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I Used to Think Gratitude Was a Flowery, New Age Gesture

A friend just reminded me of my gratitude for having found mindfulness meditation, this practice that’s transformed my life.

After reading a draft of the book I’m writing, she asked, “Who’s your teacher?” This made me realize that I’ve done the typical “white” person thing: nowhere do I mention who taught me to meditate, as if I invented the practice myself.

I’ll blame capitalism and its devil’s bargain, that being “unique” and “innovative” is more important than being part of a community.

The truth is, I’ve learned from Tara Brach, Hugh Byrne, Natalie Goldberg, Jonathan Foust, Kaira Jewel Lingo, Cynthia Wilcox, Jerry Webster, and many other brilliant people.

But really, that any of us are meditating in 2019 is unbelievable.

Let’s take stock of what it took for meditation to find its way from the ancient Indian prince who developed what we now call Buddhism to the modern mindfulness movement.

The Buddha nearly starved to death trying to become enlightened. A peasant woman happened to see him dying beside by a river and nursed him to health just because she thought he was a ghost to whom the local village made offerings.

That’s the myth, at least.

Buddhism was first brought to the U.S. by Chinese immigrants in the 19th century. It was then popularized in the 1960s and 70s by teachers like Jack Kornfield, Sharon Salzberg, and Pema Chödrön, but also lesser known figures like Suzuki Roshi, Chögyam Trungpa, and Katagiri Roshi.

Then there’s whoever turned you on to meditation, and the books, podcasts, group meditations, friends, and teachers that keep you going.

Then there’s the fact that mindfulness is just one of many Buddhist teachings, and not even a primary one.

The Buddha first taught his disciples to contemplate a human corpse during meditation. Only after monks began committing suicide did he substitute meditation on the breath as the standard practice.

Think about that. The odds against you ever hearing about meditation are staggering.

If you’re unconvinced, just know that gratitude has nothing to do with other people or even anything outside of you. It’s not a flowery, New Age gesture. It’s not about relieving your guilt or being a nice person.

Feeling grateful changes what’s going on inside of you. In the words of Buddhist scholar Joanna Macy, it “helps us realize that we are sufficient.

Gratitude is about waking up to the fact that this moment, right here, right now, is precious. It only comes once and couldn’t be any other way. And meditation is literally step-by-step instructions for how to remember that.

A version of this post was previously published on and is republished here with permission from the author.


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