"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

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Just Sitting Here

Today I am grateful for a nice breakfast and conversation with my friend Liz yesterday. We never run out of things to talk about. I am also grateful for laughter shared among recovery friends. There is hope and energy in that laughter.

This morning, I am just sitting here in my recliner. Looking out our front window enjoying the colors of the sunrise on the first clear morning we have had after several cloudy and dreary days.

Our dog Oliver is sitting near my feet, just being his usual self. My son Sam just sat down on the couch in front of the window. Soon, I will leave with him to drop him off at school. My husband Darcy, set to begin his work day, just swung through to mention a couple of things.

Just sitting here, I slowed down enough to notice and appreciate three key living beings in my life: Oliver, Sam, Darcy. The gratitude they inspire in me is boundless, though I sometimes forget to appreciate them.

Just sitting here, I took the time to watch the changing light, to absorb the peaceful feeling the sunrise and early morning mist combine to bring to me. The gratitude nature inspires in me is boundless, though I sometimes forget to appreciate it.

Just sitting here, because I can. I have time off from work this week, giving me more opportunities to pause and take in a moment. Breathe it in. Experience it. And I feel better. I slow down my thoughts and my pace.

I realize that just sitting here like this is a gift in itself. One I can carve out time for each and every day. The gratitude these pauses inspire in me is boundless. Let me not forget to appreciate at least a few of them every day.

Sit down. Take a moment. What do you notice?

Monday, March 27, 2017

Five Years!

Today I am grateful for time off from work and a different routine if I choose. I am also grateful for the energy in "thank you, thank you, thank you."  Once is good. Three times carries more potency.

Today marks the fifth anniversary of "Habitual Gratitude."  It is hard to believe that I have been diligently committed to this blog for that long already. It is also hard to believe what I have gained and learned since starting. I went back to each yearly anniversary post and pulled out some thoughts:

March, 2013
It has also given me a regular channel to which I can pour my writing energy. Before I started this blog, I always wanted to write regularly, but I was not always able to make that happen. On too many days, I would end up frustrated because I hadn't been able to honor my desire to write. My day had gotten swallowed up by other commitments. Now, I almost daily give time to this blog and the writer in me is more at peace because of the regular opportunity to compose and share.

March, 2014
What do I know today? Gratitude is always possible and there is always value in reflecting on sources of gratitude in our lives on a regular basis. I choose to do it daily, but even weekly or a couple times a week is helpful. Any focus on gratitude is a step in the right direction, a step to change one's perception of self and surrounding world. 

March 2015
The process of habitually noting how gratefulness looks in simple, daily ways has deepened my own sense of what mindful appreciation is all about. What I didn't anticipate is how it would further bring out the writer in me. Practice doesn't make perfect, but practice does make better. In blogging and in observing and internalizing gratitude.

March, 2016
As I pass this anniversary, I am very much affirmed of two things:
1) I am a writer.
2) Gratitude practice works.

And I add these thoughts in March, 2017:

1) Real writers really write. Write on Lisa, write on. That's all.
2) Humility and right-sized ego are key benefits of gratitude practice.
3) Never doubt that gratitude shared is gratitude multiplied. Even if with just one other person.
Even if just within your own heart, soul, and mind. Especially in these cases.

Thank you to all who support this blog, read it, comment on it, take it to heart. Gratefulness goes deep to my core. It is my heart and soul as a writer and as a human being on a spiritual path. For all of you, and for all of this, I am deeply grateful.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

The Way In or the Way Out?

Today I am grateful for a good run yesterday morning and getting back to some stretches of trail we hadn't been on for months. I am also grateful for time to talk with others in recovery.

As Darcy and I ran yesterday, early in our run the conversation yielded an analogy that is today's blog topic. It had to do with finding your way in, or your way out as the case may be, of a structure, a room, a tent.

What if the structure is a problem I am stuck in?  If I remain in the room surrounded by the problem, it is pretty difficult to find a solution, to even consider anything but the problem and keep spinning it over and over in my mind. The way out requires finding a door and exiting the area. Only then do I get some healthy perspective and the realization that there are solutions, there are ways to get unstuck.

