"How will you use your leisure and fortune today?" This is written on a card that sits on my dining room table, again on my kitchen cabinet, and, in a slightly different formulation, on the mirror in my bedroom. I was asked the other day what it means, and was reminded that, what can seem so obvious to one is not clear at all to others.
If you are reading this, you are blessed by leisure and fortune. If you did not go to bed hungry for lack of food, you are blessed by leisure and fortune. If, indeed, you went to bed in a bed in a house, you are blessed by leisure and fortune. If you had a break from work today, you are blessed by leisure and fortune. If you own a TV, a radio, a phone, a car, more clothes than you need, have heat, indoor plumbing, and electricity, you are blessed with leisure and fortune.
So often, however, we take all this for granted. We don't think about the fact that the water that comes out of our faucet is a small miracle unavailable to a sixth of the world's population. We hate our jobs. We bemoan our bills. We complain about the cost of holiday presents. We complain about gas mileage, mortgage payments, and our schedules busy with engagements, meetings, errands, parties, and concerts. We pay money for the gym, and whine about having to go take our flaccid, overfed, underworked bodies to "work out."
Please understand that I'm not in anyway saying these things to stir up guilt. I don't feel guilty to have any of these things. That they are in my life is an act of grace and the result of karma. The question is not whether I should feel bad about my blessings (how ridiculous), but how I will use them. Whether I will cherish them and employ them in the service of others, or if I will twist them into burdens to be grudgingly borne? Think about it--a billion people in the world would probably die of gratitude if they could walk from their heated, comfortable bedroom into a bathroom where they could relieve themselves in a sanitary toilet, wash their hands with soap and clean water, brush their teeth and swallow water that would not give them dysentery. Yet we drag ourselves from bed, complaining that the room isn't warm enough and that the gas bills are so high, thoughtlessly go through the motions of our morning rituals, complaining that it takes the water too long to get hot, thinking about all the rest of the crap we have to do today, dreading donning our multiple layers of clothes, shoveling our sidewalks, and getting ourselves to work.
I'm not saying that I like paying my bills or coming to work. I most certainly do not. I'm not saying that I don't have real problems and that addressing them isn't a struggle. But relative to many, many people, I am rich beyond belief. My modest American standard of living far surpasses that of billions of people. Billions. So what will I do with it? Is my life really so hard? Really?? Beyond the physical comforts I enjoy, I have had access to an education, to spiritual teachers, and to an abundance of undeserved love. I am a woman who can read, who can work, who has never backed down to a man, never been raped, never been hit, never been degraded for my sex, never been told that I could not ________ because "women can't do those things." To write those words breaks my heart because I know there are billions of women around the world for whom ignorance, domination, abuse, and humiliation are just the way of their lives. So how will I use my knowledge, my freedom, my voice?
Gratitude is the greatest antidote to feeling small, useless, angry, exhausted, put-out, deprived. Gratitude, when it floods the heart and soul, begets generosity, and it is generosity that gets us everything else. Abundance comes from a lack of attachment, so if you want to be full--give of yourself. Give it away. Unclench your fist--it can only hold but a tablespoon of water. Hands open in praise receive the entire river in its passing.
So how will you use your leisure and fortune today? How can you use your blessings to bless the world?