Gratitude

Navni Gujral

A self-willed man cannot be grateful- because when he gets what he wants he gives all the credit for it to his own will, and when he gets what he does not want he resents it badly and throws all the blame on whomever he considers responsible, God, man or Nature.
--The Mother, Collected Works of The Mother, Vol. 14, p. 155.


For the biggest chunk of my life I have been so wound up in my own little story that when we initially used the word "gratitude" during a course at IPI, I was so surprised at how, it sounded, at once so simple and obvious and yet so alien to my own experience. My world had always started and ended with me- the victories were mine to celebrate and defeats mine to bear or hurriedly get-over, there was no real place for anyone else.

Does something about gratitude come to mind when you ponder over your own experiences?

The ego thinks of what it wants and has not. This is its constant preoccupation. The soul is aware of what it is given and lives in endless gratitude.
--The Mother, Collected Works of The Mother, Vol. 14, p. 257.

Endlessly my mind was busy thinking on the things I didn't have- a salary like x, a passion for my job like y, a figure like z, etc. I can go on and on; what then was there to be grateful for in a perpetual state of longing and wanting?


Moreover, by some luck when I managed to get something I was wishing for, too soon the novelty and pleasure wore off; it became routine and I wanted something new.

Does anything come to mind for yourself?

***
It is very difficult to keep up your gratitude; for a time it comes very strongly and again it goes back.
--The Mother, Collected Works of The Mother, Vol. 14, p. 155.

Even the rare moments of gratitude that I can recall were so brief and dimmed as my attention always took me right back into a room full of thoughts about all that I hadn't yet accomplished, all that wasn't yet mine. Constantly transiting between messy thought-loops and feelings of inadequacy, I was so blind to all that I was lucky to have.

My gratitude toward others was always expressed in return for something tangible, by strong mechanical bursts of excitement (much like this huge empty speech bubble below :/) by repetitively thanking them out aloud and always promising something tangible back in return. Common reactions were: "I owe you big time!", "just wait for what I'm getting you now! (without even having thought of anything)". The simple gratitude was lost somewhere so fast in all the noise- at most it was stored as a mental note on how I was to return the favor, and that too, often disappeared with time.


When the mind awakens to the awareness of the first psychic movements, it distorts them in its ignorance and changes compassion into pity or at best into charity, and gratitude into the wish to repay, followed, little by little, by the capacity to recognise and admire.
--The Mother, Collected Works of The Mother, Vol. 15, p. 277.
***
[Animals] They are not tormented by incessant thoughts like human beings. For example, they feel a spontaneous gratitude for an act of kindness towards them, whilst men, ninety-eight times out of a hundred, begin to reason and ask themselves what interest one could have in being good. This is one of the greatest miseries of mental activity. Animals are free from this and when you are kind to them they are grateful to you, spontaneously.
--The Mother, Collected Works of The Mother, Vol. 5, p. 239.

Having grown up in Delhi where one is constantly told to "watch out!" and "be safe!", I recently realized on a vacation to Arunachal Pradesh how suspicious I had grown of human beings in general. As locals endlessly offered us lifts and directions and food and tips, I noticed how paranoid and suspicious I had become. Common thoughts were:


  • What if they're taking us somewhere else?
  • "Why is he smiling at me?"
  • "Will we need to pay them for their help?"

There was no place in my story to feel appreciative and grateful. I remember feeling so embarrassed and surprised while saying to my friends, "people here are so nice for…no reason."

Do any memories come to mind from your own life that may relate to the quotes above?

***
People are not aware of the workings of Grace except when there has been some danger, that is, when there has been the beginning of an accident or the accident has taken place and they have escaped it. Then they become aware. But never are they aware that if, for instance, a journey or anything whatever, passes without any accident, it is an infinitely higher Grace. That is, the harmony is established in such a way that nothing can happen. But that seems to them quite natural. When people are ill and get well quickly, they are full of gratitude; but never do they think of being grateful when they are well; and yet that is a much greater miracle!
--The Mother, Collected Works of The Mother, Vol. 5, p. 406.

