Gratitude

Thank You Body

Being religiously savvy Unitarian Universalists, most of you probably know that one of the core teachings of Buddhism is impermanence. All things are conditional and thus all things change. For example, people get older. When you're a kid this seems like a good thing. As an adult, not so much. (Young adults may not yet relate to this, but trust me, it's coming.) You probably also know that Buddhism teaches that attachment, or grasping - for example, not wanting things to change even tho all things change - is the cause of dukkha, the Sanskrit word that gets translated into English as suffering, or dissatisfaction.

Knowing this, I try to not be attached. I try to accept that everything changes, including us. People are born. People die. And those of us in between those two events, grow older with every day. So it is partly due to age (and partly due to inactivity) that my joints are far less flexible than they used to be. I’ve suffered frozen shoulder on both sides, limiting their range of motion, and my knees ache if I sit in half-lotus position (forget full-lotus). My eyes don't focus quite as well as they used to. I accept getting older with the intellectual understanding that aging is inevitable, unless you're dead, and thus there is no point in lamenting the changes that come with it. But while stoic acceptance of aging may mitigate dukkha, suffering, dissatisfaction, I can't say as there was any joy in that approach.

Back in February I took a day-long workshop at East Bay Meditation Center or EBMC, in Oakland. I really did not know what to expect from the class other than I admire one of the two teachers and wanted to learn from him. And he did not disappoint. But it was the other teacher, whom I did not know, whose wisdom that day was transformative.

One of EBMC's core teachings is to embody the Dharma. Literally. Reminding us that we are embodied beings. So I was not surprised when this other teacher started leading us in movement meditation. But I was a bit apprehensive about whether my body would be able move as requested.

I needn’t have worried. Using language that acknowledged our various degrees of mobility in the room, she guided us to stretch and bend, so far as we were able to, emphasizing that whatever we did was enough, asking us to be gentle with ourselves. She encouraged us to focus not on what our bodies could not do but instead on what they could and did do. And that for me caused a profound shift. I realized that, without being consciously aware of it, I’d been thinking of my body as like a machine that my mind rides around in, and machines break over time. But that way of thinking only looks at change in terms of loss, and the best you can do is to accept it. Instead, our teacher reminded us that whoever we are is in large part due to our bodies, however they are. We are continually becoming something new together.  AND, she reminded us of the things our bodies do for us that we usually take for granted.

Our hearts beat without us having to ask.
Our lungs breathe without us having to tell them to.
Stomach digests.
Liver filters.
Our bodies – right down to the individual cells - provide for us without our even thinking about it.

By the end of the meditation, I felt well-cared for, loved, and was overflowing with gratitude. For this body, my body. Instead of stoic acceptance of what it/i could no longer do, I felt JOY, in breathing, in moving, in being alive.

So.... we can't do moving meditation here, but I invite you to repeat these words in your minds:
Thank you heart, for faithfully pumping blood to every part of my body to nourish my cells.
Thank you lungs, for steadfastly drawing in life-giving oxygen and pushing out CO2.
Thank you marrow of my bones, for making the blood cells that protect me from infections and injuries.
Thank you muscles, for flexing and extending to the extent that you are able.
Thank you body.
Thank you. Thank you.

Gift

Author: 
Czeslaw Milosz

A day so happy.

Fog lifted early. I worked in the garden.

Hummingbirds were stopping over honeysuckle flowers.

There was no thing on earth I wanted to possess.

I knew no one worth my envying him.

Whatever evil I had suffered, I forgot.

To think that once I was the same man did not embarrass me.

In my body I felt no pain.

When straightening up, I saw the blue sea and sails.

Air Appreciation

Author: 
Kat Liu

These "appreciation meditations" can be as quiet and introspective or as energetic and interactive as you desire.  The aim is cultivating gratitude.  Gratitude is the starting point for generosity and action.  This exersize is best performed outdoors.

