Monday, November 25, 2013
This morning we will explore Cultivating Gratitude. Webster’s Dictionary defines gratitude as “a feeling of appreciation or thanks.” As we explore a few ways we can cultivate gratitude today, we will also learn about what gratitude means from a Buddhist perspective.
Silently think of three things you are grateful for. It was easy to think of three things for some of you. For others, perhaps you struggled to think of something. Have you ever noticed that some of the things you are most grateful for can be the most bothersome at times? Being grateful is not always easy for various reasons. For an untrained mind, gratitude does not always come naturally. It’s as if our brains get stuck in the negative thought patterns.
Cultivating gratitude makes me think of the story of Pollyanna written by Eleanor H. Porter. Pollyanna is a little orphan girl goes to live with her bitter aunt who owns and controls an entire town. Pollyanna teaches an entire town to be grateful by playing “The Glad Game.” Have you ever been in a situation where a person or group of people seemed like they were feasting on negative talk? It is easy to fall into a habit of talking negative about things and even about ourselves, but we can stop this negativity by focusing on the positives and playing the glad game. With practice, the positive talk can become a habit we gravitate towards. Pollyanna lived by the philosophy that if you looked for the bad in mankind, you would find the bad. Look for the good, and you will find the good. Psychology Today says “studies show that gratitude not only can be deliberately cultivated but can increase levels of well-being and happiness among those that cultivate it.”
Now let’s talk about those times in our lives when looking back we are grateful. Jack Kornfield quoted his Thai meditation teacher Ajahn Chah as saying to him, "Which has had more value in your life, where have you grown more and learned more, where have you become more wise, where have you learned patience, understanding, equanimity, and forgiveness – in your hard times, or the good ones?" There is an executive at a local company who has a wonderful positive attitude about all experiences and she encourages this positive attitude in her entire staff. In her department, she never accepted problems or issues during tough times. They are always referred to as challenges and opportunities. She is able to put a positive spin on any tough situation by focusing on solutions and looking upon things as an opportunity to change and grow. What if we could learn to be grateful for all experiences in this way--the challenges and opportunities in the present moment? A Bodhisattva approaches everything, all beings and all experiences, even the dukkah (suffering), with equanimity and without judgment in the present moment.
Pema Chodron addresses how to do this in her book Start Where You Are when she discusses the pithy slogan in the Lojong teachings “Be Grateful to Everyone.” What it means to be grateful to everyone is to learn how to deal with all types of situations and people that are difficult or bothersome. Pema Chodron said “If we learn to open our hearts, anyone, including the people who drive us crazy, can be our teacher.” Being grateful to everyone means being aware of your habitual response when difficult situations arise. Pema Chodron talks about leaning into these situations and putting a gap before responding to them in our habitual ways.
I love my dogs, but when I meditate at home they can be bothersome. One stares me down and growls and the other smacks her mouth. I used to interrupt my meditation and yell at them to stop, but this would leave me feeling guilty and like I failed when I sat back down to resume my meditation. It occurred to me one day that I could use my dogs as my teacher so I started an experiment of leaning into my feelings of irritation and disgust. Not ignoring, but recognizing the physical restlessness and stirring of irritation that arises and not reacting. Simply sitting in awareness with the feelings and holding compassion in my heart for my feelings arising and for my dogs. At first it was difficult not to respond. I sat and sometimes twitched listening to the smacking and growling, wanting with every cell of my being to yell out at the dogs for being noisy--it was painful as Pema Chodron describes as itch I wanted to scratch. The most remarkable thing is happening, things are getting better. There is still the smacking and growling going on, but I have changed my response to the situation. I have found myself starting to smile in my heart when I start to hear them. I have released my attachment to the idea of having a perfectly quiet meditation space. The noise is simply part of my meditation. I am feeling more patience, peacefulness, freedom and even gratitude because I let this go and changed my behavior.
I have news for everyone here today; we are all annoying, obnoxious, and difficult to someone at sometime. Often times, the things that bother us in others are the very qualities we see in ourselves that are bothersome. The good news, we can work to change our responses when things situations arise by leaning in. By changing our response and behavior, we can change the world around us.