When I try to recall occasions when I have felt spontaneously grateful I instantly think of:

  • The moment right after I have sped on highways into narrow spaces between other vehicles, shutting my eyes on the last second and hoping I would squeeze through.
  • When I was allowed to board a flight despite being half an hour late.
  • When my parents didn't catch my many lies despite being left alone with my friends on long (unplanned :/) occasions.
  • When I got well just in time to go for vacation


That gratitude was always conditional; moreover, I almost only ever experienced it when what I considered a potentially negative situation, turned out to be unexpectedly positive.

Can you think of experiences when you've felt gratitude toward someone or something?
Is it often conditional and dependent on factors such as those mentioned in my recollections or is it very different for you?

***

Two years ago when my marriage ended, I was left quite defeated. Amidst a messy aftermath, not knowing who to trust or where to look for guidance, I felt lost and anchorless. It was around then that I began to feel an unmoving presence within, higher than my ordinary self, taking over controls. Sick of my own incapability, I gradually began to let go off my clumsy, confused ideas about what was to be done.

As the presence grew stronger and more intimate to me, I knew I had met god. My words won't do justice to the experience, and yet I'll say that it felt like all the darkness and pain disappeared like little raindrops into an ocean of light. I had come upon something greater than anything I could have possibly wished for. Overwhelmed almost each day since then, I'm often filled with a strong sense of delight and gratitude for what I have been blessed with :) On most days I wake up thinking: "I still can't believe he's really there!"


That kind of sense of gratitude that the Divine exists; that feeling of a marveling thankfulness which truly fills you with a sublime joy at the fact that the Divine exists, that there is something in the universe which is the Divine, that it is not just the monstrosity we see, that there is the Divine, the Divine exists. And each time that the least thing puts you either directly or indirectly in contact with this sublime Reality of divine existence, the heart is filled with so intense, so marvelous a joy, such a gratitude as of all things has the most delightful taste.
--The Mother, Collected Works of The Mother, Vol. 8, p. 40.

Along similar lines, here is a poem I wrote for a project previously at IPI.

A yearning for something true
brought me to a tiny flame within
As I looked it in the eye,
it grew bigger and brighter.
I wanted more.
When did doubt betray me and
how did I get here?
Now I'm burning in a fire.
I hope the prayers I send you
are worthy of the all this grace
you shower back upon me.

Are there instances in your life that have given you a sense of something higher or deeper or larger than yourself? What was the experience like?

***
And yet, of all movements, the one that perhaps gives the most joy- an unalloyed joy, untainted by egoism- is spontaneous gratitude. It is something very special. It isn't love, it isn't self-giving. It is a very full joy. Very full. It is a very special vibration unlike anything other than itself. It is something that widens you, that fills you, that is so fervent! Of all the movements within the reach of human consciousness, it is certainly the one that draws you most out of your ego.
--The Mother, The Spiritual Significance of Flowers. (Part 1) p. 122.


Undoubtedly, it is during these moments that I feel the most free- there is no place for smallness, for clinging and insisting and wanting; at once it's all replaced by a wideness that comes from spreading my arms wide upon and a silent smile that cannot thank enough, by an amazement at the secret that lay the whole time behind my self-obsessed little experience of life.

There is nothing left to ask for, save perhaps a strong hope to search deeper and appreciate more of this presence everywhere, in as many different ways as possible.

Can you recall moments when you felt a "spontaneous" gratitude? What was the experience like for you?

***

On a more recent journey to the hills in the north-east of India, as I reached my destination, this was what greeted me:





It's not that I hadn't visited beautiful places or snowed-out mountains before, but this time felt so different- because behind this mind-boggling painting of nature I so viscerally experienced the same presence: unmoving, silent, vast, filled with love. One with everything, a peace filled me; I was no longer a small little ME and I wanted nothing more at that moment. A widening that had previously been so alien to me, an openness, a strong wish to bow down in respect and then just merge into it all. When my cheeks grew tired of holding my smile, I remember saying to my best friend, "yo how can people still think god doesn't exist?!"

There is nothing which gives you a joy equal to that of gratitude. One hears a bird sing, see's a lovely flower, looks at a little child, observes an act of generosity, reads a beautiful sentence, looks at the setting sun, no matter what, suddenly this comes upon you, this kind of emotion- indeed so deep, so intense, that the world manifests the Divine, that there is something behind the world which is the Divine.
--The Mother, Collected Works of The Mother, Vol. 8, p. 40.

Are there things within or without that you feel unconditional gratitude for?

***
Sometimes, when one sees a generous act, hears of something exceptional, when one witnesses heroism or generosity or greatness of soul, meets someone who shows a special talent or acts in an exceptional and beautiful way, there is a kind of enthusiasm or admiration or gratitude which suddenly awakens in the being and opens the door to a state, a new state of consciousness, a light, a warmth, a joy one did not know before. That too is a way of catching the guiding thread.
--The Mother, Collected Works of The Mother, Vol. 8, p. 405.


As a participant at the 8-month course held at the Indian Psychology Institute (IPI) in Pondicherry, each of us took on a fairly intense journey of going inward. Often feeling vulnerable through periods of inner and outer turmoil, my mentors showed me an unwavering love and support that I had never known to have existed between humans (parents excluded and always taken for granted in my case. Through them I was able to see the divinity we are capable of, and wish dearly to express the same through myself one day. I felt much like this little dog above, being protected by a giant soul.

Here is a note that I had previously written to two of them:

"Feels like there are gold coins of knowledge endlessly falling into my lap. Thank you so much for this space :) I'm finally so excited about the rest of my life. Torn between wanting to live all of it in one second to see what it holds and not wanting any moment to pass. Lots and lots of love."

Are there people or situations come to mind for you as well? What was it in them that made you feel that way toward them? How did you experience and express your gratitude?

***
And then there are those who have an innate faculty of gratitude, those who have an ardent need to respond, respond with warmth, devotion, joy, to something which they feel like a marvel hidden behind the whole of life, behind the tiniest little element, the least little event of life, who feel this sovereign beauty or infinite Grace which is behind all things.
I knew people who had no knowledge, so to say, of anything, who were hardly educated, whose minds were altogether of the ordinary kind, and who had in them this capacity of gratitude, of warmth, which gives itself, understands and is thankful.
--The Mother, Collected Works of The Mother, Vol. 7, p. 418.

Meet Laxmi Amma who has been cleaning at IPI for 10 years. A while ago she burnt both her legs almost entirely in a fire accident. I remember her coming and telling us at the end of class one day with a huge smile on her face that didn't leave for a second! When we initially expressed our concern and asked worriedly about her pain, she pointed toward the sky and said in Tamil, "Mother is there". Tears filled up in my friend's eyes. At home we spoke about how we could never have such a faith or unwavering gratitude.


What a contrast it was to when I injured my knee earlier this year- fat tears streaming down my face as I stood on the terrace alone and glared at the sky saying, "WHY ME?!":/

Have you come across people who innately possess this quality too? What makes them that way? Where do you see yourself against this?

***
Be absolutely convinced that everything that happens, happens in order to give us precisely the lesson we needed, and if we are sincere in the "sadhana", the lesson should be accepted with joy and gratitude.
--The Mother, Collected Works of The Mother, Vol. 14, p. 219.

The last few years have brought me to many such situations that taught me to stop insisting that things go a certain way, to simply step back and allow something far wiser than my small-self to take charge of what was needed at the time.

And most often when I look back at the things I was complaining about, with time it becomes so clear why they needed to happen, how the thing was needed then for me to grow and learn.

Maybe I make it sound easier than it is, but certainly this realization has made me far more appreciative of all the people and situations that become part of my own experience. Regardless of my stumbling and changings judgments and opinions, my attempt is to take each situation as an opportunity to practice my yoga.

Can you recall incidents when you were miserable in a situation but later could appreciate that it was useful in some ways?

***

Some small pointers for myself that are so simple to read but need much will and practice :/

The best thing we can do to express our gratitude is to overcome all egoism in ourselves and make a constant effort towards this transformation.
--The Mother, Collected Works of The Mother, Vol. 16, p. 428.


The best way to express one's gratitude to the Divine is to feel simply happy.
--The Mother, Collected Works of The Mother, Vol. 14, p. 154.


Physically, materially, upon earth, it is in gratitude that one finds the source of the purest delight.
--The Mother, Collected Works of The Mother, Vol. 15, p. 192.
***