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Living This Life Fully

thanks for everything

At the Thanksgiving dinner my husband and I attended last week, the hostess shared a story about one of the patients she had recently taken care of in the emergency room of a city hospital. Feeling unwell, an 80-year-old man had walked in all alone seeking medical attention. Once she looked after his needs and released him, our friend generously put him in a taxi to go back to the residents' hotel where he lives in a downtrodden part of town. Sadly, he tried to resist her kind gesture, practically pleading to stay at the hospital.

Another person at the gathering gave a similar account, this time of an 80-year-old woman who was sharing a room with his mother in a hospital in a Latin American country. Determined not to have any more blood taken from her, she refused the attending doctor, removed all the tubes that had been inserted during her stay, and walked out all alone at one in the morning. Where was her family at a time like this? No one knew.

Our friend looked at us sitting around the dining table--family and friends alike--and expressed gratitude for our being part of her life and for seeing her through a hugely challenging year. Unlike the two elderly patients, she has people who are there for her in good times and in bad.

As the Buddha said to his cousin Ananda, "This is the entire holy life, that is, good friendship, good companionship, good comradeship."

Gratitude is essential to living this life fully, to living the holy life: gratitude for the caring presence of others, gratitude for the means not only to survive but to thrive and to share our resources with others. Yet, surprisingly, thankfulness is not listed as one of the qualities or factors that lead to awakening. But that doesn't mean it's not part of the Dharma path. Deep gratitude is the wholesome motivation that underlies the manifestation of those qualities.  Read More 
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generosity II

Because generosity is a big part of my daily experience, I’ve decided to keep writing about it. A week ago, I read the results of an experiment at an amusement park that make sense to me. Researchers at UC Berkeley’s Hass School of Business and at UC San Diego sold photos taken of passengers on a roller coaster after they completed their exciting ride. When given the choice that half of whatever they decided to pay would go to a particular charity, the passengers who chose that option generated the most profit for the photo company and the charity. My guess is that people paid more rather than less because they knew the money would be given to a worthy cause, not just fill the company’s coffers—and that felt good.

I think most people want to give. It doesn’t take a Ph.D. to know that being generous leaves us with positive feelings, but another experiment confirms it. Social psychologist Liz Dunn found that when she gave people ten dollars and said they could keep it all for themselves or give it away, the more money people gave away, the happier they felt. Conversely, the more money people kept for themselves, the more shame they felt, which translated into higher cortisol levels. That’s a negative health indicator because cortisol has a wear-and-tear effect on the body. Isn’t instinct at play here?

I don’t think most people are aware of this link between generosity and health unless they pay close attention to how they feel and notice a cause-and-effect relationship. Sensing how wonderful I feel on both the giving and receiving ends prompts me to give whenever the opportunity arises. I like knowing that what I do, what I give, makes a difference in someone’s life. Read More 
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