Giving Thanks!

Giving Thanks!

Gratitude is a fantastic and scientifically proven way to re-route those negative neurons in our brains and actually bring about happier feelings and less negativity. Not only does mindfulness help us to notice when our mind is tight with negativity, it also helps us to notice so much of the richness of life.

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Quiet Eyes

A few weeks ago I posted a gratitude activity that highlighted how interconnected we all are. I recently finished reading Sharon Salzberg’s book Faith and this passage stood out to me. It articulates the power of contemplations like gratitude webs:

In order to know the truth of interconnectedness we need to look at the world with what theologian Howard Thurman calls ‘quiet eyes.’ It might be through silent meditation that we see the hidden patterns of connection that make up our inner life. It might be through pausing long enough to realize where a plate of spaghetti comes from. However we do it, softly receiving reality with quiet eyes rather than pinpointing objects and events as separate and distinct opens up our view instead of enclosing it with predetermined boundaries. We take in what is appearing before reactions and conclusions get fixed. When we relax into this mode of perception, a different perspective on reality becomes available to us.
Image: Greg Crespo  So much more than "just a cup of coffee!"

Image: Greg Crespo

So much more than "just a cup of coffee!"

So often we get stuck in our patterns of naming this or that as definitive objects. The example I used last week of a cup of coffee showed that the coffee is so much more than the warm liquid in my mug—it was a unique confluence of the efforts of many, natural processes and certain causes and conditions. When I look upon my cup of coffee as "just a cup of coffee," I lose out on the wonder and the larger perspective that viewing it with “quiet eyes” gives me.

And it’s not just with tangible objects. I’m prone to delineate and define my emotions or situation in life as "this or that," "good or bad." When I look at a feeling of shame or anger rising inside of me with these narrow eyes, that’s all I see, shame or anger. And sometimes, (actually, usually), these narrow eyes are accompanied by some judgmental sunglasses, declaring said emotion as worthy or unworthy, positive or negative.

Looking at anger with “quiet eyes,” I see and experience a tightening in my chest, my face growing flush, the breath quickening, and an elevated heart rate. I notice the painfulness of these sensations. I notice a layer of fear emanating from behind my judgmental sunglasses, "You will always feel this angry!" "How dare you feel that way?!" "You’re a mindfulness teacher, you’re not supposed to have these thoughts!"

But thankfully, by using my “quiet eyes,” I can see the anger as just another layer of experience resulting from a confluence of causes and conditions.

My "quiet eyes" recognize what I did or said, what someone else did or said, and what thought or occurrence brought this emotion to the surface. My “quiet eyes” turn “I am so angry” into “Right now, I feel anger.” In addition to the thoughts and sensations associated with my anger, my "quiet eyes" also see the vast open sky of awareness that stands as background to any emotions I might have.

In Faith, Sharon describes it like this: 

The open nature of awareness can bare anything without becoming damaged. Relying on this unsullied nature, we can see whatever happens to us as part of the rising and passing of all phenomena. This understanding doesn’t make us passive, but gives us the ability to see things with a different perspective—knowing that there is always an intact place within us. Then we needn’t be paralyzed by our suffering.

“Quiet eyes” help me remember the intact place within me. Unruffled. Accepting. Aware. 

Image: Greg Crespo  Awareness as vast as the sky.

Image: Greg Crespo

Awareness as vast as the sky.

Planetary Perspective

“…The Earth, as Buckminster Fuller used to famously say, is a spaceship, Spaceship Earth. We are in space already. It’s just that we haven’t brought that into our perspective as we live here on Earth. The Overview Effect is simply the sudden recognition that we live on a planet, and all the implications that it brings to life on Earth.”  --David Beaver, Co-Founder of the Overview Institute

Today we celebrate Mother Earth. As I contemplated how best to share my gratitude and awe of our planetary home, I remembered two websites that made the rounds a while back. Each of them offers a unique perspective from which to view our place in the universe, and hopefully each will offer even more reason to celebrate Earth today.

