Monday, November 5, 2018

Green tea wisdom

Tea. Coffee. Cocoa. I love hot, caffeinated beverages. Each holds its own set of sensory delights, but there is something special about a hot cup of jasmine green tea. Fragrant and refreshing, this particular tea is one of those things that just makes me feel good.

However, I used to not like it at all. Well, I loved the robust jasmine scent as I opened the package, but found the tea itself bitter. Still, eager to jump on the 'green tea is loaded with healthy phytochemicals and helps you lose weight' bandwagon, I gave it another go, and ended up with a tummy ache from the bitter brew I concocted.

Come to find out, I was doing it all wrong. I didn't know that green tea should only be infused for 1-2 minutes, and that any longer would produce a harsh, acrid brew. I also didn't know that drinking green tea on an empty stomach could cause a belly ache for some people- and that I was one of those people!

But other than admitting that I was once a total green tea 'noob,' the purpose of this post goes deeper than these little lessons in hot beverages. In my 'adventures' with green tea, I was reminded that something can seem beneficial, but only if you have acquired the wisdom to use it properly. If you don't, then it can become harmful- or at the very least uncomfortable. And as I sip my hot jasmine tea on this rainy autumn day, I am grateful for its warmth, and for the valuable reminder it has provided.  



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This post is part of the daily gratitude practice I am working to develop during 2018. You can read all about it at ByChanceBuddhism!
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May all beings be happy! 

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Body shaming shame

Years ago I had a problem with body weight. Rooted in my own body consciousness, this 'weight problem' extended well beyond my individual self. 

If you strictly follow BMI, I have been overweight several times in my life, including my current struggle to lose excess pregnancy weight. During each episode of extra poundage, some people said unkind and hurtful things. Others pointed out my weight gain in what I believe was a genuine concern for my wellbeing, but that also stung a little. As emotional as each of those experiences were, I did learn from them, and was eventually able to strengthen my body to a healthier state. However, each weight loss journey definitely took time, since I did it on my own terms.

But before you think I am writing this to pat myself on the back, let me emphasize that is not the case. In addition to being down on myself, I was also mentally very critical of others who were overweight. Although critical of both men and women, I was especially hard on women I didn't know and had never interacted with. I remember thinking things like, "My god, how could she let herself get so heavy?" or "What is wrong with him/her?" or the ever self-righteous, "I would never let myself get like that!"

My criticism may have been silent, but it was still unacceptable. Just as the unkind words directed at me hurt, I realized that although I was not putting my thoughts into action, those thoughts were harmful. They felt ugly, wrong, and yes, shameful, and I wanted them out of my head.

In one previous effort to lose weight, I encountered many personal stories about weight loss. To my surprise and dismay, I found that some people's struggles with weight were tied to direct experiences with physical, emotional, and/or sexual abuse or trauma. Whereas some turn to alcohol or drugs, others turn to food for comfort and escape. Encountering this information, the clouds of ignorance began to clear. I became more aware as a person, and realized that weight loss is for some people not just about moving more and counting calories, but also overcoming some formidable emotional obstacles. 

I decided it was necessary for me to change my behavior when I encounter someone who is very overweight. I started being very conscious of my reaction to the person, and reminding myself of the many similarities between myself and the person I behold in that we both have our own experiences, hopes, dreams, and most importantly, desire to be happy and to feel loved. 

Yes, I know, it is truly sad that I even had to go through this process in order to change my attitude and subsequent thought processes. But another thing I also know is that my own struggle stems directly from my own insecurities. Not an excuse, but a reason- I take full responsibility for my previous thoughts- and I hope that the fallout from my prior experiences will no longer obscure what should be a clearer, less superficial view of other human beings.  

In closing this post, I would like to emphasize that in no way do I mean to provide a crutch against making positive changes towards one's own health, including my own. Being very overweight or obese is extremely detrimental to personal wellbeing, and there are very few exceptions. However, this fact is already well known and it does not mean that we treat someone struggling with excess weight with scorn and aversion, but rather with openness and compassion.
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May all beings be happy!

