On Human Nothingness and Extinction, continued

To meditate on one’s own mortality is not always an easy thing to do—but it is very necessary in order to live life fully and gratefully. 

“Dematerialization” Photo by Hartwig HKD on Flickr.

To meditate on our own species’ possible extinction is even harder to do—but probably even more necessary. 

It is not an easy meditation to undertake.  But it may reap dividends.  I used to tell my students to add one year to your age and then meditate on that year, the time that preceded your existence, the time before you were born–when you were nothing.  Meditate on your pre-existence when you were not yet. 

Meister Eckhart urges us to return to our “unborn selves” to recover our freedom when we were not yet and that we can do this by way of meditation and letting go.

One meditation on our extinction would be to project ahead to a time when humans are no longer on the earth.  That time will come eventually.  What can it tell us about how to live now, while we are still here and thereby prolong our time as a species?

The “last bloody grasp”. Photo by Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona on Unsplash

Even if we stumble through our current crises by hook or by crook, still there will come a time eventually we know when the earth will no longer be hospitable to the animals, plants and biosphere that makes our living possible.  Five or six billion years from now and our earth will be turned to a crisp by the sun we are told. 

So some might say, “well, whether we last a billion years or five billion or a million years or just a few hundred years, what’s the difference?  What’s it all about anyway?”

All those questions are worth considering in a meditation on the future nothingness of our species.  Can we look back and ask, “Might we have done things differently?  How might we have responded to the teachings of a Jesus or Buddha or Isaiah or Mohammad or Black Elk differently?  More generously?  With greater gratitude for our existence after 13.8 billion years of gestation on the part of the universe?”

Might compassion, for example, which all the spiritual traditions we have inherited urge us to practice, have been woven more deeply into the fabric of our communities and cultures, our education, law, science,  business, economics, politics, media and religion?  What if we had lived lives more committed to compassion and to justice?  How would human cultures evolved if that were the case?  Might we have prolonged the lifetime of our species?

See Matthew Fox, Passion For Creation: The Earth-Honoring Spirituality of Meister Eckhart, pp. 217-225.  

And Matthew Fox, A Spirituality Named Compassion.

To read a transcript of Matthew Fox’s video teaching, click HERE

Banner Image: Remnants of the human family. Photo by Trollinho on Unsplash.

Queries for Contemplation

What questions in this meditation speak most deeply to you?  Are you at home meditating on the extinction or nothingness of our species?  What perspective does that give you for your life and choices and politics today?

Recommended Reading

Passion for Creation: The Earth-Honoring Spirituality of Meister Eckhart

Matthew Fox’s comprehensive translation of Meister Eckhart’s sermons is a meeting of true prophets across centuries, resulting in a spirituality for the new millennium. The holiness of creation, the divine life in each person and the divine power of our creativity, our call to do justice and practice compassion–these are among Eckhart’s themes, brilliantly interpreted and explained for today’s reader.
“The most important book on mysticism in 500 years.”  — Madonna Kolbenschlag, author of Kissing Sleeping Beauty Goodbye.  

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19 thoughts on “On Human Nothingness and Extinction, continued”

  1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
    Richard Reich-Kuykendall

