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Quote: Great Love December 22, 2012

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“We can do no great things–only small things with great love.”

Mother Teresa

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What Are My Gifts To Others? December 22, 2012

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It’s that time of year again, the holiday season where we are expected to demonstrate our love for others by buying material objects. In this season of giving, it is expected that, in order to prove that we really do love them, we buy others gifts that we know that they will love. In this sense, our care, interest, and attention is objectified into a material object, the gift.

 This is the second year I am participating in Buy Nothing Xmas and instead, I am donating the money I would use to buy them a gift to donate to each person’s community food bank. Hoping that those dearest and nearest to me will not be offended when I refuse to buy them a gift, I am left wondering how else do I give without buying gifts? What are my gifts to others? Just a few of my gifts which I want to mention are my presence, my positive influence, using my favourite talents, direct help, and my paid employment.

 My presence is one way that I give to others. I offer my loved ones my presence, which in the mindfulness tradition means the exact same qualities used during meditation. I am firmly rooted in the present moment, giving my full, undivided, nonjudgemental, accepting awareness. It is to be able to say the phrase, “I am here with you,” and know that it is true. I have to be able to recognize that sitting right in front of me is a living, breathing, human being, and I have the opportunity to connect with them in this moment.

 To be present with someone means that I care about them. It means I am physically in their presence, or with them while on the telephone. To care about someone means to be interested in them, in who they really are (not who I think they are!), what they want and value, and what suffering or happiness they might be currently experiencing. Presence is the opportunity to practice deep listening, a very difficult skill at which I am always trying to get better.

 My positive influence on others is another quality I consider one of my gifts. By positive influence, I mean that I attempt to embody positive qualities that I hope spread to others. The phenomenon of “social contagion” is well known in psychology, which refers to the way moods can spread between people or groups of people. If I am smiling and others can see it, my smile will spread to others and there is a higher likelihood that they will to want to smile, to feel like smiling, or to just be in a happier mood.

Just a few positive qualities I hope to share are happiness, posivitiy, appreciation of beauty, a sense of humor, gratitude, appreciation, humility, positive mood, abundance of energy, and inspiration. I love being able to make people laugh and smile by telling stories or jokes about myself and the silly mistakes that I have made,. Of course, these are all qualities that help me to feel better and happier, so it is an extra motivation when I can embody them not just for myself but for others as well.  

Another way I try to give to others is by sharing my favourite talents, the skills that I myself most enjoy using that others might also be able to enjoy. I love writing my blog, sharing my poems, giving gifts of my photography, telling interesting stories, and baking and cooking my favourite healthy recipes.

This kind of giving is really special because it can really benefit both sides, the ‘giver’ and the ‘receiver.’ I benefit because I love using and practicing these skills, and it is wonderful to have an excuse to use them. And the other person benefits from a genuine gift that expresses who I am. These types of gifts are more genuine, I think, because I took the time and effort to make them myself using my own creativity and inspiration, instead of just running to a store to buy something someone/ something else made.

One more obvious way of giving is by directly helping people by offering assistance, favours, or providing practical solutions to problems. This type of giving is what I think of when people refer to practicing ‘random acts of kindness.’ These are the gifts that most often are given to random strangers I come across, when I just happen to be in the right place in the right time.

Some examples that come to mind are picking up something somebody drops and returning it to them, returning an item to lost and found, giving directions if someone is lost, or opening doors for people especially when they are carrying heavy loads or have limited mobility (crutches, wheelchairs, etc.).

A few weeks ago I helped a lady put up posters to a couple of lampposts at a crosswalk on my way to work. All I did was put my hand on the posters to hold them down in the cold winter wind while she wrapped them in tape. Last week I helped a mother and another random stranger helper hoist her big baby stroller onto the bus from the sidewalk that was covered in a pile of snow from the snowplow.

These are such a simple act that are so helpful. The tricky part about these gifts are that it seems I have to be in the right moodto have the opportunity come along. I am more likely to help when I am in a relatively good mood, open and aware of my surroundings, and—most importantly—not rushed!

The last way that I consider I offer my gifts to others is actually through my paid work, my job (in contrast to all of the other work I do for which I don’t get paid). I try to have my job be not just a way to show up and get some money that I ‘deserve’ to have a standard of living. Instead, I see my paid job as an opportunity to give to others, both directly and indirectly.

Many Buddhist teachers describe work as ‘service.’  So my job can be a form of service to others. I am giving to others directly by serving my boss and my coworkers. My boss relies on me to provide skills and services that she needs to do her job, and I can do this in the right way by being a good employee. Being a good employee also includes being assertive and standing up for my rights.

I serve others indirectly by giving to the population being helped in my research. I give to these people with the hope that the work I do will one day, somewhere down the road, benefit them by improving the quality of their lives. In this way, I need to tell myself that my efforts are valued and appreciated, and maybe even needed. I can give to these people even if I never meet them or know who they are.

These are just a few ways that I consider I can give to others, both my loved ones, and other people in the world who I may never meet or receive gifts from. Writing this post has been a nice reminder during this time of year that I don’t need to go to the store to buy material objects in order to give. Giving and generosity is so much bigger than that! It just takes a little bit of imagination. It also takes time to recognize that I benefit from others when I can enjoy other people’s presence, positive influence, and direct help.

