Gratitude and Generosity

This evening I am sitting between two important days; yesterday, Thanksgiving Day, and tomorrow, Erin’s and my 38th anniversary. I feel immense gratitude and a good measure of humility to have had such a blessed life as well as a loving relationship which has offered me more than I could have ever imagined.

What does one do with such abundance? I think generosity is a natural response, so I would like to offer two things. One is a link to a talk given in 2005 by my teacher Blanche Hartman that was featured in a recent message from Lion’s Roar magazine. She titled her talk “Just to Be Alive is Enough.” Reading it again after all these years I can hear her distinctive voice which brought some gentle tears of gratitude. I was also surprised to recognized echos of my own teaching in her talk. I am clearly her student, but I sometimes forget how much of her I took in and how much she shaped me and my teachings. Her generosity became an essential source of my own offerings. Her gratitude called forward my own, and this continues even though she is gone. Maybe it flows from an even deeper place since she is gone. I would invite you to take the time to read this classic talk by my dear teacher.

The second thing I would like to offer is a question I recently posed for my practice discussion groups. It was highlighted by one of my students, Anne Johnson, a wonderful woman I first met in retreat in Madison, Wisconsin. Among her many generous offerings these days she is part of the team who transcribes Norman Fischer’s talks for his Everyday Zen Foundation. The question she called forward was one which came from a talk in which Norman was reflecting on Dale Wright’s book, What is Buddhist Enlightenment? Anne thought this question was central to what we offer at Appamada through our style of practice.

So what is it about Buddhism that needs to come out in our culture that wasn’t able to come out either in India or China? But the real point, isn’t even that, the real point is, what is it about your life that has needed to come out from the time you were born that hasn’t been able to come out until your life became filtered through the lens of your Buddhist practice? Think of your life, what is it in your life that was probably there from the very beginning but was unable to come forth until you discovered this perspective of Buddhist practice?


from talk #10 in the series linked here


To truly meet this question seriously is a way to respond to the central koan of our lives: What is coming forth now as a result of our shared practice and what is coming forth now in your own heart and mind, which could only have found its expression as a result of this practice? This is a great question because I think in meeting each other as spiritual friends we have an opportunity to express this question in everyday kindness and loving presence. This question—the central koan of “simply being alive” which Blanche highlights in her talk—has an opportunity to deepen as we listen, respond, reflect, and share the silence and stillness of zazen. Ultimately, we must get up from our cushion and go out into the world where we have an opportunity to live the life we have been so generously and miraculously given. In what ways has your practice shaped you which could not have possibly happened without your specific life experiences, your particular spiritual friends, your teachers, and your sangha?

This morning Peg and I received a kind note of gratitude from one of our Austin students, Stephanie Seiler. Among other things, her note was a reminder about self-acceptance, another of the qualities which Blanche speaks about in her talk. Our practice is an ongoing invitation to persevere, to remain constant and diligent, without getting caught in striving for results and yet full of energy of care for ourselves and each other. Stephanie wrote:

As I was reading “Seeds For a Boundless Life” (the small book of Blanche’s teachings) this morning I came across this passage:  “Even those of us who have at some point woken up to our connection to everything forget it from time to time and fall back into the old habit of clinging to the old separate self.... This process of waking up needs continuous renewal...we can’t wake up once and stay awake. Pretty soon we go back to sleep again.”

So this evening, as I re-read Blanches’s talk I realize that I am attempting to find my way into this new life Erin and I are creating. I don’t want to fall asleep again and yet I don’t want to drive myself as I have for most of my life. I am learning a bit more each day about the koan, “Just to be alive in enough.” And, as I reflect on Norman’s question about what is called forward through my practice and as I feel the encouragement of my two dear students, I simply want to express my gratitude through this little note. My life has been forever transformed and profoundly nourished by practicing with all of you.

Let’s continue.

Thank you.

P.S. A classic image of Blanche at Tassajara. I took this picture of her portrait and I am faintly reflected in the glass. The teacher and the student reflecting each other. We all reflect each other, so it is important that we respect and pay attention to that reality.