    Matthew, As we meditate upon our own deaths, as they do five times a day in Bouton, the point is to gain an appreciation of life! In Buddhism there is a great emphasis put on the idea of “impermanence”–“all things must pass” as George Harrison wrote. We will pass as a species (unless we advance quickly enough to get off this planet before we become extinct, or our planet burns up when our sun becomes a red giant. The question is: “Can we look back now and ask, ‘Might we have done things differently?'” I sure think we could have! You ask: “What if we had lived lives more committed to compassion and to justice? How would human cultures evolved if that were the case? Might we have prolonged the lifetime of our species?” I believe that compassion for all humanity and compassion for the earth would have made earth scientists and the moneyed people who run the world think again on setting money before the welfare of humanity and the earth. How can they be so short sighted? It seems that all that they care about is living their lives exactly the way they want, and they don’t care what the hell happens to the earth, and those left behind after they’re gone! And now for our Queries for Contemplation. First you ask: “What questions in this meditation speak most deeply to you?” This question spoke to me most deeply: “How might we have responded to the teachings of a Jesus or Buddha or Isaiah or Mohammad or Black Elk differently? More generously? With greater gratitude for our existence after 13.8 billion years of gestation on the part of the universe?” This to me speaks of “Deep Ecumenism” and we need the help of all of these spiritual teachers, for as Hans Kung once wrote that “Peace among the religions is the prerequisite for peace among the nations.” Then you ask us: “Are you at home meditating on the extinction or nothingness of our species?” Yes, since you brought up the subject of “nothingness” a few days ago. Then finally you ask: “What perspective does that give you for your life and choices and politics today?” It helps me see how precious life is and how in turn we must live our lives with compassion and gratitude. Politically I can only support those who care for the earth–if a Politian is not concerned with climate change, I am not concerned for that political candidate–meaning, in no way would I vote for him or her. I am encouraged as I see alternative forms of energy: wind, solar, and water power, and the move to manufacture electric cars. But I don’t want to live every day with the shadow of extinction hanging over my head. Rather I want to enjoy the gift of creation as it is for us now, while we yet live.

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    All life forms will one day be extinct, but not the eternal spirit that animates them. The Psalmist says “each man’s life is but a breath.” Said James, our lives are “a vapor that appears for a little while then vanishes.” The life (identity) of a thing is in its animating breath (spirit) not its form. Spirit is God’s breath in me, his exhalation, uttering me like a word containing a partial thought of himself spoken from nothingness into space-time. In the death ? of my form, like in the death of all forms, God’s fleeting breath, vapor, or spirit will return to its source, inhaled back into him. Perhaps it will be recycled, distributed (breathed) again into another form for yet another sacred utterance, image or expression. The way raindrops return to the ocean becoming one with it again. It’s the spirit in a thing that makes it sacred, not so much it’s form. So forms in themselves, whether passing or becoming extinct are of little consequence to me. As hardware, I can’t get too excited by them, or too attached, only to the software. Said Jesus, “heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words (breath) shall not pass away” (Matt. 24:35). The dance and the dancer may appear as one, but they are distinct.

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    Jeanette Metler

    The other day, Mathew spoke of the kingdom of God being defined as creation. This caused me to ponder these words from scripture… “The creation of God is close at hand, the creation of God is within,” with a different lens of perception… which confirmed what I have sensed… along with the mystics of the past and the present… that being that the souls journey is about learning to co-create in, with, for and through the essence and presence of the Holy Spirit of conscious Divine Love.

    Not only is the ability to co-create a blessed and sacred gift… but this gift also comes with authority and power… which is to be used with conscious responsibility. Responsibility I personally define, as the ability to respond… to that eternal essence and presence of the Holy Spirit of conscious Divine Love. This blessed gift of co-creation, through our freedom of choice, brings forth the manifestation of both life and death… and the knowledge of both good and evil.

    What we focus on and prioritize regarding our choices… is the manner in which we choreograph and design the movements of this co-creative responsibility. We are in truth all responsible for and accountable to… the all and the everything that exists within this earthly world. Focusing on that highest and greatest sacred image of our soul sense of self… which is that Original Blessing of goodness and the beauty of this, which Mathew and other mystics of the past have taught the knowledge and wisdom of… is the key to using this sacred gift of co-creation given… with a responsive and accountable manner of being consciously awake, aware and alert to acknowledging that essence and presence of the Holy Spirit of God within… and that consciousness of Divine Love that is close at hand. This is a sacred privelege… to be preserved… for this is, as the Apostle Paul came to realize… the one thing that remains eternally… beyond extinction.

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    Yes Matthew, the realistic prospect of the imminent extinction of our species, or at the very least the end of our global materialistic industrial civilization (postdoom.com), should cause us all to meditate seriously about the quality of our daily lives with ourselves, others, and Mother Nature and all Her diminishing graceful abundance. As human beings we have been another sacred part of God’s Creation, but for the most part we have been ignorantly unaware and unappreciative of the sacred dimensions of our beings and the sacred dimensions within and among us in All Life/Creation with all its destructive consequences and human suffering. Maybe now with the increasing awareness of our mortality, the destruction of Mother Nature, and our egocentric materialistic way of life, there will be more spiritual awakenings and transformations personally and in smaller more compassionate communities living more sacredly in tune/Oneness with God’s Loving-Wisdom Presence, especially with-in Mother Nature, one sacred moment~day at a time….