 

When I breathe in,
I breathe in peace.
When I breathe out,
I breathe out love.

- Sarah Dan Jones

 

Take a deep breath, slowly counting to three.  Feel your diaphram expanding.

Hold it.

Exhale slowly counting to three.  Feel your chest settling back.

Take a deep breath, slowly.  Feel the oxygen rushing in to feed your cells.

Exhale slowly counting to three.  Feel the carbon dioxide leaving with the air in your lungs.

Breath purifies.

Take a deep breath, slowly. Feel refreshed, new energy.

Exhale slowly counting to three.  Feel your body relaxing, any tensions leaving with the air in your lungs.

 

 

Clean air is a precious gift.  Clean air is life.  Give thanks for clean air if you have it (and even if you don't) and think about how to make sure everyone can breathe free.

Food Appreciation

Author: 
Kat Liu

These "appreciation meditations" can be as quiet and introspective or as energetic and interactive as you desire.  The aim is cultivating gratitude.  Gratitude is the starting point for generosity and action.

 

The seed and root beneath the Earth,
the willful, growing shoot…
the hopeful bud then flowering blossom
turned to glowing fruit.
We thank those who grew this food
from little bursting seeds,
We thank our Mother Earth,
whose gifts fulfill our needs.

- Adapted from Anonymous

 

Next, take a moment to appreciate the food. Where has it come from? What country? Was it grown or was it manufactured? Try to imagine the different ingredients in their natural growing environment and even the types of people who would have been looking after the crops or animals.

take a moment to appreciate the fact that you actually have food on your plate.

with your hands, notice the texture as you pick it up, the temperature, and perhaps the color(s). If you're eating from a plate with a knife and fork, notice instead the texture and temperature of the cutlery as you move it toward the food, but still take the time to notice the colors on the plate.

As you move the food toward your mouth, shift the focus away from the hands and more toward the eyes, nose and mouth. How does the food smell? What does it look like up close? And, as you put it in your mouth, what is the taste, the texture, the temperature?

take the time to chew the food fully. Not only is this a healthier way of eating, but it will allow you the time to taste and appreciate all the different flavors.

bite into the food and chew, trying to omit any automatic movements. When chewing, know you are chewing.Swallow after the food has been thoroughly chewed, probably twenty or thirty times (don't bother counting; it's not a quiz). See if the flavor changes -- some food really only comes alive after ten or more chews; some disappears. Finally, when you do swallow, see how far down your esophagus you can still feel the food.

Imagine the water trickling into your stomach, and from there moving to every other part of your body.  Into your limbs.  Seeping into every cell.

Drink another mouthful, mindfully.

Think back to a time when you were really hot and thirsty.  Remember how good it felt when you finally drank liquid.
(If doing this with a family or group, encourage participants to briefly share their memories.)

 

consider for a moment all of the people involved in bringing this food to you. Farmers, truck drivers, factory workers, storekeepers -- there are hundreds, if not thousands, of people whose labor created the simple occasion of this food arriving in this moment. Take a moment to consider them; imagine what they look like, how hard they are working to support themselves and their families, the economic system that creates the conditions for their labor.

 

4. And, on the level of the soul, consider all the conditions necessary to have created this food. The four elements of fire (sun), water, Earth, and air; the genetic information in the plants (or animals), which I see as part of the Divine wisdom (chochmah). Consider, in Thich Nhat Hanh's words, all of the aspects of the universe which "inter-are" with this food. You are holding a small storehouse of the sun's energy, and water from a cloud.

.

Water Appreciation

Author: 
Kat Liu

These "appreciation meditations" can be as quiet and introspective or as energetic and interactive as you desire.  The aim is cultivating gratitude.  Gratitude is the starting point for generosity and action.

 

Water flows from high in the mountains.
Water runs deep in the Earth.
Miraculously, water comes to us,
and sustains us all.

- Thich Nhat Hahn

 

Pour yourself a glass of water.
(If doing this with a family or group, use a pitcher to pour each person a glass of water.)