The Story of My Stuff July 10, 2012

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“The things you own end up owning you” – Fight Club

I like to think that I don’t own that many possessions, or that I am not very materialistic and don’t get attached to “things.” For the past two years I have tried my best to either delay buying certain items until I was finished another move, or to not buy items altogether.

Well, I started packing my things in preparation for another big move, and found out—surprise, surprise—I do have a lot of possessions. This realization was a bit of a shock to me, maybe because it showed how much the trait of ‘anti-materialist’ had become part of my identity, or how I saw myself as a person.

The moving process took an entire week altogether. It was a very laborious, sweaty, and at times stressful week for me, because I had a deadline when I had to be done. By the time I was getting closer to the end of the moving process, the phrase I quoted at the start of this article started to come to mind.

As much as I didn’t want to admit it, apparently the things I owned had started to own me. I was spending a great deal of time organizing, arranging, and planning moving my possessions not to mention the mental energy and effort keeping the whole process under control.

During that week there were so many things I wanted to do instead of moving (go outside for a walk, go pick wild berries, visit friends, go to music shows, go to meditation groups, go to a pow-wow, the list goes on), but instead I was confined to my hot, sweaty, non-air-conditioned apartment for much of the day, fitting things into cardboard boxes.

When I realized just how many items I was trying to pack into boxes and move back to the west, I decided I had had enough. This was ridiculous. I went through a frenzied process of throwing out a lot of items I had kept after considering whether I really wanted them or not. Turns out I didn’t want them that bad. I knew I was doing the right thing because I felt free and lighter after getting rid of the items.

Goodbye.

Good riddance to bad rubbish.

I don’t care.

I don’t have to think about you any more.

Get lost.

A few days later, my boxes arrived at my parents’ home, and suddenly I was stuck with the task of fitting the boxes into storage in my bedroom. My parents’ home is a trailer, so my bedroom is one of the smallest rooms I have ever seen. So I had to get rid of some old items that were being stored in my bedroom in order to move the new items in.

By this time I had been doing the process of purging and de-cluttering for a few weeks already. At the start, the decision to get rid of something was painfully slow, as I deliberately made a mental decision whether to keep it or junk it, weighing the pros and cons.

By the end, the drawn-out mental process had become an easily-identifiable feeling upon looking at an item:

I feel heavy, burdened, and/ or irritated = I get rid of it. I don’t really want it in reality. (Or the only reason I am keeping it is because someone gave it to me and I don’t want them to think I got rid of it. If they truly love me, then they wouldn’t want me to be burdened by something they gave me, so I still get rid of it.)

I feel energized, or excited, or have longing for it = Its a keeper, its something truly valuable.

I noticed these feelings coming up as I unpacked my boxes from the move. The feelings were similar to “Why did I bring this back?” or “Oh, its so great that I still have that!” Clearly, there were a few items I still should have ditched that I didn’t.

The moving process was a real awakening for me.

I realized just how much stuff I do own.

I learned how to identify the feeling of being burdened by an unused item.

I saw how I keep things that aren’t truly of value to me.

I saw how easy it is to shove possessions away into storage and forget about them for years.

I saw how easily and quickly my collecting items that never get used can get out of hand (“I might use this…one day…maybe…”).

On a lighter note, I realized the joy of giving unused or no longer wanted items to friends who would use and appreciate them.

Maybe these lessons and insights will stay with me a while as I continue to be tempted with buying or collecting new things to bring into my home, as is inevitable in a materialistic, consumer culture. Maybe they won’t stay with me. Maybe I will just have to keep re-learning these lessons all over again…

Feb 17: Replaying the Past, Anticipating the Future March 3, 2012

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I meditated on campus this morning in a meditation room, and I had just come from some conversations with people I knew. I found that at the start of my sit my mind was still in these conversations, where I was replaying them in my mind and trying to determine if I said the right thing.
I was unable to focus my attention on my breathing for any longer than a few moments during my sit, my mind kept wandering off much too easily. There were just a lot of thoughts wandering through my mind, so I found it almost impossible to get concentrated.
When the bell went off this morning, I was making up a story about my vacation, in particular how this is a rare occasion for me to be going on a tropical vacation, compared to other people I know.
Before I leave today I want to share some thoughts about privacy and disclosure. I am a very private person and find it difficult to disclose any personal information about myself to just about anyone, including my closest friends. For myself, I  recognize how valuable it is when I know that other people share similar experiences with me, and that I am not alone in my difficulties. Something I have been trying to do lately is be more open and honest with close and trusted friends and family, as well as acquaintances.
This writing project has been challenging for me to disclose things in writing I wouldn’t even tell people in person. I’ve really noticed how I am still holding a lot of things back, where something happens but I decide I don’t need to write about it: “People don’t need to hear that.” Let’s just say it has been eye-opening for me to see how much I still am trying to keep things inside! But I do enjoy writing, so maybe with more practice I can get better at sharing my thoughts and experiences for others.