What if I am outside the structure and the solution is inside?  If I am trying too hard to figure something out, I get tunnel vision. Tunnel vision makes it difficult to find the handle on the door that I need to turn to get in to the solution focus.

The way out of the problem and the way in to the solution become one and the same. Opening my mind, asking for help, and pausing to really take a mindful look around are the keys to finding the right focus, the way out of the problem and into the solution. The way to see a door and turn the knob.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Watch Your Step

Today I am grateful for the blueberry pancakes Sam made for dinner last night and for the power of gratitude practice done regularly.

This seems like an appropriate post today as we head into a rainy morning and also as we wrap up a winter that included ice, snow, and mud as well.

It is the most recent "Gratitude Flow" column I write for the local newspaper. 

Watch Your Step

          It's the time of year where both ice and mud can lead to treacherous and messy steps. Ice requires slowing down and being cautious. It also requires our full attention. Full attention—that is what I try to give to each moment, or each hour. It helps us experience life on a deeper level; not just passing our days but participating in them as well.
         Giving anything our full attention can seem like a challenge in our world today, with so many things pulling us in different directions. Ice reminds us of our priorities—taking the next step safely if we are on foot, or turning the next corner slowly if we are driving. Salt and sand can make it safer to move on ice, but speed is still not recommended. Pausing to practice gratitude during our day is like slowing down on ice. We are reminded of our priorities and we give more attention to what is right in front of us.
         Mud offers different challenges. It can really weigh a person down, make things slippery, and be a mess to clean up. Not to mention that we can get stuck in it. Mud can usually be avoided by taking a different route or accommodated for by wearing boots. Self-pity and self-defeating thoughts are like mud. They catch us in a negative thought pattern and mire us in the muck of ungrateful feelings. Ingratitude can be avoided by keeping up a steady stream of appreciation for the gifts in our daily lives. Gifts as basic as morning coffee or a banana to eat. Gifts as profound as waking up to a new day and being able to get out of bed.
         We can’t avoid all of life’s slippery slopes and messy times, but we can make choices that put us in a better position to stay upright, limit physical and emotional injuries, and come out the other side still feeling hopeful and able to find gratitude.
         When I think of watching my step, a couple other ideas come to mind. If you were fortunate enough to grow up on a farm, like I was, watching your step went with the territory when you left the house yard for the cow yard. Having to watch our step and sometimes landing where we didn't want to was far outweighed by the more pleasant and interesting things we got to witness and learn about as farm kids. The fresh air and open spaces to explore and run in, when not icy or muddy, were wonderful blessings of farm life.
         Watching your step as you walk, run, skate, ski or take part in any other physical activity is just good common sense. Even so, falls and trips can happen. It's part of life and being active. It's worth the risk. Consider what other healthy choices in your life are worth the risks and the work required. Pursue them patiently.
Watching your step is also about slowing down to notice what is happening around us and in our minds and hearts. It is a gratitude practice in and of itself. As I take a step, I think about these facts: my legs and feet work with minimal pain or discomfort; I have shoes to wear and they are of good quality to protect my feet and the rest of my body; I can see where I am going and enjoy the indoor and outdoor scenery; and I feel safe and secure where I walk as opposed to worrying about criminals, terrorists, or getting caught in the crossfire between warring factions. Many people around the world don’t have shoes to wear, don’t feel safe when they step outside, may be malnourished and unable to walk far. It puts things in perspective for me really quickly.
You will probably still catch me complaining about the ice and mud, or other types of troubles and messes that life sends our way from time to time. But I guarantee you that I complain less when I practice gratitude more. And I easily find things to be grateful for when I do something as basic as watching my step. 

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Stomping Grounds

Today I am grateful for the phone conversations I had last evening with my sister Zita and my Aunt Helen. I am also grateful that Darcy and I understand each other the way we do.

Last week we took a couple days away and ended up in my old "stomping grounds." We drove through Brooklyn, Iowa. I had lived and worked there as a teacher and coach 25 years ago. I was struck by several things. First of all, how could 25 years have passed so quickly?

Secondly, much was the same, much had changed. And my memories had faded. We located the two places I lived while there, though the second one wasn't as easy to find as the first one was. We drove past the school I taught at and explored town a little before stopping at the new Casey's store and heading out of town.

