The Power of the Breath

During the pandemic, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we had something that will improve our sleep, digestion, immune and respiratory functions, while reducing our blood pressure and anxiety? The good news is there is something and it is called ‘breathworks.’

These days people seem to be in a constant state of stress and anxiety, and this is caused by an over-activation of the sympathetic nervous system, which puts us into the fight or flight mode. This can be caused by not breathing properly, especially breathing too fast.

When we breathe properly, we activate the parasympathetic nervous system, the rest and digest mode, which promotes inner calm and physical relaxation. Proper breathing provides a healthy means of reducing anxiety, restlessness, and stress, and this can be achieved by breathing from the diaphragm.

By breathing properly, you increase the oxygen in your bloodstream, making more oxygen available to your brain. The brain uses up to three times as much oxygen as your other muscles do, and this translates to more physical energy, mental clarity, and greater productivity and creativity.

By learning to direct your attention to your breath, you can condition yourself to shift out of the fight or flight mode and into the rest and digest mode. So, from stress and anxiety and into calm and relaxation.

Do this test a moment, put your left hand on your chest and your right hand on your stomach. Now, breathe normally and notice which hand rises higher when you breath in. If it is your lefthand on the chest that rises more, you are breathing incorrectly or you are stressed.

Now, do this test. Take some slow, deep breathes in through the nose and notice if your shoulders rise up. If they do, then again, you are breathing incorrectly.

You may be thinking that your breath is involuntarily, and you have no control, but breathing is both a voluntary and involuntary function.

Involuntary breathing is an automatic bodily process. Voluntary breathing occurs when you bring your awareness to the process of breathing. Here are a few breathing exercises you can do.

Diaphragm Breathing

The proper way for us to breath is with the diaphragm. There are several diaphragm breathing exercises and techniques that you can do that will help you to use your diaphragm correctly.

The following diaphragm exercise can be a little tiring at first but the more you do it, the more natural it becomes.

  1. Sit in a comfortable position with your feet flat on the ground.
  2. Relax your shoulders, head, and neck.
  3. Put your left hand on your upper chest and the right hand on your stomach, so you can feel the movement of your diaphragm.
  4. Inhale slowly through your nose for the count of 3 and notice your stomach rise.
  5. Keep the hand on your chest as still as possible.
  6. Hold your breath for the count of 2
  7. Exhale through pursed lips – like you’re blowing a candle out – for the count of 6, keeping your left hand on your chest still.
  8. Continue breathing like this for 5 to 10 minutes and repeat 3 times a day.

Breathing for Relaxation

Alternate Nostril Breathing has been shown to enhance cardiovascular function and to lower heart rate. It’s a simple yet powerful technique that settles the mind and relaxes the body. It is especially helpful to slowdown your racing thoughts if you are experiencing anxiety, stress, or having trouble sleeping.

  1. Choose a comfortable seated position with your feet flat on the floor.
  2. Gently close your left nostril and breath in slowly and fully through your right nostril.
  3. Hold the breath for a moment.
  4. Close your right nostril and open the left nostril. Exhale slowly and gently through the left nostril.
  5. Keeping your right nostril closed, breathe in through your left nostril.
  6. Pause for a moment.
  7. Release your fingers to open your right nostril and close your left nostril. Exhale through right nostril.
  8. This is one cycle.
  9. Continue this breathing pattern for 3 minutes to begin with and then slowly build it up to 5 minutes.
  10. Finish your session with an exhale on the right side.

Breathing to Increase Energy

The Three Part Breathing focuses first on the diaphragm, then the abdomen, and lastly the chest to increase oxygen in the blood and stimulate the body. Sit up straight and place your feet flat on the ground.

