Monday, July 2, 2018

Gratitude and Impermanence

If someone is curious about Buddhism, one of the first things they may learn are the Four Noble Truths:

First Noble Truth: There is suffering (dukkha)
Second Noble Truth: Suffering is caused by desire
Third Noble Truth: Suffering can end completely
Fourth Noble Truth: The Noble Eightfold Path is the remedy for suffering

In terms of meaning, that of the First Noble Truth is apparent; we see suffering everyday, in ourselves and others. The Second Noble Truth states that attachment/desire, selfish craving (tanha), and wishing things to be different from how they really are is the cause of all suffering. The Third Noble Truth states that the constant state of suffering we experience can cease through pursuing the Fourth Noble Truth; following the Noble Eightfold Path

To avoid an overly pessimistic view of these foundations, let's first clarify the meaning of 'dukkha.' Roughly translated as 'suffering', 'dukkha' in linguistic terms has a complex definition and thus many meanings. For simplicity, I refer to dukkha as the inherent 'unsatisfactoriness' of all things, which manifests as suffering ranging from slight discomfort to extreme misery.

Reflecting further, we may realize the strong connection between impermanence and suffering. In our human experience, we know that all the things we enjoy, cherish, love, or have ever loved do not last forever. Just as our favorite flower fades, so may our connection to an old friend. Homes can burn or be washed away, and loved ones die and leave us with only memories of their presence. We also know the ultimate truth about ourselves, that we too will someday die and take leave of everything we love and have worked so hard for. Whilst interspersed amongst many happy moments, the impermanent (and therefore 'unsatisfactory') nature of all things is as real as life itself, and can be a cause for much sadness. If were are ever to be truly happy, how do we confront this potentially infinite source of suffering?

That's where gratitude comes in. When we are grateful, we acknowledge that wonderful moments -and not-so-wonderful ones - will eventually pass. When we are grateful, we accept impermanence; there is no sense grasping things that we know will not last forever. Rather, we smile and accept all that is good in our lives with open hearts. Although we may always hope for our loved ones' safety and wellbeing, our newfound wisdom may bring our constant fear of losing them out of focus. Instead of letting our resistance to change render life's blessings unfulfilling and trite, practicing gratitude amidst the reality of impermanence makes everything all the more precious. Instead of clutching in fear and trepidation, we may embrace all that we love in the present moment with happiness and contentment.  
Created by Renata viaGIPHY

Delicate blossoms fade, transient in the cool spring air. 
A crisp breeze arises, and we understand the nature of change.
Showered by translucent petals, we smile in the present moment.

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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, June 25, 2018

Rainbows on the horizon

Glad to have experienced not only the joy of seeing a double rainbow this past weekend, but experiencing it with my husband and daughter. Since the rainbow could be seen from our downstairs window, Lotus Blossom was able to see it, and pointed excitedly at the colorful arcs in the sky. Fun for her, fun for us!

I hope you enjoy the pictures, although they may not do the beauty of the rainbows justice.




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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, June 14, 2018

What might have been

It has now been almost six months since I first began this gratitude journey. During this time I have opened myself to feeling and expressing gratitude for cherished loved ones, everyday blessings, and special life experiences. I have spent numerous hours writing over 50 posts outlining and describing these things, and aspects of gratitude itself. 

While out for a walk with a close friend I mentioned my gratitude practice, and we talked about the potential benefits of showing gratitude in our daily lives. Reflecting on that conversation, I am also reminded of my first post this year and the feelings I described therein. 

Although I would never have said I was miserable, the longing for the past and dread for the future that characterized my attitude and personal outlook were not great. From all my time studying and walking the Buddhist path, I knew that the present is the only place we can truly reside. But with the initial turmoil of early motherhood I had somehow lost the ability to stay in the here and now, sometimes even willfully resisting it. 

I now know that resistance was due to the anxiety I first felt when learning to care for a precious little one- my mind sometimes needed a break, and I had to let go enough to realize that was okay. Although I still believe the saying, "Present moment, wonderful moment" by the Zen monk Thich Nhat Hanh holds true, I have found that using the present moment to disengage from ongoing challenges can also be healthy and beneficial.  

But, as is often the case when we discover something new about ourselves and our place in this world, there was a gap in my wisdom. For me, this was how I sometimes disconnected from the present moment in a way that led to my seeing my life in disillusioned (i.e. mostly negative) ways. From this temporary disillusionment I would snap back and sharply reprimand myself for having the audacity to feel this way. However many cycles of frustration, buildup, mini-meltdowns, and guilt transpired I do not know, but it was certainly more than necessary (or than I would like to admit). 

It was on that very cold, silent winter day I realized that this is no way to feel -or live- and it can only lead to a downward spiral of sadness and regret. At the time I didn't know what the antidote would be, but I knew I had to do something. After several days of contemplation and soul-searching, it occurred to me that practicing gratitude might offer a welcome reprieve.

And so it has. In most contexts, the title of this post implies feelings of wistfulness and regret for 'what might have been'. However, in contrast to my previous complacency to emotional upheaval, I now regard the past six months as essential in shaping an attitude that supports renewed hope, anticipation, and confidence towards the future. Regret is the last thing on my mind, and for that I am grateful.

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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, June 13, 2018

My brother

Another momentous post of deep, heartfelt gratitude, this post is a thank you to my brother. Since both my siblings are older than me, they have each served as important role models in my life. He is the best big brother I could have, and I admire him for so many reasons.

There are so many things I am grateful to my brother for, and I know that no list I can come up with could truly communicate the impact he has had on my life and character. But, here goes, even though I know for sure that I will miss something!

