Last night I dreamt of a buffalo.
I had just come to the top of a mountain, a long hike under a gentle autumn sun, with a group of friends. Instead of a peak, the top unveiled an orange brushed meadow, grass waving in the breeze. Across the meadow was a large, dark shape, slowly moving in our direction. I strained my eyes to see, fear starting to creep in as I realized it was a large buffalo. I backed up as far as I could, now on the edge of a precarious cliff. My friends had disappeared. I looked over the cliff and my heart started racing as I could barely see the bottom below, scattered rocks containing a roughly flowing river. I lowered myself partly down the side cliff, fearfully grasping onto rocks, now avoiding any glimpse down at the river, until the buffalo came over, right to the edge. She made a grunting noise that almost caused me to lose my grip, and I was sure my death was near. Instead, she turned her massive head and shoulders, and slowly meandered away.
When I woke up the following morning, the dream still vivid in my mind, I went to my Animal Speak: The Spiritual & Magical Powers of Creatures Great & Small book, the chapter on buffalo, which are actually called American bison here in the US. The lesson of the buffalo or bison, as Native American’s believe, is about learning how to manifest abundance through right action and right prayer. The message is also about having gratitude for what you have already received, for the abundance that is already present in your life.
It’s ironic to me that in the last month my husband and I had started a gratitude journal, where we write down three things every day that we are grateful for. I honestly don’t remember why we started this, other than a way to try and focus on what’s good in our lives and in our world, so that we don’t feel trampled down by all the injustice and suffering. We are learning to see, really see, how fortunate we are, how much abundance we have, not just on a material level, but also in terms of our health, our relationships, our education. We really have nothing to complain about. Even the dark times, the challenges, and the uncomfortable aspects of our lives are necessary and an unavoidable part of being human.
There is actually scientific evidence that having gratitude affects your sense of well-being. There has been lots of research comparing groups of people who focus on gratitude, by writing or reading passages focusing on the positive aspects of life, compared to reading something neutral or even negative. The gratitude groups are found to have a greater sense of well-being.
Why is that? There are lots of hypotheses that try to explain this correlation. It may simply be that feeling grateful is a pleasant experience, and the more often one has pleasant experiences, the greater the life satisfaction. Regardless of the underlying reason for the connection, it intuitively makes sense that having gratitude would improve one’s life.
So this holiday season my husband Ronando and I decided not to buy any gifts, as we really don’t need or want anything for ourselves. What we really want is to make a difference in the world, to use our privilege and financial resources to support causes we believe in. So, we made a list of 15 organizations that we will be donating to on a monthly basis. I found a fantastic Website called charitynavigator.org linking to thousands of organizations around the globe and graded according to their financials, accountability, and transparency. We listed the things we feel most passionate about – education/literacy, health/wellness, animal welfare/species protection, climate change/environment, and poverty/access to water. It was so much fun looking through the lists and finding local, national, as well as international organizations to donate to! We may not have time to devote to these causes, but our dollars have power.
Ronando decided to help out the local homeless population, so he bought some warm clothing and looked through our camping gear to find tents and other things that could help others who need to be warm this winter. He had just dropped off a tent and was heading back to his car to get more supplies when a volunteer came up to him and asked him if he needed some food. I guess it was the construction-dirtied pants, gray sweatshirt, and the straggly beard that fooled her. He was very grateful to be able to say, “No, thank you, I am actually here donating some clothing and supplies.”
We can make a difference. And it feels good.