How to Train a Wild Elephant: And Other Adventures in Mindfulness

with Jan Chozen Bays

During the month of November, we'll be reading Jan Chozen Bays's How to Train a Wild Elephant: And Other Adventures in Mindfulness at the Tricycle Book Club. Pick up a copy and join the discussion below.

People often say to me, “I’d love to practice mindfulness, but I’m so busy I can’t seem to find the time.”

Most people think of mindfulness as something they must squeeze into an already full schedule of working, raising children, caring for a home. Making mindfulness part of your life is more like a paint-by-numbers kit. You begin with one small area of your life, let’s say becoming aware of the earth beneath your feet. Several times a day, particularly  while walking, you bring your attention to the earth that supports your steps. You do this for a week or so, until you’ve added the color of attention to that daily activity.

Then you add another mindful practice, such as eating mindfully. Once this way of being present is integrated into your life, you add another. Gradually you are present and aware for more and more moments of the day. The pleasing  experience of an awakened life begins to emerge.

What we call peak moments are times when we are completely aware. Our life and our awareness are undivided, at one. At these times the gap between us and everything else closes and suffering disappears. We feel satisfied, actually, we are beyond satisfaction and dissatisfaction. We are present. We are presence. We get a tantalizing taste of what Buddhists call the enlightened life.

These moments inevitably fade, and there we are again, divided and grumpy about it. We can’t force peak moments or enlightenment to happen. The tools of mindfulness, however, can help us close the gaps that cause our unhappiness. Mindfulness unifies our body, heart and mind, bringing them to focused attention. When we are thus unified, the barrier between “me” and “everything else”  becomes thinner and thinner, until, in a moment, it vanishes! For a while, often a brief moment or occasionally a lifetime, all is whole, all is holy, and at peace.

On tricycle.com we will be doing a new mindfulness exercise each week for the month of November. I’ve selected exercises that relate to the theme of gratitude. These are four of fifty three  exercises that I included in the book How to Train a Wild Elephant, published recently by Shambhala Publications. We have been doing mindfulness tasks for twenty years at the monastery where I live. Once a week we pick an exercise, and at the end of the week we have fun discussing what we have discovered as we attempted the task. We’ll have a similar discussion here at the Tricycle Book Club. Please try this first exercise described below and write in during the week to tell us how it’s going! Also, keep an eye on the Tricycle blog for exercises throughout the month.

Jan Chozen Bays, MD, is a pediatrician and a longtime meditation teacher. She is the author of Mindful Eating and lives outside Portland, OR.



Mindfulness Exercise # 1: Gratitude at the End of the Day


The Exercise
At the end of the day, write a list of at least five things that happened during the day that you are grateful for.  At the end of the week, read it out loud to a friend, partner or mindfulness companion.

Reminding yourself
Keep a notepad and pencil or pen beside your bed or on your pillow so you can write a list each night before you fall asleep.

Discoveries
When people first do this practice, they often think that they will have trouble making a list of at least five things they are grateful for. However, they are surprised to find that when they start, the list often grows longer. It is as if a long-neglected faucet is turned on, and the flow doesn’t shut off.  This is a lovely transformation into the mind-state of ongoing gratitude.

Research shows that people who keep a “gratitude journal” or express gratitude verbally show a significant increase in happiness and decrease in depression.

We may know people who are naturally grateful. To be around them lifts our spirits and brightens the day. The Buddha spoke of “cultivating” our mind, letting unwholesome emotions and thoughts wither away while strengthening wholesome ones. How is this possible? It is an energetic phenomenon. Anything that is fed energy will grow. It may seem artificial at first, but when we deliberately cultivate gratitude, we will gradually become naturally grateful people. (Conversely, if we cultivate negative mind states, jealousy or criticism, they will become who we are.)

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pjonly's picture

Hi,

I thought I'd check back after a week away from the PC, thankfully celebrating Thanksgiving. I was hoping there would be one more week of this group and one more selection from the book to focus on. Thank you, Jan, for responding to everyone so promptly and making us feel part of a little book club community through the month of November. I've appreciated your book and it's exercises immensely.

Paula

Jan Chozen Bays's picture

Hi Paula and everyone who participated in this discussion.
Thanks for joining in with the exercises and for posting!
I hope the mindfulness exercises you did will stick with you and emerge from time-to-time.

