gratitude

How and why to cultivate gratitude

“It’s not happiness that brings us gratitude. It’s gratitude that beings us happiness.”

Why Practice Gratitude?

Gratitude is good for us. Our minds have a built-in “negativity bias,” so that we tend to pay more attention to things that aren’t going right. In fact, if we can’t find something that’s going wrong we’ll make something up by imagining future calamities. And this focus on what’s wrong creates anxiety and stress, diminishing our sense of well-being. And at the same time, we tend to take for granted and ignore things that are going right in our lives, depriving us of a sense of joy.

Practicing gratitude reverses this trend. By recognizing that there are in fact many things going right in life, and by taking our conscious attention to those things and naming them, we feel happier, and we experience less anxiety and stress.

In fact, research shows that one of the easiest things we can do to bring more happiness into our lives is to regularly practice gratitude.

In Wildmind’s online community website (which is for sponsors of our Meditation Initiative) there’s a bunch of us who regularly share things we’re grateful for. Some people do this sporadically. I try to do it daily, although occasionally there’s a day I miss.

Some Suggestions for Gratitude Practice

One of our community members recently wrote, asking for advice about how to cultivate gratitude. He wrote, “I feel almost, well actually, embarrassed to admit that I don’t feel a lot of gratitude for the everyday things in my life. What do I do if I can’t find anything that I feel genuinely grateful for? Is the practice like metta where we might just start with an intention?”

A bunch of people in the community jumped in with suggestions, and I thought I’d share some of this communal wisdom here.

  • Write it down. That makes it more real.
  • Do it every day, and come up with at least five things. If your list is shorter than this, then make sure you’re choosing things that aren’t obvious, and that you haven’t thought of before.
  • Don’t just create a checklist.Dwell on the things you’re cultivating gratitude for. Hold them in your heart and mind until gratitude arises.
  • Challenge yourself. For many people, finding three things to be grateful for becomes easy. Too easy. So easy it becomes rote. So maybe a list of five is good. If it feels hard to come up with the last one or two, that’s good! It means you’re eventually calling to mind things that weren’t obvious.
  • Look for specifics. It’s easy to say, “I’m grateful for my spouse.” Instead, think of specific things you’re grateful for in your spouse. It might be qualities or traits they have that you appreciate. Or it may be things they’ve done.
  • If you find it’s difficult to get started, introduce an element of play, for example by creating a list of things you are grateful for that are green or that start with the letter “j”.
  • Another way to  introduce playfulness and overcome a mental block is to list “favorite things.” For example, your favorite drink, color, tree, 20th-century invention, philosopher, bird, dessert, band, item of clothing …
  • Just jump in. Once you get going, inspiration arises. “Once we begin writing This morning we feel grateful for… a few times, the genuine appreciation begins to bubble to the surface. We’re determined to practice this discipline daily whether we feel like it or not.
  • Look for small things: “It took me some time to align myself with the fact that life is made up of lots of small things that bring pleasure or gratitude into our lives that largely go unnoticed, perhaps because they’re so routine, e.g. that quiet cup of coffee first thing in the morning before the rest of the house wakes up. Also, consider that there are far fewer ‘large’ events to draw upon anyway, so anyone is likely to run out of material quite quickly if they rely on them!”
  • Think of what life would be like without something “ordinary” that you’re experiencing or depend on right at that moment. It would be a major and difficult change not to be able to see or hear, for example. Or not to have electricity or flowing water. Or not having shops where you can buy food. If you spend a little time thinking about how it would be without those things, then you can appreciate having them.
  • Think about the things people don’t have that you do have. Some people are homeless, and many people in the world have very few possessions. A basic item that you or I would take for granted would be unimaginable wealth to someone who has very little. So imagine what it would be like being them, having something that you take for granted.
  • Think about how things were in the past. It’s not that long since an eight-mile journey meant walking for hours through mud. Until recently dentistry was done without anesthetic, people died young from tuberculosis, and so on. Our lives are so easy in comparison. So imagine being in those situations, and you might find it’s easier to appreciate what you have.
  • It’s okay when you are not feeling particularly grateful. This happens to everyone. Actual feelings of gratitude will return in time. In the meantime, keep noticing things you could be grateful for. Make mental notes of them, and even write them down.  Start with small things, like feeling grateful for coffee or falling back to sleep even if you were up for hours during the night, etc. You get into the habit of noticing things you might feel grateful for, and feelings of gratitude increase.

