"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!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Palpable Relief

Today  I am grateful for our bikes, the morning quiet, and the breast cancer support group I attend.

Yesterday I wrote about unforgettable days and moments. July 17, 2008 was one of my unforgettable days.I went in that morning for a lumpectomy and sentinel node biopsy; the first surgery to address the cancer in my right breast. It had been six weeks since my diagnosis and I was ready to move forward. Six weeks of tests, appointments, fear, and agonizing waiting. I feared the cancer was growing. I feared the news from surgery would be concerning. I feared a bad reaction to anesthesia. I feared the unknown and my life was full of it at that time.

Some pre-surgery unforgettable moments: the intense, but short-lived pain of getting a shot in my right nipple, saying goodbye to my husband as they wheeled me into the OR, a vague memory of being on the operating room table looking up at a big light and hearing movement around me, then I was out.

Post-surgery there were unforgettable moments of extreme, palpable relief. Waking up and knowing I had survived surgery and my first time under anesthesia. Hearing the news that the sentinel node biopsy was clean. Huge relief! They test the lymph node where cancer is likely to first travel to from the breast. It showed no sign  of cancer, which was very good news because it meant the cancer was likely contained in my breast. A few days later, I got more good news from pathology-the margins were clean around the small invasive tumor I had. The scariest of the two cancers I had was gone. More palpable relief.

But the journey was just beginning in ways. I still had DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ) in my breast and a sample from my invasive tumor was sent off for the Oncotype DX test to determine if I was a good candidate for chemotherapy.

One more unforgettable moment from July 17, 2008:  When we arrived home later that afternoon, my son Sam, six at the time, took my hand so tenderly and helped me upstairs to rest. It was a precious, precious moment.

I am grateful for my health today, grateful my cancer prognosis has been good. It is one of the reasons I try to appreciate each day and not take life for granted.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Unforgettable

Today I am grateful for flavored coffee and a walk along the Mississippi River with my husband.

Unforgettable moments and days. We all have them. Some we hold dear in our memory because they are joyous events. The day I got married: the evening and the beautiful flower garden, the realization that I had finally (I was 33) found someone, the family and friends who were there. The day our son was born: that incredible need to push late in labor, the relief of hearing his healthy cry, holding him for the very first time. The day I finished my first marathon: the starting line of 40,000 runners, seeing each mile marker, turning the corner at mile 26 and seeing the finish line.

And then there are the unforgettable moments and days that part of our minds and hearts would prefer to forget. The day my dad died: being called out of a class, hearing my brother say the words, shock, disbelief. The day I heard the words "You have cancer": more shock and disbelief, gripping fear, the realization that scary and uncharted territory lie ahead.

Six years ago I was living that scary and uncharted journey. This date, July 16, was the eve of my first surgery; a lumpectomy and sentinel node biopsy. It was my first-ever surgery, my first time under anesthesia. I was terrified of the unknown, but ready to face it because I had waited for weeks to get to that point. (I got my diagnosis on May 29 and a variety of factors contributed to the intervening weeks of appointments, tests, and waiting.) Surgery would give us vital information about next steps.

That makes July 17, 2008 another unforgettable day for me. More on that tomorrow.

Whether the joyful or anguishing kind, unforgettable days and moments are part of each of our stories. I seek to embrace life fully, so I must somehow embrace the tough times. Gratitude practice helps me do that. It helps me find silver linings, blessings in disguise.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Cruel Summer

Today I am grateful for my job and how it allows me to practice flexibility and creative solutions. I am also grateful for comfortable sleeping weather.

For those of you from my era, the musical group Bananarama may ring a bell. They had a hit song in 1984 with "Cruel Summer."  You can listen to it here. I heard it on the radio the other day.

The song, or at least the title, was prophetic for me in my own summer of 1984. I had one year of college behind me and was home for the summer. I was coaching softball, playing some ball myself, and partying quite a bit. It was my last summer of drinking before my first real attempt to quit drinking that began in May of 1985.

My disease had progressed and drinking was a priority for me. To drink meant to get drunk. I remember stealing quarters from my mom's coin can (it was a Pringles chip can),  and sneaking a beer or two from what my parents sometimes had in our basement refrigerator, leftover from some visitors, or on hand in case we got visitors. I would take the quarters to help me buy a few more taps at the bar I frequented with my friends. At the time, a tap was 35 cents. I am not proud of these behaviors, but they remind me today that I was not a normal drinker, ever. (I was able to apologize to my parents a few years later for my thefts.)

