How well do we know our loved ones? Is it a goal of yours to understand the dreams and the struggles of the one you love? Do you know his or her heart? Do you see her, as Thomas Merton says, the way she looks through God’s eyes? If the answer is yes, then it is really no wonder that you find your loved one so completely lovable as you do. You cannot help but love someone whose heart you know. This is true whether that person is your partner, your child or, the Buddhists would say, any sentient being on earth. If you look deeply enough to see their beautiful hearts, there will be boundless love.
Try it the next time you are out on the street. Try to see the heart of a complete stranger. Imagine the way they look in the eyes of their beloved. You will be amazed.
I’ve thought a lot about this. There have been times in my life when I just could not access gratitude in my heart. And I thought to myself, well, I can just make do with appreciation. But I was missing out.
Taking the time to smell the roses, the coffee, the baby’s hair after a bath or the salt air off the ocean increases their benefit. That’s appreciation – our ability to get pleasure out of things – and it goes hand in hand with gratitude. In fact, I have found that these two really need to walk side by side. Focusing only on the things we appreciate — without the gratitude part — will eventually leave us feeling empty.
How then, do we develop these skills, that we may fully enjoy the bounty in our lives? Try gratitude training. Ask yourself these questions:
- What do I take for granted?
- What freedoms, unique abilities, and options do I have that others don’t?
- What advantages have I been given in life?
- Which allies and supporters have helped me to get to where I am?
Everyone has been given unique abilities, advantages and privileges, and no one has done it all by themselves. But we are inclined to adapt to good things. We start to take them for granted, causing their value in our lives to drop. Thich Nhat Hanh uses the example of a toothache. When we have a toothache, it is all we can think about. But on all the days when we do not have a toothache, do we even think about that? If you find you are taking something for granted – like the absence of a toothache — go back to the beginning and imagine your life without it.
As you ask yourself these training questions, the gratitude will begin to flow, and you may experience more alertness and at the same time more calm. You may find your capacity to love is greater. And as you become trained in gratitude, you will surely find it easier to access feelings of contentment in your day.
So be grateful for sunlight and trees. Acknowledge the people in your life. Say thanks – it makes people happier, strengthens emotional and social bonds, and it gives your mind a dose of pure goodness as well. As the Buddha is said to have said,
“In the light of our vision,
the perspective that allows us to be grateful
– even if it is that things are not worse –
we can find freedom and joy:
our thoughts are peace,
our words are peace
and our work is peace.”
Thích Nhất Hạnh.
Monk, teacher, author, poet and peace activist, he is known as Thay by the millions of people who love him. Thay is the author of over one hundred books, and is perhaps the most influential living figure in Zen Buddhism today. From a job as editor-in-chief of Vietnamese Buddhism in the 1950s, he went on to found a press, then a university and later, a corps of peaceworkers called the School of Youth for Social Service, who went into rural areas to establish schools, build healthcare clinics and help rebuild villages. He has founded Zen centers all over the world. He was nominated by Dr. Martin Luther King for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1967.
There is ever so much more to the story of this man, including, as it happens, the severe brain hemorrhage he experienced a few years ago, at the age of 89. After being in a coma for months, he spent a long period at a rehabilitation clinic in France. He has since undergone, at his request, aggressive rehab work to regain strength and ability, flying back and forth to San Francisco, always in the company of a small cadre of loving and gentle attendants.
Lately, the day-to-day stories that come from Thay’s home at the Plum Village Monastery in France are beautiful – of witnessing this global spiritual leader’s delight in taking a simple cup of tea or in watching a flower bloom. Although unable to speak, he nevertheless communicates in other ways, especially, it is said, with his eyes.
One of the most remarkable abilities Thay has recovered is that of singing. Just a few days ago, he asked to spend some time with the children of the monastery. Sipping his tea in a common room, Thay invited all the monastic children to sit around him, communicating with his eyes a message of love to each child, as well as his own happiness at being with them. The storyteller in this case, clearly moved by the beauty of the moment, recalled that Thay had asserted in various Dharma talks that he is still very young, a notion that gave clarity to the attendant’s experience of that night.
The brothers and sisters, he says, began to sing a favorite song in Vietnamese, and were touched to hear Thay’s voice among their own, and to see on his face a gentle smile. Over and over, they sang the song, each person in the room more enthralled than the next by the treasure of witnessing their beloved teacher’s joy at singing with them.
Today, as of this writing, Thay has now traveled to Thailand, where he has been treated to a visit from one of his most beloved and venerable disciples. The two of them sat side by side, clasping hands like kindred spirits, as Thay’s 91 year-old eyes filled with love and joy.
There is something so restorative, so abiding and so powerful in the way this man has lived – and continues to live – his life. The example he sets, of being truly alive in every moment, touches my heart deeply, and knowing these small stories brings me great joy. By sharing them here with you, I hope that you can feel it too. Namaste.
