I had been told that he was a holy man, though not a representative of any particular religion. He was called a “Beyonder”. I gathered that meant he was beyond the conceptual limitations of any one particular faith. He had been invited to New Mexico to give a series of teachings on the mysteries of life. I had come to hear him teach and to hopefully have the opportunity to ask a single question, a question that I deeply longed for an answer to.
He sat in a straight back wooden chair and we gathered around him, sitting on the various cushions that were about the floor. He introduced himself. “I am Fu-Kiau,” he said simply. His voice was friendly and welcoming, laced with a deep Central African accent. He began speaking on a very lofty topic, the underlying power out of which the universe is manifest. He said it was a power that infuses all of life and spoke of the importance of recognizing and embracing that power within ourselves. Despite the deep and complex nature of the topic, he made understanding very accessible. His words were inspiring and it felt like he was speaking from a place of authentic wisdom.
After about two hours he finished his talk and was willing to take questions. A few immediately raised their hands. I didn’t hear what their questions were nor his answers. I was busy trying to clarify in my mind the one question I had come to ask. I decided direct and simple was the best way to go. It was time. I raised my hand.
Fu-Kiau noticed my raised hand. “Yes?” he said, looking and listening deeply.
“Fu-kiau,” I began, “I was hoping you could share with me what you believe the most important spiritual practice is.” In retrospect I see the naive quality of the question. But at the time I felt that I required the teaching of some authority figure to see me through. I desired, more than anything else, for someone to give me that magic formula that would diminish the struggle and resistance that I was experiencing in my movement through life and help me get to the next spiritual level, whatever that meant.
Fu-Kiau gave the question the space of quiet consideration for a moment. Then he answered. “I would have to say that the most important spiritual practice is gratitude.” He broke his gaze with me and chose another person with a question. That was the only answer I was going to get to the one question that I had so dearly wanted answered. Gratitude. I was hoping for more; the most potent prayer or meditation, the most powerful ritual or sacred rite that would smooth over all the rough patches. In all honesty, I was very disappointed.
That was over twenty years ago. Fu-Kiau has recently died and I was extremely saddened to hear of his passing. The world has lost a very deep well of Beyonder wisdom. But authentic teaching is not that easily extinguished. Over the last twenty years Fu-Kiau’s answer to my question, which had been so disappointing at first, has become like a many layered onion. As I have evolved I have been moving through the layers, getting closer and closer to the core of his most potent answer.
Lately I have been spontaneously experiencing the deepest feelings of gratitude in the most mundane of places; the grocery story, standing in front of the mail machine at work, places that I am very familiar with and barely gave a second thought to. The one thing these experiences share is an inner silence, a quiet mind. The gratitude is of a deeper nature, a pleasant and at the same time powerful feeling that transcends the usual level of consciousness that I’m familiar with. It is not gratitude expressed in words or thoughts. It is a silent, spacious, fully present feeling of gratitude for every aspect of life as it is, even those aspects that I might otherwise label as painful or negative. It is a full submersion into the “Now”. I have discovered that gratitude can only be completely experienced where life can only be found, within the present moment. I have discovered that gratitude is actually a type if energetic stance beyond thought, a key to fully inhabiting the present moment, usually obstructed by my constant fascination and identification with stories of life as it was in the past or life as it will be in the future. Gratitude has become a natural result of consciously quieting my mind and inhabiting the “Now”. For me, twenty years later, gratitude has indeed become the most important spiritual practice.
Thank you Fu-Kiau.