Look at the glass of water.  Hold it up to the light.  See its clarity.

Sip a mouthful but do not swallow.  Feel the coolness roll over your tongue, the roof of your mouth, through your teeth.

Swallow.  Feel it moisten your throat as it goes down. 

Imagine the water trickling into your stomach, and from there moving to every other part of your body.  Into your limbs.  Seeping into every cell.  Bathing each cell with life.

Drink another mouthful, gratefully.

Think back to a time when you were really hot and thirsty.  Remember how good it felt when you finally got to drink.
(If doing this with a family or group, encourage participants to briefly share their memories.)

Drink another mouthful, gratefully.

Where did your water come from?  Did it come out of the tap?  Did you buy it in the store?  Did you get it out of a well?  Imagine what it would be like if you could not easily get water. 

Drink another mouthful, gratefully.

As our climate changes, it becomes harder to get clean, drinkable water.  Some places have drought, which means there isn't enough water.  Other places have floods, which makes clean water dirty.

Drink another mouthful, gratefully.

Despite the increasing scarcity of clean water, some companies still gather up water in order to make money from it - they may bottle the water to sell, or use it to grow water-intensive crops to sell, or use it to force oil out of the ground to sell - and do not let the people who live nearby have clean water to drink.

Drink another mouthful, gratefully.

Water is a precious gift.  Water is life.  Give thanks for the water you have and think about how to make sure everyone has enough.

Penniless, not Destitute or Indigent

Being penniless has not been as bad as the nightmare my imagination conjured. I choose the word penniless over words like destitute, or indigent, because those two words also mean without resources. For years I volunteered and donated to the local homeless shelter knowing, "There but for the Grace of God."

The Affordable Care Act aka "Obamacare" is a godsend. This year it made me eligible for Medi-Cal, which had been limited to Social Security recipients, and children. Upon becoming eligible for Medi-Cal, Kaiser Permanente re-enrolled me  on the smallest of technicalities. I had Kaiser the first three weeks of 2012, which were my last three weeks of seminary. This enabled me to go to the doctor today to get prescriptions refilled, and while I was there, a flu shot. No charge. On the county insurance for the indigent, my prescriptions were no cost, but it took getting a lawyer to go after the homeowners insurance of where I fell to get the necessary care for my back and neck. Prior to the last year of seminary, the cost of COBRA plus medication was astronomical.

Although I loathe asking for help, my circumstances have forced me to ask, learn, and be subject to the capriciousness of public assistance. My second year of CalFresh, food stamps in the old parlance, started without interruption in spite of my turning in the wrong paperwork. The worker and I went back and forth until we realized that we were talking about two different packets. Food stamps are great, except any goods that are not food, are not eligible. Soap, shampoo, toilet paper, laundry detergent, pet food, and any other non-food items in the store are ineligible.

My post earlier this spring, touched on all of this. I overcame my shame and applied for cash aid this time last year. Through a clerical error, it was taken away early this year. I neglected to follow up that post, which detailed some of the trouble. The aid was reinstated in April. That lasted until the end of June. In July, a representative from another program that I had been  limbo for told me an answer would take two months. I was expecting an answer in September. I preached a few times for small stipends during the summer. Knowing the cash aid would have been stopped for earning the stipends anyway, I let it go. Either were to have held me through August, which they did.

September came and went. So, too, October. Mid-November brought the realization that taking the other program at its word, even with diligent follow-up, was not in my best interest. I returned to the county office to reapply for cash aid, only to learn that the reason it ended in June was another clerical error.  The past few months have been exceedingly difficult. If not for the graciousness of the woman who has allowed me to stay, things would be  much, much worse. Now that autumn, or winter, has finally arrived I am even more grateful.

