SnowFlower Sun March 2021

Finding the Positives

from a talk by Don Katz-March/April 2013

If, as the Second Mindfulness Training, “True Happiness”, tells us, “we already have more than enough conditions to be happy,” the questions becomes how do we learn to notice the positive in order to support that happiness? Thay encourages us to be good gardeners, tilling the soil of our consciousness carefully so that seeds that bring happiness grow and seeds that bring suffering are discouraged.

Skillful Diligence, one step of the Eightfold Path, involves helping positive seeds to arise in our conscious mind and, once they are there, keeping them there as long as possible. And just the reverse with negative seeds from the vast unconscious: discourage them from becoming conscious and, if they do anyway, send them back as soon as possible.

Obviously, to do any of this work, we must first notice what is actually going on in our awareness, and how the different seeds make us feel. What I notice is that negative seeds narrow my mind and positive seeds make my mind light and open. Negative seeds are associated with fear and guilt, positive seeds with joy and happiness.

Thay reminds us over and over that we are free beings, and one way to manifest our freedom is choosing where to put our attention, our awareness. Practicing loving kindness meditation each morning for myself in the mirror, I remind myself of my intention to be happy and feel encouraged that I am doing what is in my power to nourish happiness in myself.

I can also practice to nourish and encourage positive seeds outwardly, towards others. Shariputra, a senior disciple of the Buddha, talks about this technique at length in his teaching called The Sutra on the Five Ways of Putting an End to Anger. He says, when there is someone whose actions and words are unkind, but who still has a little kindness in their heart, notice that kindness.

We give ourselves the opportunity to pay attention to the positive in the people around us, not because we don’t know that they have negative aspects, but because we know that “what we appreciate, appreciates”. By noticing and focusing on the positive in others, we nourish and increase their well-being, and at the same time we nourish and increase our own capacity for love and joy.

Thay encourages us to engage in the practice called “flower-watering”, which goes beyond just noticing the positive in the other. Flower-watering involves telling the person what we appreciate and how their actions or words have benefited us or the community. What would it be like if every day you sent a thank-you note to one person in your life? One of the nuns at a recent retreat spoke of sending her father a list of 50 appreciations for his 50th birthday – and how that action transformed her relationship with her father.

In the mindfulness verses known as ‘gathas’, Thay frequently speaks of “Present Moment, Wonderful Moment”. This phrase encapsulates two aspects of our practice: affirming what is given in this moment and appreciating what is wonderful in it. To affirm is to recognize and allow. We allow ourselves to be present with what is, just as it is. Then we take the step of appreciating.

This appreciating is an act of inquiry. What is the positive to be noticed and appreciated in this very moment? What transformation will unfold over time if, when negative seeds arise, we notice, embrace, and then find the positive in them? This is an inquiry worth undertaking.

 

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Spring Day of Mindfulness

Practicing Together With Joyful Intention: 
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