At the monastery we just finished a week of the exercise "this person could die tonight." It's a particularly meaningful exercise when you have had someone close to you has die suddenly. We that when we are aware that this might well be the last look, the last hug, or the last goodbye, we listen and look more closely, with an extra measure of appreciation. One person whose parents live in England said that they see them just once a year. Since the parents are in their 60's, that means about 20 more visits. Or less. When you realize this, you have a different attitude toward each of those visits.

When my second parent died I realized, oh, all the questions I was going to ask them about their life -- it's too late. All that information is now gone.

Over the holidays, I like to sit down with a relative and ask them about their life. (I did this with my parents before they died, but I wish I'd done more.) You can pick any topic and it can open up into something very interesting (once they get over their initial shyness or disbelief that you are actually interested). Say you ask about "school." How old were they when they first went to school? How did they get there? Did they like school or not? Who was their most memorable teacher? their favorite subject? What did they eat for lunch?

Last week I learned that our 87 year old neighbor drove a school bus in his teens because all the adult men were off at WW2. He walked 3 miles to the bus barn, drove the bus, attended school himself, drove the kids home on the bus, then walked home 3 miles from the bus barn. He was paid $ 50 a month.

Each person's life is unique, and once in a while, if we are consciously present with them, we can witness those unique aspects. The best gifts we can give this holiday season? Kindness and true attention. The trick for me (as always with being mindful) is to remember this.
Palms together in gratitude for our mini-sangha,
Jan Chozen Bays

pjonly's picture

Followup to my earlier post: I just noticed that there is a Page 2 of the comments. I had not seen them before posting and now realize that this book discussion is over and another has begun.

Sam Mowe's picture

I also appreciated the discussion of Jan's book. Hope to see you in the discussion of Jason Siff's Unlearning Meditation!

Sam Mowe
Associate Editor

Sam Mowe's picture

Hi everyone, Here's the fourth and final exercise for this discussion:

Mindfulness Exercise # 4: This Person Could Die Tonight

The Exercise
Several times a day, when someone is talking to you, in person or on the telephone, remind yourself, “This person could die tonight. This may be the last time I will be with them.” Notice any changes in how you listen, speak or interact with them.

Reminding yourself
Put a note on your bathroom mirror, just above or below where your own reflection appears, saying, “This person could die tonight.” Put similar notes on your telephone(s), in your workspace—somewhere where you will see them several times during the day.

Discoveries

Some people find this task a bit depressing at first, but soon they discover that when they become aware of their own mortality and that of the person they are talking to, they listen and look in a different way. Their heart opens as they hold the truth that this could be the very last time they will see this person alive. When we talk to people, especially people we see daily, we are easily distracted and only half listen. We often look a bit to the side or down at something else, rather than directly at them. We might even be annoyed that they have interrupted us. It takes the realization that they could die to make us pay attention anew.

This practice becomes particularly poignant when the person you are talking to is aged or ill, or when death has recently taken an acquaintance or some one you loved. When the Japanese say goodbye to someone, they stand respectfully, watching and waving until the car or train is out of sight. This custom has its origin in the awareness that this could be the last time we will see each other. How sad we would feel if our last encounter with our child, partner or parent were flavored with impatience or anger! How comforting if we had said good bye with care.

cynhat's picture

It is so good to know I'm not alone in these feelings of annoyance. Annoyance that leads to ignoring.
Thank you Sam Mowe - (who are you?, I wonder) - for the idea of the image-rather-than-words--reminder on the pillow. I see body drawn in fine ink lines - bloom of veins on legs (which I was just glaring at this afternoon) - well,
veins that happen to flow from a beautiful rosy heart - tuscan red and coral blush.

let me remember to love.

Sam Mowe's picture

Hi cynhat, I'm a fellow practitioner & the associate editor at Tricycle. Thanks so much for participating in this discussion. Lovely posts.

maggiecsf's picture

Exercise #3 is the one which has really engaged me. It has been a long long time since I have felt grateful to my body. I wake up in the morning and move carefully, trying to stretch, and wondering which body part will win the "pain prize" today, and when will I start having side effects from my latest pain meds. It seems that when one area settles down, two others jump in to replace it. I often do feel persecuted by my body. Now I am trying to use the pain as a sort of "mindfulness bell," to remind me that in spite of persistent pain there is so much for which I can be grateful to my body. Thank you for this exercise, and for the book.

