“Everyday, think as you wake up, today I am fortunate to be alive, I have a precious human life, I am not going to waste it.”
~ Dalai Lama
At this Tuesday’s gathering (Nov. 24 @ 7pm), I would like us to reflect on gratitude. We will try a couple of exercises that I learned from my mentor James Baraz as a way to explore how this simple practice can alter our perceptions and open our hearts. These will be fun exercises, no previous experience required J.
Before I say more about the practice of gratitude, I would like to remind you of two great events we have scheduled for December. First, on Saturday, December 5th, Arinna Weisman will be returning to NVIM to lead on day long retreat entitled “Compassion and the Open Heart.” The retreat will run from 10am – 4 pm, with a break for lunch. For more information go to : http://www.napainsight.org/?p=804
Second, on Tuesday December 8th, Oren J Sofer will be our guest speaker. Oren is a long-time student of Joseph Goldstein, Michele McDonald, and Ven. Ajahn Sucitto. For more information about Oren’s visit go to: http://www.napainsight.org/?p=784
OK, where was I? Oh, yeah…..
For the past two year I’ve attended the 10 day Thanksgiving retreat at Spirit Rock. Because this is the time of year that my family have traditionally focused on giving thanks, I find my mind is naturally attuned to feelings of gratitude around the holidays. On retreat one can readily touch into these feelings, as the silence naturally opens the mind and heart. This year, however, I won’t be on retreat. Instead I’m looking forward to sharing the holiday with my wife and friends. It is a good reminder that one doesn’t need to have the right conditions to feel grateful. All we have to do is look around us.
I find the best part about practicing gratitude is that it helps me feel connected to the mystery of life. In our everyday concerns, it is so easy to take life for granted. When I remember to be grateful, even for a few minutes, I sense this kind of reconnecting with the mystery of life. It feels as if there is a larger reality in which my personal story is unfolding – not everything is about me and that’s OK. It is really quite liberating. It beats complaining that’s for sure.
It’s amazing that we don’t make more of an effort to cultivate thankfulness. It is really the easiest thing we can do to help boost happiness. Taking time to be grateful for a child’s smile, the kindness of others, our health, our practice, etc., helps us appreciate each moment and the interdependent nature of life. It can soften our hearts when we’ve become too guarded and build our capacity for forgiveness. Amazing how such a simple practice can be so life changing. So why not do it more often? Perhaps it is because we’ve inherited a brain that reacts more intensely to negative stimuli than to positive ones. Our natural tendency is to be on guard, to want to protect ourselves. Fortunately, studies have shown we can overcome this negative bias, but it takes effort. Practicing gratitude is a wonderful way to re-tune our brains to the positive and open our hearts.
By the way, I don’t mean to suggest that we should be in denial of life’s difficulties. We live in troubling times, as recent events in Paris, Beirut and throughout the Middle East make clear. Nor does the practice of gratitude deny the Buddha’s teaching on suffering. Rather, I think gratitude enables us to live more fully into life in good times and bad. It is the antidote to feelings of scarcity, fear and loss. It allows us to meet life’s difficulties with an open heart. The understanding we gain from practicing gratitude frees us from being lost or identified with either the negative or the positive aspects of life. Instead it helps us simply meet life in each moment as it rises.
With so much fear and sadness in the world, it is healthy to let our hearts delight in the blessings of life. I would like to end by offering you the following reflections. These come from former chief editor of Esquire magazine and full time Dharma teacher Phillip Moffitt. Enjoy!
- What are you grateful for? Make a list. Include “basics” you would not like to live without, like a warm shower or your morning coffee.
- Pause to appreciate that in this moment you have a sense of well-being. Notice the effect of this. Does this gratitude lead you anywhere?
- Take a few minutes at the end of each day to mentally note the many people who have invisibly served you by providing medicine, shelter, safety, food, education, and so forth.
Events & Information
Thursday Morning Silent Meditation: On Thursday mornings at 9:00am, Napa Valley Insight Meditation offers a 30-minute silent meditation at the site of the Napa Valley Unitarian Universalists. The sitting meditation is followed by an opportunity (not requirement) for participants to share about aspects of their own spiritual practice. The gathering concludes at approximately 9:45am. All are welcome!
A Note About N.V.I.M.: Napa Valley Insight Meditation’s weekly gatherings, sitting groups, events and daylong retreats welcome new and experienced practitioners from all spiritual and secular meditation traditions. We value diversity and welcome people of every race, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, age, and physical ability. No prior experience with meditation is required in order to attend.