“Every moment is a given moment. We haven’t earned it. We didn’t ask for it. It is a gift.”
(Brother David Steindl-Rast)
A monk asks Da Lung (Great Dragon)
“The physical body rots away. What is the hard and fast body of reality?”
Da Lung replies: “The mountain flowers bloom like brocade; the valley streams are brimming blue as indigo.”
(Blue Cliff Record # 82)
- Stop, Look, Go
- Enjoy the mystery, surprise, and play
- Express gratitude by paying forward,
- and watch what happens.
- Grateful living>>paying forward>>creates our own luck>>we are free (akarmic).
Audio Transcript: Resilience by Grateful Living–The Story of Brother David—
Sometimes a message comes to us in a thunderclap. Such was my extraordinary encounter with Brother David Steindl-Rast. My story takes place in a late afternoon in May 2017. I am riding my bike along Cabrillo Boulevard by the ocean in Santa Barbara. I had recently been introduced to the work of Brother David and was deeply touched by his simple practice, Stop Look Go. I don’t know who introduced me to this beautiful practice. I may have discovered it by chance on the Internet. At any rate, I am musing over Stop Look Go and contemplating how I might introduce it into my own writings and courses on Big Heart Intelligence. My mind and heart are overflowing with gratitude to Brother David. As I begin to turn back home from Stern’s Wharf, I perceive an elderly gentleman accompanied by a youth of around twenty years, slowly walking up the rise toward me. Mind you, this is precisely at the very moment I am contemplating Brother David. Ordinarily I would have passed this elderly gentleman, without noticing, lost in my own thoughts.
Somehow, this time, I pause; “It cannot be,” I say to myself, “but this elderly person indeed appears to be Brother David.” I cannot resist, I stop by him, and inquire “Can you possibly be Brother David… because at this very moment I have been thinking intensively about you? I am a great admirer of yours.” “Why, yes, I am!” he replies pleasantly with his wonderful thick Austrian accent and a bright smile. I would like you to meet my companion, he is the grandnephew of Caesar Chavez.” “But what are you doing in Santa Barbara. You live in a monastery in Austria,” I ask in amazement. “Oh, I am here only for today. I have just completed my interview with Oprah Winfrey.”
I get off my bicycle. and we begin to chat. I tell him I love music, and he immediately recommends that I listen to his favorite Hayden symphony; I tell him I am planning a vacation in Italy, and he invites me to visit him in his monastery. It is as if we are old friends meeting after a long absence. I will treasure this chance meeting all my life. And as I reflect upon it, now writing this account, I have the odd sense it is a deep confirmation several years in advance of everything I am relating here.
Facets of Experience
The concept of gratefulness is recognized in all the world’s wisdom traditions. I am told that the Talmud contains an instruction that upon rising we should be grateful that the laws of physics have not changed. I am not sure this is accurate quotation, but I like the faint hint of humor in it.
The practice of grateful living, at least as Brother David teaches it, is as simple as can be. Stop—meaning to Pause at this very moment during the rush of life; Look around you at what is actually happening; then Go with what is being offered, right now; grateful living is affirmative, not passive. We make the most of the gifts of life.
And sometimes we are reminded once again that this single moment is fleeting. Last week I woke up, looked out from my porch, and there in all its glory in the morning sunlight is a golden flower smiling up to me from a cucumber patch. I don’t believe I have ever witnessed a flower quite in this way. But then several hours later it is gone, died and shriveled—only its memory remains. I feel a sense of sorrow as though I have missed out, not fully savoring this special moment before it vanished forever. But then, a few days later, several flowers appear, each in its own way as lovely as the first, and now in greater abundance. There is a famous line from a Chinese poem: “Although the kingdom is destroyed, the mountain flowers and castle grasses are once again in bloom.”
