I don’t call myself a Buddhist but there is much about the Buddhist approach to life that feels right to me. I am drawn to the belief that my life, and everything in my life, is practice. Not practice for an abstract, future-tense state of being where everything is perfect and all potential fulfilled. Not time-served through adversity to merit everlasting rest in unseen perpetual bliss.
I’m not talking heaven or nirvana or any other metaphysical end state. I’m talking about right here, right now.
Life as practice means everything I do and everything done to me is raw material. I can work with everything to be more fully present in my life. This, I think, is the point of life. Not worrying so much about future states of perfection at the expense of the present moment. The future is never what I expect nor what I believe I will need it to be. Much better to focus my attention on right now, which is, of course, always exactly as it is.
This is not a recipe for nihilism. This carries me toward selflessness.
If my life is my practice, then I can work with everything and everything belongs. Being happy is temporary. Being unhappy is temporary. Being sad, frustrated, angry, elated are all temporary. These emotional states change. They intensify, and they weaken. They disappear.
Gratitude, however, does not disappear. Gratitude remains constant. Gratitude is not a feeling. Gratitude is a practice.
This time of year my mind habitually produces lists of the great things I appreciate. This is the Count My Many Blessings approach to gratitude. Keep doing this, but don’t stop here.
Gratitude as practice means seeing, recognizing and appreciating those things in my that are uncomfortable, unpleasant or just plain difficult. This stuff is my life, too.
And so gratitude as practice requires a list of not-so-pleasant things that make my life as it is. This does not come naturally to me. This requires a lot of practice.