Keep Going: It’s a Practice!

Often when I sit down to write at least five things I’m grateful for — I do this in the morning — I find it hard to get past the first three. But I always manage to get to five, and often by the time I get to the end of the list I find myself sitting there, just grateful for breathing, for existing, and for every precious moment that arises. And when I read other people’s expressions of gratitude on our community website, I feel grateful for having been given an insight into other people’s lives, so that I can share in their appreciation and joy.

Practicing gratitude brings us a sense of abundance. Without it, we easily feel we’re living in a hostile world where nothing is going right. With it, we can come to feel that we are surrounded by blessings.

I strongly recommend this practice of gratitude, and hope you found the suggestions above helpful. If you’re interested in learning more about the benefits of becoming one of Wildmind’s sponsors (those benefits go well beyond having a place to share our gratitude with each other) you can do so by clicking here.

Read More

Seven lessons from a pandemic

Deserted streets. Shuttered restaurants. Empty shelves in the supermarkets. Dizzying unemployment graphs in the papers. Announcements over the supermarket, warning us to stay six feet away from each other. The new ritual of donning a face mask before going into a public building. Mass graves in New York City. Rotting corpses piled up in rented trucks in New Jersey.

It’s like a dystopian science fiction movie. But it’s real. And we’re living in it. And we’re having to learn new ways of living.

In fact I’m hearing from lots of people that they are, in some ways, thriving. We’re gathering on Zoom: connecting, meditating, learning. We’re finding new ways to connect. We’re experiencing stillness. We’re reflecting. We’re considering life from a more existential perspective: What’s important? What’s life about?

We’re looking for meaning.

I’ve pulled out just seven lessons from this crisis that have been important for me. (I’d love to hear in the comments what’s important for you.)

1. Embrace vulnerability

In the papers there are pictures of demonstrations against stay-at-home orders. There are stories of people gathering in large social groups, even though illness and deaths have been tracked back to similar gatherings. I see people cherry-picking data, trying to convince themselves and others that this virus is no big deal.

I think of all those phenomena as refusals to acknowledge the vulnerability of our situation. These are expressions of unacknowledged fear. It’s scary to accept that this virus is going around, and that in some places, even with the numerous precautions that are going on, medical systems and even funeral homes are breaking down under the strain. It’s scary to accept that a handshake, or even just casually walking by someone, might result in illness or death. It’s unnerving to acknowledge that right now, in this moment, you might be infected and be a danger to others. Rather than face those anxieties, no wonder some people want to carry on as normal, or to pretend that there’s really no risk.

It takes courage to admit to those fears. It takes courage to admit to uncertainty: there’s much we don’t understand. There’s much we don’t know, including how long this thing is going to go on.

So take a breath. Acknowledge that fear. Feel it. See it. You don’t have to let it control you. But you can know that being in denial of it is, in a sense, just another way of letting it control your life.

2. Count your blessings

This situation is hard. It’s hard to have your life disrupted. Many people have lost their jobs. In my small town, several businesses have announced that they’re closing for good. I’ve barely seen my kids in weeks, because my partner is at high risk of being exposed to the virus at her workplace and it’s too risky to have them come over here. I’ve lost one friend to this thing already.

All those things are hard. But however hard it is, you can find someone else who has had it harder.

And so I find it helpful to count my blessings. At least I’m used to working from home. At least I’m an introvert, and used to isolation. At least I’m still working. My income has been affected, but I’m still able to pay the rent. I’m still healthy.

So spend some time every day thinking about what’s going right. And think about someone who’s one or more rungs down the ladder of hardship. In other words, count your blessings. You always have more of them than you thought you did.

