Video Transcript

So many of you have told me in the halls when we met that they were happy with my TED Talk or with A Good Day. There were so many nice smiles that I feel perfectly comfortable among you and it’s just being with friends, and for this I thank you all very much.

Since many of you have heard the TED Talk, I will keep what I have to say about gratitude relatively short and succinct and then try to apply it to the digital age because that is our task here, particularly to the three keywords that we have here: wisdom, awareness, compassion.

So first, about gratefulness. It’s easy to talk about that because everybody knows the feeling of being grateful. So we just ask ourselves, when does this feeling come about? It comes about when something that’s of value to us is given to us as a free gift. These two things have to come together. It must be valuable to us and it must be freely given. If it’s not valuable, we are not particularly grateful. And if we have to work for it or pay for it we are also not grateful. But when it’s a free gift, valuable to us, gratefulness rises in our hearts and that is a feeling of joy, great joy.

So we know what we mean by gratefulness, and now we make another step. And that is we recognize, we become aware, that every moment is a most precious gift. And Eckhart Tolle told us about that yesterday. Every moment is a most precious gift, in fact the most precious gift we possibly can have, because if we didn’t have this present moment we couldn’t do anything else, we wouldn’t have anything else. It contains everything and it is totally freely given. There is no way in which we can bring about the next moment, it’s a purely free gift. And when we see these two things, we realize that if we have an attitude in which we would be at every moment fully present, we would be full of joy, because the awareness of a present moment as a gift makes this gratefulness rise in our hearts, and so rises this joy that gratefulness always brings with it. And gratefulness is the key to joy. And I say joy rather than happiness because joy is that kind of happiness that doesn’t depend on what happens. That is the real joy we want. Even in the midst of difficulties, we can be grateful for the opportunity that this moment has given us. So every moment, if we practice this now, every moment, we can through grateful living have the full joy of life, the full aliveness that is really spirituality. Spirituality is aliveness on every level.

How do we do that? And that is the trick. We have to have a little method. And that method is very simple, it’s just: Stop. Look. Go. Just what you teach to children when you tell them how to get safely across the street. Stop, because otherwise you will miss the opportunity of this moment. Look for the opportunity. Go, do something with that opportunity. Because opportunity is the key to grateful living. People ask, can we really be grateful for everything? And my answer is no, you can’t be grateful for everything, but you can be grateful in every moment. We all can think of many things for which we are not grateful and shouldn’t be grateful: violence, oppression, exploitation. In our personal lives: unfaithfulness, lying. We can’t be grateful for that. But in the moment in which we are confronted with something for which we cannot be grateful we can be grateful for the opportunity to do something. And that can be to learn something, to grow by it, to stand up and oppose it, protest against things that shouldn’t be, serve others. Those are the opportunities that are given to us when we are confronted with something for which we cannot be grateful. And one of those tremendous opportunities is given to us now here at this conference where we can think about the present moment in history. This enormous present moment, it’s unique. And we can think about it under these three aspects of wisdom, of awareness, and of compassion, which were the key terms that came up again and again.

Wisdom depends on “stop,” and that is how it is connected with gratefulness. Wisdom is not a collection of wise sayings or something like that. Wisdom is a quality of the mind. It is a quality of the mind opposed or in polar opposition to knowledge. Wisdom and knowledge. Both are good, both are very important. But knowledge is acquired by the mind by grasping things. If you grasp it intellectually, you know it. Wisdom is acquired by allowing whatever confronts us to grab us. When it grabs you, it makes you wise. There is a great difference between the two. And in our time, there is a great danger for this automatic mind that wants to grab, grab, grab more and more, and that is why we have to practice “stop” and allow life to do something to you. Gratefulness is interactive mindfulness. I’ve had the opportunity to talk with His Holiness the Dalai Lama about it and he also agreed that in our time, mindfulness has good press and is generally accepted. But it can turn into a sort of self-watching mindfulness, like Eckhart Tolle taking a picture of himself. [laughter].

Real mindfulness is interactive mindfulness. And gratefulness is interactive mindfulness. Interactive mindfulness will give you wisdom because it allows life and all that fullness of life that is given to us every moment to take you. The mind has had a very bad press, but the mind is wonderful, the mind is absolutely necessary. What would we do if we had no mind? We’d be like chickens without a head. The mind is wonderful, but it’s not the grasping, grabbing mind that we want, but the mind with heart. Not the automated mind. Much of the time our mind is just automated. The “stop” stops the automatism of mind and makes it a heart mind. Heart is not the opposite of mind; heart means the whole person. Intellect, will, emotions, body, mind, everything together. So when this lovely little girl whom we saw here says, “do you want me to say what’s on my mind or in my heart?” she means, do you want me to say what’s only what is in my mind or what is in my heart that includes the mind? The heart includes the mind. So what we want is heart mind, and that will give you wisdom because it is the openness to life, the openness to the surprise of life. Life is always surprising. And when we are open, then we come to awareness, then we come to “look.”

“Look” is awareness. We look at everything that is here and we see that the digital age has its positive sides and it has its negative sides. I talked to the short order cook here at the hotel and I told him how great his omelets were and I asked him where he was from, and he was from the Philippines, and I asked him if he liked living in San Francisco and he said, “So far, yes.” So I thought maybe he was here only for a few days. I asked him how long he had been living here. “Twenty years.” I said, “What’s the problem?” He whispered, “I can’t afford it any longer.” That is one of the shadow sides of the digital age, especially here in the capital of the digital world. On the other hand, we have heard Tony and the wonderful Zappos project, and that is the positive aspect. So we need to do something to emphasize and strengthen the positive aspects worldwide, globally. You understand awareness is awareness of the difficulties, great problems that we have, and of the way to solve it.

And the way to solve it is with a mind of compassion, that is the answer. Not the automatic mind, but the mind of compassion. And compassion means both suffering together — com means together — suffering together, being aware that my suffering is part of the suffering of the whole world and when we look at someone else we realize we are all suffering. But compassion means also shared passion for a vision, for the vision of a better world. And that is what we want to mean by compassion. A world in which we “stop” and gain wisdom, in which we “look” and gain awareness, and on the basis of that, act with a loving mind, with a heart mind, with a mind that says “yes, we belong together” because that’s the essence of love. Yes, we belong together, that’s what love is.

To conclude this little reflection together, I would suggest that we end with a little ritual because rituals are very, very important and will be important ever more so in the world that we hope to bring about and that we allow to come. And I would suggest that first you close your eyes, and you stop. Just stop. And then, open your eyes and look left and right, and see the people that are at your left and right. And they stand for all the people in the world. The one person whom you see now stands for all the people in the world. And then, hold hands, because compassion means sharing our passion, being together. Being together. And in this holding hands, again be very quiet. Maybe even close your eyes again. And realize now, commit yourself to something that you will do in order to let life worth through you as Soren said so beautifully. Allow life to work through you. Think of something very specific. It may just be a smile, it may just be the tip that you leave in the hotel for the people that make up the room and that most people forget to tip. Or it may be something real big, changing your whole company and making it more like the Zappos Downtown Project. Think of something concrete and commit yourself to it. Thank you.

Br. David Steindl-Rast
Br. David Steindl-Rast, OSB

Br. David Steindl-Rast, OSB

About the author

Brother David Steindl-Rast — author, scholar, and Benedictine monk — is beloved the world over for his enduring message about gratefulness as the true source of lasting happiness. Known to many as the “grandfather of gratitude,” Br. David has been a source of inspiration and spiritual friendship to countless leaders and luminaries around the world including Desmond Tutu, the Dalai Lama, Thich Nhat Hanh, Thomas Merton, and more. He has been one of the most important figures in the modern interfaith dialogue movement, and has taught with thought-leaders such as Eckhart Tolle, Jack Kornfield, and Roshi Joan Halifax. His wisdom has been featured in recent interviews with Oprah Winfrey, Krista Tippett, and Tami Simon and his TED talk has been viewed almost 10,000,000 times. Learn more about Br. David here.