Month: September 2016

28 – Stuck between a rock and a hard place?

Have you ever felt stuck between a rock and a hard place? It’s difficult to be aware while we’re experiencing difficulties and yet that is the very moment that awareness can change everything for us. In this short episode, I will share the zen story of the strawberry and explain how I view this story to be a powerful lesson about awareness.

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Transcript of the podcast episode

Hello, you are listening to the Secular Buddhism podcast. And this is episode number 28. I am your host, Noah Rasheta. And today I’m talking about being stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Welcome back to the Secular Buddhism podcast. This is a weekly podcast that focuses on Buddhist concepts, topics, and teachings. Presented for a secular-minded audience. The Dalai Lama has said, “Do not try to use what you learned from Buddhism to be a Buddhist. Use it to be a better whatever you already are.” Please keep that in mind as you listen to this episode. If you enjoy this podcast, please share it with others, write a review or give it a rating on iTunes. If you’re in a position to be able to, I would encourage you to consider making a one-time donation or becoming a monthly contributor to the podcast, by visiting SecularBuddhism.com.

Now let’s jump into this week’s topic. Have you ever felt like you were stuck between a rock and a hard place? I’m sure you’ve heard the expression, ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’. And I think this is something that we all experience from time to time. It’s typically the feeling that we get when it seems like we have no good way out of a situation. And the situation can be all kinds of different things.

I recently experienced this, or have been experiencing this for a while with running my own company. And sometimes the decisions that have to made owning a business and deciding, for example, what to do with excess inventory. Or deciding if I should negotiate a deal with a specific chain of stores. From time to time I’ve had this feeling of feeling like I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place.

And recently I was in Germany, attending the world’s largest photography expo, called Photokina, for my work. And I’ve been working on this deal with my suppliers, the owners of the factory who manufacture all of my products. And I’ve been starting to feel more and more this feeling of being stuck between a rock and a hard place. Specifically in terms of how I negotiate a deal that I’ve been working on, with regards to: the ownership of the company, how to manufacture the products, who gets to decide who’s selling them to which distributor or which retailer.

And at times this can be a really stressful process for me. It’s probably one of the few areas right now, in my life right now, where I tend to feel a considerable amount of stress. So I’ve been anticipating this meeting with the owners of the factory for months now. And last week, while I was in Germany attending the trade show, we had the meeting scheduled. And I arrived there on a Monday and the meeting wasn’t until Thursday. So I was noticing how the level of anxiety was rising throughout the week, as I approached Thursday.

And it was kind of a fascinating process to experience this. And to notice it as I’m experiencing it. And it reminded me of one of my favorite Zen stories. That really means more to me now, than it ever has. And I think it’s a story that I want to share with you. And I think the basic lesson that’s generally taught with this story is one thing. But I see another level of meaning with this story. And I want to share that with you.

So this is called, the story of the strawberry. It’s a parable and it’s a Zen story. So the story goes like this: that there was a Zen master who was out walking one day. And he’s confronted by a ferocious tiger. So he slowly backs away from the tiger. Only to find out that he’s trapped by the edge of a high cliff. And the tiger snarls with hunger. And it goes after him. And his only hope of escape is to suspend himself over the abyss of the cliff. Holding onto a vine that’s growing out of the edge of the cliff. So as he climbs down the vine and he’s dangling there. He notices that there’s danger at the bottom as well. There’s another tiger at the bottom.

So he looks up. He can’t climb up because the tiger is there. If he climbs down, he can’t go down because there’s a tiger down there. So he’s kind of stuck. And then in the middle of all that, as if that wasn’t bad enough. Two mice show up and they start gnawing at the vine. And now he knows it’s just a matter of time before the vine breaks. And then he’s going to fall. So as he’s hanging there, dangling by the vine. Death seems imminent. And just then, he looks over and notices a ripe wild strawberry growing along the cliff’s edge. And he plucks the strawberry. And puts it in his mouth. And supposedly, the way the story goes, he says, “What a lovely strawberry this is.” Or this is the sweetest strawberry he’s ever tasted. And in that moment, he was enlightened.

And it’s a simple story. I’ve heard it many times. And it’s so simple, it’s almost silly. And I was thinking more about this specific story, something stood out to me. That I don’t think I had really noticed before. And it’s this idea of experiencing this and having the strawberry isn’t what makes him enlightened. It’s the fact that in the midst of being between the rock and the hard place, the metaphorical experience. In his case, the literal experience of being between the tiger and the tiger and death imminent because the mice are gnawing on the vine. He was capable of doing something that most people are not capable of. He was capable of noticing something.

To me this was a parable about awareness, more than anything. It’s the fact that in that moment, the average person would look and not even notice there’s a strawberry there. Because we’re focused on the situation at hand. Right? The fact that there’s a tiger, there’s a tiger, there are mice, the vine is being chewed on. The last thing that’s going to cross my mind is, “What should I be aware of here? What am I not noticing?”

And in Buddhism, we talk about this awareness all the time. And specifically what we’re trying to be aware of is the fact that there are things that we don’t know, that we don’t know. So it’s not even an awareness of, “I need to be looking for strawberries,” in this case. Because you can’t know, in this story, that he didn’t know what he was going to encounter. But what he was capable of, is being in a moment like that and noticing something. Having that sense of awareness.
So I was thinking about this story in the days leading up to my appointment, my meeting with the factory owners. And I thought a lot about this story. And like I said, the idea of what this story means has shifted over time for me. And I feel it’s become a more meaningful and in-depth story for me. As I realize that the whole point of the story is about awareness. It’s not about the conclusion. And we don’t know what happens. That’s not the point, is to know what will happen. Did he climb up? Did he climb down? Did the vine break? You know, you can draw all these metaphors, but that’s not the point. The point is that in that moment he experienced something because of his awareness.

