The Path to Grateful
Important government official comes to a renowned Zen master and says, “Teach me the ways of Zen. Open my mind to enlightenment.” It’s more command than request. The master smiles, saying, “Let’s discuss it over tea.” When the tea is ready, he pours for his guest, and pours until the cup begins to overflow, creeping across the table until it runs off onto the man’s robes. He jumps up, “Stop! Can’t you see the cup is full?” The master smiles again, “You are like this cup. So full, nothing can be added. Come back when your cup is empty. Come back with an empty mind.”
As modern, Western people, our cups are now so full, overflowing with digital data, that a study has shown our attention spans have dropped from twelve seconds in 2000 before the mobile revolution to eight seconds today. Considering that goldfish have demonstrated attention spans of nine seconds, we have fallen below goldfish in our ability to hold the moment, to simply be present to what is rather than what projects on our screens and our minds.
Why does this matter and what does it have to do with gratitude? Gratitude is more than mere thankfulness. It begins there, but journeys on to a life altering attitude and way of living connected to gifts we could never give ourselves. Gratitude is dependent upon presence, the ability to get all our preconceptions out of the way, clear our minds of distracting thoughts by immersing in what is right before us.
We can’t create gratitude, seek it directly or count blessings into it. Gratitude is what happens when we let go of the complexity in our minds in favor of the simplicity of an instant. It’s an umbrella term that covers all the positive emotions and excludes the rest. You can’t be grateful and anything negative at the same time. It’s a physical, mental, emotional impossibility. Maybe gratitude isn’t a thing itself, but the absence of anything that distracts from the ongoing gift—what it feels like to let the moment we’re in be enough for us, realize that anything added or taken away would only diminish.
Gratitude is what we call what we feel when we empty our cup and graduate from goldfish.