Ken moved to the Abbey is July, ’11, and took anagarika precepts to begin preparing for monastic ordination. He wrote this for his family in Florida to contemplate on Thanksgiving Day.
Giving thanks for what we have has many benefits. Through our cultivating sincere gratitude, we will naturally become more content. This happens when we examine what we have and see its value. Much of our suffering comes from the mistaken, confused notion that there is more and better out there and it can give me something I don’t have now. Because happiness arises from our own mind and not from any external object, we can find value in and be satisfied with what we have now.
In addition to cultivating contentment, giving thanks sincerely helps us see how we came to get what we have. Whether we’re thankful for a material possession, a skill, a job title, family and friends we will see that all of these things come about for us in dependence upon others. Someone made the material possession we have, taught us the skill, promoted us at work and acted with love and compassion as a family member or friend. None of that comes from only our side. When we carefully examine our current situation we will realize that others are constantly involved in our happiness. Once we open our hearts and really see the kindess of others and their role in our happiness, we naturally want to repay them with our own kindness. This open-hearted attitude is a naturally happy mind.
When we reflect on what we’re thankful for and the kindness of others by which we have it, we create space in our minds. When we’re focused on the kindness of others we can drop our usual self-preoccupation, which is actually the source of all our misery. Dissatisfaction arises directly from the self-centered thought. That thought destroys any contentment we have. Cultivating gratitude and seeing others’ kindness creates some space by dropping our self-centeredness out on the curb. When we have the small space, we can continue to reflect and the space will expand and stabilize, further letting us open to greater love and compassion.
Everyone close your eyes.
Imagine that the food that’s been prepared today is in the space in front of you. It is in elaborate bowls and dishes lined with jewels.
Now imagine that it multiplies by millions of times, filling the sky.
In front of you are all the people who suffer from hunger due to famine, poverty and war.
Now, without any sense of loss, imagine offering all of this food to these people. They accept it with gratitude and pleasure. Their faces glow with contentment and appreciation.
Today, as you eat your food, recall that you’ve given it away. It’s not yours. Enjoy it with contentment and eat only what your body needs.
Since we are normally quite stingy, visualizations help us loosen our self-centeredness. The more we imagine doing this, the easier it becomes to do this – and more – in reality. May I also suggest that you all eat in silence for the first 20 minutes. Doing so, take the time to truly appreciate and contemplate what you have. Keep all of this in mind today. When we die, the football score will not matter. Instead, having a peaceful and contented heart and mind does matter – and this is the case no matter what you believe happens at death.