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    I love all of the comments showing up here, stimulated by Mathew, who I see as a mystic bringing science and spirituality together like the Buddhists do, alive among us now. As I write… I listen to George Harrison singing This is Love: https://youtu.be/wqWkBk2ixs8 … all powerful lyrics, particularly relevant “Since our problems have been our own creation they also can be overcome, when we use the power free to everyone. This is Love” and his “What is my Life https://youtu.be/fiH9edd25Bc that makes relationship with each other central to our being and being with Divine Being within and with each other. Loving Relationships, Relationships and Relationships with each other now, is a Relationship with the Divine, The Tat, Home “Om” all the many names of many cultures we call God.

    Now my comment on hope. We need electricity to help with our survival. The planet is warming…we will need air conditioning powered by electricity in our homes. Coal and fossil fuels have to go. Here is the new hope: Fusion reactors (like our sun is one huge fusion reactor) will be operational by 2054. https://www.freethink.com/technology/nuclear-fusion-reactor-40408 We can now pray/meditate that this comes to be… meditating, praying, sending our own thoughts specifically towards the scientists, innovators, engineers, electricians, construction workers who build it. The Dalai Lama said, “this is not the time to say God, God do something, Buddha, Buddha do something this is the time for Us to do something.” https://youtu.be/u9GXgOMMeTg https://www.mindandlife.org/event/the-dalai-lama-with-greta-thunberg-and-leading-scientists-a-conversation-on-the-crisis-of-climate-feedback-loops/ For me All prayer, meditation, insights must be implemented through our words of love(intentions) becoming flesh (human body actions) JOHN 1:14 14 as Jesus lived once among us.

    We know that the first fusion reactor (our sun is a giant fusion reactor) and all suns cycle in births and deaths as do we. I remember as a little boy shining a flashlight into the sky to become part of the light of the stars all travelling 186,000 mph like my little flashlight. It travels on and on light with the light of the stars. Perhaps the stars, planets, including ourselves ending in being sucked in by black holes also emerge again in another dimension, a new Creation in our Creator’s design. I do not know, but perhaps we too continue into Infinity as we came from an Infinite Being who always was and always will be. Love is the implementation of Light and our purpose now.

    Back to our current need for electricity that is not harmful to the planet Mother Earth, who hosts us.. Thomas Edison and Nickola Tesla, so significant in bringing electricity to our lives, but did they think it all through in its implementation, distribution, and use?
    Robert Becker M.D. a type of physician/scientist/prophet found many adverse biological effects on our bodies. His book, “The Body Electric: Electromagnetism, the Foundation of Life” at my website (I could use the reward by Amazon if you buy it there) https://drdarrylpokea.com/recommendations/ He found there is a window in the 60 trillion cells that make up our body that they are sensitive to in the electromagnetic spectrum: 40-70 Hz (cycles per second) Our power system uses 60 cycles AC (added frequency oscillation/vibration) incompatible with our cells. This was enacted in combination of Edison and Tesla’s ideas to centralize the power system at some distance from the town to avoid coal pollution from the power plants in the cities to produce steam to run the generators., but the pollution still goes everywhere in the atmosphere Mistake! Another mistake, you have to step the voltage up from the generators and run that electricity through high tension voltage power lines to get to the city. They have much loss of power in getting to your home in the electrical distribution system. Not energy conservation. Other problems and challenges with the current electrical systems… Robert and other scientists /researchers report in epidemiological studies more suicides near high voltage power lines producing an ac generated frequency driven magnetic field that is harmful to all living biology/animals/ourselves. They effect the 60 trillion cells that make up our bodies. The 750,000-volt transmission lines power New York City and smaller ones, powering all our major cities are dangerous creations. Cattle that graze under these power lines have more still births and birth defects. People’s houses near them, even smaller high voltage lines above ground near their house have more suicides and suicide attempts. The interference is in our cells and nervous systems. Don’t sleep with an electric blanket that puts the magnetic forces of the power lines close to your body at night when your body’s immune system is most active, and you are healing. Don’t sleep in a room where the power lines come into the house as there is a stronger ac magnetic field there that will disturb you. Power lines underground are less harmful. England already gets it and won’t build schools near high tension power lines anymore because they interfere with our children’s learning.