Friday, September 28, 2018

Room for living

Lately I have been doing a lot of de-cluttering, and finally finished clearing and re-organizing the downstairs closet where we keep our coats, boots, socks, and boxes of books and small decor items that, until we are in a more permanent home, will remain unpacked. 

Since clutter is something that tends to bother me, I have been working hard to find ways to counter it. But whether it is organizing existing items or drastically reducing, it is not always easy. Over the years I have found that displaying only the objects I love and find beautiful and/or useful has become increasingly important. This of course results in any excess feeling gradually more burdensome and undesirable. 

However, even with my ongoing battles towards downsizing my possessions, today I enjoyed a nice moment where, sitting in my living room with its comfortable, newly slipcovered couch, diverse textiles and patterns, and windowsill adorned with plants, I found it the a pleasing mix of old and new, beautiful and utilitarian. 

This was actually kind of a breakthrough for me, because, as someone who feels compelled to constantly 'improve' her surroundings, the awareness that there are too many things around usually ends up making me a little uneasy. 

This 'decorating dukkha' aside, I really feel as if I am making progress towards fashioning a home that is more than a roof over our heads (and our stuff!), but rather a place that reflects who we are as a family. I feel that my approach to designing our space has now graduated from thinking about things like 'the living room' to creating 'room for living'. It is this slow transition- and the contentment that accompanies it- for which I am grateful.

This basket is of my favorite items on display in our living room. 

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This post is part of the daily gratitude practice I am working to develop during 2018. You can read all about it at ByChanceBuddhism!
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May all beings be happy! 

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Denial of gratitude

A short while ago I read an interesting article about gratitude. The main premise of the article was that trying so hard to be grateful was making the article's author 'sick', and made her feel that gratitude lists were 'a bunch of bullsh*t."

Expecting an angry and entitled 'poor me' rant, I reluctantly read the woman's story. To my surprise, the conclusion was enlightening. This woman had been through all kinds of painful experiences, including loss of loved ones (both human and pets), illness, terrible living conditions, unemployment, depression, and feelings of isolation and hopelessness. In a word, this person was really suffering.

In an effort to alleviate her suffering, many people around her - including therapists- advised her to instead 'think of how lucky she is' or 'how bad others have it', and document her 'good fortune' into daily gratitude lists. 

After dutifully writing these lists for some time -with worsening depression- it was clear the 'gratitude' route really wasn't working. After changing therapists and describing her situation and personal obstacles, the therapist, amazed at what she was dealing with, exclaimed, "Man, your life just SUCKS right now!"

As it turns out, hearing those words was really what the woman needed. At the advice of her therapist, she ditched the gratitude lists in exchange for "This SUCKS ASS" lists. Rather than trying to look 'on the bright side,' she was acknowledging and expressing her true feelings about major issues in her life for the first time. 

And this is about where the article ends- with the woman ready to celebrate a more authentic self by no longer bottling up the negativity she was experiencing. That article was from over a year ago, and so I can only hope that things are better for her now, and that she is on a path towards healing and happiness. 

From a Buddhist perspective, the words of the Buddha and others caution against anger and its consequences. Although I am not able to attribute it to a specific person, I also find the following quotation helpful:

"Explain your anger instead of expressing it, and you will immediately open the door to solutions instead of arguments."  

Therefore, I sincerely hope that the woman in the article will also be mindful of her anger and channel it in ways that are beneficial to herself and those around her.   

But all that aside, there were several items in the article that also left a lasting impression:
  • When the person in the article tried to recount painful events or emotions to others, they told her to be grateful for what she had, count her blessings, etc.
  • The well-meant advice of writing gratitude lists was actually preventing the individual from expressing her true feelings, and therefore hindered her ability to heal from emotional wounds. 
  • In addition to the negative emotions the person was already experiencing, the daily practice of writing gratitude and thinking of others' 'much worse' circumstances added needless pressure and shame in an already bad situation.

