I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Attitude of gratitude

A few nights ago I woke up with a phrase in my mind, and it wouldn't go away. It must have come from a long time ago, back in the days when I was a hippie and went Sufi dancing a couple of times a week. I had to look it up to find out what it means:
Gate gate pāragate pārasaṃgate Bodhi svāhā
It is a Sanskrit mantra known as the Heart Sutra and means "Gone, gone, gone beyond, gone beyond beyond; Hail the goer." Where did that come from? It feels like a lifetime ago that I learned it, and very little memory surrounds the experience I had. Two memories emerge as I poke around trying to find out why this has come out of the corridors of my mind: one, I am in a room with low light, along with maybe thirty or forty others, and we are in two concentric circles. The inside circle faces out, and the outer circle faces in, so that two people are facing each other. As we chant the mantra, we stop and look into the face of the person across from us as we say the words. Then there is the sound of a chime, and we move to the next person and repeat the mantra. We do this for a long time.

The other memory that I have is being in a huge gymnasium type room with hundreds of people, and we were Sufi dancing together, which is very simple movements, not really dancing at all. Then we began an exercise of throwing ourselves rather violently onto the floor as we shouted, "There is no God!" As we picked ourselves up off the floor, we chanted, "But God." I remember being very sore from doing this for hours. I don't know how I got myself involved in all this, but it must have made a strong impression (in more ways than one), since suddenly both of those long-forgotten memories have emerged.

It all started with a post I wrote a while back. One of my commenters (I don't remember who and I just spent a while trying to find it, with no luck) suggested that I start each day by thinking of five things I'm grateful for. It's an interesting exercise, as it forces me to look past my aches and pains and think about the positive aspects of my life. I know I am a fortunate person, but sometimes I focus on the negative and lose perspective. Everybody does it, but what amazes me is how powerful that simple little exercise really is. As I enumerate the five things, they expand and I think of many more things than just five. My mood goes up, and I feel a spring in my step.

As the days have gone by, little memories like that mantra have begun to pop up, like little spring flowers poking their heads out of the ground. And they are flowering in my dreams, my everyday reveries, coming to me at the most curious times. Walking to the bus, I heard a new bird song and recalled the first time last spring I heard that song. Oh, the white-crowned sparrow is back! His song sounds like he's saying, "me, me, pretty pretty me," followed by a trill. Maybe the sparrow's song scrubbed out an old section of my memory banks, who knows? Whatever, my spirits lifted and I couldn't help but feel grateful for the gift of that song. I noticed the myriad sounds around me.

At the present time, I have three books I'm reading all at once. One is a heavy tome, "How the Mind Works" by Steven Pinker; another is a Jodi Picoult book ("The Pact"); and the last one is an old science fiction story I first read long ago by Isaac Asimov about robots. It's on my iPad. Usually I don't have three going at the same time, but since I requested the electronic book weeks ago and it showed up unexpectedly, I only have two weeks to read it before it disappears. The Pinker book is fascinating, but it takes a bit of concentration and I only spend a short time with it every day. It's also a library book but I can renew it until I'm finished. Not so with electronic books; other people want to "borrow" it.

The Pinker book has also been responsible for me pondering the amazing organ that sits inside my cranium. Perhaps that's another reason that my memory corridors have been jostled. Having learned how our eyesight developed is interesting (I just finished the chapter called "The Mind's Eye"), and I keep finding myself looking at the world with what seems to be new eyes. What I have noticed lately is a desire to get out of my ingrained habits and spend some time each day just looking. It's not hard to do that, when everywhere I look some new flower has emerged from the soil.

To think that it all started with an attitude of gratitude. I know I will fall back into my old habits, because it's what I do, but this little exercise is always available to me, as long as I remember that what I focus on is not all there is. Not even a tiny little bit of all there is.


Anonymous said...

Hi DJan! Good morning to you!!! I seem to remember you mentioning that P had emailed you to begin each day with 5 things you were grateful for. By doing so, you wouldn't feel so morose.

Somehow, I can picture you as a hippy. Lol. You seem to be the passionate type. I lived near Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco in 1968, at the height of hippiness, but never could join the craze. Never smoked marijuana like my roommate and her friends. Yeah, what a stick in the mud I was.

Retired English Teacher said...

Pinker is an amazing scholar, but he is also a bit hard to read. I have wanted to read this book. I had forgotten about it. Thanks for the reminder. When I was creating curriculum for training teachers to teach second language learners, I included his book, "The Language Instinct" as a text for one of the courses. The students always really like the book.

Your post today was insightful and helpful. I am trying to cultivate an attitude of gratitude.

Rubye Jack said...

