At Practice Circle, we have worked with Jon Kabat Zinn’s Seven Attitudes of Mindfulness: Acceptance, Nonjudging, Nonstriving, Letting Go, Patience, Humor, Trust, and Beginner’s Mind. In their terrific training manual for mindfulness teachers, A Clinician’s Guide to Teaching Mindfulness, Christina Wolf and J. Greg Serpa add three more: Curiosity, Kindness, and Gratitude and Generosity. When Practice Circle meets this Sunday, we’ll work with the third of these, Gratitude and Generosity.
One of my favorite aspects of Wolf and Serpa’s book is the way it invokes the emotional qualities of mindful living in a way in which the traditional MBSR curriculum tended to merely imply. For example, the first part of A Clinician’s Guide is dedicated to “Mindfulness and Compassion,” and includes a full discussion of both the concept and research on compassion practice. As they point out, compassion is a vital element in mindfulness. Our desire to free ourselves from suffering, as expressed by our attempt to learn mindfulness, is in itself an act of compassion, and can be reinforced by intentionally offering compassion to ourselves. And as we practice with others in mindful dialogue, we quickly discover that others share the same kind of suffering we experience. This mindful awareness of the suffering of others becomes an ethical basis which can inform the way we relate to and behave with the people in our lives.
The attitudes of gratitude and generosity reflect this compassionate approach to mindfulness. When we are unmindful, we often replace our actual experience by living in the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves and the world. These stories usually revolve around what we lack — what we need to be happy that we don’t have, the things and people that make us miserable that we can’t escape. As a result, the attitudes and perceptions we experience when we’re on autopilot tend to make us feel alone, isolated and unworthy. We berate ourselves for our brokenness, and we are indifferent to the suffering around us.
To be fair, we’re hardwired to be like this. Our nervous systems are programmed by evolution to be constantly aware of threats and, when we perceive one, to prepare to fight, flee, or freeze. The stress of modern life throws threats at us from all directions, and we often amplify them by the way we think about ourselves as isolated and vulnerable. As a result, we feel continually under assault, which makes us even more stressed out.
It takes work to recognize that there’s another possibility, that we can drop this story of the isolated self and respond to ourselves and each other from a place of connection and kindness. A good way to do that work is to cultivate the attitudes of gratitude and generosity. When we reflect on the good things we have — food and water, shelter and clothes, family and friends, and all the many things that give us pleasure and bring meaning to our lives — we’re reinforcing our capacity to be mindful of the positive, and our awareness of the many ways we’re connected to and supported by our world. And when we practice generosity — the practice the Pali texts refer to as dana — we build our connection with others and learn to see all that we share with one another.
As Wolf and Serpa write:
The practice and attitude of gratitude will shift the sense of “not enough” to “there is enough” and “I have enough,” which in turn will elicit more spontaneous generosity. It is easier to give from a place of abundance than from scarcity. Generosity also deepens the understanding of the interconnection between the givers and the receivers.
I hope you’ll join us this Sunday evening, May 26, at 6 pm Pacific, 7 Mountain, 8 Central and 9 Eastern as we explore the attitudes of gratitude and generosity. Practice Circle is the SBA’s online meditation and discussion community. We meet via video conference on the second and fourth Sundays of each month. Practice Circle is free to attend, and everyone is welcome. Just click this link on Sunday evening to attend.