Yoga and the Power of Gratitude

Sunset in Hawaii, I am feeling so grateful for this experience.

Sunset in Hawaii, I am feeling so grateful for this experience.

As I write this, I am in Hawaii soaking up the warm climate and amazing beauty, and reveling in all the experiences out in nature that the islands have to offer. I am feeling so grateful at the moment.

The trick in life, of course, is to carry this feeling of gratitude with us in each moment. This being the month we celebrate Thanksgiving Day, it is a good time to stop and reflect on all that we have, especially this human birth. Why? Well, here is one of the Buddha’s lessons:

The Buddha taught that every human birth is precious and worthy of gratitude. In one of his well-known analogies, he said that receiving a human birth is rarer than the chance that a blind turtle floating in the ocean would stick its head through a small hoop. He would often instruct a monk to take his ground cloth into the forest, sit at the base of a tree, and begin "gladdening the heart" by reflecting on the series of fortunate circumstances that had given the monk the motivation and ability to seek freedom through understanding the dharma.

Whether or not you believe the Buddha’s assertion that each of us have basically won the lottery 10 times over in arriving here, if you stop to look back and think about it, each of us are here because of many fortunate events took place. Especially those of us who are born here in the U.S. can reflect on just how lucky we are. And we arrive at practicing yoga and meditation because we want to experience and know more freedom from within. We’re so lucky to have these contemplative practices which can ultimately bring more ease into our lives. The very fact that we can sit upright is a condition for becoming enlightened, for when the head can rest over the spine, like ours can, the mind can move towards stillness. In this stillness, our true nature can reveal itself.

Another influential teacher of mine, Beryl Bender Birch, said this:

Keeping Your Heart Open

Rain or shine, stormy or sunny, our work in yoga is to stay open, to walk the path of nonresistance. The minute we resist what “is,” we miss out on whatever life is offering at that moment. If we know how to live daily life, which is the point of practicing yoga, then life becomes a very liberating experience. Every moment is a choice—so do we want to be happy, or miserable? Learn the secret to accepting life’s journey with gratitude and joy no matter what is going on in your life or swirling around you. 

Life flows all the time, and we can either stay with the currents or try to swim against them. Often, I pray to God that S/He guide me to being content with the path that is being presented to me. Often life doesn’t turn out the way I had planned, and I seek the awareness to know that God has a better plan for me than the one I prepared. 

For example, coming here to Hawaii, my partner and I had created a list of things we wanted to do, and a daily plan of action for each day we’re to be here. Well, the weather didn’t quite cooperate according to our schedule – the north shore of Oahu got pounded by high waves – so we had to shift things around. And naturally we overscheduled our days – there was so much we wanted to do! – and had to scale back and do the things we really wanted to do. As I reflect back now on our trip, things turned out so wonderfully – and much better than I could have planned. Each day has felt so magical.

Today of all days in my life, I am feeling particularly grateful. Ed, my partner of 7 years, and I are getting married. As I reflect back, I know that I am so very fortunate to be able to marry the man I love. My parents and family loved me unconditionally no matter who I decided to love, and so many have fought equality battles so that two men could be joined in union like this. Gratitude is flowing strongly through me in this moment.

May you realize how lucky you are to be able to have this human experience, …
May you experience gratitude often as life flows in and around you, …
May your heart be gladdened, …
for the benefit of All beings.

Aloha with Metta,
Paul Keoni

Hawaiian Shark Encounter off the coast of Haleiwa on Oahu’s North Shore.

Hawaiian Shark Encounter off the coast of Haleiwa on Oahu’s North Shore.