One really incredible scene in the book/movie Life of Pi always stays with me.
Pi is the teenage boy marooned in the middle of the Pacific after the ship carrying his family and all their zoo animals sinks. He ends up trapped on a life raft with a famished Bengal Tiger. He lives in fear of being eaten by the Tiger. So when the Tiger jumps overboard to snaffle up a shark, you expect Pi to be super relieved. Instead he helps the Tiger back into the boat. His reason- it’s the fear of the tiger that’s keeping him alert; giving him a purpose and literally keeping him alive.
This is only one of many stories within the story. The point that I took from it is that everything depends on the way you choose to see it. Even in the most frightening circumstances, you still have the power to choose your response. As Pi says,
You must take life the way it comes at you and make the best of it.
That’s quite a statement from a guy trapped on a raft with a tiger and little prospect of survival.
When you claim your power, even fear becomes an opportunity. In the case of Pi, fear saved his life. He felt incredible gratitude to the Tiger, Richard Parker. Imagine getting to a depth of gratitude where you can appreciate your fear, your ex, your past, your pain, your parents, your nemesis, your……because they gave you the opportunity to become all you are today. They kept you alert, and in some ways kept you alive.
How do you see your life? Are you generally optimistic, or tending more to pessimism?
Pessimists tend towards paranoia. Paranoia is the belief that people and events are conspiring against you. The opposite is pronoia, the belief that events are conspiring to benefit you. Optimists tend towards pronoia. What if neither is really accurate? What if life really has no bias for or against you? It just is what it is, and does what it does. It’s in your perspective that the meaning is made. It’s all about perception. The human mind will find evidence to support the way you choose to see the world. So if you get to choose, choose to find the best in every situation.
I love this story about gratitude and perspective. A young guy from a remote tribe collected some water in his leather canteen and took it to his tribal elder after a four day hike. The elder took a drink and smiled deeply, thanking the young guy for this sweet water. The elder then gave the canteen to another young guy who took a swig and immediately spat out the water. It was putrid. The guy said to the elder, “That water was foul. Why did you say you liked it?”
The elder replied, “You tasted the water. I tasted the gift. The water was just the container for an act of kindness and nothing could be sweeter.”
It’s hard to do. We all have some foul water in our life; some lingering temptation to become bitter and twisted. We all have people who test our patience. The trick is to see the gift in everything. This doesn’t mean you have to enjoy things that are obviously awful. Just find the gift in the growth.
Gratitude is an attitude of grace. The world doesn’t owe us anything. Both paranoia and pronoia torment us with the idea that someone or something out there is rewarding and punishing us. Why this and why me are questions that add suffering on top of suffering and self righteousness on top of good fortune. Either way, it means more unnecessary suffering.
Gratitude without entitlement takes us back inside ourselves where we have the ability to see with powerful perspective. This is how Pi described it-
I had to stop hoping so much that a ship would rescue me. I should not count on outside help. Survival had to start with me. In my experience, a castaway’s worst mistake is to hope too much and to do too little. Survival starts by paying attention to what is close at hand and immediate. To look out with idle hope is tantamount to dreaming one’s life away.