In our world of comparison we cannot drive along a main street without being continually reminded of what we don’t have. New cars are devalued within seconds, computers are outdated within months and every birthday we are reminded that we are not getting any younger. Even if we are climbing the ladder of success we might get dizzy when someone tells us how far there is to fall, or how much higher other people are climbing.
I am fan of the American festival of Thanksgiving, as much of the country is seemingly focused on positive appreciation for these 24 hours. There is, however, a way to super-charge it and enjoy this good gratitudinal feeling every day (even if the word ‘gratitudinal’ didn’t exist before this sentence).
In 1687, Sir Isaac Newton famously wrote an important principle:
Actioni contrariam semper et æqualem esse reactionem: sive corporum duorum actiones in se mutuo semper esse æquales et in partes contrarias dirigi.
Although I studied Latin for six challenging years (which, yes, I am grateful for…), I prefer the English:
“To every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction: or the forces of two bodies on each other are always equal and are directed in opposite directions.”
This Law of Opposites applies everywhere. Before an archer fires an arrow, he has to pull back the bow. Before we hug another human being, we have to create space with our arms. Before we leap towards the sky, we have to push downwards on the ground.
Before we can feel uplifted, we have to ‘push off’ of something else, and one counter-force is gratitude. By cultivating a sense of thankfulness and integrating it into the fabric of our day, we feel more connected to other people, the world and our potential.
There is a story of the Biblical patriarch Jacob who dreamt of a ladder reaching from earth to heaven. He saw angels travelling up and down the ladder, with the Divine presence at the very top. Upon waking up he suddenly declared that he was sleeping in an enlightened place. One tradition teaches that this was his point of self-realisation, where he suddenly experienced self-knowledge (1). Within a short period of time, he experienced the blessings of family, children, and extreme success in business.
Newton’s law teaches that the best way to reach higher is first to ground ourselves downwards. Many yoga poses are based upon building strength, extension and steadiness through strengthening the foundation of our body through our feet and legs. Similarly, if we want our careers and work life to reach ever-increasing heights, we need to stay connected to who we are, what we believe in, and stay tuned into our deeper mission.
When we cultivate an attitude of thankfulness and mindset of connectedness to our higher purpose, we realise a higher version of ourselves. This is Newton’s law in action; without being grounded in gratitude and humility, the ladder of success will easily topple.
May you be blessed with many things to be grateful for!
Marcus J Freed
How to apply this in the boardroom: Consider how your career or business has been lacking gratitude and where you have gone ‘off mission’? Where are areas where you can show more grace and attention – perhaps it is to funders, to stakeholders or to employees and contractors. Where have you lost your grounding, perhaps taking on projects that are not aligned with your core values?
How to apply this on the yoga mat/meditation cushion: The first part of this week’s practice can be centred on grounding to the earth beneath you and pushing downwards in order to lift upwards. This applies to both standing asanas and also seated meditation. Part two is to spend time focusing on the feeling of gratitude; begin with focusing on something you are most grateful for, and hold that feeling for as long as possible through your meditation. The Hebrew meditation is “Modim”, or thankfulness.
(1) Based on Parshat Vayeitzei, Genesis 28:16. The Hebrew reads: Anochi Lo Yadati, usually translated as “[G-d was in this place and] I did not know it”, but the Hebrew contains two mentions of the word ‘I’. Thus, a deeper reading would be “I, I did not know”. In other words, he suddenly gets to know himself.