Jan Chozen Bays's picture

I know exactly how you feel. I particularly don't like it when a new body part starts complaining. However, eventually that area of discomfort seems to merge into the general background of aches and twinges.

We start morning meditation at 4:30 AM at the monastery. I do ten minutes of yoga before that to loosen my stiff joints.

Then, for the first half hour of meditation, I do a beneficial practice for the body -- loving kindness or gratitude. Or I just bringing fresh "chi" energy in with each in-breath and sending it to all the body parts on the out-breath. At the end I pay special attention to the body parts that need extra help.

Without this support, I'd be hobbling around, wincing and half awake, for the first several hours of the day. I don't like it that my body is getting older and needs more attention than when I was in my 20's and 30's, but that's the way it is.

skinnerro's picture

Chozen,
I too want to thank you so much for sharing your thoughts with us.
Not only has this been good practice for me, but I'm trying to gently lend these thoughts to my children. I would hope that this, if learned young, might be easier to practice along the aging path.
Or, more likely, in sharing with this with them, I'm hopeful more is learned by me.
Thanks too, to Sam for the exercise links above.

Jan Chozen Bays's picture

Yes, many people say, "I wish I had begun this in childhood.!" Any time is a good time to start, but if we encourage our kids to join us, even for a few minutes, in some of these exercises, it can have lasting benefits.

There is new evidence that meditation and mindfulness can re-wire the brain. Here's a link to a show about kids meditating. The video is cute. http://abcnews.go.com/Health/meditation-brain-rewire-study/story?id=1500...

Sam Mowe's picture

Thank you for reading them!

Sam Mowe's picture

Here are Jan's "Deeper Lessons" from exercise #3:

http://www.tricycle.com/blog/deeper-lessons-gratitude-body

pjonly's picture

I did this practice this week and will try to continue doing it as I return to regular treadmill workouts. I normallly have little thought about my body parts, more thoughts of fitness and wellness. So getting in the habit of positive thought and gratitude for my body parts and their contribution to the whole starting now is perfect.

Jan Chozen Bays's picture

Here's a simple way you might combine your fitness regime and the practice of gratitude for the body. When you begin and end a workout, you can pause briefly (= very short meditation) and thank the body for the continual support it has given you. You can silently tell it that you are doing your workouts for its long term health and comfort.

pjonly's picture

What a great idea to thank my body after a work out! I wonder if it is grateful after what I've done to it :-) I do KNOW it is grateful for being stronger as a result of my fitness regime, less vulnerable to injury, etc.

diane.lancaster's picture

Coming in late to the group. Just wanted to share love with Chozen - good to see you in this format. I have had the book for a while and scanned through it. Now I can play catch up and REALLY be mindful via the reading of the book, the mindful exercises given, and through this media contact, as well. Blessings.

Jan Chozen Bays's picture

Hi Diane,

Welcome to our little mindfulness group.
I did the "gratitude for the body" exercise last night with the people at our temple in Portland. I asked them to include body parts that were having trouble. One person did it for his sinuses, another for her lower back, another for his arthritic joints. When they meditate on a body part, many people discovered that their bodies have been working so hard for so many years, trying to take care of them. Cars and washing machines and well pumps don't last for 50 or 60 years without problems, so why do we expect our body to?

It's one of my favorite meditations to do first thing in the morning when I discover that I'm feeling annoyed at my body, for being stiff or achy, or not able to do all I could do in my 30's. It's like a healing balm, gratitude is.

Sam Mowe's picture

Hi Everyone, Below find this week's exercise.

Mindfulness Exercise #3: Gratitude for the Body

The Exercise
For one week spend at least five or ten minutes a day a day with this practice. It could be during your meditation time. Sit down in a comfortable chair and breathe normally. Rest your awareness in the sensations coming from one body part, such as the eyes. Before you move your attention to another body part, silently say, “Thank you (name body part) for ________.” Leave a blank and see if anything arises in that space. For example, your mind might say, “Thank you, eyes, for seeing things all day long.” It’s OK if nothing arises; just move on to the next body part. Be sure to include body parts that are having difficulty or discomfort.

