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 accessing 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 hoped he would answer.
He sat in a straight back wooden chair and we gathered around him, sitting on various cushions. He introduced himself. “I am Fu-Kiau,” he said simply. His full name was Kimbwandende kia Bunseki Fu-Kiau. 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 made 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 the one question I had come to ask. I decided direct and simple was the best way to go. It was time. 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 powerful 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 of wisdom to give me that magic formula that would diminish the struggle and resistance 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 powerful 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 been waiting to ask. Gratitude. I was hoping for more; the most potent prayer, mantra 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 close to twenty-five years ago. Fu-Kiau died in 2013 and the world lost a very deep well of Beyonder wisdom. But authentic teaching is not that easily extinguished.
Over the last twenty-five years Fu-Kiau’s answer to my question, which had been so disappointing at first, has turned out to be like a many layered onion. As I have committed to my own conscious evolution, engaging in mindfulness and other meditative practices, I have been moving through the layers, getting closer and closer to the core of this most compelling teaching.
More recently, I have been spontaneously experiencing the deepest feelings of gratitude in the most mundane of places; the grocery story, driving through traffic, 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 in which the gratitude arises.
This gratitude seems a natural result of practicing mindfulness. It is of a deeper nature, a pleasant and at the same time powerful feeling that transcends the usual level of consciousness that I’m more familiar with as I move through my day.
It is not gratitude expressed in words or thoughts. It is not based on some internal story I tell myself about my life. It is a silent, spacious, fully present awareness of gratitude for every aspect of life as life is unfolding in a given moment of time, even those aspects that I might otherwise label as less than desirable. It is a full submersion into the here and now.
I have discovered gratitude to be a natural state of my being, below the surface noise of an anxious world. And I now consciously invite this state in to elevate my day. For me, twenty-five years later, gratitude has indeed become the most powerful spiritual practice.
Thank you Fu-Kiau.