Choose Gratitude

Shakti YogaIndian yoga teachers traditionally used parables to make a teaching resonate. It allowed the teaching to transcend text and language. It also infused emotion and imagery so that it would go deeper than our logical mind. When meditating on gratitude at this time of year, two stories come to mind.

One of them is entitled “Very Nice, Very Nice”. I am sure there is a well written story for this parable somewhere but, since it has only ever been passed on to me orally, I will present it as I remember it.

A poor, elderly Indian farmer had a single horse and, one day, it ran away. To the bewilderment of his neighbours, his response was “Very nice, very nice.” When the next day his horse returned, in the company of two others, they expected him to gloat but, instead, he simply responded “Very nice, very nice.” His neighbours had only a short time to be jealous because, the next day, the farmer’s son was kicked by one of the new, wild horses and his leg was broken. When the farmer heard, he simply said “Very nice, very nice.” His neighbours laughed at his inability to see the gravity of his situation. Without his son, how would he harvest his crops? The next day, the army came through the village and took all of the able bodied men to war, leaving only the farmer’s son.

This story is usually told to teach students the yogic concept of non-grasping. This is the idea that true happiness can only be attained through not being too attached (or too averse) to any particular state of affairs. However, this feeds into the idea of being grateful for what is, regardless of whether or not it seems to be good or bad on the surface. The message can also be that there is always something to be grateful for. The farmer still had his health, his farm, the crops he had planted and his family when his horse ran away. When his son’s leg was broken, he still had those things and the fact that his son was still alive. We never know what is behind the challenges thrown our way. In fact, many transformations occur as the result of living through tragedy. That does not mean that we would wish these things on ourselves or anyone; instead, it can make all the difference to simply recognize that there is always something to be grateful for in the midst of pain and to develop the habit of looking for those things instead of focusing on the things that we don’t like. This brings me to my next story, which is a Native American metaphor.

An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy. “It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.” He continued “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather “Which wolf will win?”

The old Cherokee simply replied “The one you feed.”

Just as we can feed all the good qualities listed in this story, we can feed the habit of being grateful. I once heard a woman talk about her realization in the moments before she was about to undertake a very risky brain surgery that all of the things about her life that had ever blocked happiness now seemed so very irrelevant. At the point when she accepted that she might lose her life, she realized for the first time how valuable it was.

We can take the wisdom of these teachings with us into the month of Thanksgiving. Feed the good wolf and strive to find the good in the people and things around us. Recognize the obvious good, and the possible good, that may come from the challenges that we face. Take the time to be grateful for the blessings in our lives right now instead of waiting until they are no longer there before recognizing their value.

Happy Thanksgiving yogis!

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