By Kuya Minogue, resident teacher at Sakura-ji, Creston’s zendo
In my front door garden, I have white windflowers, giant irises, and dwarf peonies. They were gifts from friends in Golden, 15 years ago when we moved to Creston. The peonies connect me to a friend whom I sang tenor with in the Golden Community Choir. The irises connect me with the grandmother of a teen who practiced Zen with me for a while. All these flowers connect me to a time when smoky skies were a rare event. Each time I stop to be with these flowers, especially when they are in full bloom, gratitude enters my body/mind, and I consciously connect to and appreciate my friends from Golden. Even the morning-fresh strawberries that I eat with my granola connect me to another local friend who gave me the plants. And I’m grateful for garden fresh carrots in my salad because they awaken gratitude to my maternal grandmother, Grandma King, who taught me how to pull carrots when I was a toddler. In another corner of the garden there’s a six-foot tall delphinium given to me by a different friend, in the old days, when the College greenhouse still supported and encouraged Creston gardeners by providing a venue where we could meet, exchange plants, and build community. Ah yes, those were the days! There, a friend once gave me a seedling, which I planted and cared for until it flowered and then collected seeds to make more starts. That same plant is now growing in the gardens of other local friends. This one delphinium weaves those friends into my day as well as offering a loving reminder of the truth of impermanence, because the partner of the man who gifted me the delphinium died a few years after the six-foot luminous blue delphinium bloomed in my front yard. Remembering the reality of impermanence reminds me that every moment of my life is rare and precious.
In my back yard, neighbourhood winds have sown volunteer bluebells, a dwarf maple tree and some wild BC dogwood. Those plants connect me to the natural abundance and generosity of our earth. So, “my” garden is not really “my” garden; it belongs to my friends, my neighbours and the wind. I’m just taking care of it. These intercommunity plants extend the boundaries of my garden in both time and space; in just this way, gratitude extends my boundaries to include broader and deeper community.
Making gratitude lists is a wide-spread practice that has been researched and touted by neurologists, cognitive scientists, psychologists, and the clergy. I’ve made many gratitude lists because making them gives me a lift. Cognitive and neuroscientists have shown that gratitude reduces depression, combats chronic stress, strengthens our immune system, enhances our resilience ,and helps build trust and inspiration to engage positive community action.
Active hope training asks me to add one tiny thought to my gratitude list. Instead of just saying, “I’m grateful for…”, the active hope practice is to add, “and I’m grateful to.” For example, “I’m grateful for my new HEPA filter and I’m grateful to the friend who recommended it.” Or, “I’m grateful for this opportunity to speak out like this; and I’m grateful to Kelsey Yates, editor of the Advance for including this “Acts of Hope” column in our beloved local rag.”
I don’t know about you, but when I give or receive sincere and authentic gratitude, my boundaries lose their rigidity. Like my garden, I extend my “self” out to include others: mammals, grasses, birds, insects, and fish. I feel wholehearted affection, naturally practice friendliness, and I realize the joy of supportive, harmonious community. When I arouse that lovin’ feelin’, I arouse the courage to hope that Crestonites can and will meet the effects of climate change with resilience, and act together to create an oil-free economy through the coming transitions.
Continue to notice and name what you love, and then express gratitude for what you have noticed. Try adding one more element to this practice and take a little more time to identify the person, causes, and conditions that brought you what you named. Then quietly thank them. Or, if you can find an opportunity, tell them in person.