I've read parts of the Pinker book but as I recall it was a little "thick" for me to stay with it. I think once you experience gratitude lists, you never really forget about them. I don't do it for awhile but then when I start getting depressed, I start thinking of gratitude again. It does work.
I'd always heard that Sufi dancing was a good quick way to get next to God but I didn't know about the throwing one's self on the floor part. Ugh. Doris Lessing was into Sufi mysticism for quite some time and so I was always curious about the philosophy but find it hard to understand. Isn't it fun when new memories come back?

CiCi said...

Wise words here, DJan. Reminding ourselves of the things we do have to be grateful for is part of it and as you say, it is only a small bit of the rewards and inspiration and gifts in life.

Rita said...

I wouldn't like the throwing myself on the floor part, but the sufi dancing or twirling has always looked interesting to me. If I even have that right and they are the sufis--LOL! The staring into people's eyes sounds awesome! We so seldom really look at each other and acknowledge each other in a meaningful way. Awesome!

The remembering to be grateful is such a simple thing for any of us to do. If you keep it in mind, over time it can become a way of thinking--a way of living. And life just takes on a brighter, joyous, sparkly hue in general. ;)

I have memories I can't sort out in proper order in time without deep thought--and sometimes even then. But they say if you can remember the 60s you didn't really experience them, so I'll use that as an excuse--ROFL!! ;)

Happy Sunday, Lady! :)

Blue Ridge Mountains said...

Hello, Just looking at your photos from time to time gives me something to be happy about. Love the latest flowers. Oh, sometimes I try and picture myself on one of you seniors hikes and it gives me pleasure. Pam

June said...

My AA sponsor was the first to recommend closing my day with enumeration of five things for which I was grateful. It is an uplifting habit to cultivate. When I fail to do that, my "noticing" turns more inward . . . never a good thing for me. There's much prettier stuff outside me.

Red said...

Rather interesting how all these ideas are related. I believe that is how things come together for our memories. Connections are made and there is no telling where it may lead you. I think we could have many more lists of five things that would make us stronger for the day.

Jackie said...

I can't say it enough. You are a wise woman, Jan. Wisdom is something that is hard to attain. I enjoy reading your posts.

Gigi said...

Living with an attitude of gratitude is a great way to live. And is advice I need to follow myself. But when things aren't going well it's hard to think about things to be grateful for - but that's the moment I NEED to be doing so, I suppose.

Arkansas Patti said...

I always enjoy my trip here and usually learn. I really like that idea of actually looking into another's eyes. A practice lost in this "me" world.
What a diverse selection of books you are reading all at once.
When something unpleasant happens to me, I try to immediately counter it remembering something positive in my life at the same time. It helps.

Trish said...

DJan, hippie and Sufi dancer and world traveler. So fitting, really, with your Sagittarius sun. Ever the nomad, the explorer. Beautiful post.

Friko said...

Having just spent a week looking for joyful things - not too far removed from gratitude - I am glad I can fall back into my usual grumpy routine. Gratitude and joy can be a touch tiring.

Seriously though, Being aware of how lucky we are gives us a perspective on others who are not so well off.

Living consciously is always good, too much time is lost when we simply go through the motions.

I've never followed a mantra but a conscious effort to be alert to the beauty around us pays off. I'll have to invent my own mantra!

Robert the Skeptic said...

I've heard that thing about starting the day thinking of 5 things I am grateful for. I forget to do that often and instead think of 5 things that annoy me. Sometimes the 5 annoying things hit my consciousness at 4 AM when I go to the bathroom... then I can't bet back to sleep because 5 annoying things keep me awake.

But eventually I wake up and realize I am still alive (#1) and my wife brings me coffee in bed (#2) and I realize I am in a nice house that's paid for (#3) and my kids and grand kids are all well and doing fine (#4) and I get to start and end each day with the Love of My Life (#5).

Thanks for reminding me to remember 5 things.

Star said...

Being a more solitary person, I cannot imagine living with a crowd of other people all doing the same thing at the same time. It sounds amazing, but not for me. I'd rebel against it. However, I can see how it has affected you and given you the ability to remember events and mind situations.
I try not to think about my innards. As far as I'm concerned, I don't have any, until they hurt. My brain needs to be where it is, out of sight, ha ha.

karena said...

I am grateful for you today....and your words that inspire me so....have a lovely day DJan.

Donna B. said...

Wonderful post as always...I love how you write, its like listening to you talk...

Have you read POWER VS FORCE by Dr. David R. Hawkins, PhD? He also did TRANSCENDING THE LEVELS OF CONSCIOUSNESS. Very heavy with intense concentration, but so rewarding and insightful. I love it when I "get it" and understand...

I used some of what I read in Power vs Force to "re-invent or re-locate" myself...