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

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! 

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. 
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! 

Monday, July 23, 2018


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. 

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! 🙏

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!

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.

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!

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.

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!

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.

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!

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! 💕
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!

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

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!

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'.

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!

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.

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.

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!

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"
This post is part of the daily gratitude practice I am developing during 2018. You can read all about it at ByChanceBuddhism!
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. 💕

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!

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! 


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!

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! 💕
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, 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.
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
May all beings be happy!

Thursday, April 19, 2018

No safe spaces

Recently someone 'unfriended' me on social media in response to a difference in political opinion. It is not the first, second, or even third time this has happened. Although initially surprised, this time I am pretty indifferent about it. This is not because I do not care about the person, but it is becoming quite clear that many people have trouble navigating a world outside their own echo chambers. 

This is evidenced by the creation of 'safe spaces' that insulate people from potentially upsetting topics and hushing or marginalizing those with controversial or countering views. Counseling services have even been offered to youth in the wake of election outcomes. Although I think the real question is, "What the heck has happened to our society?!" I will save that for another day. What I prefer to discuss now is the pervasive climate of shutting down those with differing views, and my experience with it. 

Socially and ideologically, I have lived most of my life as an 'outsider', and it has not always been easy. In middle and high school, I was taunted and even threatened because my family spoke a different language at home (I know, kids will find anything to pick on!). In college, I was opposed by peers who enjoyed regurgitating without question whatever they learned in class. In graduate school and beyond, I would listen as those in authority mocked Christian values and ridiculed people for the books they read. But here's what takes the cake: hearing divisive remarks made by Buddhist Sangha 'leaders' prior to practicing loving-kindness meditation! 

Believe me, I am no martyr, and these situations sucked. They could be incredibly frustrating, and often felt very isolating, especially in the latter context. However, I do believe that I (eventually) benefitted from these experiences. This is because not only did I learn to defend my views and thoughtfully challenge opposing ones, but to actually listen to people with different life experiences, and to recognize when someone else is being singled out the way I was. I have also learned to determine when nothing will be gained from a debate (especially on social media!), making it wise to disengage from the conversation. 

My current attitude about other people's views (or my lack of concern for what they think of mine) didn't happen overnight- it was definitely a process. These days the main problem that arises is when I expect the same courtesy of understanding and openness from others. Moving away from this expectation without developing additional suspicion and ego attachment will be beneficial, but also difficult. 

So, no safe spaces for me, but I do believe that being a 'sore thumb' has made me a stronger, more reflective person. For that, I am grateful. 
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!

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Proud, yet humbled

While taking some time to reflect on the gratitude-focused posts I have written, I am confronted with a variety of emotions. First of all, I am proud of my resolve to let go when it mattered. No one told me to do this, but on that cold December day I took the time to stop and think about the emotional road I was on. I didn't like where it was headed, so I decided that I needed to take action-though at the time I didn't know what those actions would be.

A few days later I knew what I had to do, and I let myself do it. I didn't let denial or complacency stop me. I tapped into the strength that walking the Buddhist path has given me, and allowed myself to feel humbled by all the amazing people, things, and opportunities in this life. After making that crucial decision of opening my heart to gratitude, I burst forward with an uplifted spirit.

Does that mean that my life is perfect right now; that everything is exactly how I want it? No, and no. Gratitude is not a magic wand that makes every problem go away, but I have found that it does play an important role in diminishing them while highlighting all that is good. Neither dark nor rose-colored glasses, I have found that viewing the world with a grateful eye is my lens of choice.

As such, I find that I am now suspended in a Middle Way-esque balance: feeling proud and confident enough to keep going, yet humbled enough for things to stay real. I am grateful for deciding to embark on this journey, and for allowing myself to finally take a step closer towards seeing things as they really are.

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!

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

My dad

This is another one of those posts, where the depth of the gratitude I feel is difficult to fully express. This is for my dad, who has taught me so much about life and the world around us. Like many from his generation and national origin, he grew up in incredibly difficult circumstances. An immigrant who came to the US facing many challenges, he persevered through education and hard work. Though I have from time to time glimpsed an understandable nostalgia for his homeland, he has always emphasized the great privilege- and responsibility- that comes with being an American. Never one to back down from a challenge, he not only taught me to question authority, but how to confront it in an honest and appropriate manner.

