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Showing posts from April, 2014

The Styrofoam of Life

Today I am grateful for blessings that surround me and a better awareness of their presence. I am also grateful for my husband Darcy and our talks.

With some purchases we have made in recent weeks, we have had more styrofoam packaging to deal with. It got me thinking about styrofoam in ways I never really had. Styrofoam is not healthy for the environment and arguably not for us either. Styrofoam is actually a brand name for polystyrene, which is made from petroleum.

It's a nuisance to get rid of styrofoam. It's not easy to find a place to recycle it. Though it is light, it takes up plenty of space. You can't crush it or break it down, and if you try, it makes a mess. Yet, styrofoam performs an important job. It is quite effective at protecting fragile items in transit or keeping a beverage warm or cold.

Styrofoam is lightweight and convenient, but is it worth it? It comes with a heavy environmental price tag.

Then there is the styrofoam of life. Are there times I needed em…

Control/CONTROL

Today I am grateful for trusted service providers our community has and for the lessons of letting go.

Speaking of letting go, I was talking with some fellow recovering people the other day on the topic of control. That's a doozy. Pretty much the opposite of letting go. The consensus: we sure couldn't control our drinking, but we tried pretty hard to control everything else.

These two acrostics came to mind; the first about unhealthy control, the second about healthy control:

C=compulsive
O=obsessive
N=neurotic
T=tyrannical
R=restless
O=oblivious
L=lacking

C=compassionate
O=observant
N=noticing
T=teachable
R=rational
O=open-minded
L=loving

Unhealthy control is about trying to manipulate others, outcomes, situations. It is all those things above in the first acrostic, but especially makes me oblivious to other people and their feelings and leaves me lacking any sense of peace and serenity.

Healthy control is all of those things in the second acrostic, allowing me to focus on …

Temporary Disengagement

Today I am grateful for my recovery friends and the wisdom they share. I am also grateful for a relaxing Sunday afternoon yesterday.

I wanted to spend one more blog post discussing the work and words of Dr. Tara Brach from her book Radical Acceptance. You can read more about her work on her website here.

Along with acceptance, Brach talks a lot about pausing. She calls it the "sacred pause." I like that. Sacred. To be honored. She calls it the first step in learning radical acceptance. It makes sense that we can't accept what we aren't aware of, what we aren't noticing.

She also uses the term "temporary disengagement." Always being engaged may, on the surface, sound like a good thing. But is it? How can we gain perspective, get refreshed and rejuvenated, learn from our current circumstances, if we don't temporarily pause, stop, slow down?  Always being engaged is like always driving with the gas pedal to the floor. It's unsafe, blows the engi…

Breasts and Alcohol

Today I am grateful for the many steps I took yesterday as I ran, walked, cleaned, shopped. Being able to put one foot in front of the other is a gift. I am also grateful for emotions shown by others, real and raw. They are gifts of another kind.

Admittedly, my post title today probably attracts more attention than some of my post titles. But it wasn't an attention-seeking ploy. When it comes to acceptance, breasts and alcohol are two areas I need plenty of it. Ongoing. That's the thing about acceptance. I needed it yesterday. I need it today. I will need it tomorrow. If I want to live with some peace and serenity anyway. There's a reason why Tara Brach calls it radical acceptance.

The other day I was heading down the road from our house on the way to the store. I drove past a woman running on the trail. I noticed her breasts and had a pang of grief for the loss of my own breasts. I can now go weeks without such pangs, but they haven't gone away. I suspect they never…

The Words of Carl Rogers

Today I am grateful for both the formal education I have received in my lifetime and the informal education that is day to day living itself.

Dr. Tara Brach's book Radical Acceptance has this quote from Carl Rogers:

"The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change."

I appreciate the quote and the man it came from. Carl Rogers was one of the most influential psychologists of the 20th century and was part of the humanistic psychology movement. I studied his work in both undergraduate and graduate courses I took. I particularly like his idea of "unconditional positive regard." He was referring to working with clients and showing complete support and acceptance of the client, regardless of what they say or do. It was at the heart of his person-centered therapy approach and it is part of my philosophy and approach in my work as a school counselor.

The idea can be expanded to how we view all others in our lives as well as how we view…

Radical Acceptance

Today I am grateful for prayers and mantras that bring me peace and presence. I am also grateful for the smell of coffee brewing.

