"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

Friday, October 31, 2014

Things I Take For Granted: #4 Limbs

Today I am grateful for my sister Danita on her birthday today. I am also grateful for my arms and legs.

My arms and legs, all four of my limbs, are in good working order. They are another gift I tend to take for granted on most days. When I pause to think about how much I use them, however, I really become mindful of how important they are. From the moment I get myself out of bed in the morning, to the moment I get myself back into bed that night, they are being utilized.

A recent quote in my gratitude journal was this Irish proverb: "Get down on your knees and thank God you're still on your feet." 

Amen to that. I think of those who have lost limbs or were born without them. I think about tragic accidents, war wounds, life-changing injuries. And I wrap my arms around myself in thanksgiving. I walk forward into the day with a fuller realization of what it simply means to walk forward.

I have never lost a limb, but I have had body parts removed. I had bilateral mastectomies in 2008 as part of my breast cancer surgeries and treatment. I can live without my breasts. I miss them, but I am still living life fully. I did get a small taste of what it would be like to have limited use of limbs at that time though. In the early days and weeks after surgery, I had limited strength and mobility in my arms. It took months and effort on my part to return fully to my usual activities. I lost some strength that I will never regain. But I am not limited. For that, I am truly grateful.

As I walk on my legs today, and reach for things with my arms, I will remember the blessings of my limbs and so many other things.  Have a Happy Halloween! I will be taking a blog break for a couple days. See you next week!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Things I Take For Granted: #3 Food to Eat

Today I am grateful for my husband Darcy and our marriage. I am also grateful for the variety of food I get to eat.

Air to breathe life. Water to sustain life. Food to nurture life. Day in and day out, I have these available to me. How blessed I am. How blessed most of us reading this are.

I love to eat. I love food. I especially like bananas, peanut butter, pizza and ice cream, but I get plenty of variety. I have never gone hungry in my life. I eat so I can run. I run so I can eat.

There is so much focus on material things in our culture today. More stuff. Bigger stuff. Expensive stuff. But it is still just stuff. Sometimes I feel we are trying to feed our psyches and our souls with the wrong stuff. Feeding our bodies healthy food is a good start in feeding the rest of our selves.

I have made efforts the last couple of years to be a more mindful eater. To slow down and take my time. To consider in gratitude the efforts of others who helped make the food in front of me possible. To consider how I am nurturing my physical body so my mental, emotional, and spiritual selves can have energy too.

I am not very good at this mindful eating, but I try. Every time I am able to pause and consider what I have to be grateful for, it is time well spent. Progress, not perfection.

Today I will pause in appreciation of the food before me.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Things I Take For Granted: #2 Clean Water

Today I am grateful for a good run on a windy fall day. I am also grateful for my job and the students and adults I have the privilege of working with and getting to know.

Yesterday's air to breathe is followed closely by another necessity we can't go without for long: clean water to drink.

How easy and convenient it is for me to get some water when I am thirsty. I can have it cold or hot. I rarely worry about the safety of the water I drink, or wonder if it will make me sick. I can go to any number of faucets in my home, or drinking fountains at work, and quench my thirst. I can go to the refrigerator for cold water or use my stove or microwave to prepare some hot water.

I don't have to put much thought into where my water supply is, and the most energy I use getting my water is going down the hall at work to refill my water bottle 3-4 times a day. If you have similar ease in accessing water, we are the lucky ones. Statistics I found said that 1 in 9 people in the world don't have access to safe and clean drinking water. One in five deaths among children under the age is five is from a water-related disease.

Millions and millions of people have a daily struggle to find safe water to drink. I consider myself busy and have plenty on my to-do list. What if several hours of my day went to finding and hauling water for my family? This is the reality for millions around the world, particularly women.

Considering such facts brings me more humbly to the faucet. It also brings me more humbly to the day ahead.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Things I Take For Granted: #1 Oxygen

Today I am grateful for a return to a healthier perspective and some balance. I am also grateful for air to breathe.

There are many things I take for granted each day. Keeping a gratitude journal, writing these blog posts, and trying to actively practice gratitude and be mindful all help me see more of these things for what they are-true gifts of life.

When talking about gifts of life, the obvious one to start with is oxygen; air to breathe to sustain our lives. Today I am grateful for the oxygen and clean air that surround me. It makes me think of many things, such as:

*I am grateful I quit smoking.
*I try to do my part to protect our clean air supply by being a responsible
consumer and recycler.
*Prayers go out to those with health problems that necessitate an extra oxygen supply.
*I appreciate the fresh air of the various seasons; from winter's nostril-stinging cold to
summer's balmy humidity. I prefer spring's smell of new life and fall's crispness.
*It reminds me that, like the oxygen I can't see, I am missing other gifts in my life when my
overdoing and overthinking make me blind.

Considering the gift of oxygen helps me consider the other gifts of today. Breathe in. Breathe out. Life. Love. Opportunities.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Painfully Aware

Today I am grateful for several phone conversations with friends and sisters over the weekend. I am also grateful for the simple wisdom of starting the day with the question "Am I present?"