There are other ways to cultivate gratitude by shifting our awareness on the positive aspects of our lives. I attended a retreat recently and the final puja (chant) right before bed each night was intended to remove evil spirits. It involved a symbolic three sided Tibetan dagger called a Phurba—each side of the dagger represents one of the 3 poisons (ignorance, greed/envy and anger) or evil spirits that can afflict us. While chanting, they hold the dagger and visualize (and I stress the visualization part) removing or exorcising the evil spirits, the 3 poisons, which hold us back from enlightenment. Those negative things which hold us back from living with a grateful and open heart. If this practice does not seem right for you, perhaps you can cultivate gratitude through the practice of keeping a gratitude journal. Every night before going to bed write down what you are grateful for. It is the regular practice of shifting awareness towards the positive aspects of our lives, over and over again, which neutralizes the negative thoughts and creates a positive mind.
In Tibetan Buddhism, simply to be born human and to be alive is something we should be deeply grateful. According to the Tibetan tradition we are fortunate to be born and to have inner wisdom to experience the dharma. The Dalai Lama said “Everyday, think as you wake up, today I am fortunate to be alive, I have a precious human life, I am not going to waste it. I am going to use all my energies to develop myself, to expand my heart out to others; to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all beings. I am going to have kind thoughts towards others, I am not going to get angry or think badly about others. I am going to benefit others as much as I can."
Through cultivating gratitude, we can realize the joy, suffering, and everything in between are all part of our unique journey called life. If we have tunnel vision, and look too closely at our problems, we will overlook the bigger picture and what we have to be thankful for. If we broaden our view, we will see the dukkah, problems and issues along our path are opportunities to help us evolve, change and grow. We can open our hearts and learn to embrace all experiences with gratitude with just a few minutes each day spent on shifting our perspective. With gratitude and open hearts, we can change our world in a positive way.
Saturday, November 23, 2013
Great article about similarities between Darwin and Buddhism.
Wednesday, March 6, 2013
Last Friday night, I decided to watch the documentary “Get Vegucated.” The documentary followed three people from various walks of life try to eat a vegan diet for 6-weeks. Before I go into this more, let me just say that a moment before watching the documentary I was disappointed to find I did not fit into the once comfy PJs I wanted to “veg-out” and watch the movie in. They used to be baggy and loose. My bad eating, no neglectful and mindless eating caught up with me. I watched the movie and I started thinking about how my Buddhist practice should cover BODY, speech and mind.
Sitting in meditation will not make you thinner. How you treat and train your body is just as important as how you treat and train your mind. Treating your body well is one of the most compassionate things you can do for yourself.
This is why the documentary hit a nerve with me. What have I been doing? I have been busy meditating, but have not paid a bit of attention to what I have been eating. Yes, there is the whole animal cruelty thing that is bothersome, but this is not what bothered me. My pantry is filled with processed foods, sugar, chemicals, etc. My inner Buddha is not the fat kind.
Why not consider giving this a try and see if it makes a difference in my overall feeling of well-being?
Giving up meat, milk and eggs, I can adjust to this. I am sure family and friends will be supportive. My biggest challenges will be the following.
1. How do I eat vegan and still feed a picky, meat-eating teenager? We will see how this goes.
2. I need to find a good vitamin supplement and then need to remember to take it daily. I am not a big milk drinker anyway, but cut all cheese and other dairy? I need to remember to take my calcium and not forget it. Also, I have read articles that vegans tend to be deficient most in calcium, vitamin D, Omega vitamins. And, my sister stresses B-Complex vitamins.
3. Eating out will be difficult. At some restaurants, wine, pickles, lettuce or going hungry will be the only options. This will require some careful planning before heading out to eat and will limit where I can go.
Mindfulness includes eating healthier.
Last weekend, I got busy stocking my refrigerator with healthy, vegan options. I already have things like quinoa and brown rice in the house. The rest of this blog post contains a list of what I bought with lessons I learned along the way.
1. Purely Decadent Chocolate Obsession Non-Dairy Ice Cream—This is by far my favorite find. It soy based and DELICIOUS. I like this as much, if not more than Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. It even has little chocolate crunchy bites mixed in. I can’t wait to try the other flavors. I just want to keep my kids from finding out how good this is! http://www.purelydecadent.com/products/soy-milk-frozen-desserts
2. Kim’s Magic Pop Onion, Plain and Strawberry Flavors—These are awesome and only 15 calories a piece! If you ate the whole bag in one sitting, although that would not be mindful, it would only be 225 calories. My kids and I ate all of them in 2 days and had to go back to the store for more. They are crunch and great for times you just want something to munch on. http://www.kimsmagicpop.com/magic-pop-story/
READ the labels!
