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.”

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an apostle of peace

thay watercolor

 

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.