Gratitude for this beautiful, self-organizing universe where we live, says Joanna Macy, author of World as Lover, World as Self, is the foundation of environmental responsibility.
We have received an inestimable gift. To be alive in this beautiful, self-organizing universe—to participate in the dance of life with senses to perceive it, lungs that breathe it, organs that draw nourishment from it—is a wonder beyond words. It is an extraordinary privilege to be accorded a human life, with self-reflexive consciousness that brings awareness of our own actions and the ability to make choices. It lets us choose to take part in the healing of our world.
Gratitude for the gift of life is the primary wellspring of all religions, the hallmark of the mystic, the source of all true art. Yet we so easily take this gift for granted. That is why so many spiritual traditions begin with thanksgiving, to remind us that for all our woes and worries, our existence itself is an unearned benefaction, which we could never of ourselves create.
Before any period of meditative practice, we should pause and reflect on the preciousness of a human life. This is not because we as humans are superior to other beings, but because we can “change the karma.” In other words, graced with self-reflexive consciousness, we are endowed with the capacity for choice—to take stock of what we are doing and change directions. We may have endured for eons of lifetimes as other life-forms, under the heavy hand of fate and the blind play of instinct, but now at last we are granted the ability to consider and judge and make decisions. Weaving our ever more complex neural circuits into the miracle of self-awareness, life yearned through us for the ability to know and act and speak on behalf of the larger whole. Now the time has come when by our own choice we can consciously enter the dance.
This first reflection can be followed by a second, on the brevity of this precious human life: “Death is certain; the time of death is uncertain.” That reflection awakens in us the precious gift of the present moment—to seize this chance to be alive right now on Planet Earth.