  1. Relax your shoulders, neck, and head.
  2. Place one hand over your stomach and inhale deeply, feeling your stomach rise as it inflates.
  3. Exhale and feel your stomach deflate.
  4. Repeat five times.
  5. Now move your hand higher to your rib cage.
  6. Inhale and feel your rib cage expand. Then exhale, and feel it deflate.
  7. Repeat five times.
  8. Finally place your hand on your chest and inhale feeling it rise.
  9. Exhale and feel your chest lowering.
  10. Repeat five times.

Breathing to Reduce Stress and Anxiety

This four-square breathing exercise is an effective way to reduce stress or anxiety and increase feelings of calm and peacefulness. When you become anxious, your breathing becomes fast and shallow because you start to chest breathe. This can cause you to inhale too much oxygen and may cause you to become light-headed. Instead, you need to breathe slowly and deeply, which turns off your ‘fight or flight response’ and switches on your ‘rest and digest response.’

As you breathe slowly, deeply, and evenly, in and out through your nose, you should naturally feel your stomach rising on the in-breath and falling on the out-breath.

  1. Take a deep breath through your nose and slowly count to four.
  2. Pause and slowly count to four.
  3. Exhale through your nose to a slow count of four.
  4. Pause and again slowly count to four.
  5. Inhale – one, two, three, four
  6. Pause – one, two, three, four
  7. Exhale – one, two, three, four
  8. Pause – one, two, three, four
  9. Repeat this cycle for 3 to 5 minutes.

There are so many different breathing exercises these days, so test them out and find the ones that work for you. But remember, there is only one correct way to breath and that is diaphragm breathing. This needs to be practiced daily, so it becomes your involuntary way of breathing.

You can read more blogs, listen to podcasts, watch videos and practice guided meditations on the Buddhism Guide app. Available from the Apple Store and Google Play. You can also visit my website.

If you would like to become a supporter of Buddhism Guides work, such as podcasts, blogs, videos and guided meditation practices, please visit here. You can support for as little as $2 a month.

Appreciating What We Have

We human beings tend to focus on what we want or what we don’t want, but very rarely take time to appreciate what we have. Conscious gratitude is a simple way for us to count our blessings, build relationships and help strengthen our mental and physical wellbeing.

Gratitude is an attitude. Gratitude is a choice. And gratitude is a habit. When we consciously practice being grateful for what we have we begin to strengthen our mental wellbeing.

Stopping from time to time and thinking of what we are grateful for rewires our brain to recognise positive aspects of life more easily and frequently and feel positive emotions more often. Daily feelings of gratitude are associated with life satisfaction, optimism, subjective well-being, positive affect, and happiness. Essentially, grateful people are happier.

Gratitude is about cultivating a sense of being thankful for the little and large things in our lives. We can be thankful for people, situations and even our possessions. It’s also about a willingness to show this appreciation. It is a habit, a skill, and it takes practice.

Gratitude is a great first step towards reframing unhelpful thoughts, particularly if you have a tendency towards negativity. But don’t think it will stop you feeling any negative emotions or experiencing negative thoughts, it won’t, because these are an important part of being human.

Gratitude helps with stress management and overall mental wellbeing. It can help build emotional resilience, so can even be an extra support during challenging times. There’s even evidence that gratitude behaviours can change areas of the brain and fire up reward pathways, releasing serotonin and dopamine, which are our feel-good drugs. It can also help build a connection with other people, through showing and telling people that you are grateful for them.

Here are some ways that gratitude helps us:

Protects Against Depression and Boosts Happiness

Studies show that practicing gratitude curbs the use of words expressing negative emotions and shifts inner attention away from such negative emotions such as resentment and envy, minimising the possibility of ruminating.

Reduces Stress and Anxiety

People who make an effort to be more appreciative seem to do better at dealing with adversity and facing tough decisions or situations because they focus on the positives and see challenges as useful lessons and even gifts, rather than as curses.

Research suggests a gratitude practice can increase psychological resilience against chronic stress, anxiety, , post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and unhappiness. When reflecting on the positive elements of the past and present, people are more prone to being hopeful and optimistic.

