Counting our blessings

DALL·E 2

“Do not dream of possession of what you do not have: rather reflect on the greatest blessings in what you do have, and on their account remind yourself how much they would have been missed if they were not there.

“But at the same time you must be careful not to let your pleasure in them habituate you to dependency, to avoid distress if they are sometimes absent.”

– Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Book 7, Chapter 27

In this passage, Marcus Aurelius, the renowned Stoic philosopher, Roman emperor, and star of What Would Marcus Do, a much loved segment of Walk the Pod episodes of the past, highlights the importance of acknowledging and appreciating the abundance present in our lives.

It’s all too easy to become fixated on what we lack, and to believe that our happiness and fulfilment depends on obtaining these things. The reality is that once we get to our chosen rainbow uplands, we spot another rainbow upland! Just over the horizon with an extra unicorn!

And immediately, we adjust our happiness downwards to accommodate the JOY we will feel when we reach this new and shiny destination.

But Marcus reminds us that by taking stock of the blessings we already have and cultivating gratitude for them, we can come to appreciate the richness of our lives and find contentment in the present moment.

Perhaps we should scan the horizon only for genuine threat rather than opportunities, and instead pay attention to what’s directly in front of us.

This idea of inner independence is a central tenet in Taoist philosophy, as exemplified in the ancient Chinese text, the I Ching.

I Ching says that true fulfillment comes from within, and encourages detachment from the frustrations of life, alongside the cultivation of inner independence in order to find peace and contentment regardless of external circumstances.

As I explained in today’s episode, I don’t mind if my daily reminders of how to be a happy human in the world are based on a system that taps into the supernatural, IF the advice behind the tarot card, hexagram or tea leaves is sound.

I see these systems, rituals or games more like a trusted friend whose advice I can take or leave. An alternative way of looking at it is as a way to randomise snippets of good advice on subjects that I need reminding of regularly. Such as, for example, not to try to get too much out of a situation, to detach and remember not to strive too much for success.

Simply choose a sound direction, then keep turning up, doing the good work, fighting the good fight and be prepared to seize the moment when those fleeting opportunities come along. And crucially, be prepared to change course when needed, no matter the upheaval required to do so.

Both Stoicism and Taoism advocate for embracing abundance as a means of cultivating inner independence. This is not to say that we should ignore or downplay our struggles, but rather that we should recognise and be grateful for the myriad blessings in our lives, rather than fixating on what we lack.

By following this approach, we can learn to find fulfillment and contentment in the present moment, regardless of external circumstances.

So, how do we go about counting our blessings and cultivating gratitude? Here are a few ideas:

– Take part in GratiTuesday: Take some time once a week to write down a few things you’re grateful for, or voicenote a friend with your GratiTuesday thoughts. These can be as simple as noticing a beautiful sunset, a warm meal, or a good, tipsy laugh with a friend at the end of a long week. Reflecting on these things can help shift the focus to everything that’s provided a little light.

“No matter how vast the darkness, we must supply our own light.”

– Stanley Kubrick

– Practice mindfulness: Pay attention to the present moment and all the good things that are happening. Take a few minutes each day to simply be present and notice the beauty and blessings in your life. Ignore, just for a moment, the cereal strewn around the place or the clothes that have been piling up all week. When the news is bad, look for the helpers, and try to help them.

– Show gratitude: Expressing gratitude to others can not only make them feel good, but it can also help us appreciate the good things in life. Take the time to write a thank-you note, say thank you in person or rugby tackle them to the ground to cover their upturned face with a thousand kisses, if you have consent to do that kind of thing.

– Give back: Helping others can also help us appreciate what we have. Consider volunteering or donating to charity. This series, I’m encouraging everyone to download trundl, the walking app that converts your kms into donations for charities including Dogs for Autism and the Trussell Trust. We hope it will be available outside of the UK before too long.

We have one week to go until the end of Series 33, dear Poddies, and I look forward to completing our topic of abundance.

Of course, I will need regular reminders to flip myself out of scarcity mode, so I dare say we’ll come back to this regularly.

You are warmly invited to join me next Friday evening at 6pm for our end of series wrap party, from 6-7 GMT. Find me in the Discord voice channel, for which you’ll need to join the Walk the Pod lunch time walk club, via patreon.com/rachelwheeley

References

Aurelius, M. (180 AD) Meditations. (Gregory Hays, Trans.) Penguin Classics. (2006)

Phillips, G. D. (2007). Stanley Kubrick: Interviews. University Press of Mississippi.

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