3. See the big picture

Although we’re doing difficult things and making sacrifices, we’re also saving lives. Yes, when we wear our masks and swerve six feet to the side when someone approaches, we’re avoiding getting infected. But we’re also avoiding infecting others. Because the chances are that if we catch this thing we’re not going to know for several days, during which time we’d be spreading the virus. So all these precautions are literally saving lives. As has often been pointed out, it’s a strange kind of heroism that involves staying at home on your couch watching Netflix, but it’s heroism (and compassion) nonetheless.

So relate your discomforts to the big picture. You can look back on this in years to come and realize that you saved lives. That’s a big deal, and you can feel good about it right now.

4. Realize what you do affects others

What you do matters. Small actions make a difference. Wearing a mask normalizes wearing masks. It encourages others to overcome their reluctance to do so. Giving someone the “‘rona swerve” reminds others that it’s important that we keep our distance right now. Every time we act, we’re reinforcing or undermining social norms that can save lives.

Everything we post on social media has an effect. Studies show that negative emotions spread much faster on Facebook than do positive ones. False information leaves a mark so strong on our minds that even when we’re given a correction, we’re more likely to remember the myth than the fact. So it behooves us to be mindful of our speech, and to be careful about what we share. Fact-checking, as I like to say, is a spiritual practice.

This is a reminder that we all have power. Remember that. If you’re conscious of this fact, you’re more likely to act wisely and with compassion.

5. Find new meaning

A lot of people, their normal habits disrupted, often with far more time on their hands than is normally the case, are first finding that they’re lost, bored, and confused, but then come through that phase, into a place where there’s a greater sense of meaning and purpose. What that meaning is varies from person to person. It’s only important that you find yours. I can’t tell you what’s meaningful for you, but I’d guess it’s to do with connecting with others, becoming more loving, or being of service to others. Or to do with creating, appreciating the moment, growing, or learning.

So take time out. Reflect. Read. Daydream. You’ll figure it out, this business of having meaning in your life.

6. Embiggen your heart

There’s a lot of suffering in the world. Closing ourselves off from that fact doesn’t protect us — it just causes a different, and worse, kind of pain. It brings isolation, disconnectedness, loneliness. As the 8th century Indian teacher Shantideva wrote, “After seeing the suffering of the world, how can this suffering from compassion be considered great?”

Suffering can often shrink our perspective. In pain, we curl in upon ourselves, mourning our lot. Grieving, we become obsessed with our own unhappiness. But just as there’s a part of us that suffers, there’s a part of us that is capable of responding compassionately to that suffering. And once that’s happened — once we’ve shown support and encouragement to the suffering part of us — we uncurl. We open up. We blossom. We open to the reality that others are suffering as well. In fact may of them are suffering worse than we are. We move from self-compassion to selfless compassion.

Now, compassion is not just a feeling. The Sanskrit word for compassion, karun?, comes from the verb karoti, which means “to make” or “to do.” Compassion is not a feeling, but a desire that propels us to act. Specifically, it’s the desire to relieve suffering to whatever extent we can.

Feeling that we’re going through difficulties alone can be intensely painful. Loneliness amplifies suffering. So, often the best way of relieving suffering is to support others as they go through hard times. Knowing that someone understands what we’re going through relieves us of some of the burden of isolation. It’s easier to carry our suffering when someone is helping to bear the load. So simply expressing support and solidarity is a powerful expression of compassion.

So reach out to others. Call your friends and family. Check up on them. Listen rather than lecture. Let them know you know what they’re going through, and that you understand their pain. That’s more effective than trying to “fix” things for them.

And if you can safely give practical help, do that too.

7. Start planning a better world

Even as hundreds of millions of people around the world are losing their livelihoods, and even as people are dying lonely deaths, the stock market is soaring. Billionaires are adding more billions to the billions that they already have and already could never spend. Workers in Amazon warehouses that complain about being forced to work without protective gear are being fired. Doctors and nurses that complain about being forced to work without PPE are being retaliated against. In Russia, doctors that make these complaints are mysteriously falling from high windows, which happens a lot to social critics in that country.

