Saturday, June 23, 2012


Something I experienced today at the SF Zen Center is an appreciation for appreciation.

I went in there this morning, in the middle of a hectic slew of midterms for Gen Chem 2, Bio 1, and Genetics, filled with feelings of gnawing dissatisfaction and impatience.

Buddha statue in the
SFZC dining hall. 
Meditation helped calm me, but didn't make the feelings go away, nor did it reveal the root cause of the feelings. What did reveal the root cause was a conversation I overhead at my table during lunch in the dining hall. Someone told a story about her family, and afterward one of the Zen Center teachers thanked her for telling the story. This response surprised me because I felt like we were doing this person the favor of listening to her story, so I didn't feel like thanking her for telling it. But right in that moment, it occurred to me that I could have appreciated her story if I had allowed myself. In other words, I saw that there was no real reason I couldn't or shouldn't appreciate it.

In the hour or so afterward, an understanding dawned in my mind that my failure to appreciate things was directly tied to the miserable emotions I'd been feeling through the week.

Thinking back on the positive experiences that I've had at the Zen Center, I saw the cultivation of appreciation as a unifying theme. Beyond that, in the realm of my everyday experience, I can think of many times when I was feeling miserable even when things were going well, and those were generally times when I was not willing or able to appreciate things, no matter how wonderful they actually were. Conversely, I can think of many times when I could appreciate things, both great and small, and I was filled with happiness. I've even enjoyed unpleasant things when I was able to appreciate them for what they were.

It seems that being able to appreciate people and experiences is a tremendous gift. Without it, even a fortunate and successful life seems bleak. With it, it takes very little to feel happy.

When I'm in a foul mood, I instinctively grasp for something that will alter my perceptions, perhaps so that things seem different, new, and more obvious, making it easier to appreciate what's around me. In the past, I grasped for alcohol, and maybe that temporarily led me to appreciate things more, but I don't think I ever pinpointed the importance of appreciation in that pursuit, at least not in a way I could remember and use next day.

The Simple Things
There is something about the Zen practice and the community that helps me shut down the mental processes that block appreciation, and it does so in a way that I can use in everyday life. I keep coming back to meditation and to the Zen Center because it's been reliably effective at making me grateful and therefore happy.

For that, I'm expressing my appreciation.

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