Category Archives: gratitude

Gratitude is Timeless!

I hope you enjoyed your Thanksgiving, however you spent it, whatever you are grateful for. I am grateful for you, long time readers and those who have just come upon this site. Also for the opportunity to be of use with my teaching and writing.

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Our walking meditation garden in November

 

Yesterday I had a fun conversation with my great-niece, a high school math teacher, and now we are working together to formulate a suitable mini-meditation at the beginning of her classes to help her students focus and overcome math anxiety. The more meditation is accepted in our culture, the more it benefits everyone. I am grateful to be a part of the process of sharing this simple rich practice.

At Thanksgiving dinner I was talking with my daughter-in-law’s aunt who when asked what she’s been up to told me she was being lazy, just having fun with friends. And I said that’s not lazy! Research is showing that socializing is high up in importance for overall health. And anyway, one of her weekly social activities is hiking. Lazy indeed! How hard we can be on ourselves with these labels. What labels do you have for yourself that you might look at anew, question and liberate?

There are many posts on gratitude on this site. If you are interested, search ‘gratitude’ in the field in the right-hand column and see all that comes up. I did, and here’s a link to one from 2008 that is just as true today as it was nine years ago. Check it out!

 

Celebrate the Harvest!

cornucopia.jpgThe old saying ‘you reap what you sow’ means that with every word and action in our lives, we are planting seeds that will grow. Are they seeds of kindness? Seeds of compassion? Seeds of wisdom? If you find that you are striving and you spend a lot of time judging, comparing and scolding yourself, you might ask yourself why you are planting such a thorny and poisonous garden?

But if in your meditation practice you have been making wise effort with wise intention, then pause to look around and enjoy the bounty! See if there is something blooming in your life that wasn’t there before. See if there is something growing within you that you hadn’t appreciated before.

The first blossoms of practice are insights, both ones you hear that resonate and inspire you, and ones you have in your own experience that stay with you and nourish you at the very core of your being. (These happen spontaneously, at any time during your normal day when you have a regular meditation practice. The simplest noticing might bring an insight perfectly tailored by your own inner wisdom to be of value to you.)

In class I passed out small pieces of paper and gave the students some time after meditation to write down what they noticed as the fruits of their practice. Afterwards they shared to whatever degree they wanted. One found that she no longer reacted in an ‘eye for an eye’ way when her feelings had been hurt. She could so clearly see now that the hurtful words of a friend came from a place of pain and fear, and nothing was helped by exacerbating it.

Another student said she noticed a greater sense of ease, an ability to establish boundaries and a growing self-confidence. Another noted a greater sense of balance. One noticed that her to do list wasn’t so aggravating, that the word ‘should’ was fading from her vocabulary. Everyone noticed something. In fact they all wrote for quite a while.

After their sharing, I read what I had written when preparing my dharma talk, and it mirrored exactly what the students had found for themselves: ‘The fruit of the practice is greater ease, a lightening of being, a sense of balance, a sense of clarity and a growing access to inner wisdom that guides you to make wise choices.’

Having just been on a retreat, I noted that I felt lighter, like a butterfly alighting on this flower of life, not plotting to get to the next bigger brighter flower but simply living fully in this moment with great appreciation but not attachment, knowing as a butterfly knows, to just keep doing what I’m doing.

I suggested the students fold their little papers up and put them in their wallets for review in moments of doubt. And I suggest to you that you do the same. Who doesn’t at times have moments of doubt? Who couldn’t use a little encouragement, a little reminder in your own words that the practice is working?

This becomes particularly valuable when we falter in our practice. It is so easy to let the demands of daily life take precedence. Women can be particularly prone to giving our time away. Yet on closer examination, how rare it is in life that we actually are required to give up the exact time of our practice, or our weekly meditation class. Say, for example, we call to make an appointment for a medical checkup, and the first appointment time mentioned conflicts with our practice or class. Do we just take it instead of asking for another time? For some reason, the way we were raised perhaps, we are susceptible to not claiming what is of value to our own well being. What we forget is that our practice is of benefit not just to ourselves but to everyone around us. Sure, on rare occasions there are emergencies, but even then the daily practice can be postponed instead of cancelled.