So on Thursday, the day of the meeting, I had been thinking about this. And I was trying to tell myself, you know, there’s no need to be too stressed. Worst case scenario is that this business deal doesn’t happen the way that I thought that it did. And the best case scenario is that it does happen the way that I thought that it would. And in a way, both of them seemed like the rock and the hard place. Because if it does work the way that I wanted it to work, then I’m bound by these new terms that we’re committing to. And if it doesn’t work, then none of it’s going to work. And I’m free to start doing something else. But that also brings its own bag of new things to worry about.

So as we’re walking out there, I’m thinking of the story of the strawberry. And thinking, okay, for me this is completely metaphorical because there’s really no tiger and there’s no tiger. But it can feel like that. Life can feel like that at times. And I thought, if I were the person hanging on the vine right now. And I’m nervous about what’s going to happen. Am I going to climb up, am I going to climb down? Is the tiger going to get me? Are the mice going to gnaw through the vine? You know, when you’re in that situation. And I was thinking what am I, what could I look around and see that I didn’t notice that I wasn’t noticing?

And again, I’m in Germany. I’m experiencing a really cool vacation, tied in with work. Because it’s a new place I’ve never been. And as we’re walking to where we were going to have the meeting, I paused. And I thought, “What have I not noticed here?” And I just looked around. And as I looked around, this flock of birds flew right over my head. Probably 30 or 40 birds. And it was just a really powerful moment to pause for a second.

And to realize, here are all these birds who are just flying. And they’re completely oblivious to my stresses. The things going on in my life. The fact that I’m walking to a meeting that’s stressing me out. And they just do what they do. And they’ve been doing this for hundreds and thousands of years. In this same little city. Where people are walking to and from the town square. Probably with stresses and moments of failure, moments of success, with all kinds of things. But to them, it doesn’t matter. They’re going about doing their thing. And for some reason that experience for me, really clicked with the story of the strawberry.

And I took out my phone and I started filming. On the iPhone, you can do slow motion video. And I was filming them fly. And I filmed it in slow motion. And then I sat down and I watched the birds flying in slow motion. With their wings flapping and all of it in slow motion. And it just, it hit me with such a strong sense of awareness I think, in that moment. To realize there’s so much that I’m not aware of in a moment like that. When I can feel stress or anxiety, that feeling of being stuck between a rock and a hard place can limit my ability to be aware of all the amazing beauty that’s happening all around. And in that moment, it happened to be birds.

And I know that there are other things that I’m not aware of. You know? Maybe there were also ants crawling around. Or aside from the animals, just the other people in that same space. You know, somebody was probably walking with excitement in their step, because they had just gotten engaged or they just got a new job or they just bought a new car. At the same time, someone else was walking through that plaza, disappointed because they just lost a job, or they just crashed their car or they’re going through marital problems. I don’t know. And I think that’s kind of the point is, like with the Zen story.
It’s not about the conclusion because we don’t know the conclusion. We don’t know what happened. But it was never about what happened. It’s about what can we notice in the process of just being. And this was really powerful for me because from that moment on, I kind of felt like it doesn’t matter what’s going to happen. What’s going to happen is what’s going to happen. But what can I notice in this one moment. What can be my strawberry. And my strawberry was seeing those birds. And watching them fly. And I think a part of the reason that stood out to me so much is because I have a fascination for flying.
Flying is a big part of what I enjoy in life. And flying, ironically, was also a big part of why I was there in that moment, having that meeting. Because at one point in my life, I thought I was going to be a pilot, a helicopter pilot. And I spent a considerable amount of time and money to pursue that career. And it just turned out that, that wasn’t the career that worked out for me. Life events changed my plans. And instead of graduating from the school I was going to, and becoming a helicopter pilot. The school closed and went bankrupt. And stole my student loans for my flight money. And propelled me down this whole new path that was unplanned, unanticipated. And here I was in that present moment, the culmination of my desire to be a pilot. Had me standing in a square, in Germany, watching birds in slow motion. And it was just kind of a cool experience.

To me that’s the essence of this story. The story of the Zen master who was capable, in the moment of being between a rock and a hard place, of noticing something. And having a sense of awareness. So that’s what I wanted to share with you this week. Is the topic of being stuck between a rock and a hard place. And I know you’ve all felt that. I’ve felt that. And if you haven’t or you’re not right now. You will at some point again. It’s part of the experience of being alive. And when that happens, I would invite you to think of this story. Think of the guy dangling by a vine. And looking and realizing, oh there’s a strawberry. And tasting it. And like I’ve said before, this sounds like such a simple silly, almost, story. But it carries a very powerful message.

And it’s the message of our ability to be aware. And I think it’s this person’s ability to be aware in a moment like that. Is what makes that person enlightened. It’s not the fact that he ate a strawberry and that made him enlightened. That would be silly. So think about that. And if you’re going through a situation like this in your life, pause for a moment. And just ask yourself, continually ask yourself, “What am I not aware of not being aware of?” Or “What am I not noticing that I’m not noticing?” And pause for a minute. And look around. And try to capture something going on around you. That can get you out of that sense of feeling stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Because there’s always something else. And I’d love to hear your story or your interpretation of this. What this parable means to you. And the comments on the blog or on the Facebook page or in the Facebook group, Secular Buddhism. So, SecularBuddhism.com or Secular Buddhism on Facebook. You can find the study group and the Facebook page. So that’s the story I wanted to share with you this week, the story of the strawberry, being stuck between a rock and a hard place.
And remember, awareness is one of the key teachings in Buddhism. And there’s a big reason why. Because wisdom is what we’re after. And the only way to obtain wisdom, in this sense, in the spiritual sense, is learning or becoming aware of the things that we’re not aware of. And it’s with awareness that we can have acceptance. And with awareness and acceptance that we can experience change. Or enact change in our lives. And that’s why awareness is a key part here. And this is why this story, to me, is such a powerful story when you think about it and relate it to a teaching about awareness. So, ask yourself, “What am I not noticing?”

