The holiday season is a time for joy, generosity, and connecting with family and friends. However, the holidays aren’t always so merry. Life unfolds in ways we don’t expect, or don’t want, and we might experience stress, sadness, or any range of difficult emotions.
This needn’t be cause for alarm. As practitioners, difficult situations can be our greatest opportunity for practice. By cultivating appreciation and gratitude, difficult situations can become the means by which we recognize the natural openness and compassion that exist within us.
Mingyur Rinpoche illustrates this point with a story from his wandering retreat. About a week after he left his monastery and began living on the streets of India, he nearly died of food poisoning. When he woke up on a cot in a small village clinic and realized he survived, his mind was filled with joy – he was grateful to simply be alive.
“After that, I was so happy,” Rinpoche said. “This old habit, the layers of attachment and grasping, all these things were gone. Everything I saw, I heard, even when I walked, was very nice and pleasant. I had a very deep feeling of gratitude and appreciation for everything. Even the breath. I felt appreciative of just feeling my breath. I appreciated just being able to see the trees. They were the same trees, but fresher, greener... It was like the trees were made out of love or joy… After that, my journey was fantastic.”
We don’t need a near-death experience to have that kind of profound transformation. Instead, Rinpoche says, one of the best opportunities for practice is when our expectations don’t turn out the way we want. “You lose your job, or lose a loved one, or if you’re physically ill sometimes… there are many opportunities,” said Rinpoche. “If you face a very difficult situation in your life, that is the best opportunity to practice meditation.”
Rinpoche recommends we try to see our expectations, or attachment to how we wanted things to be when we find ourselves in the midst of a difficult situation. Then, he says, “try to go beyond that.” In other words, accept the situation as it is. If we’re able to do that, then, naturally, the situation will loosen and open up. We'll discover the space to look again and to discover new possibilities for applying our practice and best intention. The situation hasn’t changed, but our experience of it has.
Letting go is not giving up, Rinpoche tells us again and again. And as Instructor Myoshin Kelley said in a public talk on Appreciation and Generosity, “Letting go is essential to waking up.”
To develop our ability to practice in difficult situations, Rinpoche suggests that we practice appreciation every day, whether things are going well or not. We can do this by appreciating all the simple things that we often take for granted. This includes things such as our breath, our hearing, our ability to see, the trees outside, that we have a roof over our heads, enough food to eat, and so forth. As Rinpoche says, “I have this breath, how nice!”
In a recent letter to the community, Rinpoche emphasized the value of practicing appreciation. He wrote, “When we make appreciation the foundation of our practice, every moment is filled with possibility.”
The guided meditation below is an excerpt from Myoshin’s public talk. Feel free to download the audio file and make it part of your practice.
May your holidays be filled with possibility, and rejoicing.
Guided Meditation on Appreciation
Contributed by Jess McNally