Nov 26

The “Thanks” in Thanksgiving

Today was a little different than usual for me in the outer circumstances of  Thanksgiving. I was at home and cooked all the fixings vegetarian style during most of the day.

Some of you might be saying how is staying at home and cooking different? Isn’t that what lots of people usually do on Thanksgiving day? Well, most of the time I am on the move over Thanksgiving – either to spend it with family who do not live nearby or to visit far off climes using as little vacation time as possible because of the built in time off of work during this holiday.

I also received a a k2 punch in the battle of holistic care of my newly-adopted cat named Bowtie when he went AWOL for hours on this holiday afternoon for the first time in 4 months. I scoured the house and neighborhood looking for him and since bringing him in from being a stray he has never vanished like he did today. Luckily he did return.

Knowing that he is likely mad about his herbal bladder medication dosed this morning and recent attempts to improve his diet, kibble is back in the food dish after 48 hours without it even though the holistic vet says NADA, NYET, VERBOTEN! Bottom line… today at least (and realistically probably every day) Cats Rule.

Whatever the circumstance – or in today’s case the drama – might be on the surface, the unchanging essence of Thanksgiving still prevails. The holiday is a time to ponder gratitude – the “thanks” in thanksgiving.

One place to explore the power of gratitude is Gratefulness.org. I wrote about Gratefulness.org and its Light a Candle site previously on this blog and of all my posts, this one consistently remains the most likely entrance point to my blog. This makes me believe that the art of cultivating gratitude resonates for many, many people.

Another wellspring of wisdom on the subject of gratitude and giving thanks can be found in the chapter devoted to the subject inside a new book by Sri Chinmoy called The Jewels of Happiness. The chapter entitled “Gratitude” is one of thirteen in a new compilation featuring his most compelling aphorisms and wisdom. I find myself pondering his writing on gratitude for days after reading it.

Here are a few samples from the chapter to give an idea of their profundity:

Gratitude is the creative force, the mother and father of love. It is in real love that gratitude exists. Love expands only when gratitude is there.    (Sri Chinmoy, The Jewels of Happiness,  p. 189)

The things that most deserve our gratitude we just take for granted. Without air we cannot live for more than a minute for two. Every day we are breathing in and breathing out, but do we ever feel grateful to the air? (Sri Chinmoy, The Jewels of Happiness, p. 192)

On earth there is nothing as important or significant as gratitude. (Sri Chinmoy, The Jewels of Happiness, p. 196)

If you have true gratitude, it will express itself automatically. It will be visible in your eyes, around your being, in your aura. It is like the fragrance of a flower. (Sri Chinmoy, The Jewels of Happiness, p. 199)

In addition to the thought-provoking words on the value and importance of gratitude in The Jewels of Happiness, one can also find a wealth of practical techniques to cultivate gratitude. For example, one exercise calls for imagining that you are a river rushing to the source of the ocean while silently repeating the word gratitude while breathing in.

At the top of this post I wrote that Cats Rule. I stand corrected. Gratitude Rules and when it rules triumphantly, the world becomes a much sweeter place, a vast expanse of endless possibilities regardless of outer circumstances.

Feb 23

Increase Gratitude with the practice of Japanese Naikan

The Importance of Gratitude

“My own gratitude heart is all that matters.”
-Sri Chinmoy

Down through the ages, great thinkers in religion and philosophy recommend cultivating gratitude as a key to happiness and satisfaction. A task as simple as keeping a daily gratitude journal in which one reflects on one’s blessings can powerfully transform life. Yet what if you get stuck in the starting gate with only a blank mind or or cliché ideas that don’t resonate in your core being when you try to count your blessings and cultivate a thankful spirit in your daily life?

The Three Questions of Naikan

One tool to increase gratitude in your life is a process of self-reflection called Naikan originated by Yoshimoto Ishin, a businessman and Buddhist practitioner of the Jodo Shinshu sect in Japan who lived from 1916-1988. Naikan literally means “inside looking” in Japanese and the core practice in this form of psychology popular in Japan is to ask yourself three questions while contemplating your interdependence with the world around you – whether family, friends, work, pets, things, our higher self, etc.

Question 1. “What have I received from ________?
Question 2. “What have I given to ____________?
Question 3. “What troubles and difficulties have I caused __________?

Taking the time at the end of your day to spend 20-30 minutes to look back over the day’s experiences through the lens of these questions can create a radical shift in perspective towards one of increased gratitude. The first question prompts a serious inquiry into all the gifts large and small that we received from others. The second question helps to counteract a spirit of expectation that the world owes us special treatment. Instead of taking the results of the first question for granted as our due, we stop to ask what have we given back to the world around us? Question 3 is the biggest shift of all for those moments when it is easy to dwell on life’s misfortunes and what we didn’t appreciate in someone else’s actions. By turning that perspective on its head, instead try to honestly assess in what way you might have been the source of hassles for others in your day’s interactions. Naikan’s founder Ishin actually recommends that you try to spend sixty percent of your efforts on the third question since it is endemic to human nature to think that the weaknesses of others are insufferable yet our own deserve to be downplayed and minimized.

My own test of trying Naikan in relation to a recent work situation proved very revealing to me. As I embarked on a new project in my job to run a book group, I sought out and received advice, mailings, faxes, phone calls and meetings/conversations that guided my nascent efforts. As I plowed ahead trying to keep up with this task in relation to numerous others, I have yet to formally thank a single person for their time and assistance. Oops!! Naikan has just opened my eyes to some tangible gifts I received to assist me in accomplishing a task and the wisdom of me finding time to write some thank-you letters that won’t require mental gymnastics to express sincere appreciation. This personal experience with the three questions finds me saying Naikan works! Use these three questions in your life to increase and cultivate gratitude. Gratitude achieved, happiness won.

“I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.” –G. K. Chesterton

Dec 18

Light a Candle at Gratefulness.org

I first learned about Light a Candle and the wonderful site Gratefulness.org when I read an article by Sascha Zuger called “How to make someone’s day… for $20 or less (or even nothing)” in the October 2, 2007 issue of Woman’s Day magazine. Gratefulness.org is a nonprofit organization and international Internet community dedicated to increasing a spirit of gratitude in our daily lives.

Perhaps the most beloved part of this site is the Light a Candle feature. Begun in 2001, 4 1/2 million candles have been lit representing over 200 countries. This powerful contemplative tool begins by inviting the participant to reflect before continuing. Then you can enter a message, your name and country and you click on the wick to light the candle. It burns virtually for 48 hours. One can also create a thematic group and invite friends to light a candle in the spirit of a particular person or cause.

Today I created a candle group for a fellow spiritual brother Dharmaja in the Sri Chinmoy Centre from San Diego, California. He has been hospital bound on the East Coast since a little over a year ago. His cheerfulness in the face of his current physical limitations is a beacon of light in itself and an example for all the hearts he continues to touch.

I do hope if you have never heard of this special place on the Web that you explore its offerings. There is also a wonderful collection of articles on the subject of gratitude and its immense value in our lives. The Light a Candle graphic will take you to Dharmaja’s group. Please join me in wishing him well in this very special way.

P.S. this candle group is one of my activities to try to share kindness moments from Dec. 17th – Acts of Kindness Day – until Christmas Day.