And again, I want to thank you for listening and being a part of this podcast. I’ve mentioned this before, but the podcast is growing at a rate that is quite incredible for me. And is still hard to believe. And I want to thank you all for that. Because it’s because of you that the podcast gets shared and continues to grow. And if any of you are interested in doing any humanitarian work. I’m going to remind you again, of the humanitarian trip we’re doing to Uganda, January 26 through February 4th of next year, 2017. And you can learn all about that on mindfulhumanitarian.org.

So that’s all I have for this week. Thank you again for listening. And if you have time, please write a review or give the podcast a rating in iTunes, that really helps. And if you have any questions, feel free to reach out to me. I can be reached on SecularBuddhism.com or on the Facebook page. And thanks again, for your continued support. And, until next time.

27 – Understanding Non-Attachment

What does it mean to practice non-attachment? Rather than thinking of non-attachment as not attaching to things, think of it as not allowing things to own you. What things own you? Those are the things you’re attached to. In this episode, I will discuss the concept of non-attachment and I will attempt to make this idea more accessible and easy to understand.

Transcript of the podcast

Hello, you are listening to the Secular Buddhism podcast and this is episode number 27. I am your host Noah Rasheta and today I’m talking about understanding non-attachment.
Welcome back to the Secular Buddhism podcast. This is a weekly podcast that focuses on Buddhist concepts, topics, and teachings, presented for a secular-minded audience.

The Dalai Lama has said “Do not try to use what you learn from Buddhism to be a Buddhist, use it to be a better whatever you already are.” I like to emphasize that at the beginning of every podcast episode, so please keep that in mind as you listen to this episode, and remember if you enjoy the podcast please share it with others, write a review, or give it a rating in iTunes. Or if you’re in a position to be able to help, I would really appreciate it if you could make a one-time donation or become a monthly contributor to the podcast by visiting secularbuddhism.com.

So let’s jump into this weeks’ topic “Understanding Non-attachment”. This is a topic I wanted to discuss because it’s come up a few times in recent workshops that I’ve done where the understanding of non-attachment is, I think, a little bit misconstrued. Typically, there’s the response, or asking for clarification, on whether or not it’s okay to be attached. Specifically, usually, referring to loved ones like a spouse, or children, or parents. So I want to clarify this topic a little bit more because non-attachment is a very important part of understanding Buddhist philosophical thought, but I want to be clear about what exactly non-attachment is. Or perhaps more specifically, what it’s not. Because I think when we think of the word attached, and if I were to think I’m attached to my kids or to my wife, we don’t necessarily view that as a negative connotation. And I don’t think we should.

The type of non-attachment that’s being talked about in Buddhist thought has less to do with what you own, or with what you hold on to, versus how that holds onto you. So, for instance, I heard a recent quote that said “Non-attachment doesn’t mean we don’t own things. It means we don’t allow things to own us.” That, in a nutshell, is the type of non-attachment that we’re talking about. A Zen Master put it pretty simply, he said “Everything breaks. Attachment is our unwillingness to face that reality.”

So, I think, non-attachment really stems from misunderstanding of things being impermanent. When we attach to something we suffer, and others suffer, because we’re holding onto things that are past their time. You remember the raft, the parable of the raft, where the Buddha was with his monks and he asks if somebody were to build a raft and they are crossing the river with it, at the time that they finally make it to the other side, is it wise or unwise to continue that raft with them. And I think this lesson really is talking about the understanding of non-attachment. Letting go of the raft, whatever the raft may be, is a lesson of letting go of things that are past their time. That is essentially the understanding of non-attachment.

This can apply to relationships, friends, experiences. Even our moment to moment experience of living, if we’re attached to it, can be the source of a lot of suffering for ourselves and others. By excepting the true nature of things as being impermanent we ease our fears and we open our hearts. Then this understanding of impermanence will not only benefit ourselves but will benefit others as well. So don’t think of non-attachment as a form of indifference or a form of self-denial. Think of non-attachment as a way of not allowing things in your life to own you. Giving up the attachment to the permanence of things is the key understanding here.

Because we understand that all things are constantly changing, that all things are impermanent, and because all things are constantly changing, when you hold onto something, and attach to it, it’s detrimental because that thing changes. It evolves and changes over time. Like that quote “Everything breaks.” Attachment is our unwillingness to face that reality and you can apply that thinking to almost anything.

In terms of relationship, because that one’s brought up quite often, what does non-attachment mean in terms of how I love my spouse, or my partner, or my children, or my parents, or siblings? Thich Nhat Hanh has a really good quote that I like, he says “You must love in such a way that the person you love feels free.” I think this goes hand in hand with the understanding of non-attachment. Loving in a non-attached way is loving in a way that the person that you love feels free, and to be loved in way that you feel free is a way of being loved without attachment. So it’s not that there isn’t love, or that you don’t want to be with someone, it’s that you don’t allow that person, or that thing, to own you, because that’s attachment. So letting go of attachment is the secret to really enjoying life and to loving others. It’s a way of freedom.

Think about that with relationships like with your children. If you love your children in a way that they feel free, that’s genuine non-attachment. You’re allowing someone to be completely authentic and free as they are. I think this is very pertinent with relationships but it applies to other things too.

I’ve been asked specifically about goals. Is non-attachment meaning I go through life and I don’t have milestones or goals that I’m going to work towards or aspire to? The goals or milestones are not the problems. It’s when we allow those things to own us that it becomes unhealthy so that same form of thinking applies here. I think it’s completely appropriate to have goals, to have milestones, that you set in life, or in your career, or in various phases of your life. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s when we become trapped because those things own us.