So is expressing gratitude while experiencing difficulty a bad thing? I would be the first to say definitely not! But (as you may have already guessed) the crux of the argument is really not whether gratitude is beneficial- it was the harm generated by mistaking outright denial for gratitude. All that advice for 'being grateful' ultimately resulted in the author just pushing her true feelings deeper - and her self further away from any lasting solutions. 

Was it because those listening to her story could not bear the thought of her suffering? Did they somehow feel she was weak, and they superior? Or did they not really want to listen, because her pain made them uncomfortable? Whatever the answer to that question, they offered something they thought would solve her issues - all while failing to notice it was not what she truly needed- or was even ready for.

I am no psychologist, but in my experience gratitude is never about hiding or suppressing our feelings, but rather taking joy in the good things in life- even while acknowledging the not-so-good. It is also does not arise from guilt or shame as we compare our difficulties to those others have experienced, but stands independently as we marvel at the small miracles in our own lives. Most of all, gratitude can never be imposed, positioned as a bandaid for an open wound caused by grief or trauma- for then we trade the beauty and truth of gratitude with the deception of denial. 

In conclusion, I just want to say that I hope that I do not make this mistake in the future, and that my advocacy for gratitude in my own life does not influence others as a grudging sense of obligation or source of guilt. Expressing gratitude has brought joy to my life because I was ready to receive it with open arms- and that is what I would want for everyone who chooses to embrace it. 

True gratitude is simple and pure

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This post is part of the daily gratitude practice I am working to develop during 2018. You can read all about it at ByChanceBuddhism!
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May all beings be happy! 

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Growing gratitude

Like many bloggers, I include a label cloud on the BCB homepage to so that readers can easily peruse blog topics. Along with "Basic Buddhism" and "Daily Life," "Gratitude" was one of the opening themes, although perhaps eclipsed by the first two due to the topics discussed in early blog posts. But since initiating this current practice, the focus on gratitude and its outward impact on my attitude and life in general has also left its mark on the 'cloud', as you can see for yourself. 

 As gratitude grows and grows, its influence and effects are starting to show! 😄🙏

Gratitude label 1/3/2018

Gratitude label 7/30/2018

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This post is part of the daily gratitude practice I am working to develop during 2018. You can read all about it at ByChanceBuddhism!
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May all beings be happy! 

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Lost and found

Something unexpected happened yesterday. While organizing some photos, I found a letter that meant a great deal to me, written by a close family member upon the death of my grandfather. If you have experienced the aftermath of a house fire or other disaster that caused extensive damage to your home and belongings, you are familiar with the dreaded realization that a cherished item is gone forever. Although nothing is more important than the survival of loved ones during such hardships, loss of possessions that hold great sentimental value can also generate much sadness. 

After spending a lot of time excavating the scorched family home of my childhood, there were quite a few items that I just could not find. Given the condition of the house and endless piles of charred or smoke/water-damaged, and yes, still frozen belongings, this was not surprising. So many items had to be cleaned, washed, or somehow salvaged, or the pieces to be picked up and discarded. 

Since those days I have occasionally thought about certain sentimental items (usually a card or letter written by a loved one) and wondered if it still existed. In many cases I didn't dare to hope, and put the idea from my mind. 

But still, over the past few years I have, unbelievably, come across some of these precious items, and yesterday was one of those days. As I went through an old photo album, the colors and patterns on a card placed inside caught my eye. It was then I realized that this card held the letter I thought I had lost! Amazed, I read it over and over, tears flowing down my cheeks. The love and compassion conveyed by that letter was something I had never forgotten, but the fact that I was able to hold it in my hands and read the actual words once again made me feel incredibly happy, and yes, so very grateful. 💕 

Strangely, I know I must have opened that album many times since the fire but had not seen the letter, probably because I had assumed it was lost. Perhaps it is this type of discovery that is driving my current organizing/decluttering endeavor, not only so that I know what possessions we have, but so that I can keep those most precious to me and my family (such as this letter and others like it), closest.   