Notice for yourself if this willingness to give up what is of deep value is a tendency of yours.

Daily practice is like the sun, the rain and the rich soil that makes it possible to grow. We can’t really expect much wisdom to arise if we haven’t planted ourselves in our practice, if we just practice on random occasions and hope for the best. If you want to practice but find it difficult to fit into your schedule, I am happy to work with you. You might be surprised how naturally practice can be incorporated into a busy life.

Once we have a practice in place, the rest takes care of itself. We are actually saving time because we can put away all the invasive tools we are in the habit of using: harsh views about our self worth, doubts about what we are doing, doubts as to whether anything beneficial will come from this, comparing ourselves to others who seem to be wiser or happier.

The blossoms of insight and awareness reveal and release old habits of mind: the words that we torment ourselves with like ‘should’, ‘ought’ and ‘must’, for example. We see them as left over from some past way of seeing. We let them go to whatever degree we are able, gently as if they are dried up leaves that drift away on the breeze.

This is the season of the harvest. If you have been regularly practicing meditation, then pause to appreciate the bounty of your practice.

Gratitude in the midst of it all

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Kwan Yin, goddess of mercy and compassion

In the US every year on the last Thursday in November we get together with family and close friends to…engorge, imbibe and put on our game face. We call it Thanksgiving, but it’s the rare gathering that actually takes time to express gratitude in the midst of the turkey, gravy and stuffing. It takes a certain bravery to be the one to break up the busy conversation for a moment of silence, prayer, poetry or, even braver, a request that everyone tell what they are grateful for. (Can you hear the collective groan?)

Throughout much of the country the weather turns cold and we just want to be cozy. We may want to hide away from the news of the world, as it takes on a fierce quality, harsh as the winds that shake the house. It feels like the newscasters are just making this stuff up to scare us. And in some ways that is true because of where they focus, how they frame it, and the need to lead with what bleeds, knowing our negativity bias.

This year we are getting to know our future president, whomever he or she may be. That enforced and extended uncertainty can be stressful, particularly when the field is so large and the candidates so… well…

We may have issues we feel strongly about, and we may feel frustrated when fellow citizens don’t seem to care, or worse, see us as the problem. And even those who share our views can get distracted by things we may consider non-issues.

The world seems full of testosterone-crazed nihilists causing havoc and heartbreak both here and abroad. We feel compassion for those who are without a home and who may feel without hope. And we are inspired by those who rise above base fears to embrace shared humanity, as when Germans greeted beleaguered refugees with generosity and compassion, or when Parisians of all ethnicities and religions hugged each other in peace after an attack on their city. This too is the world we live in. For that triumph of the human spirit we are especially grateful.

On a Thanksgiving in turbulent times, we have the capacity to deepen in gratitude for being present, together, enjoying cherished traditions. For some of us, this is our first Thanksgiving without a loved one who was very much a part of our tradition, but gratitude is still possible. We are grateful to be alive to experience whatever life brings, regardless of current circumstances or conditions.

So if you feel inspired to be the one to tap your glass and bring the table to a brief moment of sharing in this deep way, know that just below the surface we all may be feeling a little vulnerable right now and perhaps more ready than usual to acknowledge our blessings.

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

May all beings be well. May all beings be at ease. May all beings be at peace. May all beings be happy.

