"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

Monday, September 1, 2014

The Dignity of Work

Today I am grateful for safe travels over the weekend and a really solid long training run on Saturday. I am also grateful for a home to come home to.

Today is Labor Day. A nice day off for many of us. A symbolic end to summer for most of us. A national holiday. The former social studies teacher in me always also thinks of the real meaning behind the day. What led to this national holiday and when? Why is it important? Have we forgotten the significance amid the backyard barbecues and retail sales?

Some quick answers follow. The roots of Labor Day date back to 1882, when a parade to celebrate workers/labor was held in New York City on Sept. 5th. It became a national holiday in 1896. The labor movement and labor organizations elicit a variety of opinions among the public still today, but their impact cannot be downplayed. Reasonable wages, better working conditions, an end to child labor, and the 8-hour work day came about because of the labor movement. Some even gave their lives fighting for these causes, such as those who died in the tragic Haymarket Affair in Chicago in May of 1886.

Many things we take for granted today came from the hard work and sacrifice of many people in the late 1800's and early 1900's. Many things we take for granted today come from the hard work of many others last week or last month. I like how the Department of Labor website describes Labor Day:

Labor Day is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country. Labor Day celebrates the dignity of work.

The dignity of work. Honest work for honest pay. Work that benefits society and provides goods and services to others. Work that builds communities and connections. From those who helped build the car I drive and those who help maintain it and provide fuel for it; to those who stock the shelves at the local grocery store and work the checkout lines. And every other kind of work, simple to complex, basic to highly skilled, that allows Americans to enjoy a tremendous quality of life.

Today I will appreciate that quality of life and the dignity of the workers who have helped create it and continue to make it possible.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Begin Anew Every Day

Today I am grateful for some new clothes in my work wardrobe and for their variety and comfort. I am also grateful for rain.

Yesterday I wrote about the fresh approach that can be taken with gratitude practice on a daily basis. The quote below follows nicely:

Have patience with all things, but chiefly have patience with yourself. Do not lose courage in considering your own imperfections but instantly set about remedying them-every day 
begin the task anew. (St. Francis de Sales)

I spent years being too tough on myself. I still can be, but it's far better than it used to be. I spent years in the default mode of self-pity. I can still fall into that pit, but it's far less often and for shorter stays. I owe much of this progress on "my journey of self-acceptance" to the daily work I do to apply recovery from alcoholism and gratitude/mindfulness. Some days are better than others. That will always be the case. This is life and we are fallible humans. Today it is a good life, not one of avoiding mirrors, literally and figuratively, like it used to be for me.

Considering our own imperfections is really where much growth and self-knowledge starts. The line "every day begin the task anew" holds such promise and hope for me. Anew is one of those words that says "you are doing well, just keep plugging along." I don't get bored at all, and I don't tend to frustrate as easily, when I begin each day anew. Yesterday is done. Unpack it. Tomorrow isn't here yet. Leave tomorrow's load for tomorrow. Simply focus on today.

This is when a scoffer may say it can't be that easy, it doesn't work. To the scoffer I suggest that it is simple, but not easy; that it can only work if it becomes a habit in our lives. 

I also appreciate that these words came from St. Francis de Sales. I wrote a post about a prayer from St. Francis de Sales in April of 2012. You can read it here. It has become a regular prayer for me.

I grew up attending DeSales School, as did all of my siblings. Little did I know his words would have such profound meaning to me decades later. Thank you St. Francis de Sales!

I will taking a blog break for a couple days. See you in September! 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Gratitude Capacity

Today I am grateful for lessons in ego and humility. I am also grateful for a bike ride on a nice evening.

This was a recent quote in my gratitude journal:

"Some people have a wonderful capacity to appreciate again and again."  
(Abraham Maslow)

I think with practice I have learned that I can appreciate the same things again and again, and therefore not take them for granted. The key is starting over each day, viewing it as the gift and opportunity that it is.

That first cup of coffee, the cool morning air, a good song on the radio-they can each bring a fresh dose of gratitude if I am tuned in. A good morning kiss from my husband, the way our dog Oliver makes me smile, and my favorite fruit-bananas-are each worth a pause and a thanks.

Otherwise, they just become an expected part of the day and they get passed by instead of paused upon.

Gratitude practice is not trite fluff. It is genuine when it comes from mindfulness and appreciation of life's little things. It remains a fresh part of my day when I start with an open heart and mind.

Gratitude capacity is endless. Self-pity can also be endless if I put my energy there. Today I choose gratitude.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

When To Say When

Today I am grateful for the words that form in my mind and heart. I am also grateful for family time.

I try to live life one day at a time, not lamenting the mistakes and disappointments of yesterday, not dreading the fears and concerns of tomorrow. I believe I have made progress in this area, though I am a slow learner. I do spend more time present and mindful than I used to. Gratitude practice helps. Pausing helps, even if for a few seconds.

Progress in being present. I can feel good about that. But . . . staying in today can backfire when I try to pack too much into one day. I need to know when to say when. Pause. Replenish. Stop. Listen.

In my own words: "If your to-do list is longer than your gratitude list, consider a rewrite." 

