Outtakes from a post on daily practice I finished today. The final draft took a slightly different direction, but I’m copying this part of the draft here because I want to hang onto the links to Jack Kornfield here … what he says about gratitude is so similar to the examen of St. Ignatius of Loyola and so worthwhile in general, especially in a time of “challenges and obstacles,” in Kornfield’s words, I don’t want to lose it.
Also a link to an interview with some thought-provoking stuff about gratitude in times of adversity I want to read more carefully, think about … and see where it leads me. Plus a bio of Kornfield on the SFGate (San Francisco Chronicle) website.
Picking up from my post:
Another ecumenical prayer — at least I think of it as ecumenical — is the Daily Examen, a round of prayer and meditation adapted from the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola. As James Martin, SJ, explains it in his Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything, it consists of five steps: (1) gratitude, remember what you’re thankful for each day; (2) repentance, consider where you fell short and where you can do better; (3) review, go over the day, the good, the bad, the indifferent; what mattered? What didn’t? (4) ask forgiveness; and (5) ask for grace to see you through the next day.
I’m not as good about praying the examen as I ought to be, but I’ve found it to be a valuable way of centering since I learned about it from my spiritual director, a Dominican sister, a couple of years ago. Father Martin says it transcends our denominational — or religious — categories. He recalls the time he taught it to the cast of an off-Broadway play, as religiously heterogeneous a group of people as you’ll find anywhere. He learned:
The daily examen is of special help to seekers, agnostics, and atheists. For them it can be altered into a “prayer of awareness.” The first step is to be consciously aware of yourself and your surroundings. The second step is to remember what you’re grateful for. The third is the review of the day. The fourth step, asking for forgiveness, could be a decision to reconcile with someone you have hurt. And the fifth is to prepare yourself to be aware for the next day. Gradually they may begin to connect the events of their lives with God’s love, presence, and care for them.
All of this reminds me powerfully of what vipassana (insight) Buddhist master Jack Kornfield’s take on mindfulness, or awareness of the moment. “If we see the world as sacred, which is an expression of the spiritual life, then gratitude follows immediately and naturally. … We can either be lost in a smaller state of consciousness—what in Buddhist psychology is called the “body of fear,” which brings suffering to us and to others—or we can bring the quality of love and appreciation, which I would call gratitude, to life. With it comes a kind of trust.” It’s about as ecumenical as you can get.
That’s as far as I got with it. But there’s some fascinating stuff in an interview piece on a little magazine apparently published at the University of California Berkeley —
Carolyn Gregoire, “Jack Kornfield on Gratitude and Mindfulness,” Greater Good Magazine, May 19, 2014 https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/jack_kornfield_on_gratitude_and_mindfulness.
A couple of excerpts:
In some Buddhist traditions, there’s a prayer in which one makes a rather unusual request of the universe: Bring me challenges and obstacles.
“In certain temples that I’ve been to, there’s actually a prayer that you make asking for difficulties,” says Western Buddhist master Jack Kornfield. “May I be given the appropriate difficulties so that my heart can truly open with compassion. Imagine asking for that.”Jack Kornfield speaking at one of the GGSC’s Science of a Meaningful Life seminars. He’ll join us again on June 7 for the Greater Good Gratitude Summit.
Being grateful for not only life’s blessing but also its suffering is a key component of living a spiritual life—and more broadly, to a fulfilling and meaningful life—according to Kornfield, who will speak about cultivating an appreciation for all that life has to offer at next month’s Greater Good Gratitude Summit.
Carolyn Gregoire: Why is gratitude an essential component of a spiritual life?
Jack Kornfield: If we see the world as sacred, which is an expression of the spiritual life, then gratitude follows immediately and naturally. We’ve been given the extraordinary privilege of incarnating as human beings—and of course the human incarnation entails the 10,000 joys and 10,000 sorrows, as it says in the Tao Te Ching—but with it we have the privilege of the lavender color at sunset, the taste of a tangerine in our mouth, and the almost unbearable beauty of life around us, along with its troubles. It keeps recreating itself. We can either be lost in a smaller state of consciousness—what in Buddhist psychology is called the “body of fear,” which brings suffering to us and to others—or we can bring the quality of love and appreciation, which I would call gratitude, to life. With it comes a kind of trust. The poet Pablo Neruda writes, “You can pick all the flowers, but you can’t stop the spring.” Life keeps recreating itself and presenting us with miracles every day.
