Random Acts of Gratitude

  • On April 5, 2018
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Recently on the final morning of a retreat I felt inspired to talk about gratitude. It wasn’t what I had thought I would talk about. Increasingly, my talks start this way –  with a single image or word arising unexpectedly from the quiet depths.

I found myself talking about the gratitude I felt for many people and things in my life and the sense that, even if they were all removed, I would still feel grateful – grateful to simply be. What we most take for granted, the very fact that we are here, alive and awake, is the greatest miracle of all when we slow down enough to appreciate how truly special conscious life is. Life is awakening to its true nature through and as each of us. How remarkable!

As we begin to consciously recognize and feel who we really are as loving awareness, and sense that this is the true nature of all beings, this understanding and feeling un-self consciously radiates out into our daily lives. In my talk I shared how one of my favorite bumper stickers is “Practice Random Acts of Kindness.” When the deep heart awakens, this is what we do. We spontaneously radiate kindness and compassion. We are not doing it as a spiritual practice, valuable as this may be. We are not trying to remember reasons to be grateful or trying to do good deeds. Instead, the awakened heart expresses itself through the simplest gestures – a smile, a reassuring touch on the shoulder, or a caring word. We are willing to deeply listen to others without judging or trying to fix them. And we are touched by others’ kindness and insight as well as by their confusion and suffering.

It is as if each of us is a luminous bead in an infinite network.  As we recognize who we really are, the body-mind reorients to this deeper truth and becomes a more translucent vehicle of expression. Each luminous bead or jewel is a little different and has a unique quality of vibration as well as a different offering to make. Over fifteen hundred years ago Buddhists used the metaphor of Indra’s net – an infinite web of intertwined jewels that reflected one another – to describe this sense of interconnectedness.

As I was describing this subtle network of inherent radiance and its spontaneous forms of expression, I suddenly remembered a brief interaction I had with Adyashanti many years before. I had been attending a weekend retreat with him at the Green Gulch Zen Center near the coast just north of San Francisco. During an afternoon break I was walking out to Muir Beach through the open fields. It was a gorgeous day – sunny, clear, with the freshness of the ocean in the air. Adya was returning alone from the opposite direction and as I looked up he made an unusual, silent gesture. His body was slightly tilted to one side and he had both hands touching his heart area. It was as if he was both cradling a child in his arms and being cradled, both holding and being held.  It was a gesture of utter tenderness that struck me at the time but which I had never articulated to myself or anyone else. It would take sixteen more years for it to unpack itself in this moment.

As I shared this potent image, I began to deeply cry. It was as if I was fully receiving the impact of Adya’s wordless gesture.  I was overwhelmed by gratitude and an outpouring of love and compassion that left me speechless. Here in a simple, spontaneous gesture Adya had embodied the poignancy of human life. After another minute or two I said that I had nothing more to say and that the talk had come to a natural end. One of the retreatants replied, “You don’t need to say anything more. The transmission happened in the silence.” He was right. My talk had both begun from and ended in something much deeper than the ordinary mind and I could feel that the effect, especially of the upwelling of overwhelming gratitude, had rippled through the listeners and touched their hearts in a deep way. Both Adya’s gesture sixteen years before and my talk that morning had been random acts of gratitude that radiated out along Indra’s net.

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