– Stephanie

 

Gratitude & Generosity in an Infinite Loop

On our cultural calendar we have a day of giving thanks, feeling gratitude, followed by a season of giving and being generous. It strikes me how natural the flow is in this arrangement. When we feel grateful and count our blessings, high among them is usually the people we love – our family and friends. The upwelling of that sense of gratitude quite naturally turns into a desire to express that gratitude to them in the form of generosity. Because we care about them we want to do what we can to give them joy. Voila! Tis the season of giving! We are also thankful for our health, safety, the roof over our heads, and the food on our table. So it’s no surprise that what follows is a desire for others to be housed, fed, healthy and free from harm. So it’s not surprising that  we are much more likely to give and to volunteer during the season that follows. Clearly gratitude should come with a warning label! ‘Caution: May cause a tender heart.’

But what if we are not feeling grateful? This is also a season of feeling overwhelmed, stressed, exhausted and put upon. Traditions put us in a choke hold, making us do things we just don’t feel up for. Christmas again? Are you kidding me?

And some of us are dealing with loss — of health, a loved one, abilities, freedoms, hope — and it’s challenging to feel anything but the suffering we are experiencing.

Oddly, that’s when a deeper sense of gratitude, one that  has nothing do do with what we have, is actually easier to find. When our lives are in a turmoil we tend to hunker down. If we don’t get lost in distractions or addictions, we can sense into this present moment as a refuge from all the trials and tribulations we have been experiencing and all the worry of what is to come. This moment fully experienced can be a sweet haven.

One student in class this week said that before she falls asleep at night she thinks of three things she is grateful for. Lovely! But if she has had a really rough day and it’s too hard to come up with anything, she is grateful for the softness of her mattress. Fabulous! In that moment she is fully present, anchored in physical sensation. That is exactly where we need to be in any given moment to go deeply into the joy of being present with what is.

(For more about this deep kind of gratitude, check out this post from 2009, titled ‘Gratitude for Everything”.)

Here is a poem that captures what we’re talking about:


Tumbling down the cliff,
I couldn’t help but notice
the cherry blossoms.
—  KuKu Kichigai,
18th century Japanese poet
In a sense, we are all tumbling down the cliff. We are all living temporal lives with a knowledge of the ending — not the when or the how necessarily, but we all share the same fate. This is a simple truth that we tend to avoid most of the time. And yet we are naturally attracted to temporal things in our experience. Our eyes are drawn to the new, to the thing that is moving, to the things that are fleeting, like cherry blossoms.

Noticing the fleeting nature of life causes us to pay attention and be grateful. We may also go into states of fear, disappointment, longing. We may ask why can’t it stay like this? Without pondering too deeply, we find we wish for extensions on pleasurable moments. But a delicious meal if we eat too much becomes painful. A great party if we stay too long becomes tiresome. It is the fleeting nature of what delights our senses that makes them so delightful and makes us so grateful. So openly accepting the temporal nature of life helps us to receive it with grace and gratitude.

When we are struggling in our lives and gratitude is hard to come by, another door to find gratitude is to do an act of generosity. I am sure you have had the experience of doing something for someone and feeling lifted up by it, more alive and grateful.

So gratitude leads to generosity, and generosity leads to gratitude in an infinite loop. Wherever we are in any moment we can find one or the other. And the way to both is through being fully present in this moment and compassionate with ourselves and others.

Great Gratitude Retreat

I just led a daylong Great Gratitude retreat that seemed to leave everyone in a state of bliss and yes gratitude, according to their end of the day sharing.



Going into silence is such a delicious thing to do, although people always think it sounds scary. ‘How can I possibly not talk for hours (and in the case of longer retreats, days) on end?” Easy! One student at the end mentioned how surprised she was at how pleasant it was to be quiet, to not have to think of something to say, and to be together as a sangha in mutual appreciation without needing to communicate orally or even by eye contact. This lovely interior experience is fully supported by the community, and that’s something people forget when they think about going into silence.


