Some principles like humility and gratitude can be abstract and one needs to personally practise them to derive their rich spiritual benefits.
Making gratitude practical- The ladder of Abstraction
American linguist Hayakawa created a concept called the ‘Ladder of Abstraction’ that describes the way humans think and communicate in varying degrees of abstraction. At the bottom of this ladder are concrete things like a five bedroom house, a Lamborgini painted red, or a thin crust pizza topped with olives and jalapeños. At the top rung of the ladder is the abstract idea: the concept of residence, vehicle, or food respectively. Many are stuck either at the top or the bottom of this ladder. For example one person might be so busy with his daily worries that he has no time to appreciate the universe, God and his own existence in this giant cosmos. On the other hand, another might speak vaguely about God’s love and how we need to transcend the world and its problems; he could be so caught on the lofty principles that he forgets the bills to pay and grocery to buy.
An evolved person however is one who moves gracefully up and down this ladder; he understands God’s love by specific gratitude practises. Although gratefulness as a principle is at the top of the ladder of abstraction, it can be specifically practised on a daily basis and thus help us also remain at the bottom of this ladder.
I knew two monks who at different times decided to get married after staying in the monastery for over fifteen years. One of them struggled in his marriage because he would only discuss and do specific things in life. His wife complained that he just couldn’t relax or talk without an agenda. The poor man had been a manager his whole life-he lived at the bottom of the ladder; he didn’t relish spontaneity or vague discussions. The other monk faced problems due to his ambiguous dependence on God. His wife would want him to address specific issues, but he’d say God would take care of them! This man was trapped at the top of the ladder!To be continued…