Jack Kornfield had a quote he put on Twitter not too long ago that said “Everything that has a beginning has an ending. Make your peace with that and all will be well.” I think, again, that’s a wonderful understanding of the concept of impermanence. So apply that to something like a goal. Having goals can be fine when you understand that goals are impermanent. You work towards it and you either accomplish it and move on, or something changes and it doesn’t work out, and that’s where the wisdom of adaptability comes into play because the moment life presents something new you can adapt and create a new goal. Because that goal didn’t own you, you used it as a tool for you, not an anchor or not something that makes it more difficult for you.

The Buddha taught that all conditioned phenomena are impermanent. That all meeting ends in parting. Again, I think, in all these examples what stands out to me is the understanding of non-attachment in terms of our understanding of impermanence because the mistake that we make is seeing life as permanent.

One of my teachers, Koyo Kubose, would say “Don’t put a period on it.” He always says “Just keep going.” Our tendency in life is to freeze it and make permanent things, like we do sentences. Then when this sentence is over there’s the period. That thought is done. It’s locked and now I move onto the next one. I think that makes a lot of sense in some ways, especially with writing, but what if life wasn’t about putting periods on things? What if it was always a comma and then you keep going? Then you add another comma and you keep going, like one infinitely long run-on sentence, which I know is really going to bother some of you who are into grammar, but think about that in terms of life.

I’ve compared life to a river. There’s no aspect of the river that’s permanent. The water that’s flowing is continually changing. The very edges and banks of the river are constantly eroding and sand is being carried away. If a big storm comes, and the water rises, the shape of the river can change. The water finds a new path and that becomes the new path of the river. So there’s not aspect of a river that’s permanent. Life is a lot like that. There’s no aspect of life that’s permanent. It’s when we get caught up in those moments of making things in life seem permanent that we run the risk of becoming attached. So when we attach to the permanence of things, then those things start to own us.

Non-attachment could be said that it’s really about not comparing. When you think about this in terms of time, this could be really powerful because think of the present moment. What if we allowed the present moment to be free as it is? Without comparing the present moment to a previous moment, or to a future moment, we just allow the present moment to be completely free to be what it is. Right here and right now. We’re not very good at that. Our tendency is to compare the present moment to a past moment or to a future moment that we anticipate. In doing that we’re not allowing that to be free and it’s without that sense of freedom that we become slaves to these concepts.

That’s the idea of attachment. Not that we’re attaching but they way we understand it, it attaches and binds us almost like shackles or like chains. So think of non-attachment as a form of freedom. The opposite of non-attachment is … Well, I guess, non-attachment could be synonymous with freedom. So think of it that way and the opposite of non-attachment would be a form of being bound or chained to whatever it is. It could be ideas, relationships, the present moment, there’s several things in life that can come up that non-attachment would be a much healthier way to approach it than the path of attachment, which I think in a lot of cases is more common.

The idea of non-attachment and, as I mentioned earlier, what one of my teachers always talks about “just keep going”. I had the experience last weekend, last Saturday, to get together with some friends and try to do a walk, a 50 mile walk. Fifty miles is 80.46 kilometers for those of you who use the metric system, so just to give an idea of how far of a distance that is. We walked that in one day. We started at five in the morning in one city, and walked to another city, from Provo to Salt Lake City in Utah. It took me just over 19 hours. So I started at 5:00 am and I arrived just after midnight, around 12:30. It was just a long day of non-stop walking and the reason I did it, I was excited to this when I found out that my friend was putting this together, because I knew that at some point I would want to stop. I would want to quit.

I had been studying this concept of “keep going” with my teacher and the idea that sometimes we do things just to do them. Our tendency, I’ve mentioned this in earlier podcasts, is that our utilitarian view of the world is “Well, what’s in it for me? If I’m going to do this there’s got to be a reason why.” Either I get a trophy, or I get even just to be able to say that I did it is still a reason to do it. I thought “What if I did it just to do it?” That’s a long enough walk to where, at some point, you just … Well, I guess you don’t why you’re doing it, but you forget the fact that you’re measuring how long it’s going to be because it’s still so long that you’re not really thinking about that.

I thought it might be a fun exercise to get into the mind set of thinking “I’m just taking one more step. And then one more step. I’m just going to keep going. Practicing this form of understanding and permanence. This moment, this step I’m taking, ends. It ends the moment I take the next step. Then that moment is also impermanent. It ends the moment I take the next step.” Overall, that’s how the entire walk turned out to be for me. This form of walking meditation of just taking one step at a time, having in my mind the attitude of “just keep going”. At times I thought about Dory. I’d gone to see Dory with my kids, from Finding Nemo, and she’s always singing that song Just Keep Swimming. Just Keep Swimming. I had that popping into my mind on multiple occasions during the walk. To just keep going. Just keep swimming.

I finally completed that and for me it was a form of being unattached to the permanence of the situation, of walking. I think it’s easy to think “Okay, here’s the start of the walk and then there’s the end of the walk.” I knew it was going to be about 20 hours was my goal. I think sometimes there’s this attitude, I know that I was certainly thinking this, of enduring. I’m going to endure this. Enduring things in life is one way to view things but I like to think of it as understanding that what I’m going through in the moment is not permanent. This too shall pass. I’ve talked about that. And that ring. The king who was looking for a way to be cheered up when he was down and he was given a ring with the inscription “This too shall pass.” But that also reminded him, when things were good this too shall pass, and it kind of became his curse.

While I was doing the 50 mile walk I thought about that a lot. Especially towards the end when I was starting to feel really sore, and my muscles were really tight, and I was starting to limp, and I was thinking “this too shall pass”. At the first of the walk “this too shall pass” was my comfort level. I was feeling very comfortable, my legs were fine, and I was telling myself, “well this too shall pass”. At some point in this walk this is going to hurt. Then when it was hurting I was telling myself “this too shall pass” and that was to remind me that once the walk was over, at some point my muscles wouldn’t be sore again. That actually took a full week after the walk, so from Saturday, from the moment I was done, the next day I could barely walk. Then it took almost a full week before I could walk without limping. But throughout this whole ordeal it was fun to try to practice the mindset of not allowing any of it to feel permanent. Every day, I was reminding myself, even after the walk, I’m still sore, thinking “well this too shall pass”.