We did a traditional Vipassana Buddhist style retreat: sitting meditations alternated with outdoor walking meditations. The decks with their boards set the natural walking meditation aisles for formal walking meditation. The gardens were for less formal meandering and communing with nature. At different points throughout the day meditators would take a seat by the waterfall to do a listening meditation. One meditator kept returning to the base of an old oak. At the end of the day sharing she said it helped her feel her roots. One meditator took note of the great number of species of animals that share the garden with us, sensing community. Another noticed her comparing mind, how enjoying the garden got infiltrated by thoughts of ‘Why isn’t my garden like this?’ One meditator developed gratitude for her feet as she did walking meditation, and recognized what a gift they are, how some people don’t have the use of their feet or their feet are in pain. One meditator felt the flush of creativity that being fully present can provide.

You might say well of course it is easy to be present and grateful in a garden on a beautiful spring day, but what about being present amidst life’s difficulties? What about being present with pain and hard choices?

We practice in the garden so that we learn the way to the present moment in any situation. We learn here and apply what we have learned out in the busy world. Since so much of what we struggle with in life has little to do with conditions in the world but much to do with how the mind grasps for, clings to and turns away from whatever arises in our experience, it isn’t necessary to provide unpleasant situations to get the mind to struggle. The mind does this with everything, until we recognize it and find that we can make room for all of life experience if we simply expand our spacious open embrace.

Even in a lovely setting we can find something to bother us. As I walked on the cedar decking, I couldn’t help noticing how shabby it was, how mottled, how in need of repair. But after a few periods of seated and walking meditation, I walked the same course and found the same boards to be beautiful pieces of natural art! That’s how the mind is. It finds fault in conditions and situations, and then when it settles down — when the tuning fork of meditation has brought it into balance — it sees beauty everywhere. So if we took this retreat on the road, if we transported it to a slum in Mumbai, at first we might be overwhelmed by the squalor, but after a period of meditation we would begin to see the beauty of the people, the colors, the patterns, the sounds and the energy of life being lived. We would, as people often do, fall in love with something that we had felt such aversion for just a few hours before.

Another example: I used to go on a wonderful Buddhist women’s retreat up above the world famous Muir Woods where towering redwood trees fill a deep canyon. During each day of my retreat I would walk down the trail into the canyon and enjoy the quiet of the areas away from the tourist-trodden trails. Towards the end of the retreat, I decided to venture into the populated areas. In that state of mindfulness, my heart filled with such love for the flocks of this colorful species with their bright t-shirts and hats, each little grouping a family or fellow-travelers having its own little world of interaction. What a falling away there was for me of the attitudes, opinions and cynical judgments I carried about my species, especially in crowds. This is the gift of meditation. It doesn’t turn us into zombies. It removes the dust-trapped veils that have prevented us from seeing clearly and experiencing great gratitude for this gift of being present, wherever we are.

So what is ‘great gratitude’ and how does it differ from plain old gratitude? Plain old gratitude is counting your blessings, and that’s a lovely thing to do. What kind of unfeeling ingrates would we be not to be grateful for the good fortune we have? People who have less health, wealth, love and beautiful surroundings would say, ‘Hey, if you’re not grateful, then step aside. if I had what you have I would be soooo grateful.’ How often have we been in that position ourselves, thinking ‘if only’ we had the blessings some other person has, we would be so incredibly grateful? (That ‘if only’ is a very painful place, one that doesn’t disappear with acquisition, but sets the stage for more ‘if only’ desires.)


So we count our blessings. Of course we do. We are not automatons that don’t feel pain at the loss of these kinds of blessings. But when a loss happens, through our meditation practice, we stay present with the experience, noticing what arises. We might notice the heavy pressure in the chest that is so often associated with loss, for example. We stay present enough to hold ourselves with tender compassion. We are willing to feel what we feel and not rush to get past it. We understand that the dark valleys of our lives are where the fertile soil is. Instead of wallowing in the mud, getting stuck in our story of loss, we nurture ourselves, have patience with the process, and grow from our experiences.
One thing we learn from loss is that the blessings we can count on our fingers are conditional: our health, our wealth, our homes, our loved ones. These things we are grateful for are finite, changeable and undependable — all the things that make being attached to them a sure fire way to cause dukkha, suffering.