What happens when we open ourselves to life in this way? I am continuously amazed by the abundance and fecundity of life. Every detail of it, every pattern contains a mystery, a surprise, and as the English poet Tennyson expresses it, “a noble chance.” In these moments I find refuge, joy, freedom, serenity, and love. And they can continue, if I really want them to, without end– a river of thus, thus, thus…
When we proceed in this way the moment, if we are lucky, may invite us to accompany it on a journey. We can grasp hold of what the German poet, Goethe, calls the “golden thread.” The golden thread takes us deeper into the experience of what this moment is telling us. There is an aquifer that runs underneath the soil of every one of the world’s great wisdom traditions; and it may not matter too much where and in what soil we begin to dig. What is important is to be steadfast in our digging.
As I dig, the years roll backward. I begin to reflect on the multitude of gifts and real blessings I have had in my life, for which I am amazed to say, I have scarcely realized and enjoyed until to this very moment. The living memories come easily back to me: my father playing Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier on the piano in the evening after work—all I need do is to open the treasure chest of memories and the music of Bach flows though me, here as my father is playing it; I look again in the ancient mirror, and I see the reflection of my mother introducing me to Homer, Leonardo, and other classics; and over there is my elder brother, a first year medical school student explaining to his admiring kid brother the structure of a cell. And, of course, my dear wife, Angela, my pilgrim soul, who has been my constant companion for almost these forty years. I treasure these precious moments we have together during this time of corona. All I need do is open the floodgates of the past and the memories, healing life-affirming memories, rush back to me; for this is what I invoke, and I am grateful for all the good fortune that has come my way and brought me to where I am today, here in this very moment.
This sense of gratitude is so powerful I hear an inner voice say, “Trust in the Connection”. When I am grateful, I do believe, in my Heart, despite so many years of being armored or distracted, that it is indeed possible to Trust in the Connection, notwithstanding the cruelty, injustice, violence, and blind folly in the world today.
But what if we put this principle of Trust in the Connection to the test? It is an ancient idea. In the Book of Job, the Devil approaches God who is well pleased with the good works of his servant Job; and the Devil says, “Yes, of course Job is a happy man; look at all the good fortune you have bestowed upon him. But let me put my hand on him, and he will soon change his tune.”
Is it possible to be grateful in the midst of chaos and personal misfortune? Why be grateful when life seems to turn cruelly and unforgivingly against us? I do not believe Brother David or any of the other teachers would say to my friend whose little girl of seven in the sunshine of her childhood is suddenly dying of an inoperable and aggressive brain cancer that he should be grateful for what is happening to his child. Nothing of the sort. It would be an obscenity. Trusting in the Connection means not to shun or turn away from what is happening, for actually there is no escape. But rather to find inside that which is happening to us, meaning, purpose, and inner strength—a pathway through the darkness toward Light and Love.
This is the secret Jacques Lusseyran discovered, as he describes in his extraordinary autobiography, And There Was Light–a little boy blinded in a school yard accident, yet encouraged to persevere in life by his loving parents. Light and Love carry him through his service, printing an underground newspaper for the French Resistance during the Nazi Occupation of Paris; and even after he is captured by the Gestapo and is sent to Auschwitz, he survives the horror—one of a small few among thousands of other French compatriots who perish; but he, totally blind, lives.
Gratitude, persistence, and a sense of mystery and marvel are keys to survival in the account of the psychiatrist Erich Fromm, as he looks out upon the beauty of the Alps from the boxcar window in the train taking him to Auschwitz. In each case, in the face of horror and despair, these heroes have held tenaciously and resiliently to life, with gratitude.
I have made one other for me stunning discovery. I call it “Turning the Wheel for Better.” I have found that as part of Brother David’s “STOP LOOK GO” if we Pay Forward the joy, the gifts, out into the world—to complete strangers, to friends, and community– as Emerson writes in his famous Essay on Compensation—to pass the gifts on, “line for line, deed for deed, cent for cent”, the universe responds; and the bounty will multiply in many mysterious ways. I call this “Creating Our Own Luck.”
And, of course, a really interesting question is Who is this “We”, who appears to turn the Wheel? I am only now after 76 years beginning to observe the first flicker at the dawn of an answer.
There is a secret to this art form: do not to ask anything in return. It is not a bargain; rather, it is analogous to learning to surf. We play for the sheer joy of it. And in this way, we become free.