Sunday, November 30, 2008

Gratitude - according to the Ancients

As a child I remember rebelling when anyone would tell me ‘count your blessings’. As a young man I felt much the same when told to ‘be thankful for what you’ve got’. It seemed to me only to accentuate what I did not have. It seemed a cheap shot, an old tired catch-all put-down phrase. ‘Of course, it is the same old story. Truth usually is the same old story.’ said Margaret Thatcher. Behind the old tired phrases lies the truth, whether we are open to receiving it or not. ‘Count your blessings’ is a great wisdom, whether we choose to do it or not. ‘Being thankful for what you have’ is the attitude of a great and cultivated mind, whether we understand it or not.
Here is what the Ancients had to say about gratitude, probably to the rebellious unlistening youth of long long ago:

Let us rise up and be thankful, for if we didn't learn a lot today, at least we learned a little, and if we didn't learn a little, at least we didn't get sick, and if we got sick, at least we didn't die; so, let us all be thankful. Buddha

You have no cause for anything but gratitude and joy. Buddha

A noble person is mindful and thankful of the favours he receives from others. Buddha

Gratitude is the sign of noble souls. Aesop

Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others. Cicero

Nothing is more honourable than a grateful heart. Seneca

There is as much greatness of mind in acknowledging a good turn, as in doing it. Seneca

He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has. Epictetus

Only a stomach that rarely feels hungry scorns common things. Horace

A grateful mind is a great mind which eventually attracts to itself great things. Plato

Take full account of what excellencies which you possess, and in gratitude remember how you would hanker after them, if you had them not. Marcus Aurelius

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. Phil 4:6

Unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath. Matthew 25:29

Be content with what you have, rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you. Tao Te Ching

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Gratitude - the fairest blossom

Since my first posts on gratitude, I have noticed many visits to the site by people searching for quotes or prayers about gratitude. This is no doubt linked to the Thanksgiving holiday, which was a wholly fortuitous coincidence with regard to my posts since I do not have any great notion of the public holidays or even, I am ashamed to say, of the religious holidays. My thoughts started turning to gratitude for a very different reason (read my post Gratitude – the forgotten virtue).
Be that as it may, I will perhaps make an exception for Thanksgiving in the future as a result of these posts on gratitude and my growing awareness of the essentiality of gratitude in the heart of him that would be happy. It seems to me now a very noble and worthy reason for a holiday. And another example of the wisdom of the old ways.
I wish all our American cousins a very happy Thanksgiving.

Gratitude is the memory of the heart. Jean-Baptiste Massieu

Gratitude is the moral memory of mankind. Georg Simmel

Gratitude is the least of the virtues, but ingratitude is the worst of vices. Thomas Fuller

Gratitude is born in hearts that take time to count up past mercies. Charles E. Jefferson

Gratitude is the most exquisite form of courtesy. Jacques Maritain

Gratitude is a fruit of great cultivation. You do not find it among gross people. Samuel Johnson

The essence of all beautiful art, all great art, is gratitude. Nietzsche

The only people with whom you should try to get even are those who have helped you. John E. Southard

I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought; and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder. G.K.Chesterton

You say grace before meals. All right. But I say grace before the concert and the opera, and grace before the play and pantomime, and grace before I open a book, and grace before sketching, painting, swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing and grace before I dip the pen in the ink. G.K.Chesterton

Not what we say about our blessings, but how we use them, is the true measure of our thanksgiving. W.T. Purkiser

Gratitude is the fairest blossom which springs from the soul. Henry Ward Beecher

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Gratitude - the most complete prayer

Many if not all virtues are interrelated, the lines between them blurred. Aristotle believed that no virtue was found in isolation. I remember using the following quote in my post Humility - accepting suffering with joy:

The truly patient man does not examine who is testing him, whether it is his superior, his equal or his inferior, a good man or a bad man. But, treating all indiscriminately, he receives from God’s hand, gratefully, and as often as He likes, everything contrary that happens to him, and considers it a great benefit.
(‘Imitation de N.S. J├ęsus Christ’)