Is there anything that is infinite that we can be grateful for? Yes! We can feel great gratitude for this very moment just as it is, with all its joys and all its sorrows. As long as we are conscious we always have this very moment. Pleasant or unpleasant we have the experience of being present.

In moments when our conditional gratitude falters, when we want things to be different from the way they are, or we want things to stay the same and we dread change, can we open to that infinite quality of gratitude for being present simply to experience it all? And in that way can we soften our tight clinging and our fear-based belief that without these things we could not go on?

The practice (for the retreat and perhaps for you if you choose to do it) is to notice both the finite gratitude for specific blessings we can name, and then expand into infinite gratitude for this very moment just as it is. There is room for it all if we are present and compassionate.
We feel gratitude for being conscious in each moment as it reveals itself. We learn the fine art of holding it lightly and savoring it. This devout gratitude sheds light on the darkest despair, allowing us to discern the treasure buried deep within. It allows us to experience pain as a symphony of passing sensations. Deep unconditional gratitude can be a constant companion that opens our eyes and our hearts. And ultimately, at the moment when we breathe our last precious breath, we are grateful even for this.

We can simply let the great gratitude breathe us, illuminating our lives.

Gratitude – a gift, not an instruction

Thursday morning my dharma talk was about gratitude. All week I had been noodling around about the concept of gratitude. At my Toastmasters club meeting,one club member gave a great short speech about research into the causes of true sustainable happiness. He said that one cause is meditation practice. Another is gratitude. Just two minutes a day of noting what we are grateful for can cause a shift into a state of happiness. Great news!

But the thing that kept coming back to me all during the week was how gratitude as most of us experience it has some challenging aspects. When we start listing things we are grateful for, we can see that they are almost always for things that may be taken away. In fact, because of the temporal nature of life itself, we can fairly say they will be taken away sooner or later.

Can we be grateful without tightening our grasp around what we are grateful for, fearful that we will lose it? Can we be grateful even when something precious has been taken away? When we lose a loved one, a relationship, a job, a home, our health, a physical ability — how do we deal with this idea of gratitude?

Depending on the severity of our loss, we may be too angry, feel too betrayed, feel too lost to be grateful. There’s no room for it in our hearts now, not with this huge hole, this heaviness or this rage. And yet some part of us, or perhaps some person somewhere, says we should still be grateful. Well, screw gratitude! There! Doesn’t that feel better?

Yes it does. But look at that sentence again. There’s another word in there, the word ‘should.’
Should is really the culprit here. The feeling that we should feel something we don’t feel and don’t want to feel — that’s what creates a falsity in anything, in this case gratitude.

In our ongoing discussion of the Buddha’s river analogy for exploring The Middle Way, what does this word ‘should’ do? Should shoves us into the shallows of one shore or the other. When this should attaches to any word, even the most lovely word gratitude, then it makes it shallow and meaningless.

Back in the middle of the river, the gratitude rises naturally and is felt without obligation or longing. It simply exists as a felt sense of appreciation for this moment, whatever it is, understanding that this moment is temporal, fleeting, a gift we can only enjoy now, then it’s gone.

After arriving at this realization about gratitude, I looked back at my Thanksgiving eve 2009 dharma talk and my Thanksgiving Eve 2008 dharma talk and found that I had come to the same place about gratitude again and again. That is, I guess, the nature of the dharma! The truth reveals itself again and again. So if you feel like reading more about gratitude, read those dharma talks.

I am truly grateful for all of you who read this blog. It was originally meant to be a way for students who missed a class to keep up with an ongoing dharma talk theme, so I wouldn’t have to bring anyone up to speed. But now it is read by thousands of people all over the globe! Great gratitude for your kind attention, comments and questions.

In the US in late November our one day for giving thanks prompts these dharma talks about gratitude, but gratitude can’t be contained in a day. The following suggestion can be applied to any moment.

