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How to appreciate and receive life’s gifts

Life gives to each one of us in so many ways.

For starters, there’s the bounty of the senses – including chocolate chip cookies, jasmine, sunsets, wind singing through pine trees, and just getting your back scratched.

What does life give you?

Consider the kindness of friends and family, made more tangible during a holiday season, but of course continuing throughout the year.

Or the giving of the people whose hard work is bound up in a single cup of coffee. Or all those people in days past who figured out how to make a stone ax – or a fire, edible grain, loom, vaccine, or computer. Or wrote plays and novels, made art or music. Developed mathematics and science, paths of psychological growth, and profound spiritual practices. A few people whose names you know, and tens of thousands – millions, really – whom you will never know: each day their contributions feed, clothe, transport, entertain, inspire, and heal us.

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Consider the giving of the natural world, the sound of rain, sweep of sky and stars, and majesty of mountains. How does nature feed you?

How about your DNA? The moment of your conception presented you with the build-out instructions for becoming a human being, the hard-won fruits of 3.5 billion years of evolution.

You don’t earn these things. You can’t. They are just given.

The best you can do is to receive them. That helps fill your own cup, which is good for both you and others. It keeps the circle of giving going; when someone deflects or resists one of your own gifts, how inclined are you to give again? It draws you into deep sense of connection with life.

And if nothing else, it’s simply polite!

How can we learn to be receptive to life’s bounty?

  • Start with something a friend has recently given to you, such as a smile, an encouraging word, or simply some attention. Then open to feeling given to. Notice any reluctance here, such as thoughts of unworthiness, or a background fear of dependence, or the idea that if you receive then you will owe the other person something. Try to open past that reluctance to accepting what’s offered, to taking it in – and enjoy the pleasures of this. Let it sink in that receiving generosity is good.
  • Next pick something from nature. For example, open to the giving folded into an ordinary apple, including the cleverness and persistence it took, across hundreds of generations, to gradually breed something delicious from its sour and bitter wild precursors. See if you can taste their work in its rich sweetness. Open even more broadly to the nurturing benevolence in the whole web of life.
  • Then try something unliving, perhaps something with no apparent value, like a bit of sand. Yet in that single grain are echoes of the Big Bang – the gift that there is something at all rather than nothing. Who knows what deeper, perhaps transcendental gifts underlie the blazing bubbling emergence of our universe?
  • Take a breath, and enjoy receiving trillions of atoms of oxygen – most of them the gifts of an exploding star.
  • Consider some of the intangibles flowing toward you from others, including good will, fondness, respect, and love. See if you can drink deeply from the stream coming from one person; as you recognize something positive being offered to you, try to experience it in a felt way in your body and emotions. Then see if you can do the same with other people. If you can, include your parents and other family members, friends, and key acquaintances.
  • Try to stretch yourself further. Recall a recent interaction that was a mixed bag for you, some good in it but also some bad. Focus on whatever was accurate or useful in what the other person communicated, and try to receive that as a valuable offering. Open your mind to the good that is implicit or down deep in the other person, even if you don’t like the way it has come out.
  • Keep listening, touching, tasting, smelling, and looking for other overflowing generosity coming your way.

So many gifts.

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About Rick Hanson PhD

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Rick Hanson, Ph.D., is a neuropsychologist and New York Times best-selling author. His books include Hardwiring Happiness, Buddha’s Brain, Just One Thing, and Mother Nurture. Founder of the Wellspring Institute for Neuroscience and Contemplative Wisdom, and on the Advisory Board of the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, he’s been an invited speaker at Oxford, Stanford, and Harvard, and taught in meditation centers worldwide. He has several audio programs and his free Just One Thing newsletter has over 100,000 subscribers.

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