Yep, here i am talking about gratitude…again

Gratitude is one of my favorite subjects. One of my favorite practices to engage with and invest time and energy into. One of my favorite mindfulness-related skillsets to delve more into and unpack. Gratitude is both in and of itself a virtue to continually nourish and strengthen and it’s also a gateway to other beneficial unfoldings.

Gratitude has many other companion seeds in the garden of life. When we water the seed of gratitude, we’re also watering the seeds of: joy, kindness, resiliency, equanimity, understanding, compassion, and ease.  I’ve stated in the past and stand by it: in my view, if we chose only one practice to nourish and develop, gratitude would be more than enough.

Given my affinity for the practice and development of gratitude, I especially delight in the moments when I stumble across insights from teachers or info from articles in regards to gratitude.

“What is the one thing that people who can fully lean into joy have in common? Gratitude. They practice gratitude. It’s not an “attitude of gratitude” – it’s an actual practice. They keep a journal, or make a note of what they’re grateful for on their phones, or share it with family members…

Embodying and practicing gratitude changes everything.”

Brené Brown, from Dare to Lead, pg. 83

 

And just today, I came across a link to an article in my twitter feed that said:

“Over Thanksgiving, in between mouthfuls of turkey and sweet potato pie, many of us will be asking ourselves: What are we grateful for?

Taking a moment to practice gratitude like this isn’t an empty holiday tradition. It’s good for our mental and physical health. And here’s another thing: It can actually change our brains in ways that make us more altruistic.

The past two decades have seen a flurry of research on gratitude, beginning in the early 2000s with a series of landmark papers by Robert Emmons, Michael McCullough, and other psychologists. In recent years, we’ve learned through several scientific studies that there’s a deep neural connection between gratitude and giving — they share a pathway in the brain — and that when we’re grateful, our brains become more charitable.”

– from Giving thanks may make your brain more altruistic: Neuroscience is revealing a fascinating link between gratitude and generosity

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The Dharma of Conflict

I am currently working with what feels like a sea of disharmony in regards to my inter-personal relationships, and also in some larger contexts as well. And through this challenging time I am learning a lot about myself. I’m also learning a lot about conflict and how there are different types of conflict and different ways to approach it, work with it, and transform it depending on the situation and the person with who I am experiencing disharmony with.

As I’ve been intentionally working on dismantling what I call my mode of “over-caretaking” for the past 2-years, I feel as though the turbulent waters I am swimming in are very much related to this work as sort of a next-leg-of-the-journey sort of deal – a leveling up into advanced practice, if you will. In short, my brand of “over-caretaking” involves trying to meet people where they’re at to the detriment of my own truth, needs, and/or well-being. It involves me trying to go above and beyond what makes reasonable and good sense in order to alleviate or manage other people’s feelings of upset or discomfort. While I am very much interested in remaining sensitive and tuned in to people’s needs in order to be of skillful support, I am working on finding a balance to ensure that I am able to do so without compromising my own needs. It’s been a fruitful practice – and I am very much still in the learning process.

I’m coming to understand how very many different ways conflict can show up and manifest – which also means there are many different ways in which to work with it. There is no one right or particular way to be in relationship with conflict. Some conflicts will never be fully resolved or come to a place of complete closure. Some conflicts are terribly difficult to untangle because the other person involved is unable or unwilling to participate in engaging in open dialog. Some conflicts will fade over time while others can linger for years. Some conflicts point to a need for direct and honest communication and others point to a need to distance one self from certain individuals in an act of self-care. Some conflicts require silence and personal reflection before speaking and others require using our voice in the moment. Some conflicts can be tended to and resolved all on our own and others need to be worked through directly with the other person we’re in disharmony with.

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100 Percent

Yesterday morning, I started watching a recent Dharma talk given by Brother Phap Dung at Plum Village Monastery, as part of the three-months Rains Retreat. In it, he spoke of a practice tool that I’d heard about a while back but had forgotten about (one that I intended to remember and put into use). He held up a business-sized card and in large bold type it read simply: 100%.