In the days leading up to  Thanksgiving, I was struggling. I spent too much early in the month on groceries; I was going into yet another holiday season without enough to buy raw materials to make gifts in time; Here was another season of being unable to donate; Here was one more season of not supporting my faith community to which I'm still unable to drive. Nonetheless, Thanksgiving did remind to be grateful, despite indigenous history. My list of complaints is a list of first world problems. I have healthcare that includes mental health, a place to sleep, bathe, and keep my laundry clean and inside. I regularly have access to a car. I have food and clean water, not only to eat and drink, but a place to keep and prepare the food. I have good weather the vast majority of the time. I had a few weeks in July in which I did not worry about the future. I have a dog who thinks it's the best day ever every single time she returns from her walk to find me home. I have a neighbor who walks her daily and keeps her when I'm not there so that the dog does not have to be kenneled too much.

I have faith communities that regularly invite and/or welcome me to their midst: the Pasadena Mennonites, a supper club, a new Buddhist sangha, Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace, the newly interfaith Peace and Justice Academy. I am grateful for dear friends and my parents who have been generous and encouraging. Kimberly, too. Recently, I posted someone's meme with Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. It was the normal pyramid, but underneath, two new layers were added with a digital pen. The first meme added wi-fi. The humor was that it was under the very basic needs, implying that it was most important, the foundation. Next, someone added second layer below wi-fi. Bicycle became the foundation for the most basic need to be met. Therefore, in addition to the things I am grateful for listed above, I still have a bicycle and access to wi-fi. Life is, dare I say it, good.

It seems too much to ask, then, to stop being in limbo so that I can begin to move forward. I am going to house-sit over the holidays, but it is time to find another place to live. In the meantime, I take pleasure in the little things and stay focused and present each day. Most of all, I am not alone. I do have resources. My imagination conjured much worse. I am reminded of another quote I read often. "The misfortunes hardest to bear are those which never happen." -James Russell Lowell

Cultivate the Habit of Being Grateful

Author: 
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.

- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Blessing the Bills

Author: 
Rev. Meg Riley (excerpted from a longer sermon)


This used to be me, paying the bills. I would sit with my checkbook, pen clutched tightly in my hand, with the bills piled next to me. “Water and garbage: $50.00. What’s with that! That’s ridiculous! I hardly even have any garbage—why do they charge so much? Electricity: 78.00 SEVENTY EIGHT DOLLARS!!! What the heck!??!”

I resented the bills for existing! I sat watching my money disappear dollar by dollar, as if it was being siphoned away from me by a huge sucking vacuum cleaner, leaving me with very little to spend on things I actually WANTED to buy—plane tickets, good books, meals, trinkets. One day I complained to a friend about how my bills ate up all my money. I picked this particular friend because I knew she had even less money than I did, so I figured she would commiserate.

But to my surprise, when I described my experience, she said, “I used to feel that way too. Then I decided to bless the bills.”

BLESS THE BILLS?

Yes, she said. While she paid the heat bill, she thought with gratitude about how lucky she was to have a warm home, and how much she enjoyed coming in from the cold.

When she paid the phone bill, she remembered gratefully all the people with whom she connected on the telephone.

Rather than resentfully seeing her money slipping away into an abyss, she blessed it on its way, grateful that she was able to pay the bills.

This friend, as I said, made considerably less money than I did. She was actually struggling hard to make ends meet. But when I heard her describe the process with which she spent her dollars, and I compared it to the way I spent mine, I knew that, of the two of us, she was infinitely richer. I vowed then, some twenty years ago, to bless the bills. It is a practice I have used since, and it has gotten me through the toughest times.

i thank You God for most this amazing day

i thank You God for most this amazing day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees and a blue true dream of sky;and for everything which is natural which is infinite which is yes (i who have died am alive again today, and this is the sun's birthday;this is the birth day of life and love and wings:and of the gay great happening illimitably earth) how should tasting touching hearing seeing breathing any--lifted from the no of all nothing--human merely being doubt unimaginable You? (now the ears of my ears awake and now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

- e e cummings

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