    Microwaves are a problem too. Our cellular phones use microwaves akin to infrared as is used in our microwave ovens that generally are properly insulated. We know that direct exposure to microwaves causes brain tumors and other problems yet to be discovered with the 60 trillion cells that make up our bodies as does the 60-cps (cycles per second) power grid systems. With the cell towers, they are transmitted above our heads, but in tall buildings they are picked up by those who reside there. Our cellular phones close to our bodies, or our head does damage. Keep your cellular phone away from your body and your head. Cellular phone technology ignored the studies done by our prophetic scientists as they were ignored just as the prophets, Jesus and other mystics were ignored. Buddhism Avidyā is a Vedic Sanskrit word and is a compound of a- prefix and vidya, meaning “not vidya”. The word vidya is derived from the Sanskrit root vid, which means “to see, to knowingly-see, to know”. Therefore, avidya means to “not see, not know”. The vid*-related terms appear extensively in the Rigveda and other Vedas.
    In Vedic literature, avidya refers to “ignorance, spiritual ignorance, illusion”; in early Buddhist text…

    In my opinion when we develop fusion reactors, we need to have one for each dwelling (home) and industrial complex (de-centralizing the current centralized power system that waste power in power transmission lines that are harmful. We need to get away from 40-70 cps systems that have biological effects. Lithium Ion batteries that run our cell phones and laptops are 5 volts DC and seem to be safe, but the whole 60 cycle technology needs to be abandoned and made anew. Shiva in Hinduism is the destroyer and creator. She destroys the old creations to make way for the new ones.

    In meditation/prayer we must admit that we do not know. As the Upanishad’s in Hinduism stated over 2500 BC. “He who knows it, doesn’t know it, He who doesn’t think he knows It, knows It. It= The Tat (The One) “Tat Tuam Asi” (You Are It and It Is You)
    So, no one knows among us what is going to happen with all the challenges and contrasting light and darkness that we see now if we pay attention. We can pay attention and practice loving each other. and in those relationships, we recognize our Creator’s love. Loving relationships, relationships, relationships are our unique ever-evolving paths in knowing our relationship with our Creator, The Infinite One Who Always Was and Always Will Be.

    Final thoughts: In the mythology of angels, Lucifer was the fallen angel. Lucifer name means bearer of light/knowledge. He rebelled against the Creator in saying I will not serve them (us) as human beings, separating Being as we are inferior compared to angels. For me, there is no comparison, “Being” takes different forms coming from our Creator/ the great diversity everywhere in the Uni-verse. The loss of equanimity in Lucifer lead to his becoming a negative force using knowledge without love. St. Paul,
    “If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.” In my mind, Michael the Archangel with his sword is our protector as we [practice loving relationships and careful use of our discoveries and knowledge: Archangel Michael is an archangel in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. We can be specific in our prayers, but not expect the results we think should happen, but surrender to our Creator designing it for us and open our minds and hearts to it.
    We must use all of our new knowledge and discoveries with loving care that keeps us in balance “Equanimity” with each other, the Sacred planet and our Creator.

    Beethoven said, “Music is the Mediator Between the Spiritual and the Senses” Music keeps me/us sane. https://youtu.be/PS3-lyqCl80

    Donna Nobis Pacem

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    Here begins a long story to be told in few words. It is perhaps apt that it should begin during a period of global pandemic, a disease; and it is quite feasible that this or else a related disease shall be the final end: The Last Act in the erosion of what we have known as the human race. An end. A dying out. A return to Immortal Oblivion; Unity at last attained with an equal measure of ignominy and nobility, though in this final act neither truly matters. It is simply The End, a story, a human story. A story that began Once Upon A Time…

    Decay, whether slow or more rapid in its decline is interesting to observe, and it is more or less futile to try and intervene. The whittling away of what once was and yet, inherent within itself, was already written in its own end. A loss of strength and a loss of appetite to regain that strength. An empty letting go, a relinquishment of something that once seemed to matter but is no longer of any real concern. A soft, mild surrender neither stoic nor undignified. A simple happy appeasement with God, who was always going to win even before the idea of any contest ever began. A knowingness that we came from this Knowing Nothingness and that to this same Incomprehensible All we must inevitably return not at a time of any choosing other than it merely being the Right Time. We let go, we succumb like a tired beaten animal or a trapped insect we accept our inevitable fate, and die.