The Brother shared about how Thay (Thich Nhat Hanh) once gave all of the monks and nuns those cards as a practice tool, encouraging them to practice 100%.

In relation to the cards, the Brother also spoke about how we are the CEO of the business of making togetherness – how together, we are one. So, in a way, these cards can also serve as our actual business cards as practitioners and students of Thay. Our job is to practice mindfulness and connection; to show up in the world with compassion and kindness and curiosity; to build and strengthen and nourish community; to engage skillfully with our self and others, 100%.

I decided to make a stack of these cards with some cardstock I had on hand and a calligraphy pen. I placed one in my wallet and I made more to give out at my local sangha, for those who might be inspired to utilize its teaching. And at a gathering I went to last night, where there were some art supplies set out for community use, I fashioned a small wooden pendant with “100%” scrolled on it with colorful markers, which now dangles from the rearview mirror in my car.

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Words Matter

Yesterday morning, I found myself in line with my favorite cashier at a local store I frequent. As she was ringing me up for my purchase, she asked me if I was ready for Thanksgiving. At first, I was confused by her question. Given that it’s 3-weeks away, T-day simply isn’t high on my mental radar. But I re-calibrated quickly and responded in a lighthearted tone: Yep, I’m ready.

It’s important to mention that her question was front-loaded with a tone that clearly relayed not only her own lack of readiness but also a thick air of obligation. It felt very much like she was fishing for a certain stock answer she was looking for – an agreeable party that could share her own sense of misery inherent in the upcoming holiday. I then went on to tell her that we were hosting a community potluck gathering at our house, like we do every year, to which she replied: Oh, that’s good. That way you don’t have to do all the cooking your self. She then told me about how her kids now have kids and even though it’s just her own family attending, her family is growing and it’s a lot of work to host Thanksgiving. Part of me wanted to say: don’t do it, my friend – if you don’t enjoy cooking and hosting, don’t do it. But even though she and I have a lovely rapport together, it’s not like I know her well enough to say something like that.

It seemed very much like she was putting herself in an obligatory state of relationship with Thanksgiving, rather than a choice-state. And having a fondness for her, my heart went out to her, wishing she didn’t feel as though she had to cook and host if that really wasn’t what she wanted to do and could find joy in.

Switching.

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Applying Mindfulness to Systemic Challenges

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I just watched the doc film Feminists: What Were They Thinking on Netflix. I felt the film was well-done, educational, eye-opening, and inspiring.

Here’s a quote I wrote down from the film that I think all of us unpaid/low-paid creative/artistic/musical humans, community builders, change agents, and social activists would do well to hear and take to heart (over and over and over again):

“When you are doing something you love, it’s like throwing a rock in the pool because that love is hitting the pool and starts radiating out. And so, when you’re doing something that you love and sharing it with other human beings, you are doing something of benefit.”

– Meredith Monk
(American composer, performer, director, vocalist, filmmaker, and choreographer)

It’s worth mentioning that I watched the film as an intentional act of stepping outside of my comfort zone. When I’m confronted with the word feminist in any context, even if a dear friend of mine calls them self one proudly in a conversation we’re having together, I bristle and energetically and/or physically back away.

I hope this is assumed but just in case it’s not: it’s not that I’m against equal rights for women or feel as though as women we shouldn’t be rallying our voices or stepping into our own power. My issue has to do with the labeling and declaration of being a feminist. And to be clear, this just doesn’t just apply to feminism. I bristle at labels that I judge have an inherent quality of me-against-you mentality built in. If a word used for describing one self or a group of people ends in -ist or -ism there’s a good chance it makes me uncomfortable. I’m not saying this is a good idea or right, I’m simply being honest with where my inner processing is at and the judgements that come up for me.

