"In daily life we must see that it is not happiness that makes us grateful, but gratefulness that makes us happy." Brother David Steindl-Rast

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Blog Break

Today I am grateful for opportunities that don't go by unnoticed. I am also grateful for this blog and the energy it helps me direct but also create.

After today, I will be taking a blog break until early August. This is the longest break I will have taken since I started this blog in late March of 2012. The routine and the daily channel for my writing energy have brought me insights and gifts beyond measure since then, but it is good to step away for a few days, good to take a break from screens and typed words.

I won't be taking a break from gratitude practice though. It is part of my daily life and I don't plan to ever change that. My gratitude journal goes with me when I travel. My mind, heart, and soul go with my body wherever it goes too. Thanks to gratitude practice, all these-body, mind, heart, and soul-plan to enjoy and embrace the next days for what they offer. Opportunity to live in the present and find the little joys that are prevalent when I am paying attention. Opportunities to pause in mindful appreciation.

Feel free to read or reread some of my other posts until I return. I am guessing my blog break will generate plenty of ideas for new posts. I look forward to the break, but I also look forward to the return. Onward!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Birthing Some Gratitude

Today I am grateful for the cooling breeze that pushed out the oppressive humidity as the day wore on yesterday. I am also grateful for a working washing machine and dryer to give us fresh, clean clothes.

The www.gratefulness.org website emails a "Word of the Day" each day and a few days ago it was:

"Gratitude to gratitude always gives birth."  (attributed to Sophocles)

Positive breeds positive. Negative breeds negative. It is why gratitude practice works and why other "strengths-based" approaches studied by researchers in the fields of positive psychology and resilience are shown to be effective. They get people well. They keep people well. (Read more at The Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania here or the Greater Good Science Center at UC-Berkeley here.)

I agree with the research and I am grateful it is growing, but I had proof before the research became more prevalent. My own experience was all the proof I needed. When I was not well, stuck, ill; I was driven by negative emotions like self-pity, fear, self-hatred, and perfectionism. They kept birthing more of the same and I kept drinking, beating myself up, spinning my wheels.

When my good friend Terrie gave me my first gratitude journal nearly two decades ago, she knew someone like me could use something like that. She had listened to the negative more than enough. When I actually started using the journal and becoming more aware of what I do have instead of focusing on what I don't, little amazing things started happening. I started accepting myself a little more and hating myself a little less. I started seeing that the world wasn't picking on me anymore than anyone else was getting picked on by life.

Gratitude started birthing more gratitude. The foundation of a more positive perception of myself and the world around me was built. I continue to build on that foundation today. Building a life with far more contentment and peace than I ever thought possible. And creating a reserve of strength and positive emotions to put to work when the tough days and moments come along, because they always do.

My eternal gratitude to my dear friend Terrie who passed away in 2003. My ongoing gratitude to gratitude practice because it works. Gratitude births more gratitude and is shared with others. A true win-win.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Avoiding Psychological Pollution

Today I am grateful for the wisdom so graciously shared by others in recovery. I am also grateful for air conditioning. It may not be central air, but it's better than nothing.

Yesterday I was writing about exercising demons. Today I am writing about avoiding psychological pollution. One of the facilitators at the breast cancer support meeting I attended last week read from a reading to open the meeting. That reading contained the reference to avoiding psychological pollution. Thanks for the blog inspiration Claire and for being a faithful reader of this blog. I appreciate the support. (And an early "Happy Birthday" youngster!)

Real pollution. Psychological pollution. They have similarities. One smells, the other stinks up our psyche. One can slow us down, the other can slow down our progress. One kills living things, the other kills our inspiration and motivation.

Some pollution is done to us, though our own actions may contribute. Living in the wrong area or type of climate may put a person at risk. Psychological pollution is something we do to ourselves, or allow others to do to us by giving them rent-free space in our heads. Conditions have to be right for psychological pollution. Stagnation. Self-pity. Fear. Resentment. Those head the train of thought into the muck.

Avoiding psychological pollution requires simple actions to keep the train of thought in the clear, breathable air. Gratitude. Mindfulness. Service to others. Humility. Grace.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Exercising Demons

Today I am grateful for speed work in my workout this morning-it pushes my limits. I am also grateful for my husband Darcy and how we grow together in this life.

A like-minded friend and I were sharing some thoughts on the importance of exercise in each of our lives the other day. He used the words "exercising demons" and I know just what he was talking about. Mental demons. Fears. Resentments. Denial. Perfectionism. Self-pity. Irrational thoughts. Wrong motives. Ego-feeding propositions. Exercising them out. Not taking them for exercise to make them stronger, rather taking ourselves out to exercise to make us more resistant and resilient to the demons that would like to drag us down.