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      Thoughtful comment Paul. Not sure, sounds like an existentialist, a twinge of Sartre in the mix perhaps. Godly surrender with peace and contentment is at the core of the spiritual challenge. There is no other viable choice. All the others, and there are many, have no life in them. Go in protest, kicking and screaming, complaining or cursing, etc., if you must, but what is that other than residual ego in defiant protest resisting surrender. It’s the voice of poet Dylan Thomas speaking for the spiritually dead: “Do not go gently into that good night, rage, rage against the dying of the light.” Everyone wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die.

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      Jeanette Metler

      Paul… thank you for expressing so intimately and vulnerably your comments on the topic of death and the knowing of nothingness. I have held that sacred space for those whom enter into this rite of passage many times. I too, with the eyes of compassion… have observed the surrender and acceptance of ones inevitable departure from this world… which tastes both bitter and so sweet, all at the same time.

    3. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Paul, Aren’t you mister sunshine. Is there no hope ??? Even Stephen Hawking said that he believed we would be able to leave our planet before it became uninhabitable. I realize we are in a dire state, but that doesn’t mean we just give up in resignation to the nothingness and extinction. We are here to overcome !!! Try reading Jeanette’s comment…

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      Paul, Your name and your words are not the same, are they? You are you and that is your choice along with
      what God may have had to do with it. God can’t do it alone in making you in my thinking. You choose to grim, blase, ho-hum and what’s the difference-in-the-end or maybe I really read your comment without compassion and interest or did not listen well enough. Maybe you have run out of hope. People do. I could pray for a little lady bug to step on your toe and wake you up..but I don’t know that you would want to wake, do you?

      You say it is God who is winning. What does God win? Why would God want there to be a creation without various species to enjoy the creation? Why would God pick out humans–who true– developed over time to be the LAST of the species if supposedly God created humans in his own image. Your logic is grim. I am more hopeful and hope that you can see a glimmer of hope for your own life or the lives of other humans whichI am assuming you are not accustomed to feeding. What you feed grows and your gloom has overtaken you unless you and others who might care for you could drop a little honey next to the bee and see what happens.

      I wish you and your family if there is one well. I wish you a family if you don’t have one. I wish you a community who love and support you. I wish you love with a capital L. Be well. Be safe. Be yourself and see if you can see anything that you love and are grateful for at this very minute. That would be a beginning,no?

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    Last week’s NOVA was about stars–how they are born, and how they die. In several billion years, all stars will die, and the Age of Stars will be over. It made me realize that Eternity is a VERY long time. And what comes next? Darkness will reign again. What will the Divine dream into existence then? I think that might be another great Experiment, another adventure. Humanity will be only one blip in the process of the Universe Becoming. Who knows what else is in store?

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      Yes, Elaine, we’re born and die, thrive and collapse like stars, recycled back into the black hole of eternity, and perhaps belched out again in a new adventure. That’s half the story, the mechanics of it all. Meaning, that compared to to the vastness of the universe we are nothing (no-thing). Yet in the Creator’s eye we’re everything. We’re nothing (no-thing) and everything at the same time. Get it? Reconcile them to each other, they’re both true. Enjoy the ride.

  8. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
    Richard Reich-Kuykendall

    I remember listening to Ram Dass talk about a man he was working with who was dying and was totally caught up in it. So, Ram Dass said to him, “Do you have to be dying ALL of the time? You’re still alive, why don’t you enjoy the life you have left?” I have read Vicktor Frankl concerning his ride in a boxcar to Auschwitz, and even there he was able to look through the slats and see the beauty of nature outside–and it gave him hope. The point is that though the earth is going through the Via Negativa it doesn’t mean that we can’t do something by way of Via Creativa or Via Transformativa. We are not here to give up, roll over and die. We are here to overcome!