Improves Relationships

Expressing gratitude often makes people feel more connected to something bigger than themselves. Being thankful for your life also makes it less likely that you’ll experience envy, cynicism and narcissism, which can all damage relationships and decrease happiness.

Helps Encourage Healthier Choices/Self-Care

There’s evidence suggesting that gratitude can have long-lasting positive effects when it comes to promoting healthy choices — such as eating a well-balanced diet, exercising, getting enough sleep, staying on top of work-related tasks, and so on. When you feel grateful for your life and the relationships in it, you’re more likely to take better care of yourself.

Can Help Improve Sleep and Physical Health

In studies, gratitude has been shown to foster both physical and psychological health, meaning it may help decrease chronic pain, tension, fatigue, sleep issues like insomnia and other symptoms tied to stress and anxiety.

Overall, research suggests that grateful people are less prone to experiencing sleep troubles tied to stress and may also benefit from having stronger immune systems.

I think it is clear, gratitude is good for us in so many ways. So, how can we go about practicing them? You could use a gratitude journal, think of one thing you are grateful for when you wake up in the morning or the last thing at night, stop several times during the day to reflect on what you are grateful for right at that moment or you could do a gratitude meditation, such as the one below.

Experiencing Gratitude

Sit quietly with your back straight and body relaxed.

Do the following breathing exercise Breath in as deeply as you can – hold the breath – and now push all the air out – breath in deeply – hold – push the air out – breath in deeply – hold – push all the air out.

Now breath normally.

Gently place your awareness on your breath entering and leaving your body. Don’t force it – just relax into it. Become aware of your breath becoming slower, smoother, and more comfortable.

(30 seconds)

 Now I want you to think of a person you are grateful for. Whoever it is, bring them into the forefront of your mind.

(30 seconds)

How does this gratitude make you feel?

(30 seconds)

What body sensations are you experiencing?

 (30 seconds)

Sit with this experience for a moment. Let yourself be engulfed by your feelings, emotions and body sensations. Don’t just think about it, fully experience it.

(30 seconds)

Now I want you to think of a situation you are grateful for. Whatever it is, bring the situation into your mind.

(30 seconds)

How does this gratitude make you feel?

(30 seconds)

What body sensations are you experiencing?

(30 seconds)

Sit with this experience for a moment. Let yourself be engulfed by your feelings, emotions and body sensations. Don’t just think about it, fully experience it.

(30 seconds)

Now I want you to think of a possession you are grateful for. Whatever it is, bring that possession into the forefront of your mind.

(30 seconds)

How does this gratitude make you feel?

 (30 seconds)

What body sensations are you experiencing?

(30 seconds)

Sit with this experience for a moment. Let yourself be engulfed by your feelings, emotions and body sensations. Don’t just think about it, fully experience it.

(30 seconds)

Now, slowly open your eyes and gently introduce yourself back into the world.

As you can see there are many ways to express and practise gratitude, so pick the one that resonates the most with you.

Before we finish, I want to ask you, ‘What one thing are you grateful for today?’

You can read more blogs, listen to podcasts, watch videos and practice guided meditations on the Buddhism Guide app. Available from the Apple Store and Google Play. You can also visit my website.

If you would like to become a supporter of Buddhism Guides work, such as podcasts, blogs, videos and guided meditation practices, please visit here. You can support for as little as $2 a month.

A Lust for Life

Recently, I have been asked on several occasions to do a blog on lust. When I delve a bit further, it seems people have three ideas of what lust is. Firstly, lust is about wanting sex with another person, secondly, it is bad, and thirdly, it is the opposite of love. All these assumptions, I feel, are incorrect. So, let’s start by looking at these three points.

Lust is the strong, passionate desire for something, and not only sex, but also, food, drink, money, fame, power, knowledge and so on. It is a biological impulse without which you would not have been born in the first place. Our purpose in life is to survive, that is how our brains are wired. So, seeing lust as something bad is not helpful. I believe what is important is how you act upon your lust. You can act in an appropriate or inappropriate way – of course this is a judgement call, but if you are about to harm someone because of lust, that for me is inappropriate.