Lisa reporting for duty for the day ahead. Suit up and show up. Even when staying buried under the covers seems like a better option. My sister Danita suits up and shows up. I can too. She is painfully aware of a disease called Lewy body dementia.

Her husband Roger has this form of dementia. He continues to decline and lose ground against a horrible disease. It is not rare, but many people haven't heard of it. I hadn't until Roger's diagnosis a couple of years ago, but over 1.3 million people in the U.S. have the diagnosis. Symptoms can closely resemble Alzheimer's and Parkinson's so LBD is probably underdiagnosed. Like the general population, many doctors and other medical personnel are not familiar with it.

Check out a post I wrote last October here.  Or read more about it at the Lewy Body Dementia Association website at http://www.lbda.org

Purple is the color for LBD awareness and October is Lewy Body Dementia Awareness Month. I wear a purple bracelet every day to remind me of Roger and Danita and everyone else dealing with this terribly difficult diagnosis.

I am grateful for the support and programs available to Roger as a patient and
Danita as a caregiver.

Those who are familiar with Lewy body dementia have a painful awareness of it, but awareness needs to begin somewhere. We can only move forward in helping those who have LBD or love someone who does by increasing awareness which leads to increased action and advocacy.

I encourage you to read up on this form of dementia, to put on some purple, to say some prayers, to help others learn about LBD.

It all reminds me to not take this day or my health for granted.


Sunday, October 26, 2014

A Beautiful Fall

Today I am grateful for the beautiful fall day yesterday and for the physical capabilities to do yard work.

Actually, we have been having a very nice fall. It has been pleasant and sunny on many days. The drawback is that we are behind on moisture, but the plus is that it's been easy to get out and about. The temperatures have been mild, the fall colors striking and lasting. Not like some years when there's barely any color and then some brisk windy days to carry the leaves away.

I not only enjoy the colors of the leaves on trees, but the various colors that come out on all plants and vegetation. I like the changing light as the days get shorter and the sun plays differently into the windows of our house as the trees become more bare.

I so appreciate the cooler and drier air, the crispness of the early morning as I head out to walk Oliver or go for a run. The sound of leaves rustling as I walk or run through them, or as a breeze gently pulls them along, are also welcome sounds of fall.

Fall has always been my favorite season. This fall has been a real treat in the weather department. It's been busy and full in the life department. All the more reason to slow down and enjoy the beauty of a lovely day in autumn.

Slow down. I can't slow down the seasons, but I can slow myself down to enjoy them.
That's my plan today. How about you?


Saturday, October 25, 2014

Be Still. Be Quiet.

Today I am grateful for a solitary run in the coming daylight. I am also grateful for what silence and stillness teach me when I give them a chance.

Life has been busy. Work has been especially so. Family activities keep us on the move. It is dangerous territory for me. I end up overly tired, over thinking everything that needs to get done, and losing any sense of calm and serenity I may have had. Not surprisingly, I also become an unpleasant person to be around at times. My poor family feels the brunt of that when it happens. So the first lesson of stillness and quiet for me is to keep my mouth shut when what may come out is not kind or necessary.

Yesterday morning I took five minutes to sit out on our front porch and enjoy some coffee. I had the time. I made the time. I needed that time. I lose focus when I get spun up in the busy times. I forget to pause and be grateful. I forget that what really matters is here and now. I forget that my job is just that-a job. My job is not at the top of my priority list, nor should it be. But when I take care of my priorities-family, friends, faith/recovery, running, and writing, my job seems to go more smoothly.

That five minutes yesterday was a start in bringing me back to more serenity, to more solid ground. It was the reminder and the action I needed. More such pausing, stillness, and quiet will be part of my day today. My morning run was a good start.

Be still. Be quiet. Be grateful.

Friday, October 24, 2014

I Couldn't Do It

Today I am grateful for the therapeutic value of ice cream and for our dog Oliver. I am also grateful for my husband Darcy and our marriage.

Remember those worn out gloves I blogged about last week? (Read the post here.) Remember my plan to give them a proper send-off in St. Louis? I couldn't do it. They went to St. Louis with us, they covered the 26.2 miles with me, and they made it back home. The picture below shows them with my newest marathon medal:


It was a chilly marathon morning. The gloves helped pre-race and also through the first couple of miles. By Mile 3 my hands were getting warm. I decided to toss them at Mile 4 (4 being significant as my sobriety date-September 4). But as I thought about it, and as Mile 4 came and went, I decided that I needed to keep the gloves. They carried too much sentimental value to me. They hold too much good energy.

So for the next 20-plus miles I alternated between carrying them and keeping them in a pocket in my shorts. I thought about family, friends, previous marathons, the joy running brings me. I thought about my, our, good fortune to have our health and be able to run. I washed them and will now retire them from use. They will become part of our running archives.