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      Your words and reflection are beautiful Richard. And I love Ram Dass. He is always so funny while he is expressing divine truth. “Do you have to be dying ALL of the time? You’re still alive, why don’t you enjoy the life you have left?” I love it. Here we see a very dark time for the planet, and there is more darkness to come as climate change surges. Oh dear. I am devastated about that. Meanwhile, it will do me well to not die (or mourn) ALL the time. I will write plays and poetry that uplift us. I will hike (or as my knees give out, drive or ride) into the glorious remaining wild places. I will enjoy the presence of friends while they are still alive. Thank you, Richard, for reminding us of Ram Dass’s words!

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    Thanks for the comment and feedback. I have been enjoying these Daily Meditations ever since Matthew seized hold of the James Webb images. I’ve been meaning to respond to him more about that but yesterday, as a current victim of Covid, I felt a numbness towards death and wrote this as something I felt I needed to express. When Matthew’s call for comment came today, I decided to share this piece.

    Truth be told, I don’t really hold to this view at all. I believe the utter opposite of despondency. We are here, so I believe, to glorify God and to attain to God if only through the experience of Cosmic Consciousness (Samadhi) as witnessed by the saints. I believe emphatically in reincarnation, and karma, (“As you sow, so shall you reap.”), and that the Earth – as with all Creation – is a living, conscious Intelligence. Transformation of all things is part of the Divine Process including us and the planet, and beyond. So while we are witnessing some kind of global metamorphosis, the only despair I can feel is the despair of disbelief, of giving up, of accepting an apparent failure. No. Absolutely not; none of these things. As with the great Walt Whitman, “I celebrate myself”, and all of the celestial delights brought down to us by these latest cosmic images and the intelligence that Matthew and these Daily Meditations similarly bestow. I am well, thanks! Even the Covid is waning!

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    How to attain this state of gratitude?
    “Have you ever loved your body? Have you ever kissed your hands? Have you ever loved your eyes? Have you ever realized what an amazing thing is taking place? It is very unusual to find somebody among us who has loved his/her eyes and who has kissed his/her hands, who has experienced gratitude that this amazing thing is happening without his/her knowledge and even without his/her participation.
    “So first of all be grateful to your body. Only someone who is grateful to his/her body can be grateful to other people’s bodies. First of all become filled with love for your body, because only someone who is filled with love for his/her own body is capable of loving other people’s bodies. The people who are teaching you to be against your body are irreligious. The people who are telling you that the body is your enemy, that it is evil, that it is this and that, are irreligious. The body is a great miracle. The body is amazingly helpful – be grateful to it.
    “What is the body? The body is made up of five elements – be grateful to the body, be grateful to these five elements….
    “Sitting by the side of the ocean do you ever remember that you also have something of the ocean inside you? You should be grateful to the ocean for the ocean which is inside you, and you should be grateful to the sunlight for the sun which is inside you, and you should be grateful to the wind which is moving your breath. You should be grateful to the sky and the earth that made you. This I call gratitude, divine gratitude.”Gratitude is not a word, it is a deep feeling in the very center of our being…. To me, gratitude is the greatest experience that you can have – not to God, not to me, not to anybody in particular…simple gratitude for this whole existence. These birds, these beautiful trees, this whole existence is so beautiful that not to feel gratitude about it is to remain blind, ignorant, unaware.
    “The function of meditation is to pull you out of your blindness and make you aware of this tremendous splendor that is spread all over fulfillment.
    “Express your gratitude. Find ways to develop gratefulness and your meditation will deepen through it. And not only your meditation, but your whole life will change tremendously. Your life will become very different, it will become something completely new….
    “So when you relate with anyone in your life, constantly remember your gratitude. You will find your life becoming full of wonder.”


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      Thank you, Billy. I go through periods when I remember to be thankful to my body. During those times, if I stub my toe, I apologize to my toe. “I’m so sorry Honey.” If arthritis flares in a finger, I give it attention and apologize to it too. “I’m sorry you are going through this. Things will get better.” When I swim, I tell my limbs that I tell them how thankful I am for their flexibility.

      And then I forget. Thank you, Billy, for reminding me to tell my body parts how thankful I am to them.

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