For those of you who will be gathering with family and friends in this traditional harvest feast, pause over pie to look about you and give space to simply notice your emotions. Allow room for all the automatic reactions that certain people bring up in you. See this complex pattern of life being lived. Notice desires for things or people to be different. Notice the desire to please, to appease, to tape someone’s mouth shut, to bop someone over the head or any of a myriad of reactions! Then sit with the full force of life being lived and simply savor it.

Gratitude for Everything

We come together this time of year in a celebration of giving thanks. Many of us have cherished traditions. Probably just as many would be happy to skip the whole season. But whatever our feelings about the holiday of Thanksgiving, most of us enjoy feeling gratitude and the act of counting our blessings even if the rest of the year we are complaining about our lack of blessings. This one day is a day of accounting, checking in and doing a little tally. We tell ourselves that even though we lost a job, got ill, lost a loved one or any of a myriad of other situations that might befall us in any given year, still, at Thanksgiving we seek out those things that are going well, polish them up, list them and take comfort in them.

And there’s nothing wrong with a little comfort. But this kind of gratitude is finite and conditional. What if the balance sheet doesn’t come out? What if the awful things that have happened cannot be compensated by any small comfort we may have? What if we have tried and tried to look on the bright side of seeming disasters, and have just not been able to find it? Then where’s the gratitude? Gone!

To have nothing and then not to even have gratitude? That really sucks! It feels better not to even go there! Forget gratitude. It’s unreliable.

I’ve talked before about the value of noticing when we are operating from a finite source, how the results are shallow rooted, unsatisfying and unreliable. So then, let’s look to see if we can discover gratitude from a deeper source.

Gratitude from that deep source, that sense of connection to all of life becomes gratitude for everything. Everything. This is not just reflecting back and saying well, this bad thing happened, but now good has come of it, so now I am grateful for it. This is deep complete gratitude for everything. Everything!

Suddenly a resounding ‘No!’ is proclaimed across the land. We can’t be grateful for the horrors of the world, for the evil that is done, for the devastation that is wrought, for the injustices – the list is long of all the things we refuse in any way to acknowledge one iota of acceptance, let alone gratitude. Really, Stephanie, you’ve gone too far this time.

Maybe so. Let’s investigate. I’m sitting with it now and asking in deeply. You do the same. I am asking myself, ‘How can I be grateful for the horrors of the world?’ Well, I can be grateful they are not happening to me in this moment. But that is clearly a self-serving, blind, finite answer. So what is the infinite answer?

It begins, as always, with coming fully into this present moment, this spacious awareness. In this relaxed state we can sense in to our bodies and all sensory experiences become illuminated. We notice sounds and sense into the rhythms, the volume, the tones, the pitch, the pulsing, the beat, the variety, the layering. We look around and notice light and shadow, color, texture, distance, shapes and the interaction of all of these in space. Closing our eyes we sense in to the pressure where our body meets whatever is supporting it. We feel the texture of whatever clothing or furniture comes in contact with our skin. We feel the temperature of the air, and the stillness or movement of it. We feel whatever is going on inside our body — pain, tension, energy, pleasant sensations and numbness. We taste the inside of our mouths. We smell the air. Some of our senses in this particular moment may be subtle, but still present if we stay with them. We become aware of our breath, rising and falling.

When we are able to release fully into this moment, savoring each sensation with a beginner’s mind, really noticing how this moment, the very one we thought was so ordinary, is in fact extraordinary because of our attention.

In this open spacious moment where we experience all that arises with a freshness we didn’t even know we were capable of experiencing, we feel gratitude.

This isn’t a gratitude conditioned on whether what we are seeing and hearing and sensing is pleasant, ordered in the way we like things to be. We have access to a less critical noticing. The impulses we might normally have — to tidy up the mess of newspapers on the floor or to bang the broom on the ceiling to get the loud radio upstairs to stop, or any other fault-finding rescue mission we might think up — all that falls away. In this moment, everything is just fine, even the mess, the noise, and all the things that usually irritate us.