A few weeks ago I read a thought-provoking book titled Radical Acceptance by Dr. Tara Brach. My sister recommended it, and with a title like that I was happy to dive in. I meant to blog about it sooner, but other posts kept coming up and wanting to be written about. Luckily, it's never too late to write about a book that leaves us thinking. Dr. Brach is a clinical psychologist and a Buddhist lay priest. She teaches mindfulness meditation.

There was a time in my life where acceptance seemed like a radical idea and one I struggled with. If I simply accepted life, how would I grow and improve and save the world and myself in the process? How would I show my worthiness and value if I just took things as they came? I didn't have a clue as to what healthy acceptance even meant.

I at least have more of a clue today. I at least understand the difference be…

As Easy As 1, 2, 3

Today I am grateful for air to breathe and a roof over my head on a rainy day.

I know. I know. Yesterday it was simple, but not easy. Today it is as easy as 1, 2, 3. On most days, finding things to be grateful for is truly easy for me. I have developed, through habitual practice and application, a way of looking at life that points out the gifts around me. You can call it "an attitude of gratitude" but to me it is more readily known as paying attention.

As easy as 1, 2, 3 today means being grateful for the three males I live with: my husband Darcy, our son Sam, and our dog Oliver.

I love Darcy for many reasons, not the least of which is the fact that he puts up with me. That is not always an easy task for those closest to me. I love that we share common goals and have similar wishes for our future.

I love Sam because he teaches me so much about being a nurturing and patient mom. I am proud of him for becoming his own person with a unique personality. I am humbled to be a m…

Simple, But Not Easy

Today I am grateful for the reserves of gratitude I can draw on when my daily supply runs a little low. I am also grateful for the father my husband Darcy is to all three of his children.

Gratitude practice really is simple, but that doesn't mean it is always easy. Today is one of those days where it feels harder to find the gratitude. I am thinking of loved ones facing difficult circumstances. I am thinking of the deadly and destructive disease of addiction. I am thinking of cancer patients in active treatment. I am thinking of senseless tragedies like the ferry disaster in South Korea. I am thinking of people searching for answers to difficult questions.

I am thinking that life isn't always fair and it doesn't always make sense. I am also feeling a little tired, a little drained. I am feeling a little anxious about some concerns I have. Some are related to my job, others are regarding people I care about.

All that being said, gratitude is still possible. Faith is still …

She Did Dance Again

Today I am grateful for clean windows and fresh air. I am grateful to those who share their recovery wisdom, courage, and strength with me.

I wanted to follow up on one more Boston Marathon bombing victim that I blogged about last year. Her name is Adrianne Haslet-Davis. Read my April 26, 2013 post here. She is a ballroom dancer and a dance instructor. She didn't let the anger and the grief get the best of her. Her goal was to dance again and she has. Our attitude and outlook can't change a circumstance like a serious injury or illness, but it can sure change how we handle that circumstance. Adrianne Haslet-Davis clearly has benefitted from the attitude and outlook she applied after a horrible split second changed her life.

Here is another recent interview with Haslet-Davis. I commend her strength, courage, hard work and hope. I commend her advocacy for amputees.

And here on YouTube is a TED talk by Hugh Herr. Herr never viewed his body as broken after losing both feet in a roc…

"Blown Together"

Today I am grateful for safe travels over the weekend, nice weather, enjoyable family time, and a couple of good runs with Darcy.

The 118th running of the Boston Marathon gets underway in the next few hours. The Boston Marathon is a prestigious and storied event. This year, one year since the April 15, 2013 bombings that killed three, made 16 others amputees, and injured over 260, there are more emotions and more eyes on Boylston Street and all around Boston. I appreciate the 36,000 runners and the anticipated one million spectators. I will be tracking what I can via computer and TV.

I am a faithful reader of the magazine Runner's World. I pretty much read it cover to cover every month. The most recent issue was full of stories about Boston. Incredible stories like Roseann Sdoia and her rescuers. Roseann lost her lower right leg in the second blast. She may have lost her life if not for the actions of Shores Salter, Shana Cottone, and Mike Materia; a college student, a cop, and a …

Awakenings

Today I am grateful for the women in my local cancer support group, especially the three women I met for the first time last night. They are all in active treatment and they are in my thoughts and prayers. I am also grateful for the awakenings that have come my way over my lifetime, big and small.

With Easter just around the corner and spring emerging, awakenings are evident and being discussed.

Here are some of my random thoughts on the idea of awakenings:

*They are really about second chances we give ourselves and others. If we awaken to a part of ourselves we had been denying or fearful of, or not confident enough in, we have new goals and sometimes a new road, or at least a wider path to travel. If we awaken to a part of someone we know and care about, by accepting them as they are, or realizing this is their way of shining, then we get to share in their journey too.