Exercising to exorcise demons. It works. It has worked in my life since I was a teen. Running off a hangover. Throwing or hitting a softball and releasing mental and spiritual toxicity in the process. Today, exercise keeps me calm and centered. It helps not only with physical balance, but mental, emotional, and spiritual as well.

Exercise, like writing, has been a life-saver for me. Demons seems like a strong word, as does exorcise, but the wrong thoughts really can lead to a hell of sorts. All I have to do is read a couple of my "drinking poems" and that fact is shown to me yet again.

Gratitude practice is more a mental and spiritual exercise than a physical one, but it is important exercise all the same. Physical exercise can release demons that have taken hold. Mental and spiritual exercise like gratitude practice can keep the demons from even getting in.

Whatever form the exercise takes, it's work that is well worth it. Very well worth it. If you scoff at that, perhaps you haven't tried it enough. Do I always whistle as I do my work? No. But I still do it. Persistence allows for survival on tough days. That same persistence can open floodgates of positive emotions on good days.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Focus

Today I am grateful for the good training run that Darcy and I had yesterday and for the understanding that sobriety is best tackled in 24-hour segments.

I want to thank my sister Mary Jo for a little book she gave me titled Words of Wisdom for Women by Rachel Snyder. It goes through the alphabet and has several words for each letter, with a one-page entry on each word. I was paging through it and the word focus grabbed me.

Our training run is a good example of the need for focus. We have been training for marathons for 10 years now, so we know what focus entails. The right carb-loading meal the night before, put out clothes and other supplies the night before too to save time, give our bodies a day of rest and also get to bed early to get the run started early to beat the heat. The right mindset is also an important part of focus for me too, and I think Darcy would agree.

I have always loved running, and I rarely dread a run. I never dread a run really, sometimes I just dread getting started if it is a run later in the day when I am tired and not in my best running mode. Morning runs I am always ready for. I start out focused. I know that I will feel good during and after the run. I live the line "endorphins are free and very effective."

Once the run is underway, and yesterday's was over three hours, it becomes more about focusing on the path or road ahead to avoid a stumble, and to keep my mind on my side. The legs and arms seem to know what to do, the breathing and the lungs do too. My mind, with the proper focus, plays through some prayers and meditation early in the run, maybe some gratitude lists later, some conversation with Darcy, maybe an issue I need to sort through, or a writing idea I hope blooms further, or simply enjoying the natural beauty I am surrounded by.

Darcy and I were both grateful for the luscious breeze that accompanied our run yesterday, and I was also grateful when, after catching my toe on a nail as we crossed a wood bridge-one of my favorite scenic spots on our city's trail system-that I was able to maintain my balance and not fall.

When I focus on having a good run, that is typically what happens. When I focus on gratitude, I find it and mindfulness at the same time.

How do you best focus? How does gratitude practice help?

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Home Safe and Sound

Today I am grateful for safe travels and a good experience for our son Sam and the others who were with him on our church youth group's mission trip.

I am especially grateful to the three leaders who went with our group, gave of their time and energy to help make this a worthwhile few days, and kept an eye out for our children's safety and well-being.

Sam is 12 and this was his first mission trip. I think he was a little nervous, but that is to be expected. He is pretty even-keeled and I am very thankful for that. I both looked forward to him having this trip and worried for him, like any parent I guess. But I also know it is good for all of us-Sam, my husband, and I-to have time to ourselves.

It is important for Sam, at his age, to get comfortable away from home and stretch himself, and I am glad he did. He helped paint and take care of children. He slept on the floor. He met new people from different states and Canada. He is tired and telling us about his experience in spurts. That is fine with me. And he won't tell us everything, and that is fine too. He is his own person and this experience was his, not ours.

It was hard for me to say goodbye to Sam last Sunday, but I would be lying if I said I wasn't also looking forward to a quieter house, a different routine, and time for just my husband and I. It was an enjoyable week in that respect as well.

I am just glad to have him home safe and sound, grateful that he had a good experience.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Counting Blessings, Making Blessings Count

Today I am grateful for the headway I have made on various work projects this week. I am also grateful for our local ice cream shop.

My gratitude journal had this quote in it yesterday:

"We should certainly count our blessings, but we should also make our blessings count."
(Neal A. Maxwell)

Today that is telling me to not only appreciate all the gifts in my life, but to also take good care of them. I can care for things by using them properly, cleaning them when needed, handling them gently. I can care for relationships by showing my love and support, by being a good listener, by spending time with someone, by being more considerate and less selfish, by being quiet when angry or frustrated, and by letting them be themselves.

It is also telling me to put my blessings to good use. I have motivation and inspiration to write, so I write and share. I have a firm belief in the benefits of the practice of gratitude, so I practice and I pass it on. I have wonderful family and friends, so I reach out, I keep others in my thoughts and prayers, I make time to keep in touch.

Recognizing my blessings is a great starting point, because it slows me down, gets me out of my own little head, and energizes me to make a difference in this day. Onward!