A Thankful Heart

by Dan Martin

“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.”

                                                         -Lao Tzu

Many times people will have a noble desire to cultivate some positive behavior such as patience or being more giving. However, it is easy to decide to cultivate a trait that we are not really prepared to enact in our lives due to unresolved internal conflicts. It is like saying to ourselves, “I’m resolved to become a fast runner but I know I have a leg injury and can’t even run until I first heal up.” In such a case, we should be focused on healing first and not planning for our daily running exercises. We all do this in regard to goals for personal change and transformation.

The foundation of transforming how we feel and interact with others and situations in life seems to be the attitude of thankfulness. Once we are thankful for what we have (things, health, family, friends, the beauty of the Earth and so on) we can see situations and people in their proper context. Rather than allowing small things to be taken out of context and becoming bigger than they should be, which steals energy away from other areas of our life including our health.

Once we have cultivated a sense of thankfulness then we can begin to soften the most difficult part of our ego to overcome, pride. Pride is countered by humility and humility can only come about if we are thankful for what we have. Many people would like to cultivate humility for spiritual reasons, however, it is difficult to be humble in a non-self-conscious way if one is trying to be humble. When one is first truly thankful for what they have it is much easier to be spontaneously humble.

If we are thankful and naturally humble then the virtue of patience comes about naturally. Without patience most of the internal virtues people would like to cultivate are impossible. When we are impatient it is usually due to our pride (“I want it to be this way,” “how dare you impede me,” “I need it to be this way now…”). How do we become more patient? By focusing on what we are thankful for and allowing humility to naturally arise. In a humble mental state we are much more patient, allowing people and situations to play out as they will. We can simply observe them and learn from what they have to teach us. When we are impatient we can’t see the lessons that we could be learning and we end up allowing valuable life lessons to pass by in order to have life be the way our ego consciousness wants it to be.

If we can master patience in daily life, especially in unexpected daily life situations then we have graduated to the level of compassion. Only with the mindful state of patience can we begin to see people and situations in compassionate ways. Patience helps us to see beyond the surface level of behavior and problematic events, to compassionately engage life. Without compassion there really isn’t real transformation in our lives. This can include compassion for ourselves, others and all living things.

Finally, if we have developed a mental state where compassion can arise we have come to the state where we can contribute and give. Give not only of our physical possessions but of our time, efforts and talents to a world so much in need. Giving from a truly humble and non-self-conscious heart is a higher order virtue because it requires us to first address all of the other virtues already discussed.

Again, many people want to develop certain virtues before they even have the proper foundation. Let’s review the sequence discussed in this article:

Thankfulness – Humility – Patience – Compassion – Giving

When we begin with thankfulness it is as if we have the foundation of all the other virtues. But we can only find thankfulness when we are mindfully aware throughout the day. Finding reasons to be thankful in any given moment, is a spiritual transformation.