That’s essentially the attitude of non-attachment. It’s recognizing that everything that I’m experiencing is impermanent. I’m trying to face the reality that everything ends. Every start has an ending. I thought about the parable that I’ve shared before about the two monks who where crossing the river because I think that is a wonderful depiction of detachment. So the two monks arrive at the edge of the river and there’s the young girl in the wedding gown. The senior monk picks her up without even thinking. They cross the river. He puts her down and then at some point on their journey, the young monk is just going nuts trying to figure out what he had just seen. He finally tells the senior monk “Hey, what are you doing? We’ve taken vows to not touch a female and you just picked her up like nothing and carried her across the river.” The senior monk pauses and just tells him “I put her down on the other side of the river. Why do you continue to carry her?”

To me that another wonderful example of attachment. When something has gone beyond its time, it’s past its time, we have a hard time letting go because we’re attached. Non-attachment is being able to do what you need to do in the moment, like the monk putting the girl on his back, and then when it was done it was done and he let her go.

I would invite you to think about this topic and ask yourself “What are you attached to?” Maybe an even stronger way to word this, to make it more clear what I’m trying to get at, is “What are the things that currently own you?” What are the things that control and currently own you? This could be emotions, if you’re still angry at something that happened in the past, or at someone. Take a look at your life and ask yourself “What is it that currently owns me?” Because if you feel a sense of something that owns you there’s attachment there. That’s a great place to start with practicing non-attachment. What can I try to detach from? Well, try to detach from the things that you feel that own you. This doesn’t just have to be the negative things, it can be anything that you feel owns you. With relationships, this is incredibly powerful.

If you are able to have a non-attached loving relationship with your spouse, or with your parents, or with your children, what would that look like to love someone in such a way that the person that you love feels free? What would that look like? What would it look like if you felt like you were loved in a way that you felt free? Start by offering that to someone else. Offering that sense of freedom to the person that you love. That’s a form of non-attachment.

I hope that kind of clarifies the topic a little bit about non-attachment. Rather than thinking of non-attachment as “I don’t own anything.” Or “I’m not going to have anything in my life. I’m going to give everything up.” Consider that non-attachment has more to do with not allowing the things that you do have in your life to possess you, or to own you. Think of it that way and then look for what areas, or things, in your life right now feel like they have a sense of attachment for you.
I’d love to hear about this in the comments and see how it goes for you as you discuss this, or as you explore this a little bit. Then I want to remind everyone, only because we’re getting closer to the date of this humanitarian trip that I’m doing next January. January 26th through February 4th. If you’re interested in learning about that, please reach out to me. You can learn about it on mindfulhumanitarian.org or you can reach out to me, I’ve mentioned this a few times but, you can find me on Facebook. My username is Noah Rasheta, so facebook.com/noahrasheta, or on Twitter, or on Instagram. I have the same username in all those places. Or you can always reach out to me by email, a lot of you do and I really appreciate communicating with you. My email address is [email protected] So you can find me on secularbuddhism.com, of course.

As always, thank you so much for taking the time to listen. I really believe that this podcast is making a difference and many of you have reached out to tell me that it’s making a difference to you. It’s wonderful to hear that. It really motivates me to continue recording new podcast episodes.

I do this because I enjoy it. I do this because I’m trying to make myself a better whatever I already am. I have no intent of converting or changing anyone. I’m just sharing these topics because they’re meaningful to me and I enjoy them. In a way they’re written for me as I go through my journey. I’m trying to be more mindful and I’m determined to continue producing content and creating tools to help myself and others to be more mindful. So you can play a part in that if you’re in a position to be able to help, your donations allow me continue producing that weekly content and creating these tools for the workshops and retreats and seminars and of course the podcast. So, if you’re in a position to be able to help please visit secularbuddhism.com to make a one-time donation or sign up as a monthly supporter of the podcast.

Thanks again for taking the time to listen and please feel free to share the podcast, to write a review, or give it a rating in iTunes. Please reach out to me and let me know what you think of this podcast episode.
Good luck with trying to explore in what areas of your life you feel that you could practice non-attachment. I’d love to hear what it does for you to think about it like this and to see if you can start to practice non-attachment in different areas of your life.

I wish you all the best. Have a great week. Until next time.

26 – Want to be happy? Practice gratitude


Gratitude is the key to happiness but gratitude requires practice. In this episode, I will discuss how we can develop a practice of gratitude. “The root of joy is gratefulness…It is not joy that makes us grateful; it is gratitude that makes us joyful.” ― David Steindl-Rast

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Transcript of the podcast episode

Hello, you are listening to the Secular Buddhism podcast and this is episode number 26. I am your host Noah Rasheta, and today, I’m talking about gratitude.
Welcome back to the Secular Buddhism podcast. I am recording this episode from a room in the Seattle airport while I’m waiting to catch a flight, so I want to apologize in advance if you hear any background sounds that you don’t typically hear when I record these podcasts.

Welcome back to the Secular Buddhism podcast. I am recording this episode from a room in the Seattle airport while I’m waiting to catch a flight, so I want to apologize in advance if you hear any background sounds that you don’t typically hear when I record these podcasts.

This is a weekly podcast that focuses on Buddhist concepts, topics and teachings presented for a secular-minded audience. The Dalai Lama said, “Do not try to use what you learn from Buddhism to be a Buddhist. Use it to be a better whatever-you-already-are.” So please keep that in mind as you listen to this episode. And as always, if you enjoy this podcast, please feel free to share it with others, write a review, or give it a rating in iTunes. And if you’re in the position to be able to help, I would greatly appreciate if you were able to make a one-time donation or become a monthly contributor to the podcast by visiting SecularBuddhism.com.

