The Buddha, The Dharma, The Sangha

"Spiritual powers and their wondrous functioning--hauling water and carrying firewood." --Layman Pang, upon his realization

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Gratitude In The News

When I was a child growing up in Massachusetts, it always seemed as if Thanksgiving was made for and by our family. On both sides of the family we were celebrating ancestors who had come over on the Mayflower, as well as ancestors who had arrived in New England a little later, sailing from Italy, Scotland and Ireland. Most remained where they landed, and there are lots of Wileys buried on the tip of Cape Cod, in Boston and Biddeford, Maine.

Depending on which side of the family we visited for Thanksgiving, I either played softball and card games with 11 crazy cousins, ate like there was no tomorrow and listened to the Jefferson Airplane in a room where no adults were allowed, OR I sat patiently on the stairs, dressed in clothes in which I could not move and was occasionally spoken to by my ancient great grandmother who wanted to know who I was each time I passed before her chair.
It didn't take long for me to learn to avoid going near Great Grandmother Jeffries--all I could tell her was my name and that didn't seem to be what she really wanted to know....

I recall dinners with so much food the tables around us had to hold what the main table could not.
And before we tucked in, it was a tradition on both sides of the family to go around the table and share what we were each thankful for.
"Peace", my father would always say. "Family", from my mother. Now I don't recall what I ever said. Maybe "Stuffing" or "My dog". I do remember one Thanksgiving where I gave thanks to my new cowboy boots, and to tell the truth, I was an adult by then, sitting at a table with a child of my own....well, that's what came out....

I realize now I was uncomfortable with the tradition. It always seemed so revealing, so potentially messy and emotional, so damn heartfelt! Yuck!

So the practice of gratitude is one I've learned to accommodate grudgingly. Fortunately, gratitude doesn't really care where you begin, just that you start somewhere. The practice, like water around boulders, finds its own path.

Scientists are now hard at work trying to discover what brain chemistry is behind gratitude and its manifestations. Yes, it seems obvious that counting our blessings is a positive emotion and taps into a cascade of positive thought, and thus positive words and deeds.
This is something Buddhists have known for over 2500 years. It's why, when we approach the Butsudan at the Blue Mountain Lotus Society, we gassho to indicate a blessing from our thoughts, words and deeds, so that our hearts may be open and our minds clear.

Through gratitude, we are profoundly aware of our deep interconnectedness, and this simply makes us happy.

As Robert Emmons, a psychology professor at the University of California, Davis notes, grateful people "feel more alert, alive, interest, enthusiastic. They also feel more connected to others."

While times are difficult for so many, even a nod of thanks to the shoes on your feet and the awareness that notices is a valuable boost. We can just practice noticing where it takes us, and eventually, if we are aware, we begin to circle round to giving thanks for a precious human birth, for each human being who contributed, for each human being who now assists in maintaining this body and heart-mind, where we are given the opportunity to practice, to wake up and to serve others.

This is a cycle of gratitude that expands like ripples on water, and touches in a positive way everything we encounter.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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