I believe lust is not the opposite to love, but how to tell them apart? I see lust as hasty and secretive whereas love is patient and restrained. Lust is all about taking and love is all about sharing.

Now, there is nothing wrong with sexual desire as such. The problems start when it turns from servant into master, and it starts to consume our every thought.

Lust is a natural emotion most people will eventually experience, however it’s important to be careful of how you act on it. If lust is not expressed healthily or respectfully, it could lead to abuse or other issues.

Remember, you can love your pets and that is love with no lust. You can see a beautiful person and want to have sex with them – that is lust, but no love. You can love your partner and want to have sex with him or her – that is love and lust together. So, we cannot say that lust is the opposite of love.

So, what to do if we are becoming overpowered by lust? Buddha stated this:

Just as rain comes through the roof of a badly thatched house. So, sensual desire invades an undeveloped mind

So, lust, says the Buddha, can be controlled or eliminated by attaining a higher level of consciousness. How do we achieve that? I would say one of the best ways is through meditation.

By trying to control your lust, you are putting it outside of yourself. You are seeing lust and yourself as two separate entities. That way of looking at things is going to sets up a duality. On one side is lust, which you are labelling in your mind as bad, and on the other side is you, which you want to think of as good. That dualistic way of thinking is going to lead to you getting attached to both these concepts, lust is bad, and you are good. However, if you choose to acknowledge and accept the sensations you are describing as lust, the duality will disappear.

Sit in meditation and focus on your breath until you are calm and relaxed. Then recall the last time you had lustful thoughts. Sit with those thoughts a moment without trying to judge or change them. Now, slowly scan down your body from the top of your head to the tips of your toes. When you feel sensations that you describe as lust, acknowledge and accept them. This can be challenging but is achievable with practice. Acknowledge the feeling by labelling it lust and accept that at the moment there is lust. Do not identify with the lust by saying, ‘I am feeling lust.’ This will make it difficult to let the feeling go. Just say to yourself, ‘At the moment there is lust.’ This will help you accept the feeling, without judging it or yourself. Once you have done this, watch what happens to the thought or feeling. They will slowly disappear and relinquish its power.

When you have finished, gently turn your focus back to your breath for a few minutes before you go back to your regular activities.

When you acknowledge and accept the aspect of yourself that you conceive of as lust, you will integrate you and the lust into one and dissolve the duality. You will start to see lust as a fruitless desire that only leads to mental and emotional suffering.

 Other things you can try are:

Being more mindful of your thoughts can help you stop getting carried away by sexual desires. The more we spend in the present moment, being aware of our thoughts, feelings, body sensations and the immediate environment, the more likely we are to catch our lustful thoughts. It is when our minds are being driven by the subconscious mind that we tend to miss lust arising within us. So, the more you are in your conscious mind, the more you are aware of what is happening, the easier it is to catch the thoughts as they arise. So, use mindfulness practices to keep bring yourself back to the here and now.

Avoiding temptations can help you manage your lustful desires. For instance, if you’re tempted to look at porn whenever you’re on your computer, you can download an app or browser extension to block the porn websites. If you’re struggling with sexual feelings for a particular person, limit how much time you spend with them, if possible.

If you understand your desires, it will make it easier to control them. Whenever you experience feelings of lust, reflect on the circumstances. Do you get more unwanted sexual thoughts when you’re stressed or bored? What about when you’re around certain people or in specific places, such as bars or nightclubs? Write down a list of things that seem to trigger those unwanted thoughts and feelings and think of some ideas of how to deal with those triggers. Set an intention to find new coping methods and form healthier habits.

Don’t try to push down unwanted thoughts and feelings because this doesn’t work. This can be really frustrating, but you’ll feel so much better if you acknowledge your thoughts instead of fighting them. Don’t try to ignore them or try to force them out of your mind, just notice them and let them sit there without judgment. Your mind will eventually wander to something else.

