The Buddha, The Dharma, The Sangha

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

Friday, December 4, 2015

Rohatsu 7 Day Gratitude Practice Begins Today

Welcome to the LeTort Spring Sangha Rohatsu 7 Day Gratitude Practice

In Zen temples, Rohatsu refers to the eighth day of the twelfth month, the day we observe the enlightenment of Shakyamuni Buddha.
Traditionally, Rohatsu marks the final day of a week long sesshin, or intensive retreat period, where each evening's meditation period last longer than the precious evening's.  To commemorate the historical Buddha's full night of meditation before his Satori experience, participants sit meditation through the night.

While I encourage you to sit meditation as long as you like, the duration of your sit will not be the focus of our week long Gratitude Practice.  We will consider this more as a Lay Retreat: none the less, it will require patience, fortitude, vitality and wise intention sustained over a 7 day period, culminating in our Satori Liturgy on December 10.

Each day I will guide you through a series of centering and meditation practices, along with daily journaling and specific actions that nurture a sense of gratefulness.  There will be time for solitary consideration, as well as family/ friend time. 
Please join us!

Friday's Practice will be published here by Noon today.
But first, a little bit about gratitude.

The Science of Gratitude

Scientists are now beginning to study the effects of gratitude: how it flourishes or diminishes, the circumstances that nurture or negate the intention, and how  generally ungrateful behavior can be transformed.

Gratitude, it turns out, is something we can actively choose to recognize and nurture.  And acting grateful actually leads to positive, healthy outcomes, regardless of what our emotions might be.
Eventually our emotions catch up.

Generally speaking, those who express gratitude have the following characteristics:

*Better sleep
*Higher levels of positivity
*Higher levels of joy optimism and happiness
*Acting ith spontaneous generosity and compassion
*Feeling connected and supported, as well as capable of connecting and supporting others
*Have stronger immune systems and enjoy greater health

But What is Gratitude?

According to German Sociologist Georg Simmel, gratitude is "the moral memory of mankind."
I like this definition because it speaks to what scientists are proving now--gratitude is, once practiced, like muscle memory--we always come back to gratitude and recognize the moral benefit.
The idea of moral benefit begins with the truth of our social, communal pact to attempt to live in harmony as human beings.
From the Buddhist perspective, our way out of suffering rests in the recognition that we interbe in Buddha.

Robert Emmons, Professor of Psychology at UCDavis, suggest that there are 2 key components to gratitude:
1.  Gratitude is the recognition of goodness, of gifts and benefits received.
2.  We recognize that the sources of goodness exist outside of our selves, that our gifts and benefits are offered by others, or a higher Power, to help us achieve goodness.

Essentially, Emmons is outlining the pith teaching of the Buddha: nothing arises independently and we are all intimately connected.  The Buddha said we are all interconnected with the universe, and we are empty of independent origination.  All that we are is dependent upon everything else.  There is not one thought, word or deed that is not incumbent upon what has gone before and what will come afterwards.
We are Interbeing.

How Does Gratitude Work, Anyway?

In a 2014 study, neuroscientists identified a particular gene associated with gratitude.  Some folks have an extra dose of the capacity for gratitude, and tend to experience, in the researcher's words, "global relationship satisfaction, perceived partner responsiveness and positive emotions (especially love)."
(adapted from "Choose To Be Grateful.  It Will Make You Happier, by Arthur C. Brooks, NYTimes)

No need to worry if you don't think you possess the super gene--it appears that intentionally coaxing the brain to recognize gratitude, even just a little, initiates the building of gratitude Legos--our expressions of gratitude builds more gratitude. 
Being thankful actually stimulates the brain the hypothanlamus, stress-regulator, and the ventral tegmental area, the part of the brain that lights up the reward headlamps and produces feelings of pleasure, satisfaction and calm.

And everyone knows that focusing of negative emotions and experiences merely prompts more of the same.  As trite as it may sound, looking on the bright side actually creates more bright sides.

Expressing gratitude can be tough because life is tough.  But our practice as Buddhists hinges on radical self-acceptance, just as we are, right here, right now, without condition or judgement. 
We accept this imperfect human life just as it is, realizing that we also posses the means to be clear and free of our suffering.  We are embraced by infinite compassion and love. 
This is Buddha.

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