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!

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!
*****
May all beings be happy!

Friday, May 25, 2018

A grateful flow of consciousness

Lately I have been spending a lot more time outside on walks with little lotus blossom in the stroller, so I have not written as many gratitude posts. But that does not mean that I have fewer reasons to be grateful- just less time to express it!

So today I am trying something different- a gratitude flow of consciousness, if you will. I will type whatever comes to mind and hope it makes some sense. Many of the things I list below will probably be things I have been wanting to write about anyway, so if this process helps those few words grow into posts, then great, if not, then that's fine too. Thanks in advance for your attention and patience with my random way of doing things!

Alright, so here goes . . . 3, 2, 1 . . .

I am grateful for:
Today's sunshine which is accompanied by a beautiful, refreshing breeze.
An unexpected visit with a kind lady who lives nearby.
A mani pedi and fun with a dear friend.
Getting some books I ordered in the mail.
Being able to take a walk every day this week.
Making it to the end of the trail I frequent, which I am not able to do as often.
The beautiful scent of a jasmine flower in my window. 
Accidentally dropping a juice glass on the floor and it not breaking.
My husband staying with the lotus blossom so I could go for said mani pedi.
A recent trip to visit my parents.
A kind reply to my email I wrote to growers at a fruit farm (I was asking about kiwis and how they are grown).
Being chosen for an on site job interview.
A dear friend and former colleague being recognized for her excellence in teaching.
Delicious avocados!
The loved ones in my life.
Beautiful irises growing alongside the running trail.
Finding $5 along said trail (I did look for the owner, but no one was around. Now to think of what good I can hopefully do with it- ideas are welcome!)
A lovely strawberry-themed wreath from my mother.
A new, lighter summer comforter set with beautiful batik-style elephants printed on it.
Our curry plant slowly starting to grow!
Being able to finally put our plants outside to (hopefully) flourish.
A family trip to a local zoo last weekend with my husband and Lotus Blossom.
Stopping at a farm stand and purchasing beautiful, fresh strawberries. 
Ice cream from a local creamery.
Feeling physically stronger and more self-assured when out for a walk with Lotus blossom.


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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, May 21, 2018

The abundance of rain

In terms of weather, the past two weeks have been wet enough to completely saturate the ground, giving rise to many local flood warnings; even causing a small, but nevertheless disconcerting 'moat' to form around the edge of our corner apartment!

Although I try not to allow the weather to affect my mood, the deluge was starting to get to me. The copious rain not only meant no sunshine, but also no going out- and no exercise, both for me and the little one. After a longer-than-usual winter (and practically itching to go on my long walks with the stroller), this prohibition was a real bummer. Finally after yet another rainy Saturday, the sun revealed its bright face once again, as it is doing today, and will hopefully do for the rest of the week. 

While I certainly would like to express a great deal of gratefulness for the current (fabulous!) weather, I would also like to make an important point. Although the rain restricted my freedom of movement and doing what I wanted to do, there was also a great deal of beauty to behold. Between thunderstorms I noticed that the droplets gathered along the edges of new spring foliage were glistening and pure, and the fragrance of black locust blossoms in the cool, fresh air delicious. As I look outside today, the sun is shining and even the largest puddles have evaporated, but the lush, succulent explosion of greenery produced by the rain is nothing short of a miracle. 

The moral of the story? We can all have our preferences and yearnings for certain types of weather, but Nature has its own ideas about what must be accomplished, and they often have nothing to do with what we (or any other being for that matter) may desire. Though this post is not necessarily meant as a 'light at the end of the tunnel' message (take from it what you will), I am grateful for the lesson I have learned. 


"Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished"
 -"Lao Tzu"
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This post is part of the daily gratitude practice I am developing during 2018. You can read all about it at ByChanceBuddhism!
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May all beings be happy!

Sunday, May 13, 2018

My daughter

To my precious daughter,

I cannot begin to express how much joy you bring to my life. Your smile, your laughter, your big, dark eyes, the little curls at the back of your head. The way you cheerfully march around the house as if the world belongs to you, the way you savor your favorite foods and music in general- how your excitement about everyday things breathes new life into this world!