I am a hard worker, task-oriented, always with more to do than the time in a day allows. One of my most important lessons has become knowing "when to say when."  When it is time to take a break. When it is time to cut myself some slack and give myself credit for my "done" list instead of fretting over what is left to do. When it is simply time to be done for the day and just sit in grateful mindfulness.

I am also learning to prioritize. If there is never enough time in the day for all I want to do, I need to start with a short list of priorities for this day and see what I get done. Many of the things I think I "need" to get done really can wait. Lighten up Lisa!

Gratitude practice also helps me prioritize. It shows me what is most important in my life on a daily basis: recovery, faith, family, friends, health, running, writing, a meaningful job.

Today I will practice knowing when to say when.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Year #27 Gets Underway

Today I am grateful for the friends I have in recovery and how they help me and teach me. I am also grateful for my career and the jobs I have held.

This week officially begins my 27th school year as an educator. The first nine years I was a high school social studies teacher and did some coaching. For one year, I was both teaching and counseling. For the next two, I was an elementary counselor in two K-6 buildings. I am beginning my 15th year at my current employer, primarily as middle school counselor. In all the schools I have worked in, I have also helped deliver prevention and intervention programs for students and have had titles such as Drug-Free Schools Coordinator, At-Risk Coordinator, and Student Assistance Coordinator.

Although my duties are mostly as a counselor, I still consider myself an educator. It is part of what I do no matter what role I am specifically in at a given time. Whether teaching a certain subject or helping others learn about themselves, how to relate to others, setting and working toward goals, or gaining awareness of our own and our culture's strengths and weaknesses, it is all about learning and teaching. Lifelong learning is far more than a catch phrase.

I marvel at the fact that 26 years have already passed in my chosen profession. I am so grateful the opportunity to pursue a Master's degree in Guidance and Counseling presented itself at the right time in my life. I wasn't the most confident and comfortable as a teacher, and I was also prone to overworking. Pursuing the Master's, meeting my husband in the middle of it, getting married, moving. It all worked out and brought me to the counseling field. It is a better fit for me. I couldn't see myself teaching for 30 years. I can see myself continuing as a counselor.

Many students and educators in many schools around the country have the excitement and fear mix that marks the start of a new school year. I like the energy, the return to routine, the variety that comes with each day. I look forward to year #27.

Monday, August 25, 2014

The Ease of Running

Today I am grateful for ceiling and tower fans. I am also grateful for the role of running in my life.

Saturday morning my husband Darcy and I did a training run of 16-17 miles as we prepare for our fall marathon, our 12th marathon overall. It was very humid with the dew point right up there in the low 70's with the temperature. But it was a good run nonetheless. I have had more good runs than tough runs over my years of running. I would have to say some of my toughest runs were when I was trying to run off a hangover. The miles were fewer but the mental torture was greater.

I have been running for most of my life . . . starting my own sort of training when I was about 12. It has been a lifesaver, an endorphin booster, a head clearer, a confidence booster, a nature enhancer and much more over the years. Darcy and I ran together in our early marriage, but have really been serious about it over the last 10 years, since our first marathon, the Chicago Marathon, in 2004.

I look forward to long runs. I revel in the afterglow. I love that Darcy and I share this hobby, passion, and commitment. It keeps our marriage stronger in more ways than one. Running has come easy to me. It is a natural thing for me to do and has felt that way all these years. I am not that fast or out to break records. I am out to continue to enjoy the benefits and enhanced quality of life that running helps bring.

Some would consider me a little insane, a bubble off of plumb. My reply would be that if you want to see insane, that is what you would see if I couldn't run. I am so grateful for the physical capabilities I have and that both Darcy and I have avoided nagging injuries. Even cancer treatments couldn't keep me from running, though chemotherapy slowed me down and surgeries required some time off.

There is something naturally therapeutic about putting one foot in front of the other, about being outside in the coming daylight, about sweat and sore muscles.

I was born to run. I plan to keep honoring that for as long as I can. I am deeply grateful for each run I get to take, each day I get to live.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

People Watching

Today I am grateful for a cooling breeze amid a very humid few days. I am also grateful for the chance to get out for some people watching and enjoying the downtowns of our Twin Cities.

We took a new stretch of our light rail train. We saw the new Vikings football stadium under construction. We walked around downtown Minneapolis. We enjoyed the pregame and early innings of a Twins game at Target Field. I hadn't been downtown in months. I am still a small town farm girl at heart. Seeing the city and skyscrapers still impresses me and gives me a sense of the wider world. My son Sam has gotten to experience these views in more than one city in his young life. I hope it widens his view and promotes an open mind.

And we saw lots of people. More variety than I usually see in my own community, at my job, and other places I typically spend time. Variety takes many forms. For me, it is an exercise not in judgment but in gratitude. To be able put all my senses to use in a crowd of people in a city setting is a blessing. To be able to put my senses to use in any setting is a blessing. One I too often take for granted.

I am also grateful Sam sees the variety of our fellow humans. I think it promotes the dignity of all of us. We all have a place and a space in this world, and a need to belong and have meaning. That is where it all starts. Maybe there will be less fear and judgment if there is more acceptance and open mindedness.

Gratitude practice is about awareness and not taking things for granted. Watching others move about their days seems to help me become more aware and take less for granted. For that I am truly grateful.