The Oxford Dictionary defines appreciation as “recognition and enjoyment of the good qualities of someone or something.”
We are at the start of the New Year, and it seems appropriate to think about some of the most fundamental spiritual skills we can bring to bear on our lives.
I start with appreciation. I spent some time in retreat over the winter holidays and realized how accustomed I become to a kind of fast food approach to life. Grab something fast here, chew rapidly, digest poorly. I don’t think I am alone. Step by step, inch by inch, we have all unconsciously fallen into a huge number of habits that involve rush and surface contact. We are like rocks, heavy enough to sink, but if twirled fast enough only skittering over the surface of the water.
Given the time and space of my retreat, I began to settle into a very different pace with respect to myself and my experience – time to appreciate.
In terms of dharma practice, I would say that appreciation is an attitude that allows full engagement with the qualities of someone or something. It is the deep difference that the theologian Martin Buber spoke of when he articulated to major ways of being in the world: I-It and I-Thou. I-It considers only how someone or something serves our purposes. I-Thou engages with a complete separate being, relishing all the rich contours thereof.
For the New Year it may be an interesting experiment to see how much of your time is involved in surfaces, usage, and making things happen, versus how much is spent taking in the full rich dimensionality of your experience. How easy is it to switch from the former to the latter? What does it feel like to let in experience?
Welcome to the world of appreciation.