My point was that the humble man does not rebel against what is happening to him, as if it should not be happening to him because he is superior. He accepts it willingly. In the Tao Te Ching we read that the man who follows the Tao accepts, like water, the lowly places that no one else wants.
I later used the same quote in my post Patience – the greatest prayer. My point was then that the humble man is necessarily patient: not putting his own interests forward, not feeling unjustly dealt with, but accepting whatever comes his way with faith and philosophy.
And now I have quoted it again in this post on gratitude. For as you have read, our truly patient, humble man receives gratefully everything contrary that happens to him and counts it a great blessing. Humility, patience, gratitude. Who can say where one leaves off and the other begins?

A proud man is seldom a grateful man, for he never thinks he gets as much as he deserves. Henry Ward Beecher

Develop an attitude of gratitude, and give thanks for everything that happens to you, knowing that every step forward is a step toward achieving something bigger and better than your current situation. Brian Tracy

There are no mistakes, no coincidences. All events are blessings given to us to learn from. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

The difficulties, hardships and trials of life, the obstacles… are positive blessings. They knit the muscles more firmly, and teach self-reliance. William Mathews

I remember how we saw that humility is the root of all good, the foundation of all virtues. If humility is the root, patience is the tree and gratitude the branches. We saw also in Humility - accepting suffering with joy how the Rabbi, in his gratitude for all that God gave him, could not understand why he should know something of suffering.

Remember that not to be happy is not to be grateful. Elizabeth Carter

In our daily lives, we must see that it is not happiness that makes us grateful, but gratefulness that makes us happy. Albert Clarke

Whenever we are appreciative, we are filled with a sense of well-being and swept up by the feeling of joy. M.J. Ryan

There is a calmness to a life lived in gratitude, a quiet joy. Ralph H. Blum

There is not a more pleasing exercise of the mind than gratitude. It is accompanied with such an inward satisfaction that the duty is sufficiently rewarded by the performance. Joseph Addison

Gratitude is our most direct line to God and the angels. If we take the time, no matter how crazy and troubled we feel, we can find something to be thankful for. The more we seek gratitude, the more reason the angels will give us for gratitude and joy to exist in our lives. Terry Lynn Taylor

To speak gratitude is courteous and pleasant, to enact gratitude is generous and noble, but to live gratitude is to touch Heaven. Johannes A. Gaertner

A simple grateful thought toward Heaven is the most complete prayer. Gotthold Lessing

If the only prayer you said in your whole life was thank you that would suffice. Meister Eckhart

Gratitude is heaven itself. William Blake

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Gratitude - everything is a miracle

If we stop for a moment and think about it (a strange thing to do, I know) everything around us is a gift. Our life is a gift, our body is a gift, the air we breathe is a very welcome gift from the universe…

In his book ‘Hara – the Vital Centre of Man’ Karlfried Graf Durkheim states:

Man, as a living being, is not rooted in himself. Rather he is nourished, sustained and held in order by Nature whose laws operate without his knowledge and assistance.

To paraphrase another source that escapes me*, we walk without knowing what it is that moves us; we stop without knowing what it is that stops us. We assimilate what we eat without knowing how we assimilate it. How can we presume to appropriate anything to ourselves?
It is folly and pride not to be awed by the miracle of life. But we so easily get caught up in the petty game of striving to get what we want that we forget to appreciate and enjoy what we do have. The game is only a game, and it is not even our own playing board.
But we can step back from the game and change our perspective and our attitude. Gratitude changes the rules of the game immediately. It becomes a delight to play instead of a struggle. And, best of all, we never seem to lose…

Gratefulness is the key to a happy life that we hold in our hands, because if we are not grateful, then no matter how much we have we will not be happy - because we will always want to have something else or something more. Brother David Steindl-Rast

If a fellow isn't thankful for what he's got, he isn't likely to be thankful for what he's going to get. Frank A. Clark

You cannot bring anything new into your life until you are grateful for what you have now. Dr. Michael Beckwith

