Monday, November 21, 2011

cultivating appreciation

In the days leading up to Thanksgiving here in the United States, I find it useful to consciously take on the daily practice of cultivating appreciation. Appreciation, while it encompasses and encourages gratitude, is a bit deeper than just being thankful. It includes deep respect and sacredness. Appreciation nurtures trust in the basic goodness and brilliance of the world and its beings. To water the seeds of appreciation in our daily life brings great joy to our time with children. When we are able to model appreciation and reverence for our tasks, our environment, our family, our neighbors, even our burdens - our children witness basic goodness and dignity in action.

The teacher Gaylon Ferguson writes in his book Natural Wakefulness: Discovering the Wisdom We Were Born With

"The atmosphere surrounding meditation is warm and welcoming. We are cultivating appreciation, friendliness, a sense of gratitude for what we already have and are. This undercuts the speed and restlessness of materialism of all sorts."

To begin cultivating appreciation in our daily life with children, we can work with mindfulness to create a similar atmosphere of warmth, welcoming and understanding. We can work with our habitual pattern of judging our experience and things as "good" or "bad", "for us" or "against us". Using mindfulness, we can notice when we are engaged in negative speech (whether internal or external), and then make the choice to change our speech. We can treat ourselves with gentleness and acceptance, which will naturally extend out to others. Rather than looking in the mirror and greeting ourselves with a negative commentary of our flaws, we can smile and appreciate that we have a human body. Even if we are ill or disabled, there is something that our body does well, that works within it - our minds, our hearts, the blood flowing, our hair growing - something.

It can be easy this time of year to focus on what we don't have, on what we want to have, instead of taking a breath and the time to acknowledge everything we do possess. We can notice throughout our days when we are focusing on what is wrong - what is broken, who is misbehaving, when the weather isn't cooperating, the heat won't go on - we can always find a lot! Try to notice if you are dwelling on these obstacles, telling yourself or others stories about them, instead of just relating to them, cleanly. Then try to consciously notice what is working in your world! If we can pause and drop our projections and labeling, we will actually find, no matter how dire our circumstances are, that there is at least a little bit of magic and beauty and flow in our days, if we can only make ourselves available to it. Can we drop our resentment about the weather enough to notice the delight our children take in the rain falling down? Can we drop our scolding of a recalcitrant child long enough to see the fear or discomfort that caused the misbehavior? Can we notice the hawk circling overhead as we wait for the tow truck next to our broken down car? You get the idea.

So, in these days leading up to United States Thanksgiving, I am trying to pause each day, many times a day, and just honor my children, my physical space, animals, trees, my body, the food I am eating, the people I am passing - and just open to their wonder and sacredness. Sometimes, appreciation is as simple as bowing and acknowledging that this is how things are right now, and that this will also change. As simple as tasting our tears as they fall and savoring their salty warmth, another indication that yes, we are still alive, and that being alive is an extraordinary fluke, a gift, no matter how painful at times. We can appreciate how no matter how bad our day or week or year may be, the good earth is holding us up, the good sky is encompassing us, the sun is shining or the rain or snow are falling, nourishing many beings. The air is flowing through our lungs, in and out, in and out. All these little, interconnected, incredibly vast things that actively sustain us as we move through our days. And in every acknowledgement, we can bow to our children for being their brilliant, shining selves, whether smiling or screaming. Wishing you many days of appreciation and joy.

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