Now, let’s jump into this week’s topic. So in the past, I did a podcast episode that was called “Freedom from the Pursuit of Happiness” and it was a podcast about happiness and reframing the way that we approach our pursuit of happiness, and kind of shifting our mindset from the pursuit of happiness to the happiness of the pursuit. And it was a very popular podcast episode and I wanted to expand a little bit on that idea. So in the past several days, I’ve been thinking a lot about the topic of gratitude and how gratitude plays into happiness.

So before we can talk about gratitude, I wanted to talk about happiness for a minute, because typically, you know, what is it that we’re trying to accomplish in life? If you were to ask somebody that question, including yourself, most of us are probably going to say that what we’re trying to accomplish is more happiness. We’re trying to experience the joy of happiness and trying to minimize everything else that doesn’t make us happy. That’s typically the path.

That’s why you’ve heard the expression, “the pursuit of happiness”. It’s like this thing that you can pursue and catch it, and we treat it almost like we do the other word “meaning” as if it was something that was out there that you can go and find, and you dig under a rock and there it is. There’s happiness, and now I got it, and it’s mine. When the reality is that happiness doesn’t work that way because happiness is just an emotion. And like all of our emotions, whether that’d be happiness, sadness, anger, you know … These are impermanent emotions, and when the causes and conditions are right, you experience and emotion, and then when the causes and conditions are gone, it’s no longer there. That’s the nature of our emotions.
So that trap that we fall into is thinking that happiness is thing that we can get, and we can’t. But the irony in this is that there is a way to experience it, but it doesn’t have to do with chasing after happiness. So the Buddha taught that we are what we think, and all that we are arises with our thoughts. And it’s with our thoughts that we make our world. So the way that we think will influence the way that we are, and when we think … When we are pursuing happiness or we think that happiness is the goal, we can get trapped in this hamster wheel, so to speak, that we’re running and running, and never get in there because we’ve misunderstood what happiness is.

So what I wanted to focus on in this podcast episode is something different. Rather than pursuing happiness, what if we develop or practice gratitude? And the irony in this is that it’s by practicing gratitude, it’s by developing a sense or an attitude of gratefulness that we experience happiness. Because remember, happiness isn’t something that you can’t catch and get. It’s not a thing that’s … There it is, there’s happiness, and I got it. You experience it, and you experience it by being grateful.
So what if instead of focusing on the pursuit of happiness, we focused on the practice of gratitude? That’s what I really wanted to discuss in this podcast. And practicing gratitude doesn’t come naturally. It seems that we’re not really hardwired to be grateful, and I have no doubt that you know somebody who tends to be more naturally grateful. And isn’t it pleasant to be around people who tend to be grateful? I know, I have several people in my life that I look up too, who are people who tend to be very grateful. And the thing about gratitude is that it’s like any skill. It’s a skill that requires practice, and we can develop an attitude of gratefulness or gratitude by practicing it.

Dr. Robert Emmons, who’s the author of a book called Thanks!: How Practicing Gratitude Can Make You Happier … He talks about the three stages of gratitude, and says that, “First, you recognize what you’re grateful for. Then, you acknowledge it and appreciate it.” So recognition, then acknowledgement, then it’s the actual act of appreciating it. And that sounds simple, but the benefits of practicing gratitude can really be life-altering.

So I want to talk about this a little bit more because we tend to see gratitude as something that, when the circumstances are right, then we’ll be grateful. But gratitude isn’t about the circumstances, and you can look at this because you can put yourself in any set of circumstances and just change the scenario, and you’ll see in one circumstance you’ll be grateful, and the other one, you’re not, and the circumstances are the same. So it’s not about the circumstances.

For example, if you were driving down the road on your way to a job interview and you got a flat tire, you would pull over, and you know, the last thing you’re gonna do is be grateful for your flat tire, because you don’t want to have a flat tire. You want to be at the job interview. Now, if you were in a prison transport vehicle on your way to jail for something that you didn’t do and you’re really terrified to go to jail, and the transport vehicle gets a flat tire, well now you’re gonna be very grateful for the flat tire, and you’re gonna hope that it takes them a hundred years to change the tire. So if you were looking at the circumstance, the circumstance is you got a flat tire, that’s not the problem. It’s only a problem if you don’t want a flat tire.

So with gratitude, it’s never about the circumstances, or the event, I should say, and maybe not circumstances, but the event. It’s not about the event. It’s about everything around that. So I think to understand gratitude a little bit more, we should talk about: Why is it that we don’t feel gratitude? What is it that’s preventing gratitude?

And I think a big part of this is what we call dualistic thinking. It’s the idea that there’s life as it is and then there’s life as I think it should be. And that’s the dualistic part of it. I’m creating two realities. There’s reality as it is, and the reality that I want. And that separation puts us in a position where when I’m looking for something that isn’t how it is, it’s hard to experience gratitude. The sense of expectation or the sense of comparison, we don’t what is. We only see what we … You know, the woulda, coulda, shoulda scenarios of life. And the thing is, gratitude is just there. It’s a part of the reality as it is, and it doesn’t know any of the stories that we’ve created about how things should be. So we … It’s important to understand that it’s resentment and bitterness that can blind us from being grateful. Well, blind us … We simply just cannot experience it because we’re experiencing resentment and bitterness.

So it’s important, I think, to look at your life and to analyze in what way, or in what areas of my life am I experiencing any kind of resentment or bitterness. And this will typically have to do with, you know, woulda, coulda, shoulda. Because resentment and bitterness typically from dashed expectations. There’s … How the way life is different from how we want it to be because we think it should’ve been differently had this … This or that changed. And when we’re in that mindset, what is there to be grateful for? You can’t be grateful.

When the world doesn’t fit our stories, there’s tension from, you know, how things are and how I expected things to be. And in that world, you’re just not going to experience any form of gratitude. So then we need to look at that a little bit more, and if you’re not experiencing gratitude naturally, then maybe you can ask, “Why am I not feeling grateful? Why am I not experiencing gratitude?” And then follow that up with, “Am I experiencing some kind of resentment or some kind of bitterness?” Because typically, we go through life experiencing these things, but we don’t pause and give ourselves the time of day to actually be with those emotions and to analyze them a little bit.

