Middah of the Month-Practicing Non Dual Judaism-Hakarat Tov (Gratitude)
by Nancy Aron
Compiled by Kevin Morgan.
1. Alan Morinis on Hakarat Ha Tov: Story of Itzhak Perlman
There is a story — probably urban legend, but full of truth nonetheless — concerning the famous violinist Itzhak Perlman. One evening, Perlman was in New York to give a concert. As a child he had been stricken with polio and so getting on stage is no small feat for him. He wears braces on both legs and walks with two crutches. Perlman labors across the stage slowly, until he reaches the chair in which he seats himself to play.
As soon as he appeared on stage that night, the audience applauded and then waited respectfully as he made his way slowly across the stage to his chair. He took his seat, signaled to the conductor to begin, and began to play.
No sooner had he finished the first few bars than one of the strings on his violin snapped with a report like gunshot. At that point Perlman was close enough to the beginning of the piece that it would have been reasonable to have brought the concert to a halt while he replaced the string, to begin again. But that’s not what he did. He waited a moment and then signaled the conductor to pick up just where they had left off.
Perlman now had only three strings with which to play his soloist part. He was able to find some of the missing notes on adjoining strings, but where that wasn’t possible, he had to rearrange the music on the spot in his head so that it all still held together.
He played with passion and artistry, spontaneously rearranging the symphony right through to the end. When he finally rested his bow, the audience sat for a moment in stunned silence. And then they rose to their feet and cheered wildly. They knew they had been witness to an extraordinary display of human skill and ingenuity.
Perlman raised his bow to signal for quiet. “You know,” he said, “it is the artist’s task to make beautiful music with what you have left.”
We have to wonder, was he speaking of his violin strings or his crippled body? And is it true only for artists? We are all lacking something and so we are challenged to answer the question: Do we have the attitude of making something of beauty out of what we have, incomplete as it may be?
2. Alan Morinis on Hakarat Ha Tov: Story of Rabbi Salanter
Rabbi Yisrael Salanter once noticed that a fancy restaurant was charging a huge price for a cup of coffee. He approached the owner and asked why the coffee was so expensive. After all, some hot water, a few coffee beans and a spoonful of sugar could not amount to more than a few cents.
The owner replied: “It is correct that for a few cents you could have coffee in your own home. But here in the restaurant, we provide exquisite decor, soft background music, professional waiters, and the finest china to serve your cup of coffee.”
Rabbi Salanter’s face lit up. “Oh, thank you very much! I now understand the blessing of Shehakol — ‘All was created by His word’ — which we recite before drinking water. You see, until now, when I recited this blessing, I had in mind only that I am thanking the Creator for the water that He created. Now I understand the blessing much better. ‘All’ includes not merely the water, but also the fresh air that we breathe while drinking the water, the beautiful world around us, the music of the birds that entertain us and exalt our spirits, each with its different voice, the charming flowers with their splendid colors and marvelous hues, the fresh breeze — for all this we have to thank God when drinking our water!”
When you live charged with gratitude, you will give thanks for anything or anyone who has benefitted you, whether they meant to or not. Imagine a prayer of thanks springing to your lips when the driver in the car next to you lets you merge without protest, or when the water flows from the tap, or the food is adequate?
When gratitude is well-established like that, it is a sign of a heart that has been made right and whole. Gratitude can’t coexist with arrogance, resentment and selfishness. The chassidic teacher Rebbe Nachman of Breslov writes, “Gratitude rejoices with her sister joy, and is always ready to light a candle and have a party. Gratitude doesn’t much like the old cronies of boredom, despair and taking life for granted.”
3. Gratitude by Kabir Helminski: ho’o-pono-pono
There is a traditional Polynesian practice of forgiveness and reconciliation called: ho’o-pono-pono. Hew Len, a psychiatrist in Hawaii began to practice this ancient art of forgiveness and gratitude that releases negativity and heals relationships.
The basic practice is to observe when we negatively judge others, when we are repulsed, or even when we enter into a state of fear of another. At that moment we take responsibility for our negative state, and internally say four things: I’m sorry. Forgive me. Thank you. I love you. Dr Len practiced this consistently in a prison for the mentally insane and miraculous results followed. Even without engaging in therapy, which was not his responsibility as an administrator, the state of both patients and staff changed dramatically. The staff became more positive and there was less turn-over of employees. The inmates began to be more positive and gradually more sane as well. The staff and the inmates began to enjoy field trips together, which had not previously been possible. How could this be possible? What could explain the change that came over the whole institution?
This raises the question of how are we connected to each other? Is reality determined by physical behaviors and cues alone or is there some relationship operating at a much subtler level
4. Pema Chodron on Being Grateful for “All Of It”
Feelings like disappointment, embarrassment, irritation, resentment, anger, jealousy, and fear, instead of being bad news, are actually very clear moments that teach us where it is that we’re holding back. They teach us to perk up and lean in when we feel we’d rather collapse and back away. They’re like messengers that show us, with terrifying clarity, exactly where we’re stuck. This very moment is the perfect teacher, and, lucky for us, it’s with us wherever we are.
5. Rumi on Gratitude
Wear gratitude like a cloak and it will feed every corner of your life.
Giving thanks for abundance is greater than the abundance itself.
Thankfulness brings you to the place where the Beloved lives.
6. Adyashanti on Gratitude
Gratitude is the appreciation of what is, of life, of existence, of anybody and anything, for just the way it is.