Impact of Druidism on Everyday Life: Requited Gratitude

“How has your religion changed your daily, everyday life?”

In my original post on the essence of Druidism, I wrote about how gratitude was the essence of what drew me to the religion — gratitude for our ancestors, our teachers, and our gods. I have found, though, that since beginning my practice, my whole experience of gratitude has changed.

ire430dI was not raised with gratitude at the center of spiritual practice. The first fundamental truth of Buddhism, the religion I was raised with, is that the world is afflicted with suffering; and a fundamental truth like that does not engender much gratitude. One of the famous sayings of Zen is “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him”. Again, not much gratitude there. This is in no way intended as a criticism of Buddhism — I know that many Buddhist meditations are very effective in encouraging the development of gratitude, and it is an important part of many kinds of Buddhist practice. My point here is simply that the practice of gratitude per se was not part of my personal Zen-influenced upbringing. When I grew older, and abandoned Buddhism in favor of atheism and agnosticism, I was removed even further from gratitude.

Of course, I did feel gratitude for being alive, and for the forests and the sunsets and so forth. But I had nowhere to direct that gratitude. I was grateful, but there was no one available to say “you’re welcome”. It was a sort of unrequited gratitude; it was like being in love with someone who doesn’t even know you exist, except of course it was really being in love with someone whom you don’t even know exists.

As I entered into Druidism, I began to use visualization techniques to make contact with those I was thankful to. I was able to thank the gods and ancestors specifically, by name, for their blessings, and I saw them smile and acknowledge the thanks. Having your thanks recieved with love is a wonderful thing — it is an additional blessing on top of everything you’re already thankful for.

It particularly transformed the Winter Solstice. I always enjoyed that time of year, and the evergreens and gift-giving and so forth spoke to something inside me. In the past, we have always put a Santa doll at the top of the tree — mostly because it was quirky and cute and Santa was not an angel. But this past Solstice was the first time it was really meaningful for me. When I put Santa up — and him wearing the traditional red, white and black colors of the Celtic Otherworld — I knew I was giving proper reverence for a real spirit that was coming into my home. This was probably the happiest Solstice season I’ve had in my life, simply because I was really celebrating something I believed in. (Well, that one time when I was five and I got a Lone Ranger doll — that was pretty awesome, too.)

This changed experience of gratitude has opened a door. Somehow, all the things I’ve been grateful for — my family, the sky, the earth — are brighter, more colorful, and more real. I feel more alive and present. I’m going to close with a quote from C.S. Lewis’s “The Last Battle” which describes the change in my daily life most vividly:

“Perhaps you will get some idea of it, if you think of it like this.You may have been in a room in which there was a window that looked out on a lovely bay of the sea or a green valley that wound away among the mountains. And in the wall of that room opposite to the window there may have been a looking glass. And as you turned away from the window you suddenly caught sight of that sea or that valley, all over again, in the looking glass. And the sea in the mirror, or the valley in the mirror, were in one sense just the same as the real ones: yet at the same time they were somehow different — deeper, more wonderful, more like places in a story: in a story you have never heard but very much want to know…every rock and flower and blade of grass looked as if it meant more. I can’t describe it any better than that: if you ever get there, you will know what I mean.”

Comments

  1. Why would someone kill Buddah if they saw him walking down the street? I don’t understand that at all.

  2. Jeff Lilly says:

    Oh, my goodness, you have asked a hard one! :-)

    I completely relate to your confusion. This is one of those Zen sayings that is supposed to make no sense at all at first. In particular, it’s supposed to shock you.

    The meaning is metaphorical, and has a couple of layers. But the basic message is not to believe or revere any authority other than your own true self. Don’t even believe the Buddha: he’s just a man, after all, not a god. Trust yourself first. (This isn’t as easy as it sounds, because you have to be good at trusting your “true” self, your higher self, as opposed to your ego self.) So if you meet the Buddha on the street, don’t revere him or bow down to him. On the contrary, ignore him — “kill” him.

    The use of the word “kill” is meant to intentionally shock new students, as I said, because Zen places a high value on shocking people. :-) The philosophy is that if you’re “shockable”, you haven’t yet been enlightened. And Zen Buddhists believe, also, that one way to become enlightened is to be shocked or surprised. Zen stories (“koans”) are full of students being shocked, stunned, physically abused, etc., all on the way to enlightenment.

    None of which happened to me while I was being raised Zen, thank goodness. :-)

  3. I’m known for asking the tough questions.

    Little surprises me now adays, although I can still be shocked at times. So I guess I’m half enlightened. Question is, which half?

  4. Jeff, thank you very much for writing this…great post! I think you’re absolutely right…having someone in whom to place gratitude makes a difference. I’ll use another comparison, one that sort of crossed my mind while reading your post – it’s like hearing a song on the radio that you really love, that changes your perceptions, and writing fan mail…but not knowing the name of the band or the address to send the mail to.

  5. Jeff Lilly says:

    Good one, Bernulf! But I would say, in my case, at least, it would be more like hearing a great song on the radio and not even being aware that it was made by a band at all. Oh yes, some people believe that there are “bands” out there that make music, and certainly music is quite beautiful and looked at in a certain light, there seem to be patterns suggestive of conscious design; but really it probably evolved, like everything else, from a combination of impersonal evolutionary pressures… :-)

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Gratitude TO as well as gratitude FOR My experience with the two levels of gratitude has been similar to Steve’s. I’ve found, though, that there is a third level that extends and enriches the other two. This is the attitude of being grateful to someone or something. If you have someone to thank, and that someone receives your thanks, the whole experience of gratitude is different. Before, the gratitude is inside you, an internal attitude. When you extend that gratitude to someone, it becomes an interaction, a social act, a kind of bonding between you and the one you’re thanking. The gratitude takes on a whole new dimension, and is that much more rewarding. At least, this has been my experience. :-) I write about this a lot more here: Druid Journal » Blog Archive » Impact of Druidism on Everyday Life: Requited Gratitude __________________ Behold more of my boundless wisdom at my Druid Journal. [...]

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