Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Flow of Thanks

Another Thanksgiving has come and gone. For most of us, the holiday brought more than enough food, with leftovers perhaps still tumbling from the fridge.

As we sat down last Thursday to a table crowded with delectable fare, we might have paused for a few moments to appreciate and give thanks for all that we have. But Thanksgiving needn’t be merely a day set aside for gratitude. It can be a day set aside to remind us to be grateful always. A day to practice gratitude.

Everywhere we look, reasons for thankfulness abound. Indeed, our very existence rests upon the offerings of others. At the most basic level, a variety of life forms sustains us. Whether eating turkey or sweet potato, wild rice or pumpkin pie, cranberry or crescent roll, we absorb the vitality housed in these edibles and use that essence to fuel our own bodies and extend ourselves into the world.

We carry provisions into our kitchens in sacks of cloth, paper or plastic. Then, often using the remains of ancient living beings suspended as fossil fuel, we cook those raw ingredients, transforming them further with a sampling of spices and herbs gathered from around the world.

But the gifts~~and the sacrifices~~begin long before our kitchen preparations. Animals are bred, raised, and slaughtered, often in unsanitary and inhumane conditions, to provide us ready protein. Farm workers toil long hours, with pay frequently insufficient to purchase the very food they grow. Drivers bring trucks full of bounty into our neighborhoods, while store owners, shelf stockers and cashiers allow us to exchange cash for food.

And, then, we cook, and we eat. We quite literally ingest life. The sheer number of beings represented in a typical Thanksgiving meal~~or within a simple bowl of rice and beans, for that matter~~is beyond comprehension. An outpouring of deeply~felt gratitude with every meal seems the only appropriate response to this reality.

For gratitude to be truly authentic, however, it must be enacted. We must use the energy received from our food in a manner worthy of the gift we know it to be.

This living is a grand relay event. We receive from others, and we pass that energy forward through each thought and every action we undertake. We get to choose, though, the shape of the baton we hand off to the next fellow.

Will we use this gift of life energy to speak harshly to someone, or will we choose words that soothe and encourage? Will we fritter ourselves away in mindless activities, or consciously open to that which is good, to that which is God, and allow that Essence to pass through us to another?

A framed quote from A Course In Miracles hangs on my friend’s wall. “What if the only voice you listened to was the voice of love?” If we did listen only to that voice, we would recognize and open to the love streaming toward us in each moment, unfooled by its various guises. We would then recycle that love, transforming it in our own unique way before passing it on to the next participant in this magnificent relay.

Our days offer gifts aplenty. We can receive these gifts with a thankful heart, and with that same gratitude, we can give them away again. And again. And yet again.

Thanksgiving every day. Give thanks and, with thanks, give.

And a heart~felt thank you to everyone who reads these words I write. You are a gift to me!

Loanne Marie

PS. For other Thanksgiving thoughts, here's a previous post, Of Lotuses and Muddy Water.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

All Jewels Glittering

Recently, an old friend paid me a warm and heart~felt compliment. I watched as her words swept me across continents, funneled me into the rich spiritual heritage of the East, and dropped me right into Indra’s net!

Indra began as one of the most powerful gods of the Hindu pantheon. By the 3rd century A.D., however, in a delightful example of religious cross~
pollination, he appears in a sacred Buddhist text, the Avatamsaka Sutra. Here, though, it is the metaphor of his unique and marvelous net that takes center stage.

Infinite in size and stretching in all directions, Indra’s net is woven through with an untold number of glittering jewels. The true beauty of this image, however, lies in the interplay between these gems, for in the polished and glittering surface of one is reflected every other jewel in the never~ending web. And as author Francis Harold Cook writes, “each of the jewels reflected in this one jewel is also reflecting all the other jewels, so that there is an infinite reflecting process occurring.”

This image serves as an elegant illustration of several interrelated concepts central to Buddhist thought~~emptiness, interpenetration, and dependent origination. These rather dry~sounding terms refer to the interconnectedness of all phenomena, and the notion that nothing in this universe comes into existence on its own or has an enduring identity separate from all else.

Sun, rain, air, and the very minerals of our earthly home create and sustain our bodies. Our personalities and ways of perceiving the world blend the inheritance of our ancestors with the particulars of our own history, including every individual who has touched us in ways kind or hurtful, and each event we experience. Every shred of knowledge or wisdom we hold true has been directly or indirectly given us by others, or has been teased out from the rich interplay of our daily encounters throughout life.

The complexity of it all is truly beyond comprehension. Just as jewels in Indra’s net, we stand as a reflection of all that is.

This awareness came to me when Monica offered her compliment. I recognized at least a bit of what she was truly seeing~~my mother, father and ancestors reaching back through time, every person who has shared the beauty of her soul or the pain in his heart, all the joy and hurt I have known, and each of my wise and not~so~wise teachers. And of course, recognized or not, Monica also witnessed her own reflection, for she has been part of my shaping. And shining, too, were all the jewels that she mirrors from within her own life.

My friend’s words did feel good. We are social creatures, and feedback from kindred spirits lets us measure where we stand on the path of our intentions. But her words also pulled me out of myself by enlarging my awareness so I was able to recognize all those non~self elements that comprise me.

I thank Monica for her compliment, but I also savor a sweet gratitude for all the jewels shimmering in my firmament, gracing me with their reflected light. It’s good to remember that none of us stand alone. We are but tiny specks in a vast fabric of reflection. But tiny though we may be, we are, indeed, precious jewels in Indra’s net. Let’s shine our little hearts out!

Shine on!

Loanne Marie