Brother, I am so grateful to you for:
Your bearhugs (pops own shoulder back into place) 😀
Your lifelong love of knowledge and learning.
That time you took me to that old, overgrown orchard and climbed up to get a 'banana apple' so that I could taste it. I couldn't have been more than 6 or 7 years old, but I will never forget that delicious apple!
Your amazing repertoire of culinary and survival skills- cheesemaking, blacksmithing, hunting, gardening, beekeeping, beer and winemaking- just to name a few!
Your toughness.
Your desire to protect those who you love.
Your self-defense lessons!
The way you live up to your name and its meaning.
The way you laugh and have fun no matter what.
The many funny stories you tell, and how you tell them.
Getting up in the middle of the night to take me to the airport.
Hosting my college graduation party, where a good time was had by all.
How there is nothing more important to you than freedom.
The lovely natural earrings you made out of deer bone that you carved yourself.
Your loyalty and service to our grandparents. Your devotion to both Grandma and Grandpa was an inspiration, and your love and actions during their final days made our family so very proud.
Your love of those devoted, enthusiastic creatures we call "golden retrievers". 🐕
Your sense of humor that transcends everything. Even when our family home was gutted by fire years ago, you were there to make all of us laugh and just be happy we were all still together.
How you and your beautiful wife covered the cost of bringing Grandma to our wedding so that she could take part in the festivities. It was the best, most blessed gift ever, and I smile every time I think about it (or see the pictures scrolling on our digital frame!). 

Thank you so much Erich, Ich liebe dich! 💕
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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, June 12, 2018

Lilac bliss

The season of lilacs has come and gone, but as one of my (many) favorite spring flowers, the memory of their exquisite fragrance lingers. What also remains is their personal significance, and the impact of their glorious existence a little over a year ago.

Due to the cold temperatures I had spent the first two months of my daughter's life completely cooped up, with the exception of a few weekend or evening outings. Mercifully, spring came early, and by mid March I was out with the stroller and the little one all snug in her click-in infant carrier. As a new mom, being out and about with my three month old was a relief, but it also made me nervous as hell. 

After about a week or so I started getting into a routine of going out for walks, weather permitting. In addition to the exercise, I was enjoying the sight of spring flowers appearing along the streets and in people's yards. One day while walking in a nearby neighborhood my heart leaped as I saw a lilac bush in full bloom in a hedgerow along the sidewalk. 

Completely forgetting myself, I wheeled that stroller up to a freshly blossomed sprig of lilacs and promptly stuck my face in it. I spent at least a minute with the cool, smooth blossoms against my skin, drinking in the fresh, delicate fragrance that is like nothing else on earth.

And just like that, my spirits lifted. I felt like everything was going to be okay, and that I had satisfied a hunger, a longing that I didn't even know I had. I now know that hunger is to be outdoors, to make a point of experiencing the transient beauty of nature, now as a mother teaching and leading her child.

This spring I walked past the new blossoms of the same lilac hedge. I smiled at the blossoms, the fragrance, this now year-old experience, and the gratitude of how far I have come since this simple but beautiful lesson.   

Lilacs illuminated by sunshine

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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, June 4, 2018

In retrospect

In addition to helping cultivate gratitude, this current practice of giving thanks for the good things in life has also gotten me thinking about the past. As I have mentioned before, taking care of a precious little one was both a joy and a heap of (necessary!) new worries. Anyone who knows me well knows that I don't shy away from responsibility, but by the end of last year I needed to acknowledge my feelings of dread for the future. I felt cynical, fearful, and depressed; but most of all that a change was in order. 

Enter my current focus on communicating gratitude to others, and I feel completely different. To be clear, gratitude is not a magic wand that makes all problems go away, nor is it the equivalent to 'positive thinking'. Rather, gratitude is just rejoicing in what is good. The bad can still be acknowledged, but this simple act of celebration causes negative thoughts and events to lose their power.

Reflecting on this last thought, I wondered, what if I had begun this gratitude practice years ago? How would things have been different? Specifically, I thought about when I began my first job out of graduate school. The first semester we were hired my colleagues and I worked upwards of 70 hours a week for a position posted at 37.5. We were a dedicated bunch all willing to work more our job description, but that semester (and academic year) was hard. Even though we had made some great initial progress and loved working with students, our team was facing burnout. Outside our immediate cohort we also felt unappreciated and, quite frankly, a little used. Everything considered, even with a great team and supportive advisors, it was easy to let rumination and negative thoughts creep in. 

In the midst of that turmoil I did have moments when I was thankful to have a job. But what if I had spent some time each day to really focus on something I am grateful for, as I am doing now? It would certainly not have changed the 12 hour days, but I daresay that a little bit more gratitude would have improved my outlook considerably.

The truth is though, I will never know. My purpose for writing this post is not to invite regret, but to use my own experience to become more aware and make the most of difficult circumstances. For now most of my major challenges lie in the past, but I think it is realistic to acknowledge that more are probably ahead, because that's life. Therefore, working on bringing about a change in habits and attitude now might help me later down the road, so that perhaps then the tone of my post will be a little different, 'in retrospect'.


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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, May 31, 2018

Fragrant blossoms

While out walking on a nearby jogging trail yesterday Lotus Blossom and I were overwhelmed by the smell of wild honeysuckle vine. The sweet but delicate fragrance was even more of a delight as it hung in the cool, refreshing air. 

I am grateful that I have been able to enjoy the visual and sensory beauty of this flower on our daily walk.


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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!