Dear Still Water Friends,
When I first taught workshops in mindfulness, I often used the phrase “present moment awareness” as a quick definition of mindfulness. When we are mindful, we are not caught in obsessively reworking the past, or in worrying about the future. We are present to what is occurring right here, right now. The phrase helps to teach conscious breathing and sitting meditation. “Breathing in, I am aware of breathing in. Breathing out, I am aware of breathing out.” We become aware of our breath in the present moment.
We readily understand, as well, that when we are in touch with the present moment, we are in touch with life. We are naturally drawn to situations that require or encourage our present moment awareness. We like dancing, skiing, or gardening. We like to travel to new places or try new foods. Mindfulness practice teaches us also to be aware of nuance: the aroma of the tea, the shape of the cup, the swirls of steam.
But some students raised difficult questions: How about roller coaster riding? Is that a helpful mindfulness practice? How about the boxer, is he being mindful? How about those watching the boxing match? How about the stalker or the assassin? Aren’t they all aware of life in the present moment?
The mindfulness of mindfulness practice or of mindful living is not just present moment awareness, it is being in the present moment in a special way. Many of the discourses of the Buddha contain his descriptions of how we can be in the present moment, in order to to reduce our suffering and the suffering of others. He taught his students, for example, to cultivate the four abodes of the nobles ones, (loving kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity); and the seven factors of enlightenment (mindfulness, investigation, energy, rapture, tranquility, concentration, and equanimity).
Mindful living is not just bringing our awareness to the present moment, it is also what we offer the present moment, and what we are able to receive from the present moment.
Recently I’ve become especially aware of gratitude as something I can receive from the present moment (as a spontaneous uprising of deep appreciation for what is), and as an orientation or energy that I can nourish in myself. Susan Crewe, in the book Simple Pleasures, describes how for many years she has kept a gratitude diary: each day she thinks of and writes down five things she is grateful for. In looking over many years of her diaries she discovered that:
The diaries spell out very clearly what gives me the most satisfaction and pleasure. By far and away the most constant refrain is gratitude for my family and friends, for meals eaten together, for conversations, laughter and love. Running a close second are the occasions when I feel I’ve done a good job of work or completed some neglected or onerous task. Natural beauty and cerebral and sensory pleasures feature, but luxurious possessions and treats hardly get a look in.
. . . But the most transformative revelation is the power of the gratitude itself; it takes up so much room that everything corrosive and depressing is squeezed to the margins. It seems to push out resentment, fear, envy, self-pity and all the other ugly sentiments that bring you down, leaving room for serenity, contentment and optimism to take up residence."
This Thursday evening, after our meditation, we will talk about infusing the present moment with gratitude and experiment with one day of a gratitude diary.
You are invited to be with us (and if you can’t be with us, to try a gratitude diary entry on your own).
In the excerpt below, Thich Nhat Hanh offers another circumstance when acknowledging and writing down our gratitudes is helpful.
Also, this Thursday is the first Thursday of the month. Beginning at 6:30 p.m., we will be offering a brief orientation to mindfulness practice and the Still Water community, followed by a guided meditation during the 7:00 pm sitting. If you would like to attend, it is helpful to let us know by emailing us at info@StillWaterMPC.org.
Thursday evening practitioners please note: If you arrive after 7:05 pm, the door to Crossings may be locked. If it is locked, someone will come out to open it at 7:30, then again at 7:50.
Moment of Gratitude, Moment of Enlightenment
by Thich Nhat Hanh, from Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames
There are moments when we feel very grateful for the other person in our life. We deeply appreciate his or her presence. We are full of compassion, gratitude, and love. We have experienced moments like this in our life. We feel so grateful that the other person is still alive, that she is still with us, and has stood by our side during very difficult times. I would suggest that if such a moment happens again, take advantage of it.
To truly profit from this time, withdraw to a place where you can be alone with yourself. Don’t just go to the other person and say. "I’m grateful you are there." That is not enough. You can do this later. Right at that moment, it is better to withdraw into your room or to a quiet place, and immerse yourself in that feeling of gratitude. Then write down your feelings, your gratitude, your happiness. In half a page or one page, do your best to express yourself in writing, or record yourself on tape.
This moment of gratitude is a moment of enlightenment, of mindfulness, of intelligence. It is a manifestation from the depths of your consciousness. You have this understanding and insight in you. But when you get angry, your gratitude and love do not seem to be there at all. You feel as if they have never existed, so you have to write them down on a sheet of paper and keep it safely. From time to time, take it out and read it again.
The Heart Sutra, a scripture that is chanted daily by many Buddhists, is the essence of the Buddha’s teachings on wisdom. What you have written is a Heart Sutra because it comes from your heart—not from the heart of a Bodhisattva or the Buddha, but from your own heart. It is your Heart Sutra.