Reminding yourself
Post the words “gratitude for the body” in critical places, such as on your mirrors, in the area where you meditate, or on your pillow. If you’d rather use an image, it could be a body with a big heart in the center.

Discoveries

A fair number of people have resistance to this task. They keep “forgetting” to do it. Eventually they discover that underneath the resistance lies aversion toward their body. Subtle resentment toward the body can accumulate in the mind, especially toward the parts that aren’t functioning perfectly or don’t meet our standard of perfection, our nearsighted eyes, our stiff joints, our belly fat, our thinning hair, our aching back. Many people do not know that they feel unhappy with a body part until they do this practice. Other people discover that they would rather be “in their head,” thinking thoughts they can control, rather than practicing mindfulness of the body with all its mysterious and even frightening sensations. What does that short, sudden pain in my head mean? Could I have a brain tumor? There is so much that happens to our body that we cannot control, including getting sick, growing old and dying. We can come to feel threatened or even persecuted by our body. Why won’t it behave as a perfect, maintenance-free, perpetual machine?

Anicca1956's picture

Week #3 exercise?

pjonly's picture

Hi Jan and others in the group,

I was able to pick up the book at the library Saturday and start reading right there in the extra quiet time when a library first opens on a Saturday morning. I want to comment on several passages from the Introduction. I could spend the rest of November in this group just absorbing and discussing this Introduction. Anyone else feel this way?

I like the passage on page 3 "When we aren't present, it makes us feel vaguely but persistently dissatisfied. This sense of dissatisfaction, of a gap between us and everything and everyone else, is the essential problem of human life." That is perfectly put and perfectly what I need to realize at this time in my life!

I love the section beginning on page 5 "The Benefits of Mindfulness". I have never read the benefits put in so many insightful ways. On page 7 in the section "Mindfulness Conserves Energy", Jan writes "Unfortunately the mind, in its anxiety for us, tries to make plans for a huge number of possible futures, most of which will never arrive." I have been doing this for the past three years excessively mostly due to my anxiety over finance - mine and The World's! If I can stop doing this and let mindfulness conserve my energy, I believe I will return to the sense of security that is ours naturally.

I could go on, but I think I'll wait and see if others want to discuss the Introduction in this way.

Paula

cynhat's picture

Hi Paula:
Yes - my book arrived and I've read the Introduction a couple of times. This evening again, out loud to my husband, whose business (of 30 years) seems to be slowly failing. Fear - 'the worry about the huge number of possible futures' has been gripping him for many months. He seemed much lighter this evening and went off to sleep gently. ahhhh.

This book has succint, believable information about mindfulness, without impossibly elaborated visions of nirvana. I appreciate it.

and - the earth-practice has been good; barefoot walking through
grass
mud
rocks
my feet found jasmine in bloom......the earth's reply to my attention
and the ants didn't bite!

Jan Chozen Bays's picture

Hi Paula,

Thank you for the feedback. It makes me happy to find that the book is helpful.

I think that anxiety is very pervasive in our culture. It's odd that this is true in THE most affluent nation. I realized this when I was in India, and was surprised to see more happy people on the streets and on village dirt paths than on the sidewalks in America. I particularly remember two little girls in rags, happily playing in the dirt in a train station, and an old man who awakened in a doorway where he'd been curled up sleeping all of a cold night. When he opened his eyes, as soon as he saw me, he smiled benevolently. Are we Americans so anxious because we are worried about losing the abundance we have? Or is it a cultural trait?

I try to detect when my mind has switched to "anxious mode" and then drop right away into the present moment. If I ask, "Is there anything I am grateful for at this moment" it helps. This (cold) morning it was "heat" and "eyes to see the red maple leaves" and " my husband's home from a trip." Lots of small things.

If my mind starts worrying about financial futures, I begin a little internal dialogue, "Has there ever been a time when you did not have food?" "No." "Clothing?" "No." Shelter? " "No." "For 66 years you've been beautifully supported. Why start worrying now? Please stop and enjoy this life, beginning with this very moment. " It helps me switch out of anxiety and into mindful presence.

I hope we will get a little discussion going.
Are people making any discoveries as they try the exercises? Jan Chozen Bays

jgoble101's picture

The Great Earth beneath us here in Oklahoma is shaking it is so grateful for the rain it finally got after a gruesome summer of record breaking heat and drought. Three earthquakes in three days. Maybe the Earth is trying to say "thank you".