It’s easy for me to get stuck in the mental construct that my reality is all that exists and that I am the center of the universe. Heck, we are all at the center of our own universes, right? Scrolling through the interactive “Scale of the Universe” is an easy way to dispel this self-centered mind-state. By scrolling left and right you get pictures depicting the relative scale of everything in the universe—from the smallest to the largest.

I’ve looked at this site a couple of times, and each time it humbles me and fills me with awe. How can we be both so huge, compared to the smallest unit of scale, and yet so minute, compared to the vastness of the observable universe? It makes me feel lucky to experience life on this planet, in this form. Our Earth holds so much of our reality, but is just a tiny piece of the fabric of the universe.

Unifying the vast and minute, former Apollo astronaut Edgar Mitchell shares a realization he had upon seeing Earth from space, “…I had studied Astronomy, and I had studied Cosmology, and fully understood that the molecules in my body, and the molecules in my partners’ bodies and in the spacecraft had been prototyped in some ancient generation stars. In other words, it was pretty obvious from those descriptions, we’re stardust.” The largest and the smallest, we’re all made of the same stuff!

Growing up, I wanted so badly to be an astronaut. Then I realized how much math and science were involved, and I decided to look for other career options. But I think that this video about the “Overview Effect” experienced by astronauts like Mitchell explains why I wanted to go to space. If you haven’t watched it before, give yourself a 20-minute break and enjoy.

In the video, philosopher David Loy describes what some of these astronauts came away feeling. “…That experience of awe, is at least for the moment, to let go of yourself, to transcend the sense of separation. So it’s not just that they were experiencing something other than them, but that they were at some very deep level, integrating, realizing, their interconnectedness with that beautiful blue-green ball.” This description makes me smile, because while I didn’t become an astronaut, my meditation practice has offered me a similar understanding.

So happy Earth Day! I hope these sites will help you to take a moment today to revel with wonder and awe at our glorious home. 

Gratitude Webs

Gratitude is one of my favorite practices, mostly because it makes me feel good. :-) 

When I practice gratitude I feel like my life is full of abundance and that I am connected to the rest of the world. It helps me cheer myself up when I’m bummed out and it helps me to savor and enjoy things when I'm feeling great. 

Feeling grateful!

Feeling grateful!

I have plenty of ways I bring gratitude in my daily life, but today I’ll share one that makes for a fun art activity.

Drumroll please... Gratitude webs!

You’ll need a blank piece of paper and a pen or pencil. If you’re feeling extra artsy, or if you have kiddos participating too, you’ll probably want some crayons or colored pencils as well.

You can each come up with something or someone that you feel grateful for—something that brings you joy to think about, and that you feel happy is in your life. Maybe it’s your computer, your pet, your spouse, your parent, the dinner you just ate. The possibilities are limitless. Today, I chose my morning cup of coffee.

Ok, write that item down in the middle of your page. You can circle it if you like. I chose to draw a picture of the item too. 

A starting point.

A starting point.

Now start thinking about what all came together to make that person, place or thing possible. Did it need nourishment? Did someone build it? Did you get it at a store? Did a farmer plant it?

Make a line coming out from the center item going to one of those things that made it possible. If you can think of a lot of things that made it possible, make a lot of lines!

The web is growing.

The web is growing.

Now, take some time to think about what made those things possible. Did the farmer water the plant? Did someone drive it to the store? Did someone sew the cloth? Did your item need sunshine? Love?

Make a line coming from the outer items to all of these new parts you’ve just reflected on.

You can keep doing this until you run out of space, or out of imagination.

A lot of things had to come together for my morning cup of coffee. There is quite a bit to be grateful for!

A lot of things had to come together for my morning cup of coffee. There is quite a bit to be grateful for!

Way to go! You’ve just created a gratitude web! The next time you feel grateful for your item, you can also feel grateful for all of that webbing you added around it. Without all of those other parts, the thing you were feeling grateful for wouldn’t be there to begin with! No matter how many times I do this activity, I'm always amazed at how connected we all are. 

Some Nuggets of Wisdom 2.0

Probably the closest I'll get to anything resembling Burning Man... Inspiration Village at Wisdom 2.0.

Probably the closest I'll get to anything resembling Burning Man... Inspiration Village at Wisdom 2.0.

