Blessing, part 2

In the Jewish tradition, the Talmud teaches saying 100 blessings a day over any little thing: a piece of fruit, a cup of tea, a sandwich. "Blessed are you, Yahweh, our God, Source of Life, who creates the fruit of the tree.” Or: “by whose word all comes into being,” Or: “who brings forth bread from the earth.”

The item is blessed by saying that its source is blessed. Blessedness belongs to the source. Just acknowledge where it came from – whether you say God, or Earth, or All That Is.

In this month's issue of "On the Journey," there’s a piece by Martin Seligman in which he recommends a simple practice: Each night, set aside 10 minutes – some time between dinner and bed. Write down three good things that happened that day.

Then, next to each positive event answer the question, Why did this happen? In other words, just as the Jewish tradition teaches: acknowledge the source.

The Talmud goes on to teach that
“whoever has enjoyment of something from this world without saying a blessing, it is as if she or he had improper enjoyment of the thing – as if she or he has robbed the Holy One and the community."
Robbed, it says. Receiving without blessing – without acknowledging source – is a kind of theft – robbing from the source without giving the payment of acknowledgement and thanks.

There is so much that is granted, and we take it. If we take it, and it is granted, how do we not “take it for granted”?

It’s a simple matter to pause and acknowledge the source – of the food you’re going to eat, of the house that shelters you, of the friendships that soothe and enrich, of the great green earth, clear air, and quenching water.

Thank you, earth and ecosystems of beings, farmers, transporters and marketers, for this food.

Thank you, earth and builders for this housing that shelters me.

Thank you, social institutions that bring friendship into being – and all the forces that brought those social institutions into being.

Acknowledging the source means recognizing that the thing comes from, is produced by, all of reality. It means seeing the thing in the light of its place – its belonging – in the web of interconnection. In the Talmud, the broader whole is recognized in saying Yahweh is blessed. You might choose different language when you bless.

Rabbi Toba Spitzer writes:
“…saying a blessing is an opportunity for a particular kind of awareness. If I were really to think about all that it has taken to bring a plate of vegetables to my table – all the natural elements of sun and earth and rain, and all the human elements of planting and harvesting and transporting and selling, as well as the Godly power that underlies the whole process – I would feel a profound connection every time I sat down to eat. I would have a better realization of the myriad ways that my life is intertwined with people all over this planet.”
It’s a point made in other faith traditions as well. Thich Nhat Hanh, from the Buddhist tradition, for example emphasizes mindfulness of interconnection. The mealtime blessing in Thich Nhat Hanh centers and retreats begins by noting:
“This food is the gift of the entire universe: the earth, the sky, and much hard work.”
Taking a moment to say so calls attention – awareness – to the vast complex to which we are linked through receiving its gifts.

Whatever the faith tradition, the universal need that blessing addresses is acknowledgment, gratitude, interconnection, relationship. Blessing affirms and reinforces our sense of place within an interconnected network – a web of mutual care, a web that looks, if only we can attentively see it, like beloved community itself. Through blessing we help ourselves and one another see that web, realize the beloved community. We bless because we can, and because we need to belong – to know our place – to feel ourselves held in relationships of support that ultimately include all of reality.

We need to live our lives not like a bull in a china shop – charging about, heedless, reckless. We have known people like that. We have sometimes ourselves been like that bull in a china shop.

(To be fair to bulls, they are generally quite heedful creatures. In the confines of a china shop, however, the human concern for protection of the porcelain would scarcely be shared by a typical bull.)

Earlier I asked: How do you become a person whose every action blesses? like a carpenter who blesses the wood just by the way she joins and nails it? Or like a marathon runner whose every step blesses the road?

How does life feel like gracefully moving with things rather than contending against them? How does a life become a dance and not a fight? I don’t know. There’s something mysterious about how that happens, if it happens. But I’d suggest: start with choosing:
- choosing to bless the world;
- choosing to say a blessing (which is to say: to recognize something as a benefit, and be consciously thankful of its source);
- choosing to be a blessing to others.

Gradually, perhaps, the blessing – both the noun and the verb – infuses your way of being. It becomes unconscious habit for you to, as the Dao De Jing says, nourish by not forcing, lead by not dominating, do without outdoing -- not to rule but to guide, not to possess but to bless.

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