*I often think first about my own personal awakenings. There have been so many. I think back to my painful teens an…

Energy

Today I am grateful for pizza. I am also grateful for the communication my husband Darcy and I have with one another.

My energy level has been on my mind lately, in a good way. I have been pleased with the amount of sustainable energy I have had in recent weeks. I attribute it first to the 12 or so pounds that I have lost and to the way I am choosing to nourish myself--less sugar and other refined foods, more whole foods, less calorie intake, more mindful eating.

I am a morning person, so I usually wake up ready to roll. I don't need to wait for my energy to wake up, it wakes up with me. I tend to be on the go much of the day too; physically moving, mentally working. I haven't hit that early afternoon wall as much lately, and I have noticed a faster pace when I run and more motivation to keep exercising. For all of these things, I am grateful.

I also try to be aware of the energy of those around me. Some people give me energy, others zap it. I try to make more connections wi…

Crucify is a Strong Word

Today I am grateful for two ears and one heart to help me listen to others and myself. I am also grateful for a mind that stays open more than it used to, so I can learn more.

With Easter coming up, the words crucify and crucifixion are more prevalent than at other times of the year. There is much religious significance surrounding Christ's crucifixion and resurrection. But our priest's sermon Sunday at my church got me thinking about modern day crucifying.

Do I crucify others with my judgment and harsh words? Do I crucify others by treating them as different or invisible? Do I crucify myself for being less than perfect? Do I crucify myself because "I should know better?" Mortify. Torment. Persecute. Crucify. They are all strong words and strong actions, but we choose them. If I am doing any of these things to others or myself, even if on a small scale, why? (And is there such a thing as small scale in this arena?)

Though we can point to ways the human race has mad…

Glorious or Terminal?

Today I am grateful for the nice day we enjoyed yesterday; not weather-wise, pace-wise. I am also grateful for my ability to read.

There is one more nugget from Gilda Radner's book It's Always Something that I would like to share. This quote is a powerful one:
"While we have the gift of life, it seems to me the only tragedy is to allow part of us to die--whether it is our spirit, our creativity or our glorious uniqueness." 
Glorious uniqueness. We all have it. It should be celebrated, but too often it is ignored or buried. The way I laugh. The quirky way I put my clothes in the drawer or closet. The predictability of a response I am likely to give to a certain question. The scars on my body and the stories that go with them. All of this and much more comprise my glorious uniqueness. I embrace it more than I used to. Gratitude practice has helped me see this uniqueness as a positive in myself and others.

I agree with Gilda, as long as there is life in me, my spirit, cr…

To My Husband

Today I am grateful for my husband Darcy, in more ways than a blogpost can capture. I am also grateful for the theater performance of "We Are Young" that Darcy, Sam and I enjoyed at my school last evening. It was outstanding, entertaining, and brought the gamut of emotions.

"We Are Young" is a variety show that highlighted the music and culture of each decade of our American history beginning with  the 1920's and ending in the 2000's. Thank you to all involved in the production! Your work and your talent are impressive and appreciated.

Today is Darcy's 49th birthday. Happy birthday dear! The show got me thinking about Darcy and I and our history together through the decades. We met in November of 1997 and married in July of 1998. I met my stepson Arthur when he was 6 and my stepdaughter Emily on her 3rd birthday. Our son Sam was born in 2002. Oliver, our cockapoo, joined our family in 2008. Darcy and I ran our first marathon, the Chicago Marathon, in 20…

Mobilize or Minimize?

Today I am grateful for our backyard fire pit and a game of catch with Sam.

After writing yesterday's post, some thoughts stayed with me and are worthy of their own post."Did I cause my cancer?" is a provocative question in many ways. The answer given says more about a person's overall approach to life than it really does about their cancer diagnosis.

There is a continuum here. I can believe I caused my own cancer, beat myself up for previous choices, and obsess about everything I do, breathe in, ingest, and surround myself with. That is one extreme. The other extreme is feeling like a 100% victim, taking absolutely no responsibility for my own health, because cancer just happens regardless. Most of us answering this question are somewhere closer to the middle of this continuum.

It's really the difference between mobilizing and minimizing. If I take some level of responsibility for my health, I am mobilized to take actions to restore and preserve my health. If I …

Did I Cause My Cancer?

Today I am grateful for a smile, a simple smile that can help relax me. I am also grateful for the variety of tasks and opportunities my job offers.