The lotus grows in the mud and mire,
yet blossoms into a beautiful flower,
unfolding its sparkling petals toward the sun.
May the lotus inspire us to nurture the beauty
of our own human consciousness.
Although it has no value,
beauty is an intrinsic quality of all things
because all things are interconnected.
The beauty of the sunrise is the beauty
of kindness is the beauty of the river
is the beauty of you yourself.
I lost my beautiful mother when I was a young girl.
I am lucky because I was old enough that I remember her.
I suffer because, in remembering her,
I know what I lost when she died.
And when I practice walking meditation,
I invite my mother to walk with me.
When my mother walks with me, I am graced by her presence,
and with every step, my mother’s footfall graces the earth.
When I walk with my mother, I feel her love for me,
and my heart is full and free.
Who will walk with you today?
So many of us are feeling edgy and unsure right now. The level of tension is rising palpably.
We deal with it in so many different ways. Some of us take up activism, making phone calls, sharing links to important information and getting on busses to attend marches around the country. Some of us prepare for the worst, stocking up on provisions, maybe even creating shelters from whatever apocalypse is coming our way. Some of us pray. Some of us keep right on playing Farmville.
I myself have done – or at least considered – each of these alternatives, but it is so hard not to panic a little, no matter what you do. From climate change to corporate greed to the political landscape, there is this vision of us all sliding into a future that does not resemble anything we can imagine or even talk about. It is a place where no one wants to be. No one. Sometimes it seems to me like a roar, a cacophony on full blast. A catastrophe is barreling towards us. What can we do?
Rather than thinking about doing, try thinking about being. Try being the change you want to see in the world. Try being peace.
I am convinced that non-violence is the only thing that is going to work. Practicing mindfulness and loving kindness is the most powerful force we have. Look at Turkey, where thousands of people have taken to simply standing in complete silence as a response to the actions of their government. They have baffled the police by simply creating a calm presence instead of creating aggression and tension.
We may not be able to escape the catastrophe, but this is beside the point. The sooner we start giving peace a chance, the better chance we have.
We must know one another. We must be friendly to everyone we meet, whether that person be homeless or homophobe. We are brothers and sisters. We all live together on the same planet. And we share so much! For example: in my limited research, people do not react badly to being smiled at while passing me in the street. It’s a commonality. A tiny one, but it is a wonderful one because people so often smile back.
Everyone on this planet needs the same things. Besides a safe place to live and food to eat and access to health care, everyone needs love and kindness and respect.
Non-violence is the force that will change the world.
What does your diet consist of? We all know it is best to eat foods that nourish us, but it is also good to think about how your diet nourishes the world. Does your diet speak to your beliefs? Is it consistent with your values? For instance, I might value justice but eat food that contributes to keeping workers in positions of slave labor. I might value the earth but eat food that destroys the land in ways other foods don’t. These days, it’s almost impossible to eat in a way that aligns perfectly with one’s values, but it is worth considering.
How about your senses? How do you feed them? Do you give your ears nourishment by listening to music, the sounds of birds, the wind in the trees, or the voice of a loved one?
Everything we hear is food for our ears, just as everything we see is food for our eyes, and it all becomes food for our consciousness. When we ingest the news, with its ubiquitous advertisements, it has an effect. Advertising pushes messages at us constantly, often affecting us in a negative manner. We want what we don’t have, and we will never live up to the images that we see. The news itself can certainly be a toxin, worming its way into our consciousness. And our reactions to the news can even compound the negativity, until we are filled with the nutriments we have ingested – Fear? Shame? Disgust? No wonder so many of us feel depressed!
It’s important to think about what you are ingesting — what you are feeding your consciousness — and to strive for a balanced consciousness diet. Remember to give your eyes a heaping helping of beauty. You need only look at the sky or the smiling eyes of a friend to find this. Give your ears a taste of a child’s laughter, the ocean’s roar or a favorite piece of music. Treat your nose to the fragrance of pine or rosemary, the smell of a fresh flower or a soup on the stove. Feel the sun and the wind on your cheek and the fresh air in your lungs. Search for things to ingest that fill your consciousness with beauty, gratitude, compassion and peace.
There are more than enough unhealthy nutriments in the world to fill everyone’s consciousness with fear, craving and despair. We cannot avoid them, and staying connected to humanity is necessary if we are to work for the betterment of our planet. But these poisons can be counteracted by consciously ingesting – like an antidote – those nutriments that nourish and refresh.
After all, you are what you ingest! Be peace.
It is through you that the sun shines
And the stars shed their luster,
And the earth becomes beautiful.
It is through your blessedness that
they all love and are attracted to each other.
You are in all, and you are all.
– Swami Vivekananda