We feel gratitude for simply being alive in this moment. Because this moment is the only thing that is real. Everything that has passed, both our personal history and the collective history of the world is just memory turning to compost. Whatever is in the future is currently simply potential, trending toward possible directions, always subject to the unseen and unknown, thus beyond our ability to imagine with any useful accuracy.

But this moment, this is our one and only reality. On a finite level we can enjoy it and wish it would last, or dislike it and rush to get past it. When we pause and release the tension that has us so tightly wrapped, we tap into the infinite: This moment, fully relaxed, is the gateway to our sensing the infinite.

From this deep connected place, we bring forth an authentic response to whatever arises in our experience. This is the only place where we can interact with the world, to sow peaceful seeds that might nourish the world of our great grandchildren. We can’t do that from the past or the future. There’s no power there. We can only be effective right here and now, by staying present and connected in deeply rooted moment. From this singular point of power, the present moment, when all our preferences and judgments have fallen away, we can see the universal dance and our place in it.

Raging at the horrors of the world we are stuck in a finite limited powerless rant. We feel like helpless victims in a storm of intense chaos. Going deep and quiet, touching the infinite, that is what makes real change possible. It is where Gandhi went and where Martin Luther King Jr. went before taking powerful peaceful action that changed the world. It is where Nelson Mandela and Aung San Suu Kyi have gone time and again, both able to draw sustenance and even freedom in physical incarceration – turning inward to the silence, finding patience and compassion instead of bitterness – and then allowing that sense of connection to inspire wise action.

From this place we are able to spot leaders who are authentic and deeply rooted. Instead of ranting at these leaders as if they singularly hold all the power and we, who were powerful in our ability to work to elect them, are suddenly cranky demanding children angry at mommy. We encourage our leaders to remain unseduced by the shallow-rooted calls to finite power that surround them, and to stay deeply connected both to that deep wisdom and to the community that elected them in order to make wise decisions that affect us all. And we continue to stay connected, using that access to be the change we want to see in the world.

Whatever injustices we face in the world can be met from this deep place in a truly transformative way. So first on our Thanksgiving list of gratitude might be our own ability to access this font of quiet connected wisdom, grateful that it is possible in any moment to access this place.

But what if we are new to the practice and this access to the moment is just a pipe dream? Be with the pipe dream, see it for what it is. Let it inform your experience of this moment. Keep practicing being present with whatever is. Stay focused on the senses, noticing. Notice everything. Notice the judgments, notice the emotions, notice the thoughts. Just notice. Maybe it feels like a big tangle, a tight knot, inaccessible. Be with that! Notice and notice again.

When we begin to meditate it is like any new skill. At first paying attention to the present moment feels as if staying present is like trying to balance on the head of a pin. The moment we realize we’re on it, we fall off. But with patience, intention, compassion and consistent practice, we begin to notice the head of the pin getting larger until we feel present for longer and longer periods.

This sensing in to this moment is the practice that gives access to the infinite source within ourselves, the connected place that has gratitude for everything. There’s no hurry to get there. There’s just the practice. Wanting to be there, rushing to get ‘there’ only seals the door and locks us out of the possibility of accessing it. For there is no ‘there,’ only ‘here.’ Just this experience. Can you feel gratitude for the rise and fall of your breath?

We don’t have to feel grateful for the Holocaust, 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, or the sexual predator living near the neighborhood playground. But finding wise ways to respond to them includes recognizing that the world is now, has always been and always shall be full of what the Tao calls ‘the 10,000 joys and 10,000 sorrows.’ Without the sorrows, there are no joys. That is the nature of earthly existence.

Over and over again in our lives we see that good times can cause bad things. A booming economy is perceived as a good thing, but it also causes overworked people to feel they don’t have time for each other and then they fill their sense of lack with purchasing material things.

And we’ve all had the experience of bad times causing good things, bringing strangers together as one people to address the challenge or weather the storm together. The yin and the yang freely flow from black to white and back again, and that’s the nature of life.