He is one of the most hardworking people I have ever known, and my awareness of his constant toil is what I use for a reality check when I allow myself to think that I have 'worked hard'. His knowledge of technology and how it has changed is mind-blowing, and I marvel at his deep understanding of all the advanced tools we now use on a daily basis. His quantitatively-based expertise has been an inspiration to me, and has given me a unique perspective on both the benefits and perils of technology.

Along with the gift of bilingualism that my parents have bestowed upon my siblings and me, was the gift of travel, fueled by his and my mother's wanderlust. Instead of prioritizing material purchases, my dad used any extra funds towards our education and family trips to both new and familiar places. The enrichment of our lives that resulted cannot be measured, and I will remember those experiences for the rest of my life.

Thank you Papa, for everything you have given me. Ich liebe dich! 💕
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!

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Showing restraint

The news has a way of upsetting people, and for good reason. In addition to the fear, worry, and even panic that knowledge of current events can create, they can also serve as a powerful springboard for discussions.

Whether it is abortion, drugs, or gun violence, many of these discussions can easily become heated between people with differing views. I must admit that in the past I wholeheartedly engaged in these discussions, which sadly, often quickly devolved into full-blown (and completely unproductive) arguments. As a result, I gradually let go of the need to try to convince those with opposite views- and was happier for it. 

Recently I was confronted with the possibility of another argument because of an (admittedly provocative) article I posted on social media. Though the article content was my desired focus, some insisted on discussing issues I specifically stated I wanted to avoid, simply because of the volatility (and predictability) of the course of the argument that would ensue. Those requests went repeatedly unheeded, and, after first trying to diffuse the situation with humor, I eventually had to shut the thread down completely. 

Not a very happy conclusion, but I have enough experience to know that things were only going to get worse. What I am happy about is the way my reaction to the barrage of comments (on a topic that I did not wish to discuss in the first place!) has changed. Fifteen years ago, I would have been livid, and would have launched into all kinds of verbal retaliation- that'll show 'em! But now my current practice is to remain calm (more or less) and strive to show restraint in my responses. 

But don't worry, I will refrain from patting myself on the back too much. That is because this human still sometimes gets angry or annoyed by conflicting views (natural, perhaps, but not always great in terms of clarity). I also know that in the future I can be more proactive about asking people to stay on topic and be civil to one another, and to more promptly close the conversation if those requests are ignored. Finally, I must continue to work on navigating the fine line between being civil and allowing myself to be bullied- which is where careful balance of indignation and restraint may actually come in handy! 😀

Although I know that some of the changes in my response are due to continued life experiences (sometimes called 'maturity'), I am grateful for the enhanced sense of perspective and calm that walking the Buddhist path has placed within my reach.
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, March 9, 2018

Experiencing the gratitude of others

A short while ago I read about the hardships of a couple who had just learned their oldest child has a rare genetic disorder. After reading the heartbreaking post about the young woman's need for an immediate organ transplant, I felt a combination of worry, sadness, and fear.

But when I eventually read positive news about the girl's prognosis, my heart filled with joy- and gratitude.

From this I was once again reminded that practicing gratitude is not all about me. Yes, I knew that gratitude has its own benefits, but not necessarily isolated from everyone else. In this way we are all truly connected- your gratitude is my gratitude! 😊

What could be a more a beautiful way to develop caring, empathy, and what Buddhists refer to as metta towards fellow sentient beings?

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!

Monday, March 5, 2018

Farmer's Market

Yesterday we went for a grocery run to our local farmer's market. In contrast to the upper-middle class 'al fresco' version with perfectly arranged 'heirloom' and organic produce, the one we frequent is housed in a rather grubby-looking old grocery store. It sprawls into several sections, including housewares, clothing (yes!), local bulk and preserved goodies, bakery, meat/fish, dairy, and east Asian, Indian, and Middle Eastern foods. The produce, while at times not as 'pretty' as in the chain stores, is abundant and diverse, easily accommodating many international cuisines. 

Moreover, almost all produce and perishables are available at incredibly reasonable prices, allowing us to purchase two cartloads of groceries for ~$150.00. As far as I know this is nearly unheard of in our area, and is probably one of the reasons the market is so popular. 

I want to express my gratitude for the Farmer's Market not only for the ease of finding a huge variety of food, but to be able to afford such things now that we are confined to a single income. 

What are you grateful for today?

Just a portion of our many tasty purchases!
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!