It seems like challenge and difficulty can be found around every corner these days, especially when we believe that “hard times” are all that there is that awaits us. We struggle, we worry, we get angry, and we feel like it’s certainly not “us” that has the power to shape our life; it’s always some nameless, faceless “it” or “them!”
Sadly, this belief system guarantees only one thing; more of the same! The truth is that although events in the world that are outside of our control do exist, how we respond to them is entirely within our control.
Interestingly enough, it is from the warrior traditions of other cultures that we can often find insight into the seeming paradox of living with a sense of tranquility and gratitude in the midst of turmoil. The Japanese Samurai warriors, for example, although confronted with the ever present threat of conflict, were known for their impeccable courtesy to others, even their enemies.
These warrior cultures often developed an exquisite appreciation for the beauty and tranquility found in everyday life despite, or perhaps as a result of, their having to manage conflict, fear, and sometimes the chaos of battle.
It is possible for us to also find “center” in our chaotic lives as did these warriors; to promote harmony in ourselves and in the world around us. We too can develop an abiding sense of gratitude for all that we have, even as we struggle with our feelings about what we don’t have.
These are 6 steps that I have learned from my study of warrior cultures to promote harmony and develop and “attitude of gratitude.”
(1) Harmony begins on the inside.
Harmony is about a feeling of congruence. It most often arises in conditions of tranquility and agreement. It makes its’ presence known through behaviors such as courtesy, appreciation, tolerance and patience.
The problem is, if you’re not being courteous, patient, appreciative and tolerant of yourself, you most likely won’t be able to give these gifts to others. To paraphrase the New Testament, “What you do unto yourself, you will do unto others.”
Harmony begins with self care. Let go of trying to always be “perfect” or “getting it all done.” Take opportunities just to enjoy small things; the quiet time in the evening before bed, the aroma and warmth of a steaming cup of coffee, an orange colored brilliant sunset, how the fresh the wind can smell at midday, how beautiful the morning sky is.
The simple act of breathing in a relaxed, deep way calms your nervous system, relaxes you, and reduces stress.
The less stress in you, the less stress you’ll create in your world.
(2) Harmony relies on establishing personal rituals.
Harmony is a habit, as is disharmony. They both rely on rituals to exist.
The Samurai lived in a society where courtesy to others was always required no matter the conditions. There was a formal and accepted way of standing, walking, serving tea, and bowing that all Samurai understood betokened respect.
Develop rituals of politeness. Extend courtesy to all but, most importantly, be courteous to the people who most often don’t receive it.
What type of impact for good do you think you can have when you say “thank you” to the cashier who seldom, if ever, hears it from his or her customers?
How have you effected his or her day, or perhaps his or her life, just by acknowledging their personhood? And what did this simple act of kindness require of you?
Even when you are in conflict with another, strive to recognize the human dignity in your opponent and honor it as best you can.
In the life and death encounters that encompass the world of all warriors, the Samurai, nonetheless, chose to see their opponents as being much like themselves; motivated by honorable intentions and, therefore, worthy of respect.
Showing courtesy to all, even those we compete or are in conflict with, allows us to not only be in harmony with these challenging aspects of dealing with others, but to also never lose sight of the elemental connection we share with all people, even those with whom we may have legitimate differences.
When those who disagree with us are willing to openly stand up and confront us in the service of their beliefs, they also recognize and acknowledge our integrity and willingness to do the same for what we believe in.
In doing so, they demonstrate the simple truth of the Chinese adage that, “The courage of your enemy does you honor.”
(3) Harmony compels us to find or create a sanctuary.
We all need a place where we can simply let down our guard. That “place” can be a house of worship, a park, another person, or a room in our home.
To find sanctuary means to find a place where we feel absolutely and totally safe. Find such a place, or make one.
When you know what true safety feels like, you understand what harmony is, and when you feel it, you can move towards it, and away from disharmony.
(4) Look inside to find gratitude.
Warriors are grateful for each new day; for each new breath. When life has the finality that only combat can provide, each sunrise is precious, each sunset seen with open eyes is a gift.
Life is precious, because it is a fragile gift, and it is the most important gift we, as humans, all share.
There is a Japanese Zen tradition that is known as “Naikan,” which means to “look inside.”
As daily exercise as yourself 3 questions:
(1) What did I receive?
(2) What did I give?
(3) What troubles or difficulties did I cause the giver?
So, as you get up each morning angry about the job you hate, I invite you to ask yourself who kept your house warm as you slept?
As you shave or shower, who made sure that clean hot or cold water was there for your unlimited use?
Who patrolled your street that night and kept you safe from fire or crime?
Who guarded our nation’s borders and kept you safe while you slept?
Who paved the roads you ride on?
Who kept them clean?
Who worked all night to make sure you had electricity to have the TV, coffee maker, stove, computer on when you woke up?
Now what have you done to thank them for what they have done for you, just so you can have the day you are beginning?
How did you make their job easier?
And given that all this that was done for you just so you could start your day, explain to me again why you don’t have anything to be grateful for, or why you “don’t owe anybody anything?”
If you can’t be grateful for all this, then my guess is you’re just not paying attention to all the wonderful things that are just part of our everyday lives. If you’ve ever been cold, or hungry, or unsafe, however, you probably don’t take these things for granted.
Remember that gratitude is the bedrock of a virtuous life. Being thankful for what has been given to us makes it easier for us to give to others.
As the Roman philosopher Cicero said, “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.”
(5) Share your gratitude with others.
Joy is infectious, and gratitude is as well. If you want to feel and share gratitude, let yourself be in the presence of those who feel grateful. Feel theirs’ and give them yours as well.
To live in gratitude we all need to be messengers, we need to give others the gift of what you feel truly thankful for.
As William Arthur Ward said, “Feeling gratitude and not passing it on is like wrapping a present and not giving it.”
Anais Nin said “We don’t see the world as it is, we see the world as we are.” Harmony is not a place you get to, it’s a world you create. Gratitude is created not by looking at what’s outside of you, but what is inside of you.
If you want your world to change, be that change. Hope, strive, achieve, fail, but most importantly, believe you can make “your” world and “the” world better by giving it all you have.
And at the end of the day, recognize you and everyone else you meet on your journey through life is a miracle; there is only and will ever be only one of you. That’s a miracle!
And if nothing else, we need to be grateful for miracles.
Hang in there and, as always, keep the faith that you can make your life better!
Photo Credit: ForestMind via Flickr