I have driven back through Brooklyn several times since I left. I appreciate each time and the perspective I get.

As I was thinking about stomping grounds though, the word stomping kept getting my attention.
It sounds a little more gentle when used in the phrase "stomping grounds," but typically stomping doesn't seem too mild. It seems more of a harsh and pounding approach.

It made me consider this: Do I stomp through too many of my days, literally and figuratively? Rushing around expecting too much of myself? Pounding out steps to get from point A to point B without enjoying the gifts and observations in each step?

Today I will strive for less stomping, and a more gentle pace. I encourage you to do the same.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Bragging or Building?

Today I am grateful for the gratitudes shared by others. They always give me more to think about. I am also grateful for the thought-provoking words of other people, even when I may disagree with them. Perhaps especially when I disagree with them.

A comment made to someone and then shared in a gratitude group I am part of really got me thinking over the last few days. I have been turning it over in my head and heart, and I passed it by my husband and son to get different perspectives. I arrived back at the truth I started with. Let me explain.

The comment that got it rolling was someone stating that they felt sharing gratitudes was like bragging and amounted to putting others down. Am I bragging when I share gratitudes?
I certainly don't think so.

And I don't think others are bragging when I read their lists of reasons to be grateful. I usually think things along the line of "thanks for the reminders" or "how wonderful that between us all we can pause and find so many different things to be thankful for" or "there's such energy in these words."

If someone else's gratitudes don't sit well with me, I am the one who needs to look in the mirror. I am the one who needs to work on my own ingratitude.

I find sharing gratitudes to be the opposite of bragging. It is very humbling. I did nothing to earn the fresh air and oxygen I breathe in day in and day out. I didn't create the beauty and awe of nature and the five senses I can use to fully experience that beauty and awe. I didn't do the work that makes it possible for me to simply turn a faucet on and get clean water, hot or cold. And yet these are significant gifts in my daily life. I had little to do with many things for which I have tremendous gratitude.

On the other hand, I work daily to build the grateful mindset I have and that is important to acknowledge. Many gifts freely given. Many gifts intentionally sought out and recognized.

Maybe the person talking about bragging was referring to material things. Sure, material items show up on my gratitude list, but they don't dominate it. People, experiences, nature, health, food, running, writing, music--they more frequently make my list than a nicer, newer item tends to.

Gratitude practice isn't about what you have, it's about how you look at what you have.

Practicing gratitude isn't arrogant. It is grace in action. But it isn't always easy. It takes time and effort. This is a picture of my stack of gratitude journals I have been working regularly to fill over the last twenty-two years. Line by line. Day by day. The one in front is my current journal. Writing in it is one of the first things I do every morning.

I have run 14 marathons. Huge gratitude in each one. Step by step.  Mile by mile. I have been sober for over 10, 000 days. Immeasurable appreciation for recovery and the support of others and a compassionate Great Spirit. An hour at a time. A day at a time.

Day by day, building a better perception of self and surrounding world. Made possible by choosing to look for the daily gifts in life and taking actions to acknowledge them.  Effort goes with the territory of living a life of contribution. The dividends cannot be counted, but they can be felt and embraced.

The truth I started with? Gratitude practice is grace-filled and it works. It isn't bragging, it is building a better life. 

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Aspire to be Educated

Today I am grateful for a nice wrestling banquet and recognition evening for this season for our son Sam and his teammates last night. I am grateful to the coaches, managers, teammates, and other parents who all help make our school's wrestling program outstanding.

I am also grateful for affordable student loans. Last week we spent a night in West Des Moines, Iowa.
When I went for a run the next morning in the area around the hotel, I ended up running past a building that houses my student loan company. It is now called Iowa Student Loan/Aspire.

As I ran past, I considered the value of my formal education in my professional career, and how it has also helped me grow personally. I fully appreciate that low-interest student loans helped make both my undergraduate and graduate degrees possible.

About the time I got my loans paid off for my 4-year degree, I began my master's program. We continue to pay on the loans for my graduate degree, but it is slowly working it's way down. More than worth it in so many respects.

Formal education matters, as do affordable ways of paying for it. Informal education matters too.
Today, I aspire to educated in the ways of gratitude, love, tolerance, and compassion for those around me, the world around me, and myself.