CG: It’s easier for us to feel grateful for things that make us happy and that make life easy for us. But how do we learn to be grateful for life’s “10,000 sorrows”?
JK: I remember my meditation master in the jungles of Thailand who would ask at times, “Where have you learned more compassion? Where have you learned more? Where has your heart grown wiser—in just having good times, or going through difficulties?” There’s a Buddhist-oriented therapy in Japan called Naikan Therapy, and one part of that training is to review your life and begin to remember all the things you have gratitude towards, even the things that were difficult and taught you lessons. Or even the people that were difficult, sometimes in your own family— [remembering] the gratitude you have for family, that they’re even there.
Also an interview on the Chronicle website …
David Ian Miller, “FINDING MY RELIGION / Buddhist teacher and author Jack Kornfield on mindfulness, happiness and his own spiritual journey,” SFGate, Nov. 28, 2005 https://www.sfgate.com/news/article/FINDING-MY-RELIGION-Buddhist-teacher-and-author-3236141.php
Let’s begin with a basic question: What is mindfulness and why is it important?
Mindfulness is an innate human capacity to deliberately pay full attention to where we are, to our actual experience, and to learn from it.
Much of our day we spend on automatic pilot. People know the experience of driving somewhere, pulling up to the curb and all of a sudden realizing, “Wow, I was hardly aware I was even driving. How did I get here?” When we pay attention, it is gracious, which means that there is space for our joys and sorrows, our pain and losses, all to be held in a peaceful way.
And the path toward mindfulness is meditation?
Meditation is one good way to learn mindfulness. There are many good ways. To be really good at something, you need to be mindful. A very good chef has to be mindful of the ingredients and the knife and the taste that’s actually there in that particular dish. So it’s a skill that’s a part of human development in many areas.
What would you say is the most practical spiritual advice you can offer?
Relax. That’s my first instruction. We have all of these things that we are in the middle of, you know, whether it’s tending to an emergency at work, or a relative is in the hospital, or some great thing has just come up that occupies your mind. Relaxation allows for our natural response, rather than the kind of tension and fear that can often control our lives.
My second instruction is, especially when things are difficult, try to hold your experience with compassion. Whether a crying child is keeping you up all night, or a car accident has just happened, or you are trying to get along with someone who is difficult, you can respond appropriately if you hold all of it — your own body, mind and those around you — in compassion. And your life becomes much wiser as a result.
I want ask you about your personal story. You were born into a Jewish family. What sort of religious orientation did you have?
It was somewhat limited. We observed the Jewish holidays. I studied for my bar mitzvah and attended Sunday school. It was about being culturally and historically part of the Jewish people and then being a good person — that’s kind of the gist of it.
There is a phenomenon of many Jews becoming Buddhists, or “Jewbus” as they are called, especially here in the Bay Area. Why do you think some Jews are drawn to Buddhism?
I really don’t know. I do know that within my family and the community there was a great tradition of learning and understanding that is common among Jews. And I see the same love of learning and understanding among other Jewish people who have become Buddhist practitioners. So maybe that is one part of it.
Do you retain any connection to Judaism at this point?
Yes. My daughter was brought up learning about Jewish history and celebrating the holidays. She is also Christian from her mother’s side, so she was baptized at San Francisco’s Glide Memorial church. And we also lived in a Hindu country for a long time, so she has that influence as well.
When my daughter was younger, she was asked, “Well, what are you?” And she said, “Gee, I’m Christian and Buddhist and Jewish and Hindu” and some other things — I don’t know what else was in there. In her simple answer — she was like nine years old at the time — was a reflection that underneath all these different religions there is a commonality that at best involves treating one another with great care and respect based on love, virtue and integrity.