For example, if I were asked to describe myself using single words, I would never include vegetarian in the mix or even Buddhist. In my view, these words have a high potential to cause separation and propel a certain level of me-against-you self-righteous energy. They are also relatively meaningless categories and distinctions when it comes to conveying who I really am. Labels can be dangerous and degrading. They serve to keep us tucked away in a certain box – and when we use them on our self, we limit our potential and our own power to shine forth our true nature.

I appreciate documentary films that afford me the opportunity to see things differently and gain a new perspective by way of hearing the personal stories of others. This was one such film. And it’s not that I now feel called to label myself a feminist but I do have some fresh grist for the mill, which I appreciate.

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The Second Dharma Seal: Nonself (2 of 2)

(In this post, anything in quotation marks will be from The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching by Thich Nhat Hanh, as I’ll be referencing it throughout this post.)

This is part 2 of a two-part post.

“The Second Dharma Seal is nonself. Nothing has a separate existence or a separate self. Everything has to inter-be with everything else.”

My husband Mike and I recently had a conversation on whether/how nonself differed or was synonymous with interbeing. He came up with a great metaphor (no surprise – he has a true gift for creating metaphors.). He said: Nonself (aka a separate self) is what our cup is empty of; interbeing is what it’s full of. Brilliant!

My own working definition of nonself, as it differs but is related closely and is inseparable from interbeing: the more I come to see clearly my nonself nature – that I am a collage of an endless stream of causes and conditions – the more my insight of interbeing blooms and flourishes.

“Nonself is not a doctrine or a philosophy. It is an insight that can help us live life more deeply, suffer less, and enjoy life much more. We need to live the insight of nonself.”

“Nonself means that you are made of elements which are not you.”

Once again, how do we practice with this Dharma Seal so that we aren’t at risk of intellectualizing this teaching to a detriment?

Here’s what I came up with for myself.

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The First Dharma Seal: Impermanence (1 of 2)

In this post, anything in quotation marks will be from The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching by Thich Nhat Hanh, as I’ll be referencing it throughout this post and its sequel in part 2.

“The Three Dharma Seals are impermanence, nonself, and nirvana. Any teaching that does not bear these Three Seals cannot be said to be a teaching of the Buddha.”

Yesterday morning, during my Mindful Morning practice that I do each weekend on either Saturday or Sunday, my Dharma reading included passages from Interbeing and The Heart of the Buddha’s Teachings. After reading parts from the chapter entitled The Three Dharma Seals in the latter book, I began writing and reflecting about my own understanding of the first two seals: impermanence and nonself, and ways in which I practice to embody these elements in my daily life, moving them from a place of intellectual understanding to direct experience.

“Impermanence is more than an idea. It is a practice to help us touch reality.”

My own definition of impermanence: All things are in an ongoing & steady state of flux.

It’s one thing to intellectually understand that everything changes. It’s a whole other thing to actually practice with what it means, how it shows up in our daily life, and to cultivate the wisdom enfolded into its teachings.

“When we study impermanence, we have to ask, “Is there anything in this teaching that has to do with my daily life, my daily difficulties, my suffering?” If we see impermanence as merely a philosophy, it is not the Buddha’s teaching.”

Spurred by my morning reading, I asked myself: how do I practice impermanence? Meaning: how do I move impermanence from a brain-based relationship to a heartfelt experience?

Here’s what I came up with.

Ways I practice impermanence:

  1. Volunteering with hospice.
  2. Actively reflecting on the inevitability of death as it pertains to my closest loved ones (not easy!).
  3. Turning towards – not away from – the nature of reality of my stepson growing up and practicing the art of letting go.
  4. Investing intentional time and energy into comfort zone expansion work.
  5. Occasionally giving away a cherished belonging.
  6. Having a collectively generated fridge collage of drawings and then burning them when the fridge is full, in order to start over with a new creation.
  7. Engaging with the ever-fluctuating mountain weather as a valuable teacher providing me with daily opportunities to practice going with (instead of against) the flow of what presents itself outside of my preferences and/or sway.

My practice verse in relation to impermanence:

Life is precious and time is short.