And it turns out that many of those doing jobs that turn out to be essential, and the jobs that we really miss being there, are those we are led to believe are unimportant and “menial.” And in the US they usually live paycheck to paycheck, can’t afford to take a single day off work, are one bill away from financial catastrophe, don’t have health insurance, and certainly can’t afford to pay hospital bills. The exact details of these inequalities vary from country to country, but it’s clear that although we’re all in it together, some of us are more in it than others. We’re all in a storm at sea, but some are on luxury yachts while others cling to flotsam.

The world that’s falling apart around us has been sick for a long time. We’ve forgotten that everybody matters.

Most of us are craving a return to normal but, let’s face it, normal was not good. So when this crisis is over, let’s make sure that what we rebuild isn’t an exact replica of the old normal. Let’s make it better.

Read More

Gratitude

Cropped view of an orange sunflower

What I’m Thinking
I have so much gratitude for this life I’m able to live here in the West. So many beings in the world don’t know where their next mouthful of food is coming from. So many parents in the world live with the painful fact that a birth of a child could mean a death of that child before it’s aged one. So many people in the world don’t even know if they will survive the day through fear of being bombed. So many people are refugees fleeing their countries from fear of being killed because of their sexuality, because of falling in love with somebody of the same gender, or different class or caste, because of their political beliefs. And all I have to worry about in my life is my recovery, healing from familial traumas. How fortunate am I not to have the extra distress of war, poverty, hunger and extreme homophobia. May I make the most of this precious life. May I live for the benefit of all suffering beings.

Quote of the Month
While on retreat this past weekend, I heard the expression, ‘Mindfulness from breathing’. Buddhist teacher Amitaratna says we’ve been misled, it’s not mindfulness of breathing we need to be practicing. It’s mindfulness from breathing, a mindfulness that needs to arise from our breathing. A subtle difference all of us could benefit from. On this retreat she taught us how to unhook ourselves from our addictive habitual thoughts by finding our smile within and then drop into the throat and into the heart opening. From this spaciousness mindfulness from breathing will arise.

What I’m Reading
Compassionate Inquiry, a manual outlining the methodology of Dr Gabor Mate one of the Guru’s of Addiction and ADHD. He reminds us that those of us with addiction should never be seen as our diagnosis, and that addiction is often a symptom of disconnection that happened in childhood. And that whenever we are activated by something, that it’s never about the present, it’s always to do with something in the past. And the way out of our habitual responses to triggers, is becoming aware of what we make things mean, and how we can begin to reframe. This manual will be out on the book shelves in 2020.

What I’m Listening To
Bob Marley Redemption Song – he reminds us to ‘Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery, None but ourselves can free our minds‘. This is my favourite teaching at the moment for freeing us from the vicious cycle of addiction.

What I’m Doing

I’ve launched a course on Insight Timer, break the vicious cycle of addiction. 10 sessions exploring our triggers, body, feeling tone, thoughts, emotions, thinking, actions, gains and cost of our addictions. It’s a great precursor to our Wild Mind Course beginning January 7th. Daily input, videos and in class session, exploring mindfulness based addiction recovery.

Something I’m doing
I’m often asked when are you going to do something at home. Well I’m in Chatham Kent Ontario November 9th a day on the Listening Body – A Mindfulness Approach for recovery. I hope to see some of you. Sign up to my newsletter for details of what I’m up to for the rest of the year.

Back by popular demand, January 7, 2019: The online Mindfulness-Based Addiction Recovery Retreat

And the new expanded edition of Eight Step Recovery with a foreword by Jon Kabat Zinn and Dr Gabor Mate.

Read More

Gratitude

Vimalasara


What I’m up to

Last month I was appointed as the new President of the international organization Buddhist Recovery Network BRN. Sounds grand, but I have the task of bringing this organization out of dormancy and popularizing Buddhist Recovery in all its guises to the rest of the world. I have also been invited to be part of the Menla Retreat Centre (Upstate New York) Faculty as the lead teacher in Buddhist Recovery and Mindfulness Secular Recovery. Kevin Griffin and I will be launching their first Buddhist Recovery Retreat in July 2018.

What I’m Thinking
Another year with more fatalities and casualties from opioids. And as the month of December looms for many, the increase of overdoses, suicides and self-harm will escalate in some parts of the world. While I write this, I make my decision to open the doors of my Buddhist centre on Christmas day, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s day to be of service.