I quit drinking from May of 1985 until August of 1986. (Read about those 464 days here.) I had already been writing poetry and journaling for years, but in this time period I really churned out a lot of what I call "my drinking poems." Thank God I was writing because my feelings were pretty toxic and I wasn't dealing with them in a healthy fashion. Writing saved my life. I believe that with all of my heart.

A poem I wrote in December of 1985 even carries the title "Cruel Summer."  I will spare you the 50-plus lines of pain but here are some highlights: I realize how sick I really was . . . I was at my lowest, my most frustrated, my must disgusting self . . . I was letting myself fall into my own grave and each drunk was dirt to cover me . . . I couldn't stand looking at myself . . . My memory went to hell and came back to torture me . . . 

Had enough? I have. And I thank God regularly that by September of 1989, with the help of people who cared about me, I finally realized I had had enough to drink and needed some help beyond myself.

That help is still here for me today and for that I am deeply grateful. The other good news is that I am here for myself today too.

Monday, July 14, 2014

On Biking, Breezes, and a Beautiful Day

Today I am grateful for quiet wisdom shared and the calming effect of a flowing river.

My thoughts and wishes for a good and safe day go out to my son Sam and the others on his youth group mission trip. I am thankful for their safe travels yesterday and I appreciate the adult leaders who are with the group this week.

Yesterday was a gorgeous day to be outside. As the morning wore on, the heavy humidity that had been sticking around the last few days departed. A cool, northerly breeze took its place. Talk about refreshing!I am not a fan of humidity, so when this turn of events happens, I fully relish in it. I took a run in the morning, and my husband and I went for a leisurely bike ride in the afternoon. We biked with a pleasant breeze to keep the bugs off, got a great view of the Mississippi River, saw a colorful kite high in the sky, heard the birds singing, greeted fellow humans also out enjoying the beautiful day.

It gave me perspective. It helped keep worries and concerns in their place.

The simplicity of a nice day. It truly is a gift. It is enough.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Keep Cultivating

Today I am grateful for a solo run this morning and the time to myself. I am also grateful for citronella candles which allow us to continue to enjoy our patio at the height of summer bug season.

My sister reminded me yesterday of the importance of continuing to cultivate gratitude, even when things are a challenge, especially when things are a challenge.  Her exact words were ". . . life is a hard ride sometimes, but always gratitude is important to cultivate."

Thanks Danita for the words of wisdom! She is living a hard ride right now as her husband continues to suffer from the progression of Lewy Body Dementia. The past couple weeks have brought other sad and difficult news: an alum of our school seriously injured in a fall, a current student seriously injured in a skateboarding accident, classmates of mine losing their fathers within days of one another, reading about the debilitating nature of ongoing treatment for metastatic cancer from the viewpoint of a Stage IV patient, family news that brings a wide range of emotions.

If I allowed the darkness, sadness, worry, concern, and fear to engulf me, gratitude and other positive, forward-moving emotions would be nearly impossible to grow. But remaining grateful, even during the struggles, keeps a light source flowing and cultivation possible. A little gratitude can go a long way in promoting good growing conditions.

It is also important to keep cultivating gratitude when life is rolling along smoothly. In fact, for me, that can sometimes be a more challenging time to be grateful. Complacency creeps in and I become forgetful of the grace in life. I am reminded regularly of what happens to recovering alcoholics and addicts who get complacent in their recovery. They end up using again and some never make it back to sobriety.

All of us are at risk of complacency if we take too much for granted in our lives, if we don't take time to be aware of and acknowledge the help we get along the way. I remember the small, 4- or 6-row cultivator my dad attached to our John Deere 50 tractor when I was young. Today, you can buy cultivators with 36 rows. Their job is to turn the soil and keep the weeds down to improve crop yield. Gratitude practice turns the soul and keeps the weeds of discontent down. Big or small doses of gratitude, just keep cultivating it.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Short or Long Essay?

Today I am grateful for sources of humor--other people, pets, my own awareness, the role of chance. I am also grateful for the laughter that often accompanies humor.

I want to wish my stepson Arthur and his wife Alyssa a Happy 1st Anniversary today! Enjoy your day!