As we observe this flux and flow in our own lives and in the world around us, we may find we have a more open ‘don’t know’ mind about things. When I was younger knowing seemed so important. Now that I’m older, not knowing feels even more delicious!

There’s that wonderful old story told in Buddhist and Taoist traditions, of the farmer whose neighbors told him he was so unlucky because his horse ran away. They were surprised when he replied, “Maybe yes, maybe no.” Then the horse returned with a lot of other horses to fill his corral, and his neighbors said, “Oh, what great fortune!” He still answered, “Maybe yes, maybe no.” When his son fell off one of the horses and broke his leg, the neighbors said, “What terrible luck!” And even then the farmer said, “Maybe yes, maybe no.” Well, the neighbors thought him very strange indeed. But then the military came to the village seeking young men for conscription into the army, and the farmer’s son was exempted because of his broken leg. The neighbors now saw that healing leg differently, as their sons marched off to war. “You are so lucky,” they told the farmer. And he said, of course, “Maybe yes, maybe no.” And so the story goes on throughout life.

While taking full responsibility for our own behavior and vowing to do no harm to ourselves or others, with a don’t know mind we can be less outraged at the poor choices of others, and certainly at the inconstancies of nature. Events we might perceive as good fortune, we can vest with less power to enslave us. (Enslave us? Yes, because we say, “Now that I have this great job, this great relationship, this great house, how can I keep it? How can I make this happiness last?” And suddenly we’re caught up in fear and suffering again.) It is said that the greatest suffering is caused by striving for a perfect world or by running away in fear from the imperfect world we see around us.

Here’s a thought! Let’s just stop striving for a moment! Let’s stop running away from what is! Instead, let’s simply focus on our breath and the various senses. Fully present in this moment, we feel gratitude for just this, whatever form it takes in this moment. We access the place deep within ourselves that is beyond the 10,000 joys and 10,000 sorrows. Each moment, with all its sensory offerings, offers access to this vantage point, from which we recognize the fleeting gift of the wild, the monstrous and the wondrous nature of earthly existence. And we have ringside seats!

On this fine fall day, we might enjoy looking at this idea as a multitude of leaves flying around in the wind, each leaf in some state we call beautiful autumn foliage or dried up, dead, and ugly.

And we see ourselves in this turbulent swirl, sometimes in our leaf nature being acted upon and sometimes in our wind nature, causing a stir. But only when we are able to stand in the middle of the whirl, in the quiet stillness of the eye of this ongoing storm of life, can we relax into a state of gratitude for everything.

In this centered stillness we can see with fresh eyes the multi-layered dimensions of all things. We can see into the fearful hurting heart of the being who hates and hurts others in turn, and we can see the strength and resilience of the being who has been hurt but is able to access connection and compassion for all beings, spreading joy. We see those who would divide to conquer, and we recognize their fear and how they are conquered by it. We see those who see the unity and act out of that sense of unity for the well being of all. We see the natural disasters and are awed by the power of nature, and the fragileness of our brief lives, and the strength of the human spirit when challenged.

This rich alive moment that until we relaxed into it seemed so ordinary fills us with a sense of abundance. From this perspective, everything that brought us to this point softens in its wake.

We see that all those events we would not have chosen are now just stories, stories that we have clung to as proof of the veracity of our tightly held beliefs, stories that have left us scarred but still standing, or perhaps lessons we are still trying to learn from. They exist, along with cherished memories, only in our minds. And we can hold them lightly, letting them go when they no longer serve us, feeling gratitude for whatever gifts they brought us. Or we can cling to them tightly, empowering them to define and confine us.

When we relax into simple awareness of this moment, we fully inhabit our bodies and minds in a way that enables us to live an authentic, heartfelt generous and meaningful life. Accessing the infinite wisdom of simple presence, simple awareness, brings clarity and gratitude for everything.