Did I cause my cancer? This is a question I imagine many of us who have been diagnosed with cancer ponder at some point, even if only in our own minds. It is a tough question. Gilda Radner asked it too. She wondered if her smoking, love of saccharin and cyclamates (another sweetener), candies with red dye in them, and the damage done to her body while suffering from eating disorders, each or all may have contributed to her cancer.

I wondered if my high levels of alcohol consumption in my teens, the smoking I did for a few years, or my life-long love of ice cream and other sweets, or eating pesticide-laden fruits or using plastics with dangerous chemicals in them may have contributed to my breast cancer diagnosis. Some of these were more rational thoughts than others, and none of them took a stranglehold on my thought processes. With two…

The Power of Visualization, Mantras, and Prayers

Today I am grateful for sweat and sore muscles loosening up. I am also grateful for the prayers and mantras that have been valuable in my life and for the people who helped me find them.

Gilda Radner used many techniques and strategies as she underwent treatment for ovarian cancer. She had help and support that she trusted, so she trusted their ideas. Like visualization. A couple of visualizations that she used were thinking about "stupid cancer cells" as she underwent chemotherapy. She visualized the cancer cells saying "I'm here, I'm here" and the chemo would get them. Her normal cells were smarter. They would get jolted by the chemicals, but be able to pull themselves back together.

She also visualized the area where her cancer was as clean laundry. She had always loved doing the laundry and the transformation from dirty to fresh and clean again. These were effective and powerful visualizations that helped her through difficult times, difficult days, dif…

"It's Always Something"

Today I am grateful for my five senses and for each of them being in working order. I am also grateful for my job, both when it exhausts and when it invigorates.

I just got done reading Gilda Radner's book It's Always Something. We had ordered SNL's the Best of Gilda Radner from Amazon, and I decided to throw in her book, which I had always wanted to read anyway. Radner was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 1986 and died in 1989, at the age of 42. I loved her Roseanne Rosanneadanna and Emily Litella sketches from Saturday Night Live. Roseanne usually worked "It just goes to show you, it's always something, if it's not one thing, it's another . . . " into her sketches. From the book, I learned that this phrase-it's always something-was a favorite of her father's. He died of a brain tumor when she was in her teens.

Her book was good, heartfelt. It wasn't a light read, but it wasn't always serious either. Radner was a masterful comedienne…

Sitting in the Sunlight

Today I am grateful that my son Sam's initial experience with contact lenses is off to a good start. I am also grateful to be of service to others in need, and I am grateful for sunshine.

On Sunday I had to wait for Sam at church for a time. I found a nice place to sit and soak up the sun through one of the church windows. It was warm, bright, and inviting. Oliver, our dog, will often find a spot on the floor that is in the sun and settle in for a little snooze. We are all drawn to the sun.This nice weather I have been talking about is so welcome for many reasons, but one of them is getting outside in direct sunlight. Being able to expose some of our pasty winter skin to the sun is a bonus.

The sun is amazing and powerful. It is 93 million miles away and yet it provides us life, light, and warmth. And it happens to be one of those things I too often take for granted. I do try to pause and catch a sunrise or sunset when I can, but on many days thoughts of the sun are covered by th…

Like Lazarus, We Rise Again

Today I am grateful for the people, starting with my parents, who have taught me about perseverance over the course of my lifetime. I am also grateful for the faith I have in my life today.

I am not a regular church-goer. I go once every few weeks. I don't mind going. I just use my time for different endeavors on Sunday mornings. Those other endeavors are often of a spiritual nature as well. I went to church yesterday though, and the gospel reading was about Lazarus and his resurrection. A miracle of God. It's a story I have always found intriguing. It always gets me thinking about deep spiritual matters and what is possible if we have faith.

But I actually witnessed another kind of miracle yesterday. I like the minor miracles. The daily miracles. The kind of things we notice when we are paying attention. It was easy to spot yesterday's miracle. You could hear it and see it and smell it. It was a lovely day in April. It felt like a bit of a miracle after the last few mon…

How about Buddha's words?

Today I am grateful for my health and for the roof over my head. So many people are struggling with health issues, or have lost their homes to natural disasters. I don't want to take my health or my home for granted. I want to appreciate them today.

That reminds me of my second favorite quote about gratitude. It is attributed to Siddhartha Gautama, also known as Buddha. It follows here:

"Let us rise up and be thankful, for if we didn't learn a lot today, at least we learned a little, and if we didn't learn a little, at least we didn't get sick, and if we got sick, at least we didn't die; so let us all be thankful."