I get ideas for blog posts from a variety of sources. In a conversation the other day, someone used the term "long essay," as in they wouldn't bore us with a long essay. I have been known to be too wordy and I appreciate the writing practice this blog provides. I continue to fine tune my use of words and how many I employ at a time. When it comes to tests, I prefer a short essay over a long essay. Sometimes shorter is better.

What about life as an essay? On this matter, the longer the better is how I feel at this point in my journey. I want to keep writing and living for many years. If it is up to me, the long essay of my life has many pages and chapters yet to be written.

But only part of it is up to me. There are factors beyond my control and current knowledge that will play into my longevity. I can only work on the factors I do control. My attitude and actions. Healthy attitudes and healthy actions won't guarantee me more days and years, but they will make the days and years I have better.

Along those lines, here is today's word from gratefulness.org:

"You cannot give your life more days, but you can give your days more life." (Unknown)

My attitude and actions are really intertwined. One impacts the other. Two of the most important things I do for my overall health are exercise and practice gratitude regularly. Sometimes it is the action of exercise that helps my attitude. At other times, my attitude about exercise helps get me moving when I lack energy. I know I will be rewarded in many ways for my efforts. 

Gratitude is the same way. Sometimes the action of doing an A-Z gratitude list or writing someone a gratitude letter helps boost my attitude in the positive direction. Sometimes my attitude about gratitude practice helps me persevere and find gratitude amidst a rough patch or a difficult moment.

I appreciate that both exercise and gratitude practice help me to not take life for granted as much as I used to. I appreciate the opportunity to add to my life's essay today.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Paved Roads and Washing Machines

Today I am grateful for my husband Darcy. I am also grateful for our dog Oliver, a frequent source of smiles for us all.

The quote in my gratitude journal today is:

"Can you see the holiness in those things you take for granted--a paved road or a washing machine? If you concentrate on finding what is good in every situation, you will discover that your life will suddenly be filled with gratitude, a feeling that nurtures the soul."
(Rabbi Harold Kushner) 

Right on Rabbi Kushner! Kushner is a well-known rabbi and author, with books such as When Bad Things Happen to Good People and Living a Life that Matters. I have come across many of his quotes over the years and truly appreciate his wisdom. I did a little research on him, and like many of my favorite writers some of that wisdom is born of pain. His son Aaron died at age 14 of the rare disease progeria, which causes rapid aging. Clearly, Kushner has also lived a life of service to others and that has inspired his writing as well. I have yet to read one of his books, but I am going to the library soon to see what they have. My reading wish list always gets longer, but that's okay.

The quote above truly captures the significance of gratitude practice in my life. When I am paying attention to all the gifts around me, gratitude flows and my soul is indeed nurtured. I don't need any convincing on this. If you do, I would encourage you to take out pen and paper, or your favorite electronic device, and start a list of 10 things you are grateful for. What would you add to paved roads and washing machines? See where it takes you. Feel how your soul reacts. 

And in closing, a couple of other quotes from Rabbi Kushner:

"I'm not perfect,  . . . but I'm enough."

"There is no right way to do a wrong thing." 

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Cloudy With a Chance of Gratitude

Today I am grateful for the relationships I have in my life and how they continue to teach and stretch me. I am also grateful for the beauty of the early morning sun coming through the trees.

Forgive me for using the overused "Cloudy with a chance of . . . "  I couldn't resist. I was at work the other day and my office is in the old fallout shelter. It's a nice space with plenty of artificial light, but no natural light (aside from what I try to carry with me). As I left for the day and headed outside, I first appreciated the cooler, drier air. Then I appreciated the high clouds and partial sunshine that usually mean some nice weather. It was then that I thought of cloudy with a chance of gratitude.

Clouds have many literal and figurative interpretations. They literally can warn us of dangerous weather or simply that it might be wise to bring along a jacket or an umbrella. They literally can create beauty and patterns with the help of sunlight and changing daylight that make you want to lay down and be mesmerized by what you see. They can move slow or fast. I have appreciated the times I have seen clouds from the top side as I rode in an airplane. Clouds are creative forces in a variety of ways.

I probably spend more time pondering the figurative clouds of life than I do pausing to ponder the real ones. I will work for parity on this issue. In the meantime, clouds come and go from everyone's life. Some are stormy, some bring a cool shade. Some come up quickly, others meander across our sky. If I am staying present in this day and keeping a grateful perspective on things, I handle the clouds in better fashion. Whether a dark cloud that needs acceptance and perseverance, or a pleasant cloud that just needs my awareness.

