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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Grief and Loss

This coming week, I’ll be speaking on a panel as part of an annual series I’ve been putting together at our local Open Way Mindfulness Center the past few years, called Mindful Community Conversations (MCC).

MCC takes place once a month from September through December and focuses on heart-heavy topics, or topics otherwise held in the shadows of our awareness and/or attention. This past fall we’ve covered the topics of: Prison Reentry, Working Skillfully with Sexual Energy, and Healing Journeys of Mental Health. Our next and last installment of MCC, which I’ll be on the panel for, is on the topic of Grief and Loss.

In past years, I set up each MCC with one speaker but this year I thought we’d try something new and I set up each topic evening with a panel of 3-4 speakers. Our speakers thus far have, almost solely, been members of our local sanghas: Be Here Now and Open Way – practitioners of mindfulness who have lived through or with a particular challenge and are able and willing to share their personal experience of healing and how their practice helps support them.

Here’s what I plan on sharing:

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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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Filling the tank

In the wake of an especially difficult past two weeks, I’ve been upping my self-care practices and allowing myself to take some necessary time and space by pulling back from a few things.

Here are a few of my main go-to’s for self-care when I start getting depleted:

  1.  Sleep & rest. I allow myself to sleep more at night and rest more via naps during the day.
  2. Music. From listening to what I most enjoy to dancing it out in my living room to playing guitar and singing, my day is guided by music, and even moreso when I am physically taxed or emotionally challenged.
  3. Delicious & nutritious food. While I am closely tuned into what I consume and keep up a steady dose of wholesome, nourishing foods, I also allow myself to partake in comfort foods. Life is about balance and I practice to not to be too strict OR too lenient in my food choices when I’m struggling.
  4. Tuning out. When my cup is empty and I’ve worn myself out thinking and talking about a challenge, I practice to notice when it’s time to call a time out. Tuning out to a funny show on Netflix is sometimes in order. Again, life is about cultivating and maintaining balance. And in times of struggle, I practice to give myself some slack – but not too much slack – when it comes to watching TV.
  5. Getting outside. Being outside, whether in wild places such as the woods or simply for a walk around the block, helps restore my energy and refill my mental and emotional tank. Even if it’s a bit of a chore, when I push myself a little bit in order to get outside, I’m always glad I did once I get out there.
  6. Self-expression. On a regular and ongoing basis, my medium for self-expression comes through the art of writing. Even if I’m not feeling terribly inspired to write, I need to keep picking up the pen. If I stop writing when I’m struggling, I’m in trouble.
  7. Knowing when to reach out and who to reach out to. This is key. Reaching out for support is not a sign of weakness or defeat. In fact, asking for support is a sign of strength and resiliency. It’s also important to know who I can trust in to hold space for me and who I can really rely on when the going gets tough.
  8. Keeping my practice going. By practice I am referring to my daily sitting meditation practice and my daily mindfulness practices. If I let my daily morning sit slide off, it will effect my foundation for the rest of the day. Even when it’s hard and I don’t feel like doing it – even when the quality of my sit is poor – I keep on sitting. And I keep investing in: my daily gratitude practice; reciting my meal verse; pausing to take a breath when my home mindfulness bell chimes; smiling practice; cultivating joy; and tuning into my breath, body, and feelings throughout the day.
  9. Taking a break. This takes many forms. When my energy is waning and my internal gas tank is low, I often take a break from reading the news, so that I am not further depleting myself. I often take a break from participating in meetings or events that are taxing and/or have an element of difficulty embedded into them. And I will sometimes take a break from social gatherings or other such gatherings where I might be otherwise energetically dispersed.

These are some of the ways I restore harmony within myself. If you feel called to share what you do to help replenish and restore, I’d really enjoy hearing from you in the comments section below.

A Difficult Week

Last week, I attended our local fall retreat up on the Flathead Lake. (This “peace is every step” pumpkin was a pic I took at said retreat.) Part of me wants to offer my typical post-retreat accounting here on this blog. But a bigger part of me has little interest in doing so. And part of me wants to tell you why I don’t have interest in relaying my retreat field notes and part of me doesn’t.

Instead, I think I’ll say this: it’s been a hard week. The hardest I’ve had in a very long time.

Over the last few days, it’s been interesting relaying this truth to people who have casually asked: how’s it going? I am someone who is interested in not answering on auto pilot with such empty responses such as: fine and good when confronted with that how are you question. However, I’m also interested in being brief. It’s a challenge, to say the least. On the best of weeks I am at a loss for how best to answer this question in such a way that is honest and also quick and to the point.

When I’ve told people: this week has been hard or I am being really challenged this week it solicited a range of responses I did not care for being on the receiving end of. It puts me in touch with how poorly skilled we are as a human collective to listen deeply and to respond in the spirit of interbeing.

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