I knew that becoming a mother would be hard. And it was. When you were first born I was so anxious, so scared, because all the responsibility of caring for a new, precious little one became so real; as did the joy, the pride, the worry, the fear, and the contentment. Your arrival spurred a deepening and amplification of emotions I never thought possible, catapulting me to a heightened state of being from which I cannot (and would not wish to) return.

Many people say that every child's birth also yields the birth of a new woman, different from the one that existed before. How very true, but I now know that only those with direct experience of this sacred transition are poised to truly comprehend it. Beyond the joys of motherhood I also reveal its tumult, not to make you worry or feel sad or sorry, but only to be honest about one of life's most basic facts- that some of the most beautiful, transformative, and rewarding things are often not easy.

As I have gotten to know you, your personality, your fun sense of humor, the way you notice and learn things so quickly, you have unknowingly given me confidence and calmed my fears with your beautiful self. I loved you before you were born, but from the moment I saw you my heart belonged to you, as it will until the end of my days. I love you, my little lotus blossom, from the bottom of my heart. 💕


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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, May 8, 2018

A parade of springtime flowers

A major contributor to an ongoing feeling of personal gratefulness has been for the slow but steady onset of spring this year. I think that my feelings can best be communicated through these images captured over the past few weeks featuring both woodland and cultivated blooms. The emergence of such beauty following the cold winter months brings joy to my heart, as does sharing these images with you! 

 

















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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!

Sunday, April 29, 2018

My Sister

Here is yet another monumental gratitude post, this time to my sister; one of the most amazing women I know. Since both my siblings are older, they have served as role models to me, each in their own special way.

An avid language enthusiast, my sister not only speaks French like a frenchwoman, but has successfully raised a francophone family in the midwestern United States. As our own parents can surely attest, cultivating bilingualism in a country outside the language-culture can be challenging, and her dedication is an inspiration to me. 

There are so many things I am grateful to my sister for, and I know that there is no list I could write that would ever be complete. Below is my attempt, although I know I will think of many more things afterward 😊

Sister, I am grateful to you for:
Your laughter. It brings joy to my heart, and I love trying to make you laugh as often as possible when we are together.
The love of puns that you have bestowed upon me, since I was a little pipsqueak playing around in your room. Bonus for bilingual and even trilingual puns! 😀
The loyalty, thoughtfulness, and caring you show for friends and family.
Your wholehearted support for me and my personal goals- including this current adventure into living a grateful life. No one has read and acknowledged my posts more than you! 
The strength and awareness you demonstrated during your pregnancies. I am certain that the knowledge you shared with me made my own pregnancy and birth experience so much more empowering and less scary than it would have been otherwise. 
Your love of beauty and willingness to stop and appreciate it. 
Your strong sense of fairness, justice, and advocacy for freedom of thought and expression. 
Your empathy and support as I stumbled through- and eventually learned to navigate- early motherhood.   
The way you lead by example as an amazing mother.
Your genuine curiosity for learning about other cultures and people's life experiences.
Your delicious baked creations- and willingness to share 😁
The sweet and thoughtful handwritten cards you send on every occasion. 
The love and affection you shower on your niece, our little lotus blossom.
The physical and mental endurance of your running practice, and how it inspires others.
Your strong sense of existing for and working towards a higher purpose in life.  

Last of all, I am so grateful for . . . your gratitude! All my life you have told me how grateful you are for me, the late little surprise of our family. The many times you have expressed joy at my existence is second only to that conveyed by our mother, and that is saying a lot! From the time I was a little girl, your words have made me feel so very loved- and I will be forever grateful. 

Thank you so much Elke (meine beste 'Schwest'), 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!

Friday, April 20, 2018

Society at a crossroads

Looking back on a post describing my extensive (often uncomfortable) immersion in the conflicting views and opinions of others, I realized that there is a larger issue worth discussing- the ease by which someone can challenge -even rock- our core beliefs via social media. 

