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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52-Weeks of Thank You’s

For those of you who are a much appreciated devoted follower here, you might recall that each January, in lieu of New Year’s Resolutions (which I’ve never been a big fan of), I adopt 2 or 3 new mindfulness-based practices to weave in throughout my calendar year, which I then switch out for new practices the following January.

This past January, one of my new mindfulness practices was to embark upon an exercise that I read about on the Random Acts of Kindness website: 52-Weeks of Thank You’s.

The concept is pretty self-explanatory: each week, I craft a thank you letter/note/card to someone. I’ve been including friends, family members, and also local businesses and organizations. I’ve done a total of 44 thank you’s thus far, with this week marking week #45 of 2019.

I made labels to affix to each card (see pic above) and my personal commitment was to not send these thank you’s via the less personal route of email but to instead write them out by hand and send them in the U.S postal mail, putting some love into the dwindling art of letter writing.

This practice has been quite an interesting new road I’ve been traveling on, with some weeks harder than others to drum up my next person/business to send a thank you to. Still, even when it’s been a bit challenging or I’ve had the thought Oh man, I have another thank you card to do already? Didn’t I just do that?! angling myself in the direction of sending direct thank you’s to people and businesses has been nourishing to my own sense of connectedness.

Over the years, I’ve invested in a number of different gratitude-strengthening practices and this is what I’ve discovered for myself personally: the more I practice seeing and touching gratitude in my life, the more I see and touch more reasons to be grateful – and the stronger my sense of gratitude becomes, the more joy and ease and sense of connection I feel as a result.

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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Forehead to the Ground

When I bend down
and touch my forehead to the ground
in gratitude,
I am pretty sure the
aging leaves still clinging
to the two elm trees in the backyard
murmur in resonance.

I am pretty sure
it calls birds in closer and
inspires the squirrels
to lean in to listen more intently
and the roots of the front yard
mountain ash to dig down a little deeper.

I am pretty sure
a shifting in the air can be felt
and the moon in her wisdom clad gown
sits a touch more upright
in her royal posture.

Simple Things

I want excitement
to be born from
simple things.

Like being presented
with another day
to live and breathe
and sing.

Or knowing how very fortunate
I am
to have all the
luxuries of life:
running water
ready access to food
electricity
shelter
and countless modern conveniences.

I want excitement
to not be hinged on
having to go someplace
or do something
or be someone
in particular.

I want excitement
to bubble up
from the deep cauldron
of my heart,
for the wondrous miracle to
be
here
now.

This is my aspiration;
my practice;
my winding path
through the thicket of collective hardships
and planetary throng of woes.

– penned today, July 10th, 2019, around 6am

Morning Meal Verse

Meet my morning meal verse.

Inspired by the Meal Contemplations in the Plum Village tradition, I wrote my own version. I invoke this particular verse only before my breakfast meal each day. For lunch and dinner, I shorthand it and simply use the first line.

 

Morning Meal Verse

This food is the gift of the whole universe,
the earth the sky and much hard and loving work.

May I keep my compassion alive by remembering
that there are many people who will not have enough to eat today;
who will suffer and die from starvation and malnutrition.

May I accept this food with reverence
and gratitude for the life I am afforded.

 

Reciting a verse before each meal, allows me to connect with the food in front of me in a conscious way, verses gobbling it up mindlessly on multi-tasking auto-pilot. It infuses a great deal of mindful energy into my daily routine. And it doesn’t take long at all to do it, just a few seconds is all.

Without these meal verses, it’s hella easy for me to take my food for granted.

If you’re interested in infusing a bit of mindful intention into your day, I would recommend the practice of using meal verses. Feel free to use the ones here or come up with your own. For me, it’s an important way to stay in contact with my aspiration to be more connected, skillful, and kind.

 

Serving with Grace

Last weekend, we enjoyed our local spring family retreat up on the Flathead Lake with our Montana sangha family. Twice a year, we organize local 3-day residential retreats: one in the spring and one in the fall. And each spring is a family retreat, where we invite children to attend alongside their parents. This year we had 59 adults and 25 young people, aged 3-15, for a total of 84 people.

Each spring, I serve as co-director on the retreat planning team. I also head up the children’s programming with my good friend Amy, so essentially I am on two different branches for organizing the retreat. We have one team for: managing all of the logistics with the camp facility we use, registration, and organizing the schedule for the adults and program elements with our visiting teacher(s) and another team for planning the kids programs that we offer.

Knowing I serve in this co-director capacity each spring, friends often ask me if these spring retreats are an actual retreat for me. My reply this year has been: Not in the classic sense of the word, no. These retreats for me are a rich opportunity to engage with work as spiritual and joyful practice.

I’ve recently started reading this book:

Serving with grace is a deep aspiration for me on the path of practice. And to speak to my full aspiration, I would add: serving with grace and kindness.

Supporting our young people and their parents to come on retreat; to be in touch with the nature and landscape of the lake and the surrounding woods; to be in touch with the Dharma and the Sangha is a great joy and a true calling for me. It’s also exhausting work too. But gosh, I have no qualms about getting worn out temporarily from undertaking such a lovely endeavor. Sometimes, putting all of our physical fuel into something can fill up the heart tank and gear us up for the next thing that comes along. The physical tank is easy to refill: food, rest, movement. But keeping the heart tank full, that’s where the real work happens.