Consider a scene of quiet serenity. You contemplate the wet grass and azure sky, the gentle breeze and soft tumbling clouds. Sunshine, damp earth, and chattering birds. Inner silence and gentleness invoked by mere perception.
Then reflect. What of this is of your doing?
Did you make the rain, evoke the grass, conjure the sky? Did the breeze and clouds arise from your works? Even your breath itself… did you do so much as kick-start this body you travel around in?
Nothing in the scene of quiet serenity is of our doing.
We make lovely gardens, but we don’t call soil, plants, or their interactive relationship out of the void. What is the essential source of the water we give our crops? When we eat food grown on farms, is not the human the very last of the influences behind our sustenance?
Should you become wealthy or famous, are you the primary source of any of the elements that were arranged just so? Should you turn away from the earthly and infantile things, seeking only the source and bliss of spiritual endeavor – even still, how is it that you are a creature capable of that? In any works and in any success, can we do anything more than initiate processes after the natural order of the universe, of our species, of our peoples?
In anything that we do, in any success we attain, any pleasure we might experience – are we anything more than the very last, tiny players of a vastness far beyond our lowly minds, short lives, and tiny dominions?
If you start from how things are, you might have mistaken pride and feelings of arrogant self-sufficiency. “Just so,” such people chatter, “we are survivors and determined toward success – self-made people.” But they made nothing. They only chased the specter of earthly success – they ran hard, yet they did not make themselves capable of running in the first place, the track that they ran, or even any sort of final or real security for all that.
If you start from non-existence, you perceive that you can accomplish nothing more than the artist who paints an image of the sky. You can only draw on the given provisions and create such beauty as you’ve been made able to conceive. “Even so,” you realize, “I have arisen and survived through the grace of something far beyond me, compared to which any conceivable work of mine amounts to nothing.” For the grounds of the struggle and the possibility of “success” are stories no more truthful or encompassing than those told by insects or stars. Small patterns, tiny paintings.
Each day is a revelation of grace. Perhaps today we will be tested, asked again to decide between love and fear, happiness and discontent, or constraint and indulgence. Perhaps today we will instead be given a canvas, a brush, and some paints – or wet grass, an azure sky, a gentle breeze pushing on clouds. Either way, whatever you might attain – you never, ever, ever did it all by yourself.
And there always abundant reason for gratitude.