That is what I call keeping things in perspective. Successful gratitude practice for me means focusing on what I do have, not lamenting over what I don't have or what I had and lost. This quote captures that and more.

It reminds me of the gift of today. And of the importance of the little things in life that really aren't little things:…

The Words of Brother David as Touchstone

Today I am grateful for texting friends and singing birds. I am also grateful for sunshine and laughter.

My blog header includes this quote from Brother David Steindl-Rast:

"In daily life we must see that it is not happiness that makes us grateful,  but gratefulness that makes us happy."
A touchstone is defined as a fundamental or quintessential part or feature. It sure fits the intent of this blog and the intentional action I put toward habitual gratitude practice on this blog and across all areas of my life.

Am I happier since I started regular gratitude practice? Absolutely! A definitive and resounding yes! Am I always happy? No. Do I always have a smile on my face and a spring in my step? Are you kidding me?

But that is not how I define happiness. I define happiness in many ways, but a fundamental way is this: acceptance of present circumstances. It is easier to accept present circumstances, even difficult ones, if I am actually present, mindful. If something tough is hap…

The Writing Path

Today I am grateful for my five senses and that they all work. I am grateful for the clean air that I have to breathe.

Yesterday, I blogged about poetry as a lifesaver for me. About the time I started writing poetry, I also started journaling about my thoughts, feelings, and life events. At times, I would rattle on for pages. I am so grateful today for that writing because it has become a good supplement to my memory. I always dated, and continue to date, every poem, every journal entry. That has allowed me to go back and check details, or refresh my memory that may have faltered over the years. It is truly a gift.

I have shared some of my poetry over the years. I wrote one about marriage that I gave to friends getting married. I wrote many to friends that I then shared. I have written some fun holiday and other event ones that were meant to be read by others. But many, especially my earlier ones, were too personal, too raw. They were meant just for me.

I am a free verse poet. For man…

Poetry Saved My Life

Today I am grateful for my husband Darcy and our history together. I am also grateful for the role that poetry has played in my life.

I enjoyed this week's local writing group. Meeting new people and seeing some familiar faces. As I said yesterday, I appreciated the honest sharing, through writing, that went on. Pain and joy are great sources of writing inspiration aren't they?

One of our topics was poetry. My input was short and to the point: "Poetry saved my life."  That is a true statement in my life. I have no doubt of that. I started writing poetry when I was 11 or 12. I started drinking alcohol when I was 14. A poem I wrote at 16 had this line: "I found alcohol before I found me." Another poem I wrote in my late teens was titled "Twelve Pack" and ended with these lines:
And the twelfth was for Blessed oblivion
I was never comfortable in my own skin in those days. I was at dis-ease. Alcohol gave me a temporary fix, but every drunk was a club …

Slippery Places

Today I am grateful for the local writing group I attended last evening and all of the honest sharing, via writing, that was done by those in attendance. I am also grateful for the lessons learned from slippery places.

Slippery places. Avoid when possible. Be careful at all times when near one. Like yesterday morning when I was walking Oliver. It had turned markedly colder and there were icy spots. (Yes, we love Minnesota. Sixties on Sunday, ice on Tuesday morning.) I was being careful and concentrating on safe places to step. As I neared our house on the return trip, I slacked off on my concentration and paid for it with a fall. Luckily, I don't seem to be any worse for wear other than a couple of bruises.

I was reminded of my fall on this past December 1, after completing the Seattle Marathon. It left me with bruised or cracked ribs, muscle pain and a slowed and limited range of movement for several weeks. It took six weeks to feel back to 100%. How important mobility is. How c…

Brief Encounters with Gratitude

Today I am grateful for my job and the people I come in contact with there. I am also grateful for my recovery friends and the wisdom they share with me.

This weekend brought numerous brief encounters with the real face of gratitude. Literally, some human faces, but also some non-human ones as well.

The encounters included seeing three members of "The Lake City Nine" at three different events over the weekend (Don't know "The Lake City Nine?" Read more here.) I saw Beth at my sister's surprise birthday party, Rita at my niece's bridal shower, and Tracy at a church breakfast. It was a treat to see them two weekends in a row and a dose of gratitude all over again to revisit our time together. One of the three said one of my blogposts made them cry. Another said how she had been thinking more about gratitude since we created an A-Z list together, and the other one and I agreed that it is sure nice to be comfortable and at ease with one another for a whole…