Who does not thank for little will not thank for much. Estonian Proverb

If you want to turn your life around, try thankfulness. It will change your life mightily. Gerald Good

The unthankful heart... discovers no mercies; but let the thankful heart sweep through the day and, as the magnet finds the iron, so it will find, in every hour, some heavenly blessings! Henry Ward Beecher

The hardest arithmetic to master is that which enables us to count our blessings. Eric Hoffer

When a person doesn't have gratitude, something is missing in his or her humanity. A person can almost be defined by his or her attitude toward gratitude. Elie Wiesel

Both abundance and lack exist simultaneously in our lives, as parallel realities. It is always our conscious choice which secret garden we will tend... when we choose not to focus on what is missing from our lives but are grateful for the abundance that's present - love, health, family, friends, work, the joys of nature and personal pursuits that bring us pleasure - the wasteland of illusion falls away and we experience Heaven on earth. Sarah Ban Breathnac

Feeling grateful or appreciative of someone or something in your life actually attracts more of the things that you appreciate and value in your life. Christiane Northrup

You simply will not be the same person two months from now after consciously giving thanks each day for the abundance that exists in your life. And you will have set in motion an ancient spiritual law: the more you have and are grateful for, the more will be given you. Sarah Ban Breathnach

There are two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle. Albert Einstein

* 21 January 2009, I have found the reference: Chuang Tzu.
'Your destiny, your activity form an intergral part of the transformation of beings under the action of heaven and earth... You advance in life without knowing what pushes you, you stop without knowing what it is that stops you, you eat without knowing how you assimilate, the powerful but unknowable action of heaven and earth moving you in everything; and you claim to appropriate something to yourself?'

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Gratitude - the forgotten virtue

Have you ever been puzzling over a problem and then come face to face with a sign that seemed to give you the answer? (See my post, A trip to the sea). The other day I was feeling vaguely irritated and I saw a T-shirt with the words ‘Control will be maintained for we will have order’. I smiled. Obviously the T-shirt’s message was tongue-in-cheek. But it made me realize I was lacking some order in my life. Then of course my eye caught another quote ‘Good order makes men bold, and confusion, cowards’ by Machiavelli. Perhaps it was a case of being receptive to change, a case of ‘when the pupil is ready the master appears’.
Last week, I happened to ask a colleague, who is always cheerful, where he thought the market was going. He surprised me by saying, with a smile, that wherever the market was going was alright with him because in any case he was a lot better off than most people in the world. He carried on in this vein, looking me straight in the eye with total sincerity and compassion and good cheer: we have a roof over our heads, we have a good job, we have money in the bank; we are really fortunate in this part of the world to have all that. We should count our blessings… be grateful… be happy. This reply was so unexpected that it almost seemed to me to come, not from my colleague, but from ‘upstairs’ via the medium of my colleague. Of course I agreed with him, a little half-heartedly, but the message had been delivered. I had mail. I had been told what was important and what was not.
Gratitude, along with humility, is a very unfashionable, almost forgotten virtue these days. And I am afraid to say that I must count myself among the forgetters. But it is one that we can't do without, as we shall see.
I did some research on what others have had to say on the subject and the importance of gratitude was further brought home to me. I will be posting a selection shortly. Here is one to meditate on for now. By the way, thank you Robert.

Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos into order, confusion into clarity... It turns problems into gifts, failures into success, the unexpected into perfect timing, and mistakes into important events. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow. Melodie Beattie


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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The ethical financial advisor

A stockbroker is someone who invests your money until there is nothing left.

