helped me accept the reality of the problem rather than waste precious emotional energy hating the problem and wanting like hell for it to disappear. I didn't grudgingly resign myself to the problem, repress it, or push it away. Rather, I allowed it to exist with no fight, which in itself is self-compassionate. This allowing freed up mind-and-heart space to breathe, abide, and, if necessary, consider the problem without being in such a knot about it.
Did I remember every time? Nope, not by a long shot. Did I run around, thanking people for past good deeds or their stellar personal qualities? No, though that doesn't mean I won't in the future. Did I still get upset, scared, and grumpy? Yes, but not every time. I mean, hey, it was only a week! Sometimes I was fortunate enough to find peace or, more accurately, for peace to find me.
Saying "thank you for everything, I have no complaint whatsoever" doesn't mean you like everything that happens. Perhaps it means that we become grateful for the teaching that is in every moment and person, or that we're amazed by this one-in-a-gazillion chance of having taken human form, of having a life, no matter how delightful or burdensome it may be. Of course, I don't know what Sono really meant. I just know that saying "thank you for everything, I have no complaint whatsoever" excludes nothing from which we can learn about being human. Thomas Merton wrote, "I have the immense joy of being [a person...] And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun."*
by W.S. Merwin, 1988
with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water thanking it
smiling by the windows looking out
in our directions
back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you
over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the door
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks we are saying thank you
in the faces of the officials and the rich
and of all who will never change
we go on saying thank you thank you
with the animals dying around us
our lost feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
we are saying thank you and waving
dark though it is.
What do you notice about what you don't like and what isn't fair?
for Mindful Monday
© December 15, 2014, post: Donna Pierce
*Merton, Thomas. Conjectures of a guilty bystander. New York: Random House, 1965.
Photo credit: Praying Hands by Xiomiele, 2009
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