Regardless of the type of clouds in my life, gratitude is always possible.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

What is in your way?

Today I am grateful for cereal and warm milk. I am also grateful for sweat and running speedwork.

I have a feeling this isn't the last time I will be blogging about the words of Mark Nepo, but it does wrap up this round. This short quote stopped me short:

"We tend to make the thing in the way the way."

It stopped me short with a strong dose of gratitude. I think I have made good progress in removing the things in the way of the way I really want to live life. Self-hatred and self-pity were definitely in my way when I was drinking. Drinking was in the way and clouded the rest of the road I was on. I have also been in my own way plenty over the years. Perfectionism and low self-esteem slow down a person's momentum and shatter hopes and dreams.

I still get in my own way, but I tend to move out more quickly. Life will always send some curve balls, but acceptance, patience, and living a day at a time all help keep the focus where it is most productive for me-doing the next right thing in the present circumstances.

As I think about the pace of our society and how much our culture is driven by materialism, instant communication, instant gratification, overscheduling, and our love of more, faster, better, I am saddened. Many people have let this way of life get in the way of true happiness. They don't even pause long enough to consider how they might be feeling. Why? Because everyone else is doing it? Because we have confused what human progress means? Technology is advancing at breakneck speed, but I fear that true human progress in terms of compassion and striving for peace and tolerance for all is totally off the radar when it really should be the bullseye we are aiming for.

I will try to do my part by being compassionate and kind, both of which start from a place of gratitude.

I appreciate that gratitude practice has been an effective compass in my life, helping me find my way to contented living more often.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

More from Mark Nepo

Today I am grateful for a pleasant walk and conversation with my friend Liz yesterday morning and a good phone conversation with my stepson Arthur last evening.

I blogged about Mark Nepo last week in posts here and here. His approach and the way he says things captured me. Here are a couple more quotes from him:

"One key to knowing joy is being easily pleased."

"In seeking what is essential, we become essential."

Being easily pleased does make it a simpler path to contentment. Being pleased can be as easy as appreciating the little things that bring joy. The fresh morning air. The first sip of coffee. Appreciating being able to see, hear, taste, smell, and touch. Fingers that work on a computer keyboard that works. Sore muscles from miles of walking and running. When I focus on the many gifts I already have, rather than dwelling on that which I wish I had or could get, joy is a more frequent companion.

Becoming essential. Isn't that what we all really hope to be? Feeling essential can be both healthy and unhealthy. It is unhealthy when we do for others what they should do for themselves, when we put someone else in a position of unfairness by saying we can't live without them. A healthy essential is understanding our small part in the large universe, understanding that we are all both significant and insignificant. Seeking the right actions and calm emotions is essential to my well-being. Seeking clear thoughts and help from my Higher Power and other people in my life is essential to my well-being. Seeking the true beauty that surrounds us every day, not the false beauty that people try to buy or create, is essential to me.

Gratitude practice helps me both find little joys and feel essential in the stream of life.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Habitual Practices

Today I am grateful for phone calls, emails, and texts from family and friends yesterday. I am also grateful for what I have learned about the practice of habitual gratitude.

I joke that I can't call this blog "Habitual Gratitude" if I don't post habitually. But gratitude practice is no joke to me. It is serious business and beautiful work all at the same time. It is a lifeline and good for my health in all realms-physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual.

My longest standing habitual gratitude practice has been to keep a gratitude journal. I have been doing that for over 18 years. Each morning I write down at least two things I am grateful for. But I also often add some thoughts about things I am struggling with myself and prayers for others. It helps me to think outside of myself and remember others. It helps me keep my own stuff in perspective.

This blog, since I began it in late March of 2012, has been a very regular effort of mine. I have well over 700 posts in that time. It has been an amazing experience that has made me a better writer and deepened my own sense of gratitude and the way I look at and live life.

Some others ways I practice gratitude, and would encourage you to try as well:

*do an A-Z gratitude list while walking or driving, or write one down
*take a gratitude walk, noticing those things you usually miss
*pick one of your 5 senses and focus on all the ways it gives reasons to be grateful
*write a gratitude letter or thank you note to someone (for any reason, big or small)
*start a "done" list at the beginning of the day and keep adding to it as the next task is completed
*if you aren't feeling grateful, just try a "like" list at the end of the day (things you liked from that day)
*pause during a hectic time to take a couple of breaths and be grateful for the breaths and air to breathe

The key is taking action, doing more than just thinking about gratitude.

