Recently I listened to about 20 minutes of a special on NPR about the science of gratitude. I happened to tune in at the point where the specific topic was how some people feel indebtedness in circumstances in which others feel gratitude instead. Apparently this indebtedness view goes at least back to Aristotle, who said that “doing good is proper to the superior person, and receiving it to the inferior”. I’ve found a larger philosophical analysis of this topic here, which delves at length into the question of gratitude as moral obligation. Reflections on this concept in the modern era refer to Kant’s thoughts on the subject:
. . . Kant suggested in the Lectures on Ethics that beneficiaries should cringe at receiving favors, since in doing so, a beneficiary becomes the debtor of his benefactor—a shameful position (Kant 1775–1780 : 118–119). For Kant, owing an obligation of gratitude is especially bad, since duties of gratitude are sacred duties—duties which can never be fully discharged. This is because any attempt on a beneficiary’s part to “pay off” the debt of gratitude will always be done essentially as a reaction to the original act of benevolence. The benefactor alone has the honor of having acted benevolently in a purely proactive way. Insofar as we would want to avoid being in such an eternally imbalanced relationship, we should be wary of accepting gifts and favors.
I had never thought about this dichotomy before and my initial reaction was decidedly negative. I try to prize gratitude. I think it’s important to thank my husband for things he does, to always thank whoever cooked dinner, to say thank you and write thank you notes and teach my children to do the same. One of our family practices at Thanksgiving is to write down what we are grateful for – our health, our home, the food on our table. Continue reading →
I think it’s important to acknowledge periods of setback just as I’ve written about periods of growth and strength in my practice. July was definitely a month of setbacks. At the time, things just sort of seemed to happen; looking back, I can see how one event led to another.
My work hours increased – first a little, then a lot. Once I was working or on call on multiple successive evenings and weekends, I began to feel more tired. I suspect this was less about losing actual sleep time and more about higher stress levels and losing the pre-sleep decompression time that for me is a necessity to get good sleep. I became much more tired all the time. My 30 minutes of practice in the morning slipped to 10 minutes of meditation so that I could sleep a bit more. Then I dropped the 10 minutes of meditation. I also dropped my morning preparation of a green smoothie, of which I would usually drink half with breakfast and half around 10am. All of my meals became more hurried and less healthy. Some meals I ate at my desk or while checking my BlackBerry. My body craved sleep that I couldn’t give it, so I snacked instead. When I did have free time, I felt rushed to catch up on things I’d let slip and to spend time with my family, though I was distracted and irritable even when I wasn’t working. I was always hurrying from one thing to another, trying to fit everything in. I cut out almost all of the self-care parts of my day: my morning practice, my mid-day walk, my after-dinner walk, my pre-sleep decompression time. Continue reading →
Time really flew between the end of my first 100 days of practice and yesterday, which marked my 200th day of practice. Looking back, I see that I had a marked dip in practice during the first month of this year, especially when it came to mantra accumulation. Then I realized I was soon to see Anyen Rinpoche again at the March phowa retreat in Denver, and became much more diligent! The retreat inspired me further and the intensity of my practice continued from that point forward.
Due to my poor initial start, I actually recited fewer mantra this 100 days than the prior 100 days. I did keep to my Avalokitesvara sadhana every morning except two in February when I was on a silent mindfulness retreat and didn’t bring the text. That became my motivation to finally commit the English translation of the sadhana to memory. As a result, on this mindfulness retreat just passed, I was able to recite the sadhana every day without needing the text in front of me. It feels very good to have the words inside of me instead of just on the page. Continue reading →
Tomorrow I embark on another retreat, this time with the Still Water Mindfulness Practice Center. It’s a three-day silent retreat on the general theme of “Be Still and Heal”. The retreat description says “Through mindful sitting, walking, eating, and living, we will develop our capacity to more fully and compassionately embrace each moment. Sharing silence, we assist each other in letting go of worries and preoccupations, and opening to the sources of joy that are available to us in each moment.”
In the Plum Village tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh, we do not wish people “Happy Birthday” because at the ultimate level of insight, there is no birth and no death. To be born would be to imply that something (someone) arose from nothing, which is an impossibility. The First Law of Thermodynamics explains this truth just as well as Buddhism: energy can be transformed from one form to another, but cannot be created or destroyed.To say that I did not exist before I was born ignores the truth of interbeing – that I am composed entirely of “non-I” elements. If you try to remove from “me” the sun, the rain, my parents, the food I eat, the agricultural producers who grow that food – if you try to remove any part of the whole cosmos from “me”, “I” would not exist. I am in all and all is in me. Like a river, which can never be stepped in twice because the water is constantly flowing, I am a stream of consciousness and karma, impermanent and constantly subject to change. Continue reading →
…there is not one person that does not have the ability to have a consistent practice of meditation on a daily basis. Every person is capable of doing that. Every person can do it without missing any days if they dare to make a serious commitment. Having this kind of commitment to daily practice is one of the main supports for Dharma as a whole. . .
One way we can work on developing a habit to practice is by considering for how long we could consistently commit to practice each day. It may only be five or ten minutes when we begin. We should take this as the minimum for our daily practice. Then, we should commit to completing at least this much practice every day for one hundred days. No matter what happens, we should resolve not to give up. At the end of the hundred days, we can reevaluate the length of practice time we have chosen. We may want to increase it, or simply keep it the same, before we make another time commitment for practice. If we work with short periods of commitment that are not too overwhelming, over time we will find that we have developed the habit of daily practice without falling into any self-defeating behavior.
Because I completed my 100th days this morning, I want to take a moment to reflect on how it went. Continue reading →
Earlier this week I crossed the halfway point of my 100-day daily practice challenge. I’m happy to say that I’ve maintained my morning practice every day for 54 days now, even including the days that I was in Denver for the Phowa retreat.
That said, I have modified my daily practice somewhat from my original plan due to physical difficulties and new commitments. In regards to the former, I’ve been having a lot of back and neck pain for some time. I’ve had difficulty with sitting meditation for a while, though I had hoped that my body would adjust in the face of consistent daily practice. This has not occurred. The problems worsened at the Phowa retreat where I was sitting for hours at a time on a cushion, often in great discomfort. Our daily session began each morning with a half hour of yoga, which definitely helped, but the pain would return later and pain medication was no longer helping. I realized I needed a new approach. Continue reading →