Dec 6 2012

Thanksgiving Day – My favorite Holiday

Thanksgiving Day is my favorite holiday. It reminds be of something I have written about previously: Gratitude.

I had someone tell me once that they didn’t like Thanksgiving because it obliged them to believe in some higher being. Perhaps. Perhaps thanksgiving is really an opportunity to remember what has gone well, or been successful in our lives. We are certainly not responsible for all our success or victories. You may attribute this to God, god or fortune. Or it may be your parents, friend, or spouse had a hand in your latest “blessing”

I don’t tell people how to walk their spiritual path.  But I am clear that very little in our life is accomplished alone. So whether you are thanking god or your best friend, gratitude is a spiritual act that connects us to each other and reminds us that we are part of a larger group.

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Oct 27 2009

Transforming Anger – The Spiritual Thief

In looking back at my experience with fasting during the month of Ramadan the thing that I struggled with most was Anger. It is a nagging shrew who was constantly tickling that back of my neck with her hot breath.

Often I find that awareness of the problem I am facing helps transform the issue. And in the past this has helped, particularly in the fasting context where physiological processes are enhancing negative emotional states, like anger. I have reminded myself that transforming anger is one of the lures of fasting as a spiritual practice. But this time it didn’t work. Sometimes, you emerge from a spiritual exercise with a different than intended experience. That was my fasting experience. And I kept wondering why I was doing it at all. I mean what is it worth if all I do is get grouchy and upset.

I think I have my own answer. That is even after all these years of fasting, I still find it challenging. The fact of its difficulty reminds me that the goal is not to have an easy time while fasting. Perhaps this was the best fast I have had in years because it was so tough. Fasting was worth the pursuit even if I didn’t like the outcome is not a reason to give up the exercise. I will repeat it again.

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Aug 26 2009

Fasting, A Classic Spiritual Practice

Since it is the month of Ramadan in Islam, the month of fasting, I thought it was a good time to talk briefly about fasting. I am not a Muslim anymore. I have mostly rejected the tenets of Islam, however fasting is one that I return to again and again.

Fasting is one of the great spiritual practices. Why? Some might argue that it is masochistic to deny oneself food all day. You will be hungry, and uncomfortable. You could become light headed and get head aches. Yes, all of those things and more. That is part of why it can become so profound. We in the west are so pampered and privileged that few of us understand hunger, that gnawing affliction that a billion persons face every day.

Fasting is important because it reminds of the notion that our full bellies are better related to the place of our birth than how hard we work or what spiritual path, if any, we follow. Sharing the discomfort of hunger gives us a place to be empathetic to others plight. Empathy is often missing from this conversation. And if that was all fasting gave the practitioner then it would be enough.

But fasting is more. It helps us remind us to practice gratitude a subject I blogged last about.

Beyond this, Fasting helps focus your attention on a spiritual concern. It removes the distractions of the physical pleasures and can help focus your spiritual energy on a subject of meditation or concern that requires some clarity. Fasting is the best for this.

Finally, Fasting reduces your desires. We have unsustainable desires and wants. We bathe in narcissism and short term gratification. Self Denial is not in our vocabulary. Fasting helps reframe the internal debate away from the me to the us.

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Jun 3 2009

Giving Thanks, a New take on an Old Theme

At some point in my spiritual journey I abandoned bowing my head and giving thanks for the meal I was about to consume. The whole process seemed hopelessly out of date. Wasn’t it based on some simplistic version of God as an old benevolent guy with a beard? But somewhere along the same path (it is interesting to note that we can abandon and renew the same processes for different reasons) that I learned that giving thanks need not be directed at a vague concept of an anthropomorphic God. Gratitude is something very basic to our culture, to most cultures. We express gratitude to someone for doing us a service. We teach our children this idea when they are very little.

When I look at the plate before me, I am grateful that I have a full amount of food to eat. Millions of people don’t have that luxury today, and millions won’t tomorrow. I am thankful that I live in a comfortable house, where weather and temperature are not an enemy but an inconvenience.  My gratitude stems from my circumstance. Whether that means I am blessed or lucky is a conversation for another time. That my children are healthy and happy has less to do with a good work ethic and intelligence than circumstances of my birth. But I am still grateful. And ultimately gratitude is a practice. You practice removing yourself as the center of the universe in this practice. It is a reminder that when I eat, and my children eat, that this is not the only option for everyone. I am hoping that with time this gratitude will extend into other areas of my life. That in my gratitude for the very small things that I could easily take for granted, I will learn to appreciate the bigger events and people in my life. The practice of thankfulness will exercise the gratitude muscle.

I don’t practice gratitude every time I sit down to eat. But it wouldn’t be a bad thing if I did.

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