Which makes today's quote from my gratitude journal fitting and a good way to wrap up this post:

"As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to 
utter the words, but to live by them."  (John Fitzgerald Kennedy) 

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Keep Swimming

Today I am grateful for another birthday. I am also grateful for my overall health-physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual-and how much gratitude practice has helped get me and keep me healthy.

Today is my 49th birthday. My first two birthday blog posts on Habitual Gratitude are titled "Better Older Than Deader" and "More Birthdays Please!" Read both here.  They continue to be fitting sentiments for me. I am very grateful to be here today, able-bodied and alive, living life fully.

Let me add "Keep Swimming" to the list of birthday sentiments. Keep swimming. Keep living life every day. Keep doing the next right thing. Keep being grateful. Keep appreciating every thing I am able to do and experience.

Keep swimming beats sinking, and one can only tread water for so long. When it comes to actual swimming, I am not a strong swimmer. I would be sunk in a hurry. I was almost sunk by my active alcoholism too. I was definitely drowning. To keep swimming, in the figurative sense, is an option I am grateful to have.

I don't swim alone though. I have a Higher Power I rely on and family and friends who are lifelines.

Hour to hour, day to day, it has added up to 49 years of a life I am honored to be living. Just for today, I will keep swimming.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Brooks Ariel Size 11

Today I am grateful for our front patio and fountain. I am also grateful for my Brooks Ariel size 11 running shoes.

Here is a picture of my latest pair of these shoes, just before we set out on our first run together yesterday morning. Over the last 10 years, these have been my go-to shoes. If my memory serves me, I discovered these shoes before our first marathon in 2004, with the help of folks at a local running store. It is still where we shop most frequently for running shoes, attire, and other accessories. I was looking for shoes with good stability for larger-framed people. These were recommended and I am so grateful for that. They have carried me through 11 marathons and hundreds and hundreds of miles of training runs.


As runners, our shoes are an important investment for both my husband and I, and very important to our bodies as we continue to be distance runners. Shoes are the key. I have probably had a couple dozen pairs of this Brooks model over the years, sometimes supplementing with a cheaper pair when we aren't in heavy training. The colors change as the different models come out, but the shoe continues to be a perfect fit for me. When I start getting sore after a run, I know my shoes are starting to lose their prime. I don't need to even break in my new pair. I put them on and go. I can tell as soon as I step into a new pair just how worn my old pair must have been.

Yesterday my husband and I enjoyed a good run of about 16 miles, in the early morning quiet, on a cool and not-humid morning. We experienced birds singing, the sun coming through the trees, shade and a cool breeze on our path just when we needed it. It was a good run. It was just what we wanted.

My feet experienced their new pair of Brooks Ariel size 11 too. As proof of their effectiveness, I woke up this morning to little if any soreness. Run on!

Friday, July 4, 2014

Freedom From . . . Freedom To . . .

Today I am grateful for freedom. I am also grateful for ice cream, a 4th of July tradition in my family.

Freedom. Personal freedom to speak, write, and act with much leeway. Freedom as an American citizen. Freedom from discrimination and fear of violence. None of these freedoms are absolute or perfect, but they apply for the most part. For that, I am deeply grateful. Like air to breathe and food to eat, I often take my freedom for granted.

I try to respect the personal freedom of others as I exercise my own. I try to be a good citizen and do my part to contribute, especially to my local community. I could do better in both areas though. Pausing to appreciate freedom on this, our nation's birthday, is a small start.

When I want to run an errand, I get in my car, drive down relatively safe streets, go about my business free of threats and prejudice, then come back home. My thoughts and prayers go out to those living in places where even venturing outdoors can carry high risks, where running an errand might put them in the path of a suicide bomber or other violence.

I, we, all of us living in freedom today owe a large debt of gratitude to those who worked for it, fought for it, died for it, continue to work, fight, and die for it. But we all have a part in preserving and extending freedom. If we want to maintain freedom from . . . we need to exercise freedom to . . .

How would you complete those lines? What can you do today?

Have a happy and safe 4th of July!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

100% Listener

Today I am grateful for my friends Claire and Liz from our local breast cancer support group. I am also grateful for the continued motivation I have to keep blogging.

Here are some more words of wisdom from Mark Nepo:

"Listening is being completely present to whatever is before us with all of who we are."