In closing, I will acknowledge that some may find this post, in which I express happiness at being reunited with certain possessions, confusing. Buddhism has a reputation of austerity when it comes to personal belongings, especially to those unfamiliar with the actual doctrine. Meanwhile, practicing Buddhists understand that laypeople are not forbidden from earning money and owning possessions, but we must avoid becoming ensnared by feelings of attachment to what we own. 

I will agree that in this post I am also recognizing my own attachment, since I felt sad when I thought I had lost something precious. But I also realize that my joy at finding these lost items is not for the sake of 'possession,' but because I feel like I have been given a second chance to cherish a lovely memory in its tangible form. And now that I know that these tangible things can be gone in an instant, my former 'attachment' can now truly give way to reverence and gratitude. 
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This post is part of the daily gratitude practice I am working to develop during 2018. You can read all about it at ByChanceBuddhism!
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May all beings be happy! 

Monday, July 23, 2018

Reassessment

I know that lately my posts have not been as numerous. I am busy, but in a different way than when I was teaching. I am productive, but often feel unproductive. I would not go so far as to say that I am 'stuck', because I definitely feel that I am moving forward on multiple fronts, albeit slowly. More correctly, I feel that this is a time for reflection and assessment, so that I can see where I stand and then change course if need be.

Here are some of my feelings, in a nutshell:

I feel overwhelmed by household tasks, and things I need to do (e.g. wash baby clothes) seem to sneak up on me before I know it.
Each day I complete many different tasks, yet I fear that few results are lasting or meaningful.
Will I ever be able to get back to prioritizing my applications and professional writing in the midst of so many household tasks and obligations?
I would like to spend more time each day focusing on my own wellbeing and success, and forming new habits that will eventually benefit myself and others.
In contrast to last year at this time, I feel much more calm, happy, and yes, grateful. 
I am really happy with how this current gratitude practice has expanded my focus towards the bigger picture. 
I really love writing about what I am grateful for. Even if there was some hiccup in my day, being conscious of the 'good things' has really helped my outlook and lifted my spirits.
Although I love expressing gratitude in my posts here at BCB, I am aware that there is still much more to do. Indeed, writing these posts constitutes 'action', but I know that there is still much more to express -and act upon- the gratitude I feel by actually doing something for someone. In that respect I am stuck, because I feel that I am not able to do anything that would be thoughtful enough. 
I have thanked several people in my life, but also have many more to thank. Does it make sense that I look forward to writing each of these gratitude posts, yet also find the magnitude of posts still left to write incredibly daunting?
I have come to the conclusion that expressing gratitude through posts here at BCB should be extended beyond a yearlong practice. However, I do not wish to delay my thanks to people who are important to me just because I have given myself more time. 
I feel I am not writing posts to express my gratitude 'fast enough', and that, despite my best intentions not to, that I am help up writing the 'perfect post', especially if I am thanking a person who I care about. 
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So there you go; a mixture of my more recent thoughts and personal challenges. For those of you who know me personally, you know that I am a problem solver, and I have already found a viable way to keep my daily tasks organized in a manageable way. In a word, it is Habitica, an online site and accompanying app that treats our daily 'to-do's and the habits we wish to develop as a Role Playing Game, or RPG. Although never a big gamer, the concept (and the fact that it is free to try!) intrigued me, and so I thought I'd give it a whirl. So far I have found that it is intuitive and useful, and yes, also innovative, rewarding, and fun! I never thought that I would be 'one of those people' who enter their to-do's into a list/calendar of sorts, but so far I love it! Researching how to keep daily tasks organized and trying a new system has given me the hope -and motivation- to start finally working towards all those things I have been meaning to do but haven't. 

As for the gratitude practice, I know I should continue to keep forging on, since I certainly don't want to stop now. But I just need to think about how I can do this and not drop the ball on other important things going on in my life, so that I may look back and see that my effort has made some positive impact. In writing this post I am also reaching out to my readers, whose wisdom and advice I greatly respect - and very much look forward to! 🙏


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This post is part of the daily gratitude practice I am working to develop during 2018. You can read all about it at ByChanceBuddhism!
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May all beings be happy!