Please pardon the absence… I’ve spent the last couple weeks doing some personal development. Between the Wisdom 2.0 Conference and a week-long silent meditation retreat, I haven’t had much opportunity to digest all that I’ve taken in recently, let alone blog about it!

Even though it took place waaay back last month, I wanted to share a little bit more about my experience at the Wisdom 2.0 Conference.

Before signing up, all I knew about Wisdom 2.0 was a fuzzy idea that it was about technology and mindfulness. I wasn’t even sure I wanted to go—descriptions were vague, it was pretty expensive, and I wasn’t sure how much I liked its target audience of tech-elite. I came up with plenty of excuses and dragged my feet for a good month or so before coming to my senses and finally signing up for it.

Looking back, I can't help but laugh at my hesitance. Um, hello. I have a website called Mindfulness Online, my program is all about using technology to spread mindfulness. How did I not sign up for this conference immediately?! 

Ego. Fear. Self-consciousness. Anxiety. Doubt. I guess those were some of the reasons.

Tense with anxiety, my tightened jaw and I made our way into the crowded hall of over 2,000 attendees. Soon though, my anxiety and my jaw loosened as I began to open to what all the conference had in store. Guided meditations for 2,000 attendees, group yoga with 2,000 attendees, and exercises in mindful communication with our seat mates meant that instead of being surrounded by strangers I needed to protect myself from, I was part of a community, each of us with something valuable to offer. Cool!

Here’s a quick-ish run-down of some of the nuggets I learned once my heart opened to the possibilities at Wisdom 2.0:

  • Technology is not inherently evil/distracting/a terrible drain on society— The general consensus at the conference was that the addictive nature of our gadgets can leave us wanting more meaningful connection with ourselves and others; while these same gadgets can also offer us new avenues for connection with people all over the world. It all depends on how we use them. Ok, I knew this, but I will admit that I’ve held off from getting an iPhone for fear of the limits of my own self-control.
  • Tech people are alright—Some of my misgivings about the conference had to do with a group that I viewed as the “other.” In the past year of living in SF, I have not been too enamored with the tech-class as my perception of these young, newly-minted millionaires had been rather biased. But meeting these “others” and seeing how they too are human just like me, working to find a deeper meaning in their lives, reminded me to hold off my judgments. How easily I forget that life can be challenging for each of us, regardless of our social status or paycheck.
  • We should be working on our eulogies instead of our resumes—Arianna Huffington gave a great talk on a new metric for measuring success that includes health, happiness and well-being. As she put it, no one at your funeral will be remarking on your ability to put together a Power-Point presentation. Though, that’s probably just because they never saw my awesome presentation on insurance that included an animated slide of Richard Gere topless, doing a flip on a jet ski. But still, I’d rather be remembered for how I loved and lived than how many LinkedIn contacts I had.
  • Spacious presence is within us all—If you have the time, stop what you’re doing and watch this presentation from Eckhart Tolle, or at least bookmark it and watch it when you can. It’s so easy to get caught up in the fantasy world of our thoughts and emotions, we often forget that under all of that is an unending field of spacious presence. We’ve got it with us always. We just have to remember to take a breath, get still and tap into it.
  • Gratitude is interactive mindfulness—Yeah, I already feel pretty strongly about this. And Brother David Steindl-Rast did an excellent job explaining how we can do better at bringing more gratitude and in turn more joy into our lives. We just have to stop, look, and go. Just like crossing the street. Stop means wisdom, a quality of the mind that comes by allowing whatever comes our way to grab us. Look means awareness. We see difficulties along with a way to solve them. Go means acting with a mind/heart of compassion. Check out Brother David’s talk, he is far more eloquent than I am.
Conference attendees shared their gratitude on one of many chalkboards.

Conference attendees shared their gratitude on one of many chalkboards.

My biggest take-away from the conference though, isn’t really something I can sum up for you on a bullet pointed list. Rather, my experience during the weekend gave me a renewed sense of self-confidence in who I am, what I am pursuing, and my intentions for pursuing it. All of those reasons I had for not attending the conference dissolved into a more confident, excited and love-filled version 2.0 of me. Woohoo for Wisdom!