A 'gratitude attitude' can be a powerful antidote to reactive tendencies. In a given day there are so many chances to exercise and experience true appreciation. Yet, when we habitually react to the moments of our life - the opportunity for appreciation passes us by. By stopping to appreciate - even for a moment - we stop the reactive tendencies of the mind. For a few moments at a time, proactivity and self-sovereignty reign supreme.
There is an old samurai tale, told in the ancient Japanese wisdom traditions, that illustrates the raw essence of gratitude.
A young Samurai was roaming the countryside in search of a famous Zen master. It was well known at the time that samurai would seek instruction from Zen masters to gain a better understanding of themselves and the workings of their mind. This would help them improve their fighting skills and live honorably.
After searching far and wide the samurai finally located the Zen master living deep in the woods. "Please teach me the ways of heaven and hell", the samurai requested of the Zen master.
The old master took one look at the samurai and burst out laughing, "Look at you!" he exclaimed. "You call yourself a samurai? Look at that belly of yours...you can't even control your own appetite, and you want to learn the ways of heaven and hell...hah, what a joke!"
The samurai was besides himself with embarrassment that quickly turned into anger and then into full blown rage. His face turned red and his hand reached for his sword. Zen master or not, this man was going to pay for his insult, "I'm going to cut you down!", he announced while raising the sword above his head.
The Zen master turned to the samurai and said in a calm and measured voice, "That's hell." The samurai, instantly recognizing the error in his judgement and the wisdom and kindness in the Zen masters' instruction, had a complete change of heart. He fell to his knees in gratitude and appreciation.
"And that's heaven", said the master.
With this short, yet intense lesson, the true meaning of gratitude was seared into the samurai's heart and soul. He came to instinctively understand the difference between a reactive mind and the heart of gratitude. While the two are literally worlds apart, the samurai experienced them as merely a step away. A step out-of-the-mind away.
Let's look at a day in life seen through the lens of the reactive mind.
From morning til night - from the moment you get out of bed until you find yourself back in it - it feels like you've done nothing but struggle to catch up. Your life feels like a succession of moments where you just get swept away, with very little say or sense of control. You no longer know where you're going or why. Your life feels like it's completely beyond your control and you can't remember the last time you took purposeful action towards a meaningful goal.
How much room for gratitude exists in living life this way? How grateful are you likely to feel when everything seems to be spinning out of control? What happens to a sense of self-sovereignty and self-worth as you spend your days feeling like this? Establishing a strong gratitude attitude on these foundations may prove challenging to say the least.
Now let's look at a day in life seen through a proactive lens...
You bring consciousness to your life. You choose to really look at yourself and your life. You dare to ask yourself some thought provoking questions, "What do I really want? What am I passionate about? What gives me a sense of purpose in life? What's holding me back?"
You clarify your desires and true intentions. You awaken your latent skills and hidden talents - setting your eyes on developing new ones to better make your way.
You boldly discern what may be holding you back and you search for creative and innovative ways to overcome these limitations. You look squarely at your strengths and weaknesses, so that you can find the right resources to take you to the next level. You set sail and look forward to the future because you've come to see how each day brings you closer to the life you want.
Living like this ... it dawns on you that even if you don't reach your ultimate goal or destination, it won't matter so much. Living as you are is becoming its own reward. You can't help but feel grateful. A gratitude attitude now comes naturally. Your sense of gratitude becomes a constant companion whispering in your ear, "You're doing well. You're living well. You're on the right track."
Being caught by his reactive mind the samurai nearly committed a grave offence. Zen masters were highly respected and revered in ancient Japan and killing them was definitely not a good thing. Triggered into reacting, the samurai was unable to see the situation for what it was. At that moment the samurai was his own worst enemy - although he was the last to be able to see it.
Isn't this exactly what happens to us when we react instead of respond to situations in our life? Getting trapped in a narrow corridor of our mind we lose sight of the bigger picture. In these moments of time we're lost, both to ourselves and to others. Something else takes us over. What's our aim? What are we trying to accomplish? All proactive thought is forgotten.
Living true to our intentions, values and even purpose in life means breaking free from the reactive tendencies of the mind. The more proactive vs reactive we become .... the more we shift from reactive to proactive thinking ... the more intentional and deliberate we can become in creating and living the life we want.
Instead of succumbing to reactivity you can aim to make proactivity and stepping out of the mind your life changing daily habits. Cultivating an instinctive gratitude attitude can be of great help. The more benefits of being proactive you experience, the more grateful you will naturally be.