This is where practicing gratitude really comes in. And I want to talk about this because I think there are five steps that we can take to start to develop gratitude, and consider this a form of practice because by practicing this we get better at it just like going to the gym makes you stronger or practicing meditation makes you more mindful. So developing gratitude, we could say, is something that can be practiced and we’re gonna go through these five steps to develop gratitude.

So the first one is about … Is centered around awareness. You want to become aware. So step one is become aware, and this is asking yourself, “What am I not noticing here? What should I be grateful for?” Because if you’re not experiencing gratitude naturally, that’s okay. But at least you can notice, “Hey, I’m not experiencing gratitude. Why aren’t I grateful?” And you’ll be amazed if you were to … To become aware, you would be amazed at all the goodness that we take for granted, all the things that we should be grateful that we don’t typically or naturally experience. And there’s a good video, a TED Talk called “A Good Day” that you could check out and that’ll help get you in the right frame of mind. So just developing a sense of awareness, and this could be the awareness that … Of things that you’ve realized, “Oh, I’m grateful for this.” But it also entails the awareness of realizing, “Oh, I’m not grateful.” The fact that you’re aware that you’re not grateful is a good start.

The next step is writing it down. You’ve probably heard of the idea of keeping a gratitude journal. But really, all it takes is writing down one or a few things that you’re grateful for on a daily basis and developing a habit out of that. And you don’t have to have a fancy notebook for that. There are apps that will do this that you can put on your phone and they’ll remind you every morning, and say, now what are the one or two or three things that you’re grateful for? There are many ways you can develop this as a daily habit, and just write it down because when you’re forced to ask yourself, “What am I grateful for?”, you’re going to … You have to pause and you have to think about it. So it’s a really good way to start developing the practice of gratitude.
The third step is learning to identify the negative. So if you identify something or someone with a negative trait, you know, for example, some people have the tendency to approach things from the negative point first. For example, you walk into the office and the first thing you notice is it’s cold, or … I don’t know. There are a lot scenarios here, but what if you could practice switching it in your mind to see what is the positive aspect of this? You know, for example, you walk into a room and it feels cold, then think, well, okay … Try to extract out of this something that’s positive. You look out the window and realize, “Oh, but this room has a good view.” And so now you’ve practiced switching that, identifying the negative so that you can switch to the positive. And this is just, again, a practice. The more you do this, the more habitual it become to see positive things simultaneously as you see the negative things, and then eventually, seeing less negative things.

The fourth step is gonna be practicing, and we’re not gonna fake it. You don’t have to fake being grateful. You don’t have to pretend to be grateful, or say, you know, to someone, “Oh, thank you,” just because you’re faking it. Consider this practicing it. So try to give at least one compliment everyday, and the reason this is helpful is because if you know, “Today, I’m supposed to give a compliment to something or to someone,” it forces you to look for the positive because you’re not gonna want to just compliment and be inauthentic. So you will start to practice being authentically looking for something to be grateful for so you can share that. So, you know, this could be very easy. Smiling and saying thank you to someone for something is a wonderful way to practice gratitude. So find something to be grateful for and then express it. I think we go through a significant portion of our lives feeling gratitude but never expressing. And gratitude feels good for us but you who else it feels incredible for? The person who’s receiving it, on the receiving end of gratitude.

Practicing … I guess what we’re really practicing here is practicing the expression of gratitude. So when you feel gratitude, feel free to express it. Share it with the people, especially people that you know and care for and love, it’s very meaningful to feel appreciated. So practice expressing gratitude and it can be for anything, you know, the waiter who brings you your food, someone who opens the door at the gas station. It can be to your spouse or significant other who did something kind for you, or … There’s just so many ways, so many moments to be able to feel and then more importantly express your gratitude. So we’re practicing the expression of gratitude.

And then there’s the fifth step which I kind of like. I think this might be a challenge for the podcast listeners to go in on this challenge of making a vow. So this is kind of a complement to the practice, it’s making a vow to not complain, to not criticize or to gossip for a set amount of time. Maybe let’s say, 10 days. A 10-day vow or a 10-day gratitude challenge, and rather than focusing it around the positive aspect of it, of being grateful, because we’re already practicing that. Remember, you’re gonna do it everyday, you’re gonna compliment someone … At least one compliment everyday.

This is focusing on the negative side, “How do I eliminate the negative side?” Well, what if you take a vow to not complain, criticize or gossip for 10 days? And if you catch yourself messing up, you don’t have to do this, but maybe if you catch yourself slipping, you know, maybe you can have some form of punishment where you put a dollar into a jar every time you mess up, and at the end, take that money and maybe donate to someone or to something. I don’t know. That just might be a fun way to do it, but you don’t have to do that. But I would love to see if you’re willing to take a vow to … For 10 days to not complain, to not criticize or to gossip. I remember gossiping is just speaking of someone when they’re not there in a negative way. There’s never a need to do that.

So those are the five steps. Number one, become aware. Developing an awareness of the things that we’re grateful for, or at least an awareness that we’re not grateful. It can start with that. Step two, write it down. Step three, identify the negative approach. If you have negative approach, identify when and where and how you do that, and try to counter it with one positive. So as soon as you identify the negative, counter it with a positive, and just practice that. Step four is practicing the expression of gratitude. You know, try for 10 days to at least give one compliment daily, and you know, keep going past the 10 days. This is a great one to do. Maybe it’s a daily thing that you do for the rest of your life, that would be awesome. So practice expressing gratitude especially to the people who you’re close to. It would mean everything to them. And make a vow, 10-day challenge. No complaining, criticizing or gossiping for 10 days. I’d love to hear in the comments on SecularBuddhism.com or on the Secular Buddhism study group on Facebook or just the Secular Buddhism Facebook page, but I’d love to hear you tell me about it if you make that vow, if you take that commitment, or you can email me: [email protected] Tell me all about it, I’d love to hear that.