Jan Chozen Bays's picture

Hi jgoble,

The earth seems to want to shrug sometimes. Maybe you're right, in gratitude for the end of being parched. Or just to relieve tension. Or to tell us, "Remember, you uppity humans, you can use me but you can't control me."

I'm so glad you got some rain. When some of my garden crops fail (tomatoes and corn are chancy in Oregon) I think of the pioneers whose survival over the winter depended upon a good fall harvest, which in turn depended upon the rain coming at the right time in the right amounts. I'm grateful that all my life, I haven't had hat particular worry --- about survival from November to April. I've always had enough food to eat.

Sam Mowe's picture

Deeper lessons from "The Great Earth Beneath You": http://www.tricycle.com/blog/deeper-lessons-great-earth-beneath-you

Kjourney2's picture

I am looking forward to the arrival of my book from Amazon. Thank you, Jan, for hosting this book discussion. Even without having the book to read, yet, I am finding the discussion thread very interesting and most enjoyable.

I am now keeping a beautiful Daybook beside my bed to jot down my daily gratitudes. I "used to" do this, some years ago, but, like many practices, it fell away with life's changing nature. It is truly lovely to bring it back, and I AM grateful. I haven't yet found someone to read it out-loud to, but my cat listens very well. I find that just the practice of giving it voice helps to make the experience of gratitude more visceral, alive, for me.

I love our new exercise. As this is the time of year I put my plantings "to bed" for the winter here in upstate NY, it is a perfect time for me to bring a deeper awareness to this practice. Many of my outdoor plants become indoor plants for for winter, and I will have the blessing of being able to touch them every day, grateful for their growing slowly, holding the earth's energy and balance in their branches and down into their roots, for next year's growing season. Most importantly, letting the plants remind me that my own feet are my soul's roots to the earth, and allowing my connection to earth flourish, even in this season of winter.

May all Beings be Free,
Kathryn

pjonly's picture

I enjoyed reading about your Earth practice. It must feel good to 'winter' along with your outdoor plants like you do. I may have to try that.

kathymajka's picture

When I read the 2nd mindfulness exercise I felt resistance. I also live in the North (Maine), and have brought in geranium plants for the winter. Reading your post was the perfect way to begin this practice. Thank you!

Jan Chozen Bays's picture

Hi Kathryn,

I think that reading your gratitude list to your cat is wonderful.
They listen so quietly.
Cats are grateful just for a lap. Or a source of warmth, like a radiator or a fire.

I'm doing the same thing here, cleaning out the old squash and tomato vines, picking the last winter squash. It always amazes me that you can combine a very small seed, some water and sunlight and the earth will pretty reliably grow that small seed into a 4 foot kale plant that we can eat from all winter, or a 20 foot tree that bears a hundred pears. Like you, as I pull up the old plants and untangle their roots from the soil, I feel grateful for the millions of years of harvest the earth has supported.

Daisymom's picture

I used to envy people that were in larger cities who could have an active sangha, or be able to go to retreats to supercharge my practice. What a joy to know how Tricycle is using their site to enable us to be in sangha/retreat mode no matter where we live. There is no excuse not to engage and grow. Gratitude IS the antidote to the ills we suffer. Thank you so much for doing this!

Jan Chozen Bays's picture

Hi Daisy Mom,

Yes, the more I do the practice of gratitude, in little pauses throughout the day, whenever I find my state of mind going "south", the more I feel as you do, that gratitude practice is the antidote to all the ills we suffer.

Once my teenage sons took a trip to Tanzania with their dad. They did not do a tourist trip, but did things like riding on local buses, complete with chickens, pigs, multiple breakdowns, and having to stand for hours or sit on each others' laps because there were not enough seats. When they returned and got off the plane, I asked them, "What did you learn?" They said, "We are so grateful for toilet paper, hot running water and soap." I replied, "Then the trip was worth every penny."

lgr26's picture

Hi all
This book is my best friend and Jan my teacher since I started a new job which requires staying in a hotel on weekdays. I am training aged care and mental health modules to 4 groups of care attendants -an intense certificate course over six months. The course provides an opportunity to research, develop and bring a person centred approach into the care facility. This lovely book gets quoted regularly and we have done some of the exercises, some students have really had a lightbulb moment in realising the value of remaining present and not trying to fill the space they are in with words (often to patch up deep distress) back in my room away from home in the Irish countryside I could feel lonley, challenged, stressed, exhausted and overworked, instead I write a reflective journal, read passages of this little book and practise. I am also learning the value of resting!!!!
A jewel indeed,that is of tremendous value
Thank you Jan.