Although sites like facebook engage in extensive data mining and targeted ads to increase the probability you see what you "want to" see, they do not fully insulate us from every post we may disagree with (which really doesn't seem to be their goal anyway). I realize now that, to some, this 'accidental insight' into friends' thoughts and opinions could be upsetting. 

While part of me wants to roll my eyes, I also recognize that something really interesting is happening. This is the first time in history where we as a society can very quickly and easily access a myriad of opinions about every topic imaginable- whether we want to or not. When we compare the current dynamic to our collective past, it is clear that our society is currently at a crossroads.

If you are from "Generation Y" and older, you remember a world before social media. You may recall running into someone you hadn't seen in a while and they let slip who they voted for/what they thought about ______. You then went home to your spouse or S.O. and said, hey I saw so and so today- did you know she voted for _____?! Tsk, honestly . . . (or something like that).

And that was the end of it. No likes, no comments, no shares, no checking back to see what others responded. Sure, you could have argued with your spouse/family about it a little, but in the privacy of your own home, (hopefully!) unobserved. With the exception of those who lived within the public eye, this was the case for everyone.

Fast forward to now, the internet and social media give us access not only to so. much. information, but also an instant, far reaching megaphone. To anyone who feels isolated or that their opinions don't matter, having the ability to finally communicate about important issues can feel really good.

But we also know that this newfound freedom has a flip side, and it can be an ugly one. You know the saying that true character is what you do when no one is watching? Well, now everyone is watching (or can be)- except this time it is anonymous players performing upon a virtual stage. 

Cloaked in this anonymity people can say nasty, vulgar, and hateful things with little or no consequence. A few malicious individuals can launch thousands of 'bots' to intimidate real people with opposing views, or gather information for digital censorship. On a more personal, less sinister level, although we wouldn't necessarily walk up to someone we (would otherwise) consider our friend and say, "I hate your political views, so you are no longer my friend" we can neatly terminate our virtual friendship with a single click. 

I have been thinking about this for a while, especially in regards to people who appear not able to handle opposing views they encounter, particularly on social media. Are they all intellectual dwarfs who need a good verbal smackdown? For some, perhaps the answer is yes, but I refuse to believe that this is the case for everyone. Looking at the big picture, the fact is that as a society this new 'normal' is very different from what we have ever known, and it might take some time to adjust and accept as part of our reality. Stepping out of my own shoes, I also realize most people have also not experienced the intellectual isolation that I (and others like me) have encountered in so many different contexts. That means that I should give others a bit of a break, because I now realize that, unlike me, they might not yet be over the shock.   

Does this excuse immature, cowardly behavior on the internet? Certainly not. Personally, I am tired of it, and I am guilty of sometimes adding fuel to the fire by responding with my own special blend of teasing and sarcasm (don't worry, I recognize my need to review Right Speech just as much as everyone else- see below!). But this is why I am writing this post, because I am passionate about this issue, and I want to be part of the solution, not the problem. I now recognize that it is not necessarily the 'instagram' generation who is at fault, that the fragility we often see is part of a an (understandable) human reaction to being challenged in ways we never have before.

So the question remains, will we reach a point as a society where we can handle this constant exposure to the thoughts and opinions of people with different views? Or will we retreat back into our intellectual 'tribes', banishing anyone with the audacity to challenge us? OR, will we toughen our fragile egos to let go of fear and selfishness and actually listen to someone else's story? Right now we are at an incredible, vulnerable moment in history where our sense of fairness, openness, and forgiveness is on the line. Humanity, let's try not to blow it . . . again.
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I end this post with a timeless statement from the Vaca Sutta about Right Speech, a component of Buddhism's Noble Eightfold Path.

"Monks, a statement endowed with fine factors is well-spoken, not ill-spoken. It is blameless & unfaulted by knowledgeable people. Which five?

It is spoken at the right time. It is spoken in truth. It is spoken affectionately. It is spoken beneficially. It is spoken with a mind of good-will."

Vaca Sutta, A Statement
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May all beings be happy!