But that’s kind of what I had in mind for this topic on gratitude. So how we can shift our mindset from the mindless pursuit of happiness? Well, I guess I shouldn’t say that. It can be mindful. But what if we focused our attention away from chasing after happiness to just practicing gratitude? And the irony, like I said before, the irony in this is that, experiencing gratitude is what helps us … It’s what makes you feel happy. So if you want to chase after happiness, don’t chase after it. Practice gratitude. There’s no greater gift than the gift of gratitude, of feeling grateful for our lives, for the fact of being alive, for so many little things. And I think we don’t spend a lot of time thinking about all the things we can be grateful for.

One of my teachers [inaudible 00:20:02] was talking about the little things in life that we typically don’t even think about, we don’t think to be grateful for, and he specifically mentioned his shoes and how at the end of everyday, he takes off his shoes and says, “Thank you, shoes, for protecting my stinky feet.” And it was so interesting for me to hear that and to think not once in my entire life have I ever thanked my shoes because you wouldn’t think to have to do that. You know, these are inanimate objects and they don’t have feelings, so why do I need to thank them? But it’s not about them. It’s about my disposition and my attitude, and I thought, “Well, how interesting.”

It’s just never occurred to me to be thankful for something so simple as, you know, what protects my feet all day long. So I spent a week after that trying to think of all the little things to be thankful for. And throughout that week, it was fascinating, you know, at work, a check came in and a signed it and I deposited it on my phone, taking a picture, and again, I had experience where I was like I’ve never thought to be thankful to my pen for being able to sign my name, to my phone for being able to take a picture and have that go right into my account, I didn’t have to drive to the bank, so I was like, “Thank you, smartphone. Thank you, pen.” And then, “Thank you, check.” Because it was able to just come in the mail, and then I was like, “Oh, well, thank you to the post office who does all these delivery and getting things from here to there.” And it just went on and on and on, that one single action brought up hundreds of things to be thankful for. And it’s just so interesting how so many of those things had never once crossed my mind ever to be thankful for. You can imagine that whole week was an intense week of being grateful for all the little things.

You know, even the drive home, I was thinking, “How can I be grateful for things I’ve never thought of being grateful for before?” For example, the red light. You’re stuck at the red light. You don’t ever thank the red light. But I looked at the red light and said, “Thank you, red light.” Because if it wasn’t for this red light organizing us all, it would be chaotic here. And while my light is red, someone else’s light is green, and they get to go. And then when theirs is red, mine is green, and you know, I was thinking I should thank the red light because thanks to their red light, I get to drive through this intersection when it’s green, and typically not have to worry about someone else running through the intersection and hitting me.

It just kind of reframes the way you view a lot of things if you practice gratitude. So I think it would be a fun experience this week, or whenever you listen to this podcast, to give yourself a 10-day challenge. Take a vow for 10 days to not complain, to not gossip, to not criticize, and during those 10 days, practice expressing gratitude, at least one compliment, one authentic compliment everyday to someone for something. And see how that changes you, see if it starts to change your mindset. And more importantly, what you should notice is the more you practice gratitude, the more you should experience happiness. And this is the best part of all of it, is that the goal isn’t to be happy. We’re not chasing after happiness. We’re practicing gratitude, but the effect of that, what you’ll notice is that you experience and feel more happiness.

And quickly before I wrap up this podcast, I do want to remind you that next year, in January … From January 26th through February 4th, I’ve been invited to teach mindfulness retreat in conjunction with a humanitarian trip that we’re doing in Uganda in Africa. And this is gonna be a really awesome opportunity to do humanitarian work, while at the same time focusing on the contemplate of practice of mindfulness. So if you are interested in learning about that, visit MindfulHumanitarian.org. This is going to be a wonderful and unique experience going to Uganda, experiencing mindfulness, humanitarian work and adventure. We’re doing a safari. If you’re interested in learning more about that, visit the website or reach out to me, and ask me any questions that you might have.

And as always, I want to thank you for taking the time to listen. When I started this podcast, my intention was to just make content and tools available for people to learn the philosophical concepts that are taught from the contemplate of tradition of Buddhism that ultimately enable us to live more mindfully. And I’ve been surprised to see how much demand there is for this presentation, this style of presentation for Buddhism, and it’s been an incredible journey and I’m very happy to be doing this and to be on this journey with you.

And I’ve said this before, but I believe that the key to contributing to making society or the world a better place really is about making ourselves better versions of ourselves, and that’s why I do these podcasts. I’m determined to continue producing content and creating tools that will help us to be more mindful, and ultimately, this is … I do this for myself. This is my practice. This is me trying to be the best me that I can be. And you know, at times, it feels like, well, it’d be great to do this for everyone else out there to listen to this, but ultimately, I don’t feel like I’m trying to sell anything. I don’t feel like I’m trying to push anything on anyone. I record all this, in a way for, myself. This is me being able to express myself in a way that my own children will be able to listen to this at some point in the future and know how I felt about these topics.

And if you listened to this and you enjoy it, well then, that’s all for the better. If we can be more mindful as individuals, we end up having more mindful families and ultimately more mindful societies, and we can end up having a better world and it’s not because we were trying to change the world. It’s ultimately because we were trying to change ourselves, and I really believe that.

So if you’re able to contribute in any way, your generous donations allow me to continue producing weekly content for this podcast, along with content for the workshops and the retreats and seminars that I do. And if you’re interested and you’re in a position to be able to help, please visit SecularBuddhism.com to make a one-time donation, or sign up as a monthly supporter of the podcast.

And as always, thank you for your continued support, and I’ll be happy to record another podcast episode next week. So have a great week, and until next time.