3. Go Veggie Smoked Provolone Cheese—This was also pretty good and creamy. However, I read the label yesterday and was disappointed to see there are milk by-products in the cheese. Why do they call this Go Veggie and dairy free! Please note that I learned there is a purple labeled Go Veggie for vegans. Look for the word casein or whey (a.k.a. milk) in the ingredients. Also, do not assume Dairy Free, rice or soy based means it is vegan.
4. Go Veggie Shredded Parmesan Cheese—Same as the provolone, this has milk by-product if you buy the green label.
5. Galaxy Shredded Rice Cheese—I did not open this and will be returned to the store. It has casein in the ingredients. I heard they have a vegan version of the same cheese.
Vegan does not mean it better for you.
6. Earth Balance Natural Spread—Although this is vegan and tastes okay, I question why I bought this. It has as much artery clogging crap in it as any other margarine on the market. If it makes you feel better to buy it because it says “vegan” on the label, go for it! http://www.earthbalancenatural.com/product/original-buttery-spread/
Don’t be afraid to try new things.
7. Sprouted Smoked Tofu—No particular brand to share, but this is pretty good. I love the firm texture and it is already seasoned. This was very convenient when I needed something for my lunch.
8. Regular Firm Tofu—I love tofu and I have learned this week of ways to give it a firmer and meatier texture such as tossing in corn starch and soaking up excess water with a paper towel before cooking. I will keep you posted on how this goes.
9. Kashi Strawberry Fields Cereal—I like this. It is a sweet and crunchy cereal. I ate it with almond milk and tossed in a handful of blueberries. http://www.kashi.com/products/strawberry_fields_original
10. Rainbow Swiss Chard—I never had swiss chard before. It was really good. I sautéed diced swiss chard in olive olive with minced garlic and onion. Then, tossed in some cooked quinoa. This was one of my favorite meals this week. I am proud of this one and so happy to say I tried something new!
Beware of meatless meat food. It will not help your craving for fried chicken.
11. Oven Roasted Tofurky Deli Slices—YUCK! It smelled like dog food. http://www.tofurky.com/tofurkyproducts/deli_slices.html
12. Pepperoni Tofurky Slices—I was hoping to make pizza with this, but after the oven roasted Tofurky, I am taking this back to the store. If you want pepperoni, eat pepperoni. If you want to be vegan, have a veggie pizza. http://www.tofurky.com/tofurkyproducts/deli_slices.html
Fruit! Lots of fruit!
13. Blueberries, Cara Cara Oranges, Bananas—All within easy reach and all good for me.
14. Frozen Mixed Fruit—An easy alternative if I run out of fruit. Also, frozen fruit is a good treat frozen!
The word sprouted not only sounds healthier, but it can taste good.
15. Ezekiel Sesame Sprouted Bread—This is pretty good. I like the fact it is coated with sesame seeds on the outside and the inside of the bread is not loaded with nuts. If you looking for a bread close to good old fashion whole wheat, this is a good choice. The bonus, it is good for you and only 80 calories per slice. http://www.foodforlife.com/product/breads/ezekiel-49-sesame-sprouted-whole-grain-bread
16. Matzo—A good old piece of matzi topped with the Earth Balance spread is vegan! However, it is not real good for you. L
Comparison shop-- Not all products are the same
17. Pacific Brand Unsweetened Almond Milk—This I liked better than regular milk, but ended up disappointed with I saw it only contains 2% of the USD recommended allowance for calcium. I end up pouring this down the drain and buying Almond Dream brand. http://www.pacificfoods.com/our-foods/nut-grain-beverages/organic-unsweetened-almond-original-non-dairy-beverage
18. Almond Dream Brand Unsweetened Almond Milk—This is low in calories and has 30% of the USD recommended allowance for calcium. It is fortified, but better than nothing. Tastes the same as the Pacific brand and has calcium. This is a keeper. http://www.tastethedream.com/products/product/1938/360.php
As my quest for easy and good tasting vegan food continues, I will continue to share my progress during my 6-week challenge. If you have any ideas, please share. I am officially on day 4 and feeling pretty good so far. I feel more satisfied after eating and I have found I am less likely to snack in between meals.
Until next time. May you be happy!