A few years ago, before I renounced, there was a cold wave in North India. Several incidents of homeless people dying from the cold were reported in the news. My father asked and inspired me to do my two cents worth. I felt grateful and inspired to do something.

Consequently, a senior manager in my company who was also a close friend of mine and I decided to distribute blankets to the needy. However, we did not want to just give them away to some organization. We wanted to ensure that they directly got in the hands of those who were in genuine need. We bought about fifteen dozen blankets, and we had an SUV that could stock more than seventy at a time. My friend, his sister, our driver, and I got in the vehicle at midnight. We started driving around the high streets of a major city, an industrial town.

The outside temperature, as indicated in the car, was three degrees centigrade. The street lights had a halo of fog around them as it was foggy, not dense, though. Even the stray dogs and the cows were hiding. It was all painfully quiet and cold. As we drove around, we saw heart-wrenching scenes. There were homeless people lying on the footpaths at different places.

Some had wrapped themselves in jute bags, some in flattened cardboard boxes, quite a few were draped in newspapers. The repertoire included the aged, the young, men and women, children, toddlers, and infants. Not even one was sleeping with their legs fully stretched; all were lying curled up to protect body heat. All four of us in the car had the heating on, but we were feeling guilty and shocked. We had seen things like that earlier; it was the first time. However, we paid close attention.

We stepped out of the car and woke some people up to give them new blankets. Some were ecstatic, some cried, some thought we were the police who came to remove them from sleeping at a public place, some thought it was a joke, few were drunk and could not get up, some wanted more than one blanket. No one asked us for money or other things. They seemed very contented to get a blanket.

Their clothes were soiled and tattered, their hair unruly and mostly matted, their bodies dark and smudged in the dirt, years of suffering and sweat had permanently settled on their bodies, but their eyes had an expression of peace and acceptance. Further, they all bore smiles of gratitude and contentment as they got their blankets.

Some immediately unwrapped the blanket and donned it. It was gratifying beyond words to see them do that. Some made it their pillow; they either did not want to use it right away because it was new, or they might even sell in the gray market the following day. That was beside the point. We did our karma, we thought.

There was one particular scene beyond bear. Some people came running towards our car as they saw from a distance that we were giving blankets. In that group was a girl; she was physically handicapped. She tried to rush like the rest fearing the car might leave, or we might run out of blankets. While she was trying to run, she stumbled and fell down. We almost cried, seeing her state.

As she got up and came closer, she seemed to be mentally challenged as well. We could not endure the scene. We did our part and quickly got going. I never went out again to distribute blankets as I did not have the heart to see such suffering. My friend and his sister gave away the remaining on another night.

We came home, and as I lay my head on the pillow, snuggled up in my quilt, I was looking up at the roof. It was a furnished room; it was heated; it had an attached washroom, everything to make it comfortable. It all seemed like a dream. “Wow! I have a roof over my head,” I thought, “what good karma must have I done to deserve this.” Those people kept flashing in front of my eyes.

I could not help but think that not having a roof was one thing, but what about all the other needs? Where must they go to attend nature’s call, they had no place to cook, nowhere to store their utensils or stove, no place to even keep the blankets, in fact, they had no place to wash their clothes, where would they generally go to get drinking water, did they brush their teeth, or could they even afford to do that, they had no place called home, there was no where they could go after a tiring day, that and a million other questions boggled and tired my mind out.

I thought how little one needs to be grateful. That, how gratitude is not dependent on the magnitude of materiality, it is not dependent on what all you must have, but simply a state of mind, an expression of the heart, a commitment to tolerance, a resolution to be happy, a feeling of peace, a sense of contentment, an emotion of fulfillment.

How much do you need to be grateful in life?

If you believe that in order to be grateful, you must have certain things in your life, you will always find it hard to be thankful because no matter how much you may have, there will still be just as much more you will want to have.

Work towards what gives you joy, but be grateful for all that you have.

When you are grateful, an invisible blanket of peace covers you; it makes you glow, makes you happy, makes you strong, makes you warm.

On the path of emotional transformation, the first and foremost emotion is gratitude.  To be grateful. Like all other habits, this can be learned, practiced, cultivated, nurtured.  Read here – to learn the actual practice of gratitude.

Today happens to be Mother’s day as well in certain parts of the world; go on! Tell your mother how grateful you are for all that she has done for you.

Peace.
Swami