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Living This Life Fully

New Year's Gifts

I’m always grateful to be gifted with a New Year. Although I don’t party on New Year’s Eve (I don’t like to be out and about when there’s a lot of guzzling going on), each New Year’s Day has been special in its own way. During some years, my husband and I have gone with friends to watch annual bird migrations at a variety of locations. We've marveled at the dance of sandhill cranes in agricultural fields or walked through wildlife refuges where I could feel the air vibrating as thousands of birds beat their wings and formed dark clouds in a sunny sky. On other occasions, on my own in foreign countries, I've experienced vibrations of a different nature.

I vividly remember the New Year’s Day on which I recognized my life would never be the same. 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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We often hear the ancient African proverb, "It takes a village to raise a child." As a non-fiction author, I've come to believe that it can also take a worldwide community to write a book. Where would we all be, whether children or writers, without the generosity of others?

Generosity is a form of interconnectedness. Even a nod accompanied by "Good Morning" is a generous act. One could just as easily walk by without saying a word, without acknowledging the human being right in front of us.

Generosity is a quality of mind and heart and a physical behavior that ranks high in spiritual traditions around the world because it undermines and acts as an antidote to the "poison" of greed. The importance of this quality was reinforced when I worked on Living This Life Fully: Stories and Teachings of Munindra, about a meditation master and scholar who helped introduce mindfulness practice to the West, because the project took more years than I ever anticipated, even longer than getting a Ph.D.

Part of what made it keep growing were the generous gestures I experienced from others. I was privileged to receive so much from so many from almost every continent: interviews, referrals, audiotapes, DVDs, correspondence, journal notes, photos, scholarly expertise, translations, hospitality, encouragement, and more. I can't help but think that this outpouring of generosity is an echo of what Munindra taught to those who came to know him.

It's one thing to read texts that encourage generosity. It's yet another to be in the presence of someone who embodies that teaching. Munindra was a man of great generosity--what Buddha called a danapati, a "kingly giver." He unfailingly shared whatever he had to give--food, time, knowledge, monetary and moral support, contacts, caring words, and spiritual friendship. Most of all, he loved to share Dharma, the teachings of Buddha, which he considered the noblest gift of all.

Unexpectedly, writing the book turned into a kind of study and practice retreat for me. In the effort to learn more about Munindra's legacy--the impact he had on the spiritual journey of countless individuals, Asians and Westerners alike--I unexpectedly wound up feeling that impact on myself. Gathering down-to-earth stories, whether poignant or humorous, enabled me to better understand the qualities that Munindra had lived and taught, the qualities that move us toward awakening, the qualities that can simply make us a great human being.

Through the laughter and the tears that the anecdotes evoked, I got to know Munindra more than I had during the brief time I spent with him on Maui, a time in my life when, regrettably, I wasn't as open to taking in all that he was willing to give. But during the process of putting the chapters together, I sensed Munindra by my side, still trying to teach me, and I found myself actually cultivating the qualities that I was writing about. Now, to help myself respond thoughtfully rather than react rashly, I reflect on how he would handle a situation or an issue that arises. Putting his advice into practice has taken me beyond the meditation hall and smack into the middle of living in the world, for Munindra never saw dharma practice or spiritual activity as different from being alive, from (in his own words) “living the life fully.”

Though Munindra is gone, I realized that it's never too late to learn from him because he lives on in the minds and hearts of the people he touched with his loving, wise, and generous nature. Following his example, Munindra's old students, family, and friends have generously shared their reminiscences and passed on his wisdom. Their stories have the power to reaffirm his teachings, reconnect old dharma friends to each other, and connect new ones to Munindra for the first time, providing a source of deep inspiration and encouragement on the journey toward peace, happiness, and freedom.

This is how the seed of a book gets generously watered by far more than a village. When it finally sprouts, there is the possibility of also nourishing those who originally cared for it. I am grateful to all of them, for cooperation is the giving that makes it possible to bring things to fruition.

If anyone else wants to recount memorable moments with Munindra, please get in touch: mirka@mcn.org Read More 
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