Jan Chozen Bays's picture

Hi lgr,

So glad to have someone from across the Atlantic ocean join this practice group.
I'm very happy to hear that the book is useful to you and to those you are training. I wrote it as part of a vow to write several books that would help lay people in daily life practice, since in the west the majority of practitioners (even many who are ordained) live lay lives..

Isn't it odd that our mind thinks that the best way to deal with the normal stresses of daily life is to be minimally present or to go unconscious? Being present takes effort at first, repeatedly-- repeatedly ! -- noticing when your mind has wandered away, but eventually it becomes a source of energy and happiness to be present, even with difficult situations . . .. like changing an elderly person's diaper.

Since many of us will need personal care and maybe even diaper changes as we age, I'm glad to hear from you that caregivers are learning how to be more truly present, more patient, and to relax into listening instead of chatter.

Sam Mowe's picture

Hi Everyone,

Here is the mindfulness exercise for week two:

Mindfulness Exercise # 2: The Great Earth Beneath You

The Exercise
As often as possible, during the day, become aware of the great earth beneath you. When you are not outside, you can use your imagination to “feel” the earth beneath the sidewalk or the floor.

Reminding yourself
Place notes with the word “Earth,” pictures of the globe or small dishes with dirt in them in appropriate places in your environment.

Discoveries
At the monastery we began this mindfulness practice each day by touching our forehead to the floor/earth as soon as we got out of bed. It seemed like an odd practice at first, but we all came to appreciate it. To wake up, stand, and immediately kneel and touch the forehead to the ground helped us begin the day with humility and with gratitude for the earth that holds us to itself. We ended the day with the same bow before bed, an acknowledgment and expression of gratitude to the ever-supportive earth.

All day long we humans are walking and driving around on the surface of the earth and we are almost completely unaware of the huge ball that is our platform for life. Zen Master Maezumi Roshi used to say, “You’re up in your head!” when he saw someone who looked distracted, ruminating on something. If our attention is extended through the bottoms of our feet into the earth, we feel rooted, less swayed by thoughts and emotions, and more solid.

The Zen monk Thich Nhat Hanh writes, "I like to walk alone on country paths, rice plants and wild grasses on both sides, putting each foot down on the earth in mindfulness, knowing that I walk on the wondrous earth. In such moments, existence is a miraculous and mysterious reality. People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth... a miracle we don’t even recognize."

pjonly's picture

I want to thank my 34-month-old granddaughter for teaching me this mindfulness exercise November 6th! She and I went for a walk along a nearby street lined in maple trees and I saw the world through her eyes as she decided to lay down in the leaves that were still soft and moist beneath each tree. She naturally expresses such love for the Great Earth and everyone she meets. It really is part of my mindfullness practice to have her visit each month. One of the trees had a strong limb only four feet high and fairly horizontal so I was able to lift her to sit there while I held her. I am so grateful for that tree for being there for her, for us.

lojong's picture

Hi
I have just found this page on the website, what a wonderful idea, to bring mindfulness to gratitude in this positive way. Will start my journal tonight. Have recently returned to mindfulness practise this will enrich that practise, and opens up many possibilities for integrating mindfulness in daily life. Find the idea of many people all over the world doing this supportive, less isolating. Many thanks Jean

Jan Chozen Bays's picture

Hi Jean,

Welcome to the practice group.
Yes, it warms my heart to think of people all over the world practicing with me. I didn't really grasp the reality of this fact until I met a group of Chinese nuns. We are never without a sangha.

Please share what you discover returning to mindfulness and doing these exercises.

jgoble101's picture

I do grateful lists in the mornings and one I try to do every morning is, I am so grateful I can swing my legs off the bed, put my feet on the floor, and walk down the stairs. I work for a hospice and most of our patients can't even get their legs off the bed without help, much less get a hold of the floor and walk. I try to open my eyes with gratefulness, for little every day things we take so much for granted.

