caring for the world

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Being grateful — so the latest research says — is good for us. It makes us more optimistic, energetic, resilient, peaceful and productive. We feel better about ourselves and our lives when we are grounded in gratitude.

One of the best ways to explore this path is by focusing on your own bounty. Be grateful for your eyes and your ears! Your teeth! Be grateful for the music that is in your very heart. If it is available to you, you can summon gratitude even for the parts of your body where you experience pain or discomfort. It has sometimes been through physical challenges that people have been able to recognize how much there is to be grateful for.

Also, by respecting and caring for ourselves, we are caring for the whole world. Remember: peace on earth begins with me. It is the same with harmony on earth, and health on earth. By nurturing the seeds of compassion and kindness in yourself, you are helping the universe become kinder. And by caring for ourselves unconditionally, as tenderly as a mother cares for her newborn, we are creating more love in the world.

Using mindfulness to connect to the present moment allows you to tap into the wonder of being a part of the cosmos, which invites gratitude and awe. I love this quote from Thich Nhat Hanh: “Awareness is like the sun. When it shines on things, they are transformed.”

To me, gratitude is simply awareness of that which we value and cherish. When we access gratitude, the positive in our lives is highlighted, and seeds of hope, kindness and love are thus planted.

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decision-making

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I have a friend who is faced with an important decision. She has been going back and forth for a long time now, and can’t make up her mind.

I don’t know the answer either; only she can really know. I have asked her if a sounding board might help her on her way, but it appears that maybe the weight of this choice is just too much for her to face at all. She wishes with all her might that the decision would be made, for once and for all, allowing her to move on, but she is the only one who can decide. And so she goes through her days with a very large burden always on her shoulders.

As a last offering to my friend, I suggested meditation. She could practice clearing her mind of the chatter that was constantly messing with her. By breathing and sitting mindfully, she might be able to find some refreshment, even if just for twenty minutes.

I don’t know if she has taken my suggestion to heart, and truly, I don’t need to know. But it has been a good reminder for me too, of the importance of giving oneself the gift of mindfulness — to sit quietly, focusing on breathing or a mantra, releasing any thoughts as they come up. Or to take a walk in total awareness of your surroundings, allowing all attention to be rooted in the present. Noticing the sounds and the colors and the way one’s feet come in contact with the earth or floor. Practicing mindful concentration can feel so freeing. And dismissing the chatter? Priceless.

This can be more difficult than it sounds. The more challenging it is, however, the more helpful it can be to keep practicing! And it is so pleasant to arrive at a place of freshness and renewed vitality, such as that which a short period of lovely meditation can bring.

Mindfulness will not make your decisions for you, but from that place, you can take a look at them from a new vantage point, and perhaps the path toward the answer will come into sharper focus. There is nothing like a clear head when important thinking needs to happen.

gratitude training

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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.”