Vulnerability and Gratitude

During one of my meditation groups last week, we discussed gratitude and being thankful. While the teacher mused on the snicker of her kids, but the profound statements that would come out of their mouths, I thought about why we tend to minimize gratitude and being thankful.

Expressing gratitude, I think, is a vulnerable act. Aside from my musings on fear of sugarcoating, there is how it reminds us of impermanence. A quick search revealed, that I wasn’t the only one who made this connection. Brene Brown actually alludes to this very idea:

“As someone who studies shame and scarcity and fear, if you asked me, ‘What is the most terrifying, difficult emotion we experience as humans?,’ I would say joy,” says Brown. “When we lose our tolerance for vulnerability, joy becomes foreboding. So what we do in moments of joyfulness is we try to beat vulnerability to the punch … We try to dress-rehearse tragedy.” –Brene Brown

But while she discusses the fear of when the other shoe will drop, I suggest that there is something more going on that feeds into this fear of losing something held so dear.

To really feel and experience gratitude, is to be truly present in the moment. It isn’t complaining about what was lost or incomplete nor fearing what may come down the road, it’s recognizing and really taking in what is available during that moment. It is the vulnerability of being open to receiving and expressing the gift of gratitude.

That, I think, is where the real fear of impermanence and of scarcity begins. To the untrained, the one who doesn’t often consider gratitude much until those unexpected moments where that light turns on and wakes up to the moment, it can be frightening to think that said awakenings are few and far between instead of something that can be cultivated and experienced all the time.

Advertisements

Being with the run

“Furthermore, when walking, the monk discerns, ‘I am walking.’ When standing, he discerns, ‘I am standing.’ When sitting, he discerns, ‘I am sitting.’ When lying down, he discerns, ‘I am lying down.’ Or however his body is disposed, that is how he discerns it… ” Satipatthana Sutta

Last weekend I ran my first 50K (31 mile) race on trails.  I finished only a bit banged up after countless stumbling, trips, toe stubbings and maybe 1/2 a dozen flat out falls (thankfully kinda gracefully).

CaptureWhat I find particularly interesting is what went though my mind over the just over 7 hours I was running.  There comes a point in any  race where thoughts of life outside the run,  future conversations, and assessments of how the run went (or will go) start passing through my mind.

At best on a road race, I can notice my thoughts of the past and thoughts of the future and feel the ever so familiar tug bringing myself back to present.

When on trail however, and for hours longer, such distractions are tougher.

To run on a trail is to run with presence. A momentary distraction of thought or sight can result in a stumble, a trip, or a fall. It is important to know where and be with each foot fall, the balance of all the muscles in the body, and the alert sense of navigating and being aware of the surroundings (if only to avoid getting lost, strategizing hills and uneven trails, and beings around you).  Too much concentration on one of these causes imbalance and contraction. Sometimes the amount of attention over time and hours sometimes alone makes one freeze. The solution? Take a deep breath, slow the pace, and keep moving forward.

A friend of mine seeing a post about my achievement asked “How did you do that?”

My reply: “Gingerly and shoring up as much presence in the moment I could muster. If I stumbled, I just gently brought myself back and began again.”

I suppose that is what makes the practice “a practice” eh?

Reflections

I never explained where I got the title for this blog. It seems about time.

It was from a line in Wallace Steven’s poem “Of Mere Being

The palm at the end of the mind,
Beyond the last thought, rises
In the bronze decor,
A gold-feathered bird
Sings in the palm, without human meaning,
Without human feeling, a foreign song.
You know then that it is not the reason
That makes us happy or unhappy.
The bird sings. Its feathers shine.
The palm stands on the edge of space.
The wind moves slowly in the branches.
The bird’s fire-fangled feathers dangle down.
So what is this ‘palm at the end of the mind’?  For me, it conjures the felt sense of what is often the remnant at that visceral moment when things get really quiet while sitting…that imperfection or holding back. That felt sense of something remaining solid when given a small taste of feeling truly present and connected with all beings…something not wanting to completely let go.  Is it the ego? Is it the observer? Is it what is standing in the way of truly feeling free?

Or, is it something else?

Without it, the bird cannot rest on its branches and sing nor can the ever-changing wind move though its branches.  It is just beyond the last thought of the mind as opposed in the thick of it and thus identified by it; rather it is serving as a support to nature’s practice.

Beginnings

Every piece of writing requires an introduction. Often one feels compelled to write when something big happens and my situation is no different. This is especially true when a medical situation arises and triggers a whole host of uncertainty and other emotions. For me, on March 30th everything changed; not a death sentence but a random, and scary turn of events nonetheless.  This particular situation however, is not the focus in this blog/online journal.

Instead I am attempting here the exploration of living mindfully and in the moment. Change is always happening and our bodies do what they do. Its more about how we approach it, how we work with it rather than our reactions and our tendency to push unpleasant situations away.  This is the focus; it is my musings on living mindfully and in the moment even when our minds spend a lot of time in the past and the future. This is about listening to and working with what is and the various ways in which mindfulness, meditation, and focusing intersects with life.

As Steven Levine retells:

Once someone asked a well-known Thai meditation master, “In this world where everything changes, where nothing remains the same, where loss and grief are inherent in our very coming into existence, how can there be any happiness? How can we find security when we see that we can’t count on anything being the way we want it to be?” The teacher, looking compassionately at this fellow, held up a drinking glass that had been given to him earlier in the morning and said, “You see this goblet? For me this glass is already broken. I enjoy it. I drink out of it. It holds my water admirably, sometimes even reflecting the sun in beautiful patterns. If I should tap it, it has a lovely ring to it. But when I put this glass on a shelf and the wind knocks it over, or my elbow brushes it off the table and it falls to the ground and shatters, I say, ‘Of course.’ When I understand that this glass is already broken, every moment with it is precious. Every moment is just as it is, and nothing need be otherwise.

When we recognize that, just like the glass, our body is already broken, that indeed we are already dead, then life becomes precious, and we open to it just as it is, in the moment it is occurring. When we understand that all our loved ones are already dead — our children, our mates, our friends — how precious they become. How little fear can interpose; how little doubt can estrange us. When you live your life as though you’re already dead, life takes on new meaning. Each moment becomes a whole lifetime, a universe unto itself.”

 Quote From: Levine, Stephen, and Ondrea Levine. Who Dies? : An Investigation of Conscious Living and Conscious Dying.  Bath: Gateway Books, 1986, pg. 98.