Jan Chozen Bays's picture

Hi J,

It's wonderful that you begin each day with gratitude. It's the best antidote for the days we wake up out of sorts or crabby.

You are right about taking things for granted. I have a friend who woke up almost blind one morning. Retinal detachment, totally unexpected.
I find that I take health for granted until I get a cold. Then I think, "This is dreadful! Medical science should cure this plague upon humankind!" When I recover, it feels so good to be healthy. Then I start to take health for granted again. I even take waking up for granted.

dbunetta's picture

I've been meaning to get on with this reading and hope that by doing so now will
not be too late.... never too late! I will download the book today on my Ipad and
use a fresh new journal to keep a log of my discoveries of gratitude. I think many
people loosely say that they are grateful but being specific I think is what makes
being mindful so terrific. Thank you.

Jan Chozen Bays's picture

Hi D,

No, you are not too late.
Even if you just do the gratitude exercise, that's all you need (although the others are fun, too).

. Just ask "Is there anything right here and now that I might feel grateful for? and leave an empty space and see what pops up in it.

It's often surprising to find that it is the small things that pop up when we look for what we might be grateful for -- a warm jacket in the cold wind, a vacant seat on the subway, a cup of hot tea or coffee in our hands

johnmcnew's picture

Wow. This is a really timely topic for me. I have been struggling to keep my practice going amidst the pressures and stress of my job. It's been so difficult, in fact, that I have just about given up. But, I'm going to follow along and participate in this discussion. The first exercise is a very good one. I've read studies about how gratitude affects depression and happiness. I'm also going to make a commitment to sit for at least 15 a day.

Jan Chozen Bays's picture

Hi John,

Welcome to this group.
Quiet sitting is the medicine we all need. I seems to be good for all our ills.
Even five, ten or fifteen minutes a day.
Even three breaths, done with awareness.
And then, three more.

Jan Chozen Bays's picture

Thank you, everyone, for joining in this gratitude practice so sincerely. Although the plan is to introduce a different mindfulness practice related to gratitude each week for the month of November, I recommend keeping your gratitude journal going for the whole month. It helps establish gratitude as an alternative to our mind's tendency to end the day by chewing on the things that it thinks went wrong today and the things that it is anxious about for the morrow..

Here are some variations on this practice you might try.

1) Instead of waiting until bed time, you can take a moment several times during the day and ask. "Is there anything I'm grateful for at this moment?" See if anything arises. After I learned to use the gratitude journal, I changed to this practice, which I call "many moments of gratitude." It seems to be very effective in changing my mind state if I detect that it is beginning to go sour.

2) If you are going to bed with a partner, before you fall asleep, you can tell them three things about THEM that you are grateful for. It can take your partner by surprise, but it can be very sweet.

Sam Mowe's picture

Here are the "Deeper Lessons" to go along with the mindfulness exercise of "Gratitude at the End of the Day": http://www.tricycle.com/blog/deeper-lessons-gratitude-end-day

James Shaheen's picture

It's great to hear so much gratitude from all of you and it's gratifying to hear that you are getting so much out of this. Our gratitude also to Jan Chozen Bays, who has generously offered to lead this discussion and to share her wisdom with us! – The Editors

KReilly's picture

I actually purchased a copy of this book over a month ago as it intrigued me and I was hoping the contents would be a springboard to introduce daily mindfulness practice into my life. So, I was so pleased to see Tricycle featuring the title in this month's book club discussion. It's the perfect motivation to act, as some have already stated. And the gratitude journel is a great exercise. I plan to start this weekend and continue to join in this discussion.
Thank you, Tricycle, for this opportunity.

Jan Chozen Bays's picture

Hi K Reilly,

My hope in writing the book was that it would help people let go of the notion that they need lots of time in order to practice -- and to inspire people to be creative about their practice. It does help A LOT to be supported by a community that is practicing along with you.
Thanks for joining us.

marlowlady@hotmail.com's picture

Even when you think you are doing well in this practice, along comes a wise person with another suggestion to highlight what you think you already know but from another perspective. It often proves to be a skilful thing when you take up an idea suggested by an experienced teacher, even if you dont at first agree with it or admit it may benefit your practice. I, for one will get a journal sorted out this very evening.

With metta to Tricycle and all its companions in the Dharma :)