This doesn’t mean that your unwanted sexual thoughts and feelings will go away forever. Just practice being more accepting of the thoughts when they come. Remember, nobody can completely control their thoughts and feelings. Remind yourself that what’s going on in your brain and body isn’t your fault and doesn’t make you a bad person, even if it feels unhelpful and inappropriate. The important thing is how you act on those thoughts.

We have to realise that lust is a powerful force and there are repercussions to pushing it down or inhibiting yourself. Don’t use any method that involves self-criticism, self-judgment, self-harm, hatred and so on. This is only going to make the problem worse.

It’s completely normal to experience lust, or sexual desire. It is all part and parcel of being a human. However, if you just can’t shake those uncomfortable thoughts and feelings, don’t worry, try the suggestions I have made here.

You can read more blogs, listen to podcasts, watch videos and practice guided meditations on the Buddhism Guide app. Available from the Apple Store and Google Play. You can also visit my website.

If you would like to become a supporter of Buddhism Guides work, such as podcasts, blogs, videos and guided meditation practices, please visit here. You can support for as little as $2 a month.

Making Friends with Your Emotions

This being human is a guest house. Every morning a new arrival. A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor. Welcome and entertain them all! Even if they are a crowd of sorrows, who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture, still, treat each guest honourably. He may be clearing you out for some new delight. The dark thought, the shame, the malice, meet them at the door laughing and invite them in. Be grateful for whatever comes because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.

The Guest House by Rumi

Rumi was talking about emotions in this poem. He is suggesting we welcome our emotions in like an unexpected guest, because each has been sent as a guide.

What we usually do is try to fight against our strong emotions, suppress them or get totally tangled up in them. None of these are going to be helpful. The more we fight against the emotion, the stronger it becomes. Acting this way, we will eventually make the emotion into our enemy. But emotions are not our enemies, they are our teachers. They don’t just suddenly appear for no reason. They come to inform us that something is happening, and we need to deal with it.

There are two types of emotions: connective and protective. Connective emotions are compassion, gratitude, happiness, contentment and so on. Protective emotions are usually the ones we fight against and they are anger, frustration, jealousy, pride, etc.

When we are in the grips of a protective emotion, we need to stop what we are doing and ‘welcome and entertain them,’ as Rumi put it. This means we need to investigate why the emotion has arisen and what it is trying to teach us. We can do this by following the ‘Six-Steps to Making Friends with Your Emotions.’

Firstly, we must calm ourselves down. When the protective emotion is strong it can activate our threat system and we could very easily go into the fight or flight mode. To prevent that, we need to do a mindfulness practice, such as becoming aware of our breath. This will bring us back to the present moment, calm us down and help us focus. A great practice to do is Rhythmic Breathing.

As you inhale, count to 4, hold for the count of 2 and then exhale for the count of 4. Keep doing this for some time to get a nice rhythm going. Then, inhale and count to 5, hold for the count of 2 and then exhale for the count of 5. Again, get a nice rhythm going. Finally, inhale and count to 6, hold for the count of 2 and then exhale for the count of 6, and get a good rhythm going. Do this for 2 or 3 minutes, or until you feel calm, focused, and present in the moment.

Secondly, we need to acknowledge we have the emotion. We can do this by labelling it. So, name it to tame it. By doing this the emotion will already start to lose its power. 

The third step is to accept that the emotion is there. This is a very important step because if we don’t accept the emotion, we could end up suppressing it or trying to ignore it. When we accept the emotion is there, it is important to not identify with it.

If we say, “I am angry,’ or ‘I am sad,’ we give ourselves very little room to work with the emotion. We are telling ourselves that we are the anger/sadness or whatever emotion we are experiencing. What we need to say is, ‘At this moment there is anger.’ This separates us from the emotion and gives us space to be able to work with the emotion. Remember, an emotion is a process in the brain and so, comes to go. By identifying with it, we stop it from going.