Like letter writing, I fear that listening is becoming something of a lost art. We are too busy, too surrounded by distractions, too tuned in to too many electronic devices. I can be as guilty as the next person of not being a 100% listener. But I do try and I do work in a profession that allows me ample opportunities to be a better listener with students, parents, colleagues.

Though important in my job, listening is more crucial to me in my closest relationships with family and friends. My rapt attention is the greatest gift I can give another person. No amount of money can purchase that. I know how I feel when I think I am not being listened to. I try not to do that to others. Like gratitude, listening takes practice and effort. And being pushed beyond our comfort level at times. The payoffs in healthier, more compassionate relationships and fewer misunderstandings are worth it.

Both practices start at the same place; being present in the moment, being aware of now and here.

Which makes now a good time to mention another quote from Mark Nepo:

"When feeling urgent, you must slow down." 

Amen! But just how does one do that? Breathe. Recognize the speeding train you are engineering needs a brake and a break. It's good advice for listening too. So often we want to pipe in with a suggestion or our own stuff when someone else is sharing. That sense of urgency becomes apparent to the other person and they might stop talking or let us jump in when they really just needed us to keep listening. Listening is valuable in and of itself. Fixing is not required. Patient and kind listening is helpful enough.

Today I will strive to be a patient and kind listener.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The Words of Mark Nepo

Today I am grateful for bird songs and my five working senses.

I want to thank my sister Danita for mentioning Mark Nepo to me a few months ago. He is a poet, spiritual teacher, and cancer survivor (diagnosed with a rare form of lymphoma in 1987). He has written several books, but is probably best-known for his The Book of Awakening: Having the Life You Want by Being Present to the Life You Have. Just the title of the book is enough. If I stay present, I see and feel my blessings. I have enough instead of always wanting more.

He talks about and writes about living life wholeheartedly. His experience as a cancer patient was a defining time in his life. It was in mine too. Often, a real challenge helps bring clarity to a person's direction in life. But that doesn't mean you need to wait for something serious to shake you up. Are you fulfilled with your life as it is? If so, keep doing what you are doing. If not, the words of Mark Nepo may inspire you to work for personal change.

One of his quotes is: "If I had experienced different things, I would have different things to say." Honoring our own life experience is so important. Denying it or burying it without working through the difficult emotions isn't helpful. Those emotions find a way out, and usually not the healthiest way. Shrugging it off as unimportant or inconsequential isn't fair either. Your life matters. You matter. Don't doubt that what you have been through has already helped shape you and helps others in the sharing of it.

I am most touched, most helped by someone when they share honestly, when they admit weaknesses and pitfalls and what they learned from them. I hope I offer some of the same on this blog. Today I know I have a voice. I have things to say. I try to honor that in myself and to listen to others. More on listening tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Understanding Companionship

Today I am grateful for oatmeal for breakfast and cooler, less humid weather.

The quote in my gratitude journal today is from Amelia Earhart:

"The more one does and sees and feels, the more one is able to do, and the more genuine may be one's appreciation of fundamental things like home, and love, and understanding companionship."

It's funny how a phrase or quote may strike us one time, but be barely noticed at another. I am on my second year of my gratitude journal. If this quote touched me last year, it was only in passing. This year, I feel compelled to post about it. That is the way life is. Each day, depending on our perspective, different things will impact us. The more I am present and paying attention, however, the more valuable things and experiences I seem to pick up as I move through my day. Certainly, this is one of the best ongoing benefits of gratitude practice for me.

Considering the life that Amelia Earhart had, including being the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic in 1932, it seems her words above are heartfelt and genuine. She wrote them because she lived them. I can't speak for her, but it sure appears that she lived her life willing and open to new things while remaining true to her self. She and her navigator disappeared in 1937 while she was attempting to become the first woman to fly around the world. Their plane was never found. They had completed 22,000 of the 29,000 miles of the trip. Her accomplishments and efforts did much to advance women's rights at a time when there were still many limitations. I thank her for that.

The words that struck me the most today were "understanding companionship."  I feel deeply blessed to have my husband Darcy and the healthy relationship we have. But also the many family members and friends that fill my life with that "understanding companionship" as well. I often especially feel it when I am with other recovering people. Our disease gives us a common ground and a shared goal. It is a good starting point.

Today I will appreciate the understanding companionship others share with me.