Inspiring Jargon
It works if you work it. If you don’t it won’t
Many people who have been in the rooms of 12 steps will be familiar with this jargon. It’s a reminder to me that if I want recovery If I want abstinence and sobriety of mind, I have to work a program. I have to be active in my recovery. While self-pity, blame and distractions may seem energetic and the best way to deal with our hurt and frustrations. These habitual behaviours will keep us in the hell realm of our addictions.

What I’m Watching
Seeing The Disgust in Food
A short documentary by Bhikkhu Samahita. He reminds us that over 3 million people die of obesity every year, and obesity causes death from heart attacks, strokes and diabetes. He points out that while food may look attractive to the eye and nose and taste senses. As soon as we place the food in our mouth, and chew it, the food becomes something disgusting to look at, and if we regurgitated it, we would most probably recoil with disgust. 32 minutes of food enlightenment, and we will realize how much we are a slave to food.

What I’m Obsessing about
My weight. After putting a pair of jeans on and noticing a roll of flesh hanging over the waistband, I went into horrified anxiety. Then paused, and took a breath, because once upon a time it would have set me off on a binge/purge cycle, or a hunger strike for a week. Instead, I set about doing crunches, pulled a muscle. I am now choosing to mindfully watch what I eat, knowing that while this may not get the results I want in a week, but the results will change with time, and cause less proliferation of thought and obsession of my body.

What I noticed
Gratitude. I attended an AA gathering this month, and my partner was one of the speakers on gratitude. As I listened to several speakers explore this theme, I noticed that gratitude is something that I can easily ignore. There are so many things I can have gratitude for, from the moment I wake up in a country where war is not on my doorstep, to the moment I place my head on a pillow in a house with a roof over my head, and enough money to pay my bills. I noticed too that once upon a time, I resented having to be grateful, often because people would tell me I should be grateful, and because I was so unhappy and resentful with my life. Now that I don’t complain about my life anymore nobody tells me I should be grateful, and gratitude has been a by-product of cultivating loving-kindness.

Something I’m doing
I will be delivering an online Mindfulness Based Addiction Recovery course during the month of January 2018. For people in recovery and people working in the field of recovery.

New Updated Edition of Detox Your Heart – Meditations on Emotional Trauma 2017

For a free sample of the first chapter, book study and 21 meditations of “Eight Step Recovery – Using The Buddha’s Teachings To Overcome Addiction,” please email: eightstepsrecovery@gmail.com

Read More

The nourishment of mindfulness

Bryan Eaton, Newburyport News: About three decades ago I spent a year as a Buddhist monk in Thailand. It was a very austere life, dedicated to meditation and simplicity. One of the trainings I practiced was to only take one meal a day before noon from the food collected going on alms round early in the morning. I would arrange my monk’s robes, walk alone across rice fields to a nearby village, where humble folk would place various little bits of foods such as rice and vegetables in my monk’s bowl. I would silently …

Read the original article »

Read More

Gratitude

pens on a journal

Let’s practice gratitude this month. Every morning when you wake up, and or when you go to bed at night, think of at least three things you can have gratitude for. I will practise along with you. This practice belongs to the group of meditations called the four sublime abodes, or the four immeasurables, or the brahma viharas: Metta – loving kindness, Karuna – compassion, Mudita – sympathetic joy, and Upekkha – equanimity. They are a group of meditations that work at cultivating the internal conditions to help liberate ourselves and let go of our addictive habits. They cultivate positive attitudes and positive mental states.

The third of these meditations is called Mudita – sympathetic joy. We gladden our heart by calling to mind things we feel gratitude and joy towards ourselves, towards a friend, a neutral person and an enemy. In fact in this practise we can see clearly how our friend can become the enemy, because sometimes we resent our friend’s success, our friend’s good fortune. This is where we have to turn the resentment around and bring about gratitude and joy for our friends.

Beginning with ourselves is most important in all four of the meditations. And with mudita we can reflect on some of the ten endowments that have made our birth precious.