Step four is to investigate why the emotion has arisen. We can do this by asking ourselves the following questions:

  • Why has this emotion appeared?
  • What is it trying to teach me?

We need to answer these questions as honestly as we can. While answering the first question don’t blame others for the emotion arising. Playing the blame game is never helpful. Look at the emotion with a curious mind, as though we have never seen this type of emotion before. The emotion may be painful, so ensure you observe with a sense of kindness and compassion for yourself.

Once we have answered these questions, we can move on to step five. Now we know why the emotion is here and what it is trying to teach us, we can ask ourselves this:

  • What do I need to do to learn the lesson and let the emotion go?

If it is sadness, maybe we need to speak to someone. If it is anger, maybe we need to get some fresh air. If it is loneliness, maybe we need to meet up with a friend. Whatever it is, think of a plan that will help you let the emotion go.

The sixth, and final, step is to put the plan into action.

Throughout the whole of this process, ensure you are being kind and supportive towards yourself. Emotions can be painful and overwhelming, but by following these six simple steps you can learn from the emotion, put it behind you and move on.

You can read more blogs, listen to podcasts, watch videos and practice guided meditations on the Buddhism Guide app. Available from the Apple Store and Google Play. You can also visit my website.

If you would like to become a supporter of Buddhism Guides work, such as podcasts, blogs, videos and guided meditation practices, please visit here. You can support for as little as $2 a month.

Cultivating Virtuous Qualities

I believe there are three qualities everyone should cultivate. Not just for our own benefit, but also for the benefit of everyone we come into contact with. The three qualities are being humble, contented, and grateful.

Setting Pride Aside: Humility

I personally feel more at ease in the company of humble people. They do not waste time bragging about what they have, who they are, or where they have been. They play down their achievements and are more attentive to others’ needs.

The opposite of this is true for proud and conceited people. It is a challenge for me to spend much time with someone who boasts. They are only interested in selling themselves and seem to have no interest in who you are or what you think or know.

I have always found people with pride to also have the biggest egos — and usually the biggest mouths to go with them. But a humble person is quiet, respectful, and attentive. Which one would you rather be around? Which one would you rather be?

We must stay open-minded at all times. Just because we know a way to do something doesn’t mean another person doesn’t know a better or easier way. We shouldn’t assume we know best. Humble people will continue to learn throughout their lives.

So, what are the causes of pride? There are many, but two main causes are dualistic thinking and an inflated sense of self.

When people think in a dualistic way, it can stir up pride because they start thinking “I am good and others are bad,” “I am handsome and they are ugly,” or “I am intelligent and they are stupid.” It is this type of thinking that causes us to fixate on “I am this, I am that.” We start to emphasize the sense of self, which leads us to become attached to who we think we are. Both of these lead to pride and conceit. In the Sutta Nipata, Gautama Buddha states:

“By being alert and attentive, he begins to let go of cravings as they arise. But whatever he begins to accomplish, he should beware of inner pride. He must avoid thinking of himself as better than another, or worse or equal, for that is all comparison and emphasizes the self.”

It is clear that humility is a trait we have to work at, or we could find ourselves getting wrapped up in pride. The pride I am talking about here is our overinflated sense of self. It is not the pride we have for our children, loved ones, and so on, which stems from love and compassion — this overinflated sense of pride stems from our ego.

Meditation Practice for Humility

In a meditation session, look at pride and humility. Which one do you lean toward? Think back over the past few days and see what situations stir up pride in you, and which ones make you humble. Only when we become focused on these situations are we able to make changes in ourselves.

Need vs. Greed: Contentment

Oh, to be content. If only we could, but it seems human beings have a natural urge to never be content. Or can we? We have to look at what is need and what is greed. I think we can satisfy our need, but we will never satisfy our greed.