So said Woody Allen, and there is many a true word spoken in jest. I don’t have a stockbroker. I can manage investing until there is nothing left quite well myself. And I am saving a heap in commissions. But to tell the truth, I would like to change my investment goals. So, on the look out for a financial advisor who is not afraid of the empathy gap, I read at Globeinvestor that Danielle Park had gotten her clients out of the market back in May before the crash. I did a search and found the site of her investment counsel firm, Venable Park. Here I found reports, predicting the credit crisis months in advance. Not only that but I found that Danielle has a blog, Juggling Dynamite where she posts almost daily comments, advice and pertinent links. And not only that, Danielle has written a book, which gives its name to the blog - Juggling Dynamite – which if you had read it in time would have warned you of the coming meltdown in the financial world and allowed you to protect your capital. After reading her blog and watching her interviews, I became convinced that Danielle is that rare breed: a totally ethical financial advisor. Ethical, but also smart. Smart, but also knowledgeable. Knowledgeable, but also decisive.
And Danielle knows all about the empathy gap. She tells of the sceptical reaction she got from her clients in 2007 and early 2008 when she tried to convince them that a financial tsunami was on the radar screen. I am sure they are all worshipping her conscientious prudence today.
Danielle’s firm manages clients with portfolios of one million dollars and more. I’m a few dollars short, but if you are like me, you can still profit from the million-dollar advice she gives in her book and at her firm’s website and the timely commentary in her blog, which is what I intend to do. Because Woody Allen also said:

Wealth is better than poverty if only for financial reasons.

Pass the word to your friends, get the message out. Danielle’s advice can help us get through this mess and avoid similar disasters in the future.

Monday, November 3, 2008

They said it couldn't be done

As I wrote in a recent post, we experience an empathy gap every time our actions go against the prevailing flow of our entourage or society. Keeping your cool in a situation where most people are losing theirs is an example. The reverse, seeing danger when most people are ‘keeping their cool’ or rather being blissfully ignorant is another. Think of Noah building the ark amidst the jeers of everyone in his community. Warren Buffet’s investment advice ‘Be fearful when others are greedy, be greedy when others are fearful’ is a clear example of living and prospering in the empathy gap.
For it is true to say that anyone who wishes to rise above the mass in any endeavour is going to have to become tolerably acquainted with the empathy gap. By definition, you don’t become exceptional by following the herd. By definition, wisdom is rare; if it were not rare we would not call it wisdom, we would call it ‘human nature’ or ‘common sense’.
So, when you have a sense that what everyone else is doing is not the way for you, honour it. Examine the truth, the motives behind this feeling, certainly, but be true to your own path, even (especially) if it is ‘a path less travelled’. You can have no regrets in doing this. God, the universe, the Tao will always ‘see you right’ if your path is based on a best-effort attempt at doing the right thing. And the gods always smile on the brave.
Even in small things our ‘nerve’ or convictions are constantly tested. For example, I once asked my son to help me move a plant that had graduated to small tree status. You must be kidding, he protested. You won’t be able to get it out; it will die from loss of roots etc. My son and I were experiencing a minor empathy gap. Needless to say, we got it out, we replanted it and it didn’t die. And I treated my son (again) to one of my ‘famous’ lines:

They said it couldn’t be done. They said he was a fool. They were wrong.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Ship's log - November 2008

The raging storm in the financial world and thereby in my personal financial world has preoccupied me lately. Rather than rising above such mundane, material considerations like a spiritual albatross, I have been plunging my head into every huge frothing wave and surfacing now and then in a sea of emotional turmoil. All of which has been very revealing, as you may imagine. I find that, having lacked the foresight to avoid the market crash, I have at least had the courage not to panic and sell. However, I have not had much patient fortitude while being courageous; I am ashamed to say that I have had many an angry feeling unworthy of the author of a blog on healing philosophy. Then again, as I have said in the past, the only reason I know something about philosophy is because I need it. Especially now.
Learning from mistakes is a large part of wisdom. Being prepared is another. I have promised myself not to make the same mistake of being unprepared for the next financial storm. But the major part of my preparation will continue to be improving my mind, and for this all storms are one.
If you would like to join me on this philosophical voyage, put your X on the line and join the ship’s crew below.

Discover The Tale of Genji, the 11th Century classic of Japan (click image)

Discover The Tale of Genji, the 11th Century classic of Japan (click image)
Kiyomizudera Temple has a large veranda looking out over Kyoto and beyond