  1. Born as a human being
  2. Living in a country where the buddhist teachings are available
  3. Having at least one faculty that we can either hear the dharma orally, or hear via sign language – or read the dharma in books and read via braille
  4. Not committed heavy negative karma like murder
  5. Confidence in the three jewels
  6. Born in a country where the Buddha has appeared
  7. Born in a country where the Buddha has taught
  8. Born in a country where the dharma has flourished
  9. Living in a place where there are other followers of the dharma have gained enlightenment
  10. Where there is support from the kindness of others and a teacher

We can also have gratitude if we have not been born into unfavourable states: Like war on our doorstep, or born in a country where the dharma has never been taught, or born into a country where buddhism may cost us our life. We can rejoice in the fact that we have not been born into the animal realm.

Although be aware if you are craving so much that you can only be satiated by food, drugs, sex, money, power or by your choice of distraction, you will be languishing in the realm of the Hungry Ghost and functioning merely as an animal. Similarly if you are clinging to negative mental states, clinging to biases, judgements and views, unable to cultivate Mudita you must take caution.

Mudita flourishes when we can have faith in the three jewels: faith in the Buddha as the teacher of the path; faith in the Dharma which is the path; faith in the Sangha that guides us and helps us to stay on the path. We must also want to be liberated, be free of craving, and have faith in the fact that our actions have consequences.

What can you have gratitude for right now?

For a free sample of the first chapter, book study and 21 meditations of “Eight Step Recovery – Using The Buddha’s Teachings To Overcome Addiction,” please email: eightstepsrecovery@gmail.com

Read More

A Buddhist guide to surviving the holidays: four practices

wildmind meditation newsEthan Nichtern: Let’s face it, sometimes the holidays just…suck. Maybe that’s not the most Buddhist way of saying it, but it is how it feels. Even more than in past years, friends and students are reporting feeling stress and foreboding right now. To be honest, I’m feeling a sense of burden and anxiety, too, that strange feeling when there’s too much to do and not any clear sense of intention behind the doing of it. This holiday season has given me reason to pause and think about what really matters. And guess what, it’s neither black Friday nor cyber Monday.

Why are we so …

Read the original article »

Read More

New neuroscience reveals four rituals that will make you happy

"I hate when it's dark, and my brain's like, 'Hey, you know what we haven't thought about in a while? Monsters.'"

Eric Barker, Barking Up The Wrong Tree: You get all kinds of happiness advice on the internet from people who don’t know what they’re talking about. Don’t trust them.

Actually, don’t trust me either. Trust neuroscientists. They study that gray blob in your head all day and have learned a lot about what truly will make you happy.

UCLA neuroscience researcher Alex Korb has some insights that can create an upward spiral of happiness in your life. Here’s what you and I can learn from the people who really have answers:

Sometimes it doesn’t feel like your brain wants you to be happy. You …

Read the original article »

Read More

The structure of gratitude

wildmind meditation newsDavid Brooks, NY Times: I’m sometimes grumpier when I stay at a nice hotel. I have certain expectations about the service that’s going to be provided. I get impatient if I have to crawl around looking for a power outlet, if the shower controls are unfathomable, if the place considers itself too fancy to put a coffee machine in each room. I’m sometimes happier at a budget motel, where my expectations are lower, and where a functioning iron is a bonus and the waffle maker in the breakfast area is a treat.

This little phenomenon shows how powerfully expectations structure our moods and …

Read the original article »

Read More

How mindfulness changes your life

wildmind meditation newsMeditation MP3 – Mindfulness of Breathing Sarah Rudell Beach, The Huffington Post: Mindfulness is not a silver bullet. It’s not a magic trick that allofasudden eliminates stress and gives you the life of your dreams.

But here’s something I’ve noticed: Whenever I speak with people who have integrated a mindfulness practice into their lives, the phrase they almost always use to describe it is this:

Life-changing.

It’s the phrase I’ve repeatedly used to explain the impact of mindfulness in my life, too.

I have a few theories about why mindfulness is so transformative, so powerful, so life-altering.

You realize you …

Read the original article »

Read More
Menu

Wildmind is a Community-Supported Meditation Initiative. Explore the benefits of becoming a supporter.

X