What we need is food, clothes, work, money, and human contact. These bring us security and are things we can satisfy to some degree.

What we want is the latest smartphone, expensive clothes, big cars, huge houses, exotic holidays — in short, we want to not only fit in with society, but we also want to stand out.

We have to train ourselves to know when enough is enough. If we just blindly follow our desire to want more, we will never be content. We have to think carefully to see if we really need something or if we are just trying to buy happiness. That is a fool’s game. If we buy something to be happy, it will not last. As soon as a new version comes out or the thing breaks, we will become unhappy and discontented. To try and buy happiness is like drinking saltwater to quench your thirst — it will only lead to dissatisfaction. Just think, if you could buy happiness, all the wealthy people in the world would be totally content, but they are not. They are just like the rest of us, always searching for something to make them happier.

The desire to want more and more brings us anxiety, worry, and stress, whereas contentment can bring us peace of mind and calmness. The fear of losing our happiness leads us to frantically search for more happiness.

When we cannot obtain the thing of our desire, we become sad and angry; disappointment and despair set in. There are two main reasons for this type of suffering. One is our inability to be content with the present moment. The other is when we make our happiness dependent on someone or something outside us. Our discontentment leads us to have more desires in the hope of escaping this type of suffering.

A note of caution: We shouldn’t take contentment to mean we don’t have to put in the effort to better ourselves — of course we do. We have to find our own level of contentment, and once we do, it will be better than any wealth or material belongings.

As Gautama Buddha says in the Dhammapada, verse 203, “…contentment is the greatest wealth.”

Meditation Practice for Contentment

In a meditation session, look at the following questions:

  • Am I content?
  • Do I have enough to satisfy my needs?
  • Do I chase after happiness in material things?
  • Do new things bring me happiness?
  • How long does it last?

Give all of these points a lot of thought.

Everything Is Interconnected: Gratitude

Gratitude means to be thankful for, and to remember, the help others have given us. We should also try our best to pay back any help we have received if and when the person who has helped us needs it.

In the Dullabha Sutta, it states:

“These two people are hard to find in the world. Which two? The one who is first to do a kindness, and the one who is grateful for a kindness done and feels obligated to repay it. These two people are hard to find in the world.”

Lately, it seems that people have very short memories where being grateful is concerned. Gratitude is a virtue we should do our best to cultivate.

This is only one part of gratitude as far as Buddhism is concerned. The Pali word katannuta has been translated as “gratitude,” but this doesn’t quite cover it. It literally means that you know what someone has done for your benefit. So, instead of it being an emotional thing as gratitude is usually seen to be — for example, we say things like “I feel grateful” — the literal meaning makes it more intellectual. This translation seems to involve an element of knowledge; we know what has been done for our benefit.

This is an important point because it takes in the interconnectedness of everything. If we just sit down and eat our dinner without being aware of what we are eating, who planted and harvested it, who packaged and delivered it, we will not be fully grateful. Being grateful is connected with an awareness of the world around us, how it works, and who is doing what to benefit us.

Meditation Practice for Gratitude

In a meditation session, think about your last meal and follow the process back from your plate to the seed in the ground. Think about all the people involved in the process. It could be a fairly long list. We should be grateful to all of these people because they have benefited us by providing food that we can eat.

It isn’t always easy to set pride aside, focus only on what you truly need, or recognize how everything is interconnected, but it’s worth it to try. Allow yourself the room to learn from past ways of thinking that have kept you separate from the benefits of these essential qualities of humility, contentedness, and gratitude. As you cultivate these virtues, you’ll find you’re giving a gift not only to yourself, but to the world around you.

You can read more blogs, listen to podcasts, watch videos and practice guided meditations on the Buddhism Guide app. Available from the Apple Store and Google Play. You can also visit my website.

If you would like to become a supporter of Buddhism Guides work, such as podcasts, blogs, videos and guided meditation practices, please visit here. You can support for as little as $2 a month.

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