Those archives include medals, race bibs, results, paperwork, and more. Also included are many memories, shared experiences with my husband Darcy and other family members, and an ample supply of gratitude. These gloves don't take up much physical space, but they do take up considerable positive mental, emotional, and spiritual space.

When it comes to your personal archives, literal or symbolic, what are you thinking about today?

Thursday, October 23, 2014

A Foundation in Faith

Today I am grateful for our church community and the nice service last evening for confirmation and baptism. I am also grateful for the demeanor and sense of humor of the presiding bishop.

Our son Sam got confirmed last night. He has been attending classes over the last couple of years and was one of five confirmands. Sam is also in his second year of active involvement in the youth group our church has in partnership with a neighboring church. (It's a pretty cool thing . . . two different denominations sharing a youth group.) Prior to youth group, Sam went to Sunday school as well.

He has had good teachers; people who care about young people and their faith development. He has a good foundation in a religion and from there the starter kit for what I hope is a faith of his own. I am grateful for those who have taught and supported Sam's faith formation over the last years.

I am thinking of the foundation in faith that my parents helped set for me and my siblings. I didn't appreciate it too much when I was growing up, or even have a very good personal understanding of it. But I can look back on it now and be thankful for it because it helped me get where I am today. Strong in faith.

My dad died sixteen years ago today. I always remember that day on this date and I always think of him. I miss him and I wish so much that Sam could have known him. In many ways, they are at least linked by me. I got a foundation in faith from my parents and I have tried to pass it on to Sam.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Fellow Runners

Today I am grateful for the safety of my nephew Scott who was uninjured in a tractor rollover. And I am grateful for my fellow runners who supported me in various ways on Sunday.

How quickly things can change in our lives. Scott could have been seriously injured or worse. Life is precious. Life is fragile.

My favorite and most supportive fellow runner is my husband Darcy. But in an event like a marathon, strangers offer support in a variety of ways. I want to thank the thousands of half-marathoners who joined us for the first 10 miles or so of Sunday's marathon. They helped carry me along and they hid the hills from view.

I also want to thank the two women who were the 4:45 pacers. (Pacers hold signs with a finish time on it. If you want to run that time, stick with those pacers.) I typically don't run with a pace group, though I do like to keep certain ones in my view if I have a goal. On Sunday, I caught up with the 4:45 pacers at Mile 19 and chatted and ran with them the next mile. After a porta-pot pit stop at Mile 20, I decided to try to catch back up with these two. By Mile 21 I had caught up, and then I went on ahead, finishing just under 4:45 at 4:43. Those two women, nameless to me, helped me through a couple of tough miles.

Then at Mile 22 I talked briefly with a woman who was running her first marathon. Her oldest daughter had made a New Year's resolution to do a marathon, so she decided to join her. Her words at Mile 22 were something along the lines of "4 miles left, we can do four miles."  After you have already completed 22, four does seem possible, even if legs and other body parts are feeling exhausted. We've come this far. We can do this.

At Mile 24 there was a cheer squad and a woman running just in front of me did a little dance move and got the cheer squad and the rest of us fired up. It was just what I needed. I don't know where she summoned the energy, but I am glad she did.

Fellow runners helped me on Sunday. Fellow travelers on the road of life help me each day. Today I will try to be kind and gentle with my fellow travelers and myself.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Fueled by Gratitude

Today I am grateful for another pleasant marathon experience and for time with my stepson Arthur and his wife Alyssa. I am also grateful for safe travels as we covered 1200 miles over 4 days. 

I was fueled by gratitude in many different ways as I covered 26.2 miles of roadway for the St. Louis Rock 'n' Roll Marathon. Just getting to the starting line, physically able to pursue this ongoing goal is what starts the gratitude flowing. To be joined at the starting line, and at the start of many training runs over many months, by my husband Darcy provides plenty more gratitude. Here is a picture of us before the run Sunday, and a chance to see the new running attire I mentioned in a previous blog post:


We didn't look as fresh a few hours later, but we were both happy with our runs and our times. We ran together for the first 16 miles or so, enjoying the atmosphere and the ideal weather and running conditions. The last ten miles, I found other sources of support from fellow runners. More on that tomorrow.

It wasn't surprising that a road tour of St. Louis would include a brewery. We passed Anheuser-Busch not once but twice. I'm sure the smell of beer on our way by may have made some other runners thirsty. It just made me more grateful as I pondered the role of sobriety and recovery in my life's journey and as a factor in my overall health.

An effort I make during the marathons I run is to thank the many volunteers along the way. St. Louis had an impressive number at aid stations, directing traffic and keeping us safe, cheering us on. It gives me a little boost each time I can say "Thanks for your help" or "Good morning."

I was definitely fueled by gratitude on Sunday. More importantly, I try to keep the fire of gratitude burning every day. This blog stokes the fire. 

Friday, October 17, 2014

Deeply.

Today I am grateful for phone conversations yesterday with my friends Jill and Jenