We are not being betrayed by life. If we can navigate… gratefulness in the face of the truly unconditional and find ourselves there with deep appreciation and celebration for how life is serving us even in our last breaths, we will have really woken up.
~ Kristi Nelson
In this rich, in-depth conversation, Terry and Kristi explore how opening, right now, right here, to the miracle of this moment can help free us from our tendency to wait for life conditions to change. They consider how life’s darkest moments and most profound ordeals are gifts, with the potential to break our hearts open and awaken us. A portion of the transcript appears below.
Terry writes: “We all tend to slide into the numbness and separated consciousness of our “civilized” collective trance. Gratefulness is what happens when the heart makes a conscious choice to be joyful for no reason, to recognize we are never being betrayed by life, and to embrace the natural and radical generosity of life itself.”
This conversation covered a lot of ground. Rather than provide 20+ pages of transcript, we offer the final portion of Terry and Kristi’s conversation in text below. Together they explore what it means to take nothing for granted, how life holds death, the difficulty of being human, and an invitation to be with the ordinary.
Terry Patten (59:36):
… Kristi, I’m feeling, very often in this time, that I’m having these encounters with people who have a kind of — people are becoming more available to one another because we’re all shaken from our complacency. There’s so much that we can’t take for granted in this time. And it does bring out — there’s tons of ugliness in our world. It’s not as if it isn’t bringing out the worst in people as well. But it’s really bringing about something lovely. People are also recognizing that if I only have a certain number of days on this earth left I — how do I want to live them? Who do I want to be in this time, and there’s a kind of genuine curiosity, genuine availability […]
But, it isn’t a formula. There is this fresh, utterly original discovery and actual spiritual act that we engage where somehow we let go of the habit mind; and we notice the moment and we show up for it with, you know, heart first with all of what’s best in us. And I think, you know, your subtitle, Taking Nothing for Granted, comes as close as anything I’ve heard to putting a finger on that crucial element.
Oh, good. It’s a hell of a practice to, you know, I really love the idea of lifting up that which we so readily overlook, right. Really lifting ourselves up to that. And I think that your conversation here is a powerful one, because I think what is awakening right now, there is something awakening. And, in that awakening, is also a reckoning. Right?
So that in the awakening, we see truth as it is. There’s, you know, you’re not asleep, you’re not half asleep, not at half mast, you’re actually seeing what is. And so that awakening delivers us into a greater capacity for joy and love and interconnection and it also delivers us into the wake up call of also seeing what is at work in our culture right now. And that — how do we cross the bridges that need to be bridged? How do we build those bridges that need to be bridged? You know, how do we make ourselves available to the things and the people who are really different than we are?
Because it’s glorious, to spend time in conversations where there’s such resonance. I mean, this is just unreasonably ecstatic, like this is, to have these kinds of conversations where there’s such a shared understanding, it’s so readily available.
And, you know, working with this awareness of what the recent election has brought, you know, to the fore for us, and how — where the divisions are. And how we make ourselves really available — to be a source of repair available for healing. You know, the model of what really is and can be, and to hold ourselves accountable; what does that really mean? I think we’re living in a world which really is going to ask a lot of us if we pay attention in this coming time, and I think that’s really required, and it will be — it will be transformative.
And I think we can, you know, I’ve tried to articulate this thing that we can…we can as readily, in a certain way — you know, the book is really about ‘don’t take for granted the things that are really in service of life’ — of your life, of love, of joy of all those things. The things that are privileges that are just like — to really hold them because they can also go like that. They go like that, the fires, the everything, the disaster, the stuff that’s happening, our lives can go like that. COVID is such a teacher about that. But how do we also not take for granted the existence of injustice, the existence of suffering, the existence of cruelty and pain, and that we also in certain ways can walk right by that?
And it’s like, well, this just IS, as opposed to what is this asking of me as well? So there’s just something interesting that, that is what’s coming up for me right now, which is, there’s being dead, deadened, and having things deadened to us — that can as much be about the joy as the suffering. And allowing all of it to come and be alive to us, is also a really important thing. Because it’s sober. There’s like there’s a sober seeing, that also is awakening. And also can be enlivening if we allow it to be so — and not be myopic, and put the blinders on — that I just want to feel good. How can I also allow the bigger truths in as well?
So just for some reason, I am moved to say in this space right now — what does it mean to take nothing for granted? And I really mean that in a particular way, but gratefulness also is in service of helping us recognize and reckon with that which we take for granted, which also wants us to turn towards it. And to look squarely sometimes at what’s most difficult.
Does that make sense to you?
Yeah. Makes a lot of sense. In fact, I want to double click on the way that we can take for granted both the good and the bad. That there’s a deadening — that a relatively privileged and easy life can put us to sleep just as much as a duty-filled difficult life can deaden us?
And I think that this reawakening to the miracle of this moment, is a — it’s not something that you can do. The you who is the do-er — for me at always, you know, because I began my processes and activism as an activist, but it took my time in the ashram and this awakening to the miraculous nature of the Divine — that was, for me, the point — ever after.
But, we don’t know how to do it, but to allow ourselves to be startled; to behold the mystery, to let the miracle penetrate our hearts.
And the miracle is both, “Oh, my God, I’m alive in this moment and I won’t be alive in some future moment.”
It’s, “Oh my God, I have enough ease in my body to stretch and maybe I won’t in some future moment.”
It is both recognizing the ephemerality of this present moment and therefore its preciousness; but also it’s recognizing the utterly glorious nature of it. I mean, to some degree, you kind of gotta let yourself be boggled by the grace of it all, like, blown away. “Oh, my God!”
I couldn’t agree more and I think it’s the ultimate paradox. I mean, to me, Brother David’s awakening was in the Second World War, surviving the bombings, coming out and feeling that ecstatic kind of the joy that he felt at being alive and surviving, in these church basements and you know, huddled up with other kids and all that stuff. That for him, then his resonance was with St. Benedict — which is “keep death always before your eyes”. That as the pathway to the deepest joy — it’s a mind blower for a lot of people when what we avoid most of all is dealing with the ephemerality and accepting the impermanence of everything.
And there is something there that I just — I’m going to keep leaning back into, or leaning forward into — which is what you’re saying about, and what I was saying about, the deadening effect — that we can be deadened to the beauty as much as the injustice. That there’s a way there that coming alive to everything is — it’s what the recognition of how life holds death, and death holds life, you know, that the transient nature of everything allows us to therefore experience its dynamism which then calls us forth to a deeper level of engagement.
It’s hard to be deadened to… You know, I’m sitting here and I’m thinking about Lynne Twist’s work, which was, you know, this whole myth of scarcity and that more is better. And she said, the most toxic myth of all, is, “that’s just the way it is”. About when we look at our social constructs, and when we look at the fact that things are really unjust, and that there is that there are so many things that are in need of repair. And that the most toxic myth is ‘that’s just the way it is.’ Because once we buy into that, it deadens us to engagement. And, you know what I mean? It deadens us to seeing and noticing.
And so there is something there about allowing in the beauty of the blue sky and the awareness of death at the same time — Brother David emerging from the building, you know, from the bombed out building. That is the place where I think that great aliveness really comes into play for each of us, and holding both at the same time.
And, so we enter into conversation with one another, and we try to be of help, and we write books, and we identify practices, and we create occasions and websites, and even communities of practice in which we can reach out a helping hand to one another. And it’s all paradoxical, because once you’ve learned all these lessons, and you’ve become clear in them and somewhat proficient in them, the tendency to get numbed out or to go on automatic or to begin to take things for granted, never goes away.
I notice that one of my most important practices is to stay really curious to the way that my so-called students are actually teaching me. Anybody who shows the kind of courage or integrity or passion or innocence, you know, to break through in some profound way is offering a miraculous teaching. And every single one of us every, every moment of our lives going forward, no matter how so called mature; no matter how much we know, all of this; no matter how much the wonder and the miracle and the mystery have revealed themselves; no matter how much we try to live in the presence of that grace and live in gratefulness and all the rest — life is still trickier and more multi-dimensional than anybody’s plan. It is not figure-out-able. It will throw you a curveball. It doesn’t matter what you already understand.
And there’s something of a, you know, like in improv, the rule of improv is “yes, and”. That we’re really being asked to let go into the moment and to our willingness to see in the gray day with the backache and the financial blow and the sickness or death of a dear friend and all the other stuff that we are also going to have to navigate. That the weight of it all, I mean — partly what I notice about them and the weight of things really present — I want my heart to honor the way that I am showing up for the ordeal of life. To respect and to honor — there’s something beautiful even in anyone who is, you know, it’s hard to be a human.
If you’re rich and good looking and famous and, you know, whatever, you know, you take off all the advantages, it’s still hard to be a person. And most people don’t have all those advantages. So there’s all kinds of unseen heroism going on in the lives of so many people.
And that is the most beautiful and the most humbling thing of all is, I think, every place that we scratch off our constructed self, and show up with the “this is my best guess.” (laughs) Broken, humble, searching, curious, wildly imperfect parts of who we are. It’s the gift that we give each other, which is, here’s how I — in the midst of all of this — here’s how I still suffer. Here’s how I struggle.
This is why this work is so beautiful, and it’s a practice. It’s something that is continually showing up and continually showing up. There is no having gotten it, there is no end point. That’s what I love about mindfulness and all this kind of spiritual teachings and stuff and gratefulness is the same, which is one moment more mindful today than yesterday is like, “Woo Hoo!”
You know, it doesn’t mean that you have to be mindful or grateful 99% of your day, it’s about a moment more awareness, a moment more, you know, recognition, that gives us agency. It gives us a pathway. It just — it’s so beautiful.
And it’s so beautiful to be in this humbling journey, of humanness, of humanity with other good souls and I’m so grateful to be here with you.
And I was just thinking about, you talk about the ordeal of life and there is an ordeal and I was thinking well is there another word, you know?
And, then I thought — ordeal and ordinary. That there’s something also — the ordinariness of life — that is something for me where I really — the moment to moment ordinariness of life — and what you talk about. That kind of divine light of grace. That experiencing that is, it kind of is, it helps for me be a countervailing force in the ordeal of life.
So, that’s really where the ordeal softens and all of the big mythologies soften the — everything softens — when it’s just being able to be with the ordinary, and finding the grace in the ordinary. And recognizing that that is available to us, all of us, in our moments, is to me a really beautiful liberation. There’s just something really, really gracious about that — about that fact.
Yes, it’s the quotidian, humdrumness of the ordinary that we too often reject and deaden and it draws us into taking everything for granted. Because some part of us wants to be tickled and entertained and goosed by something bright. And there’s something in this fundamental Dharma that I think is a very, very strong thread through everything I’ve read of your new book. That does have to do with this very, very subtle, you know, it’s a Herod’s breath move.
You know, it’s a subtle, subtle move. You could say it’s a reframe, but it also is a waking up out of the trance into a… Yeah.
I’m just really enjoying this celebration — reminds me of so many things like the, you know, the $500 a plate fancy dinner that somebody might think is so wonderful. Is it really more wonderful than just taking a full deep breath and enjoying it. You know, are the most ordinary pleasures perhaps the highest? You know, seeing the qualities of color in the natural world or the blue of the sky?
These are very ordinary pleasures are perhaps really, everything we might get from the exotic vacation or the, you know, whatever it is — amazing romance — is it really…?
Yeah, flash in the pan. I mean, it comes and it goes, you know.
And I think that there’s something so profound about finding ourselves amazed, and just in awe of the most mundane, and of the things that are most unconditional, that are available to us at all times. So that when we can find ourselves in that space — and maybe this is because of my cancer journey, and maybe it’s because I spent so much time in a hospital bed, unable to move — but if we can find ourselves able to find that grace and that awe and connect with our hearts and feel the love and appreciation, and the way that life is serving us even in our last hours of life, right, so especially in our last hours of life — that we’re not being betrayed by life — if we can navigate this gratefulness in the face of the truly unconditional and find ourselves there, with deep appreciation and celebration for how life is serving us, even in our last breaths, we will have really woken up.
Yeah, there’s something so true in this. Thank you so much, Kristi.
I enjoyed it very much.
And thank you everybody for joining me and Kristi today.
You can learn more about her and a Network for Grateful Living at gratefulness.org or by visiting our website stateofemergence.org and clicking on this episode, you’ll also find a link to her new book Wake Up Grateful: the Transformative Practice of Taking Nothing for Granted.
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