It’s almost Losar (Tibetan New Year), meaning that the Year of the Male Fire Monkey is soon upon us. I can hardly imagine a more dynamic, even frenetic, combination of characteristics than “male”, “fire”, and “monkey”! It will be interesting, as always, to see what the coming year brings.
To my great surprise, it is already February. January disappeared in a flurry of activity, anxiety, and snow. There are a lot of changes underway in our household as our eldest child charts a path towards independence. I’m not sure any of us are actually ready for that transition, but it seems to be happening nonetheless. There is no time dilation quite like parenting. Individual days last forever while entire years fly by. In the beginning, you are completely and utterly responsible for every aspect of their care, required to make every decision that affects them, and then suddenly they become young people deciding on their own what will determine their future course. It’s a powerful series of lessons in impermanence, patience, equanimity, and many other difficult virtues. Continue reading →
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 →
Hello my fear!
I see you standing there –
come into the light.
Do not be afraid.
I am sorry if I have hurt you
with the many unkind things I have thought and said about you.
You have guarded me so faithfully;
you have walked so many years by my side.
I know that you are weary;
you have been vigilant for so long.
Let me take your hand.
Let us find a place where you can rest.
Here, this tree is lovely.
You can sleep safely under her sheltering arms.
You do not need to need to worry about me any more.
I have a new guardian to walk by my side.
He knows how to listen to the suffering of beings.
He will teach me how to suffer well.
He will show me how to water the seeds of joy and understanding in myself and others.
With diligent and mindful practice, I will grow strong.
I bow in gratitude for your loyal service.
Close your eyes and do not worry any more.
Some day I will be strong enough to be my own guardian.
Then I will return here to sit by your side.
I will teach you all I have learned
and you will never need to be afraid again.
I have been so fortunate in this life to have encountered several genuine teachers of the Dharma. Today I am thinking about one of them, Thich Nhat Hanh, affectionately called “Thay” by his students. I have been practicing with a mindfulness practice center in Thay’s tradition for the past two years. I want to take a moment to thank Thay for his teachings.
There are three aspects of Thay’s teachings that have been particularly relevant for me. One is acceptance. Thay has tirelessly traveled, taught, and written to share the practice of mindfulness with the world. He does not distinguish between people based on their religion or lack of religion or any other factor. He truly believes that mindfulness can help anyone to relate more peacefully, joyfully, and deeply to the world. While he has written books on Buddhist philosophy, most of his books are written to be accessible by a very wide audience, including people with little or no experience with Buddhism. Nevertheless, the practices he teaches in those books, the path of being truly awake to the present moment, can be followed for a lifetime. Thay’s centers welcome all people, regardless of their root religious traditions or current affiliation. Thank you Thay for teaching me the importance of acceptance. Continue reading →
[Today is halfway through National Novel Writing Month! So hopefully I’m near or have surpassed the 25,000-word mark at this point on my novel. As I’ve explained before, I’ve prewritten my blogs during November so as to focus on my writing.]
Thanksgiving is just around the corner so I wanted to tell how we approach the holiday. I didn’t used to care for Thanksgiving that much; the holiday always felt over-stuffed with food, people, and television – more excess than enjoyment. Our efforts to have a more relaxed holiday have become a lot easier since we started hosting the Thanksgiving feast ourselves, with a much lower-key festivity focused just on our own family. Our morning typically starts out with the children going outside to find the perfect Thanksgiving branch. We set this upright in a vase weighted with stones and marbles and then settle in to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, with construction paper, scissors, and thread at hand.
Each of us cuts leaf shapes out of the construction paper and writes on each leaf things for which we are grateful: each other, the food we will share, the house we live in, the love and peace we know, our good health. We use thread and tape to attach the leaves to the Thanksgiving branch. Casually, we begin preparing our food; since we have a completely vegetarian feast and separate out the bulk of the desserts for the following day, there is no need to rise early for frantic cooking. Continue reading →