By Daniel G. Weidner
Chapter nine of the book Start Where You Are by Pema Chodron (PC) is entitled “Be Grateful to Everyone”. She describes this Lojong slogan as “…about making peace with the aspects of ourselves that we have rejected.” Recently, as I was rereading this chapter, I could not help but reflect upon how my understanding of this slogan has changed over the last six years.
During this time our country has experienced a U.S. Presidency and a global pandemic that have transformed or, perhaps, more vividly revealed our national self-concept. We now routinely see terms like confirmation bias, divided, polarized, racist, misogynistic, misinformation, lies, conspiracy, hateful, toxic, and ignorant used to describe the state of our country, or, more precisely, the people of our country.
Many of us find ourselves significantly troubled by this state of affairs and wondering how we got here and what we are to do about it. I can’t help but wonder if this isn’t about making peace with the aspects of ourselves as a nation, that we have rejected, or at least tried very hard to ignore.
Through the practice of Mindfulness we learn to use painful and unpleasant situations to deepen our practice. We learn to face our difficulties head-on with awareness, compassion, empathy, non-judgmentalism, and understanding. Through this practice our fears, emotional reactions, and unpleasant feelings are employed as grist for the mill. Ken McLeod (Reflections on Silver River) states that this practice provides a way to deepen our relationship with life itself by “…moving into the clear natural awareness that is the essence of human experience.” It all begins with awareness.
He goes on to state that “Beliefs are reactions solidified into a worldview that cannot be questioned. Belief marks the line at which your ability to think rationally stops.” While he is speaking of this in terms of individuals, it seems to me that this can reasonably be understood to describe where we are as Americans. Beliefs are rigidly held and fortified through exposure to only that information that reinforces said beliefs – confirmation bias. We are acting and reacting with mindlessness.
So, what to do about this? Frankly, on a macro level I don’t have any advice to offer regarding what the average citizen can do to improve or at least modify this state of affairs. However, on a micro level I understand that each of us as individuals can use the skills of mindfulness practice to create a better environment for ourselves and those around us.
This begins with daily Meditation. Through Meditation we learn to observe our own thoughts and feelings. This observation then leads to awareness, increased understanding, and, over time, insight. Eventually we develop equanimity and begin to find both greater peace and balance in our lives.
This, in turn, then begins to have a positive impact on those around us. This is how we are grateful to everyone. This is a continuous process that involves learning to live fully in the present moment, opening our minds and hearts to both ourselves and others in the present moment, and engaging in a “…continual journey of wakefulness.” (PC). Through this process we begin to surrender “…to situations in order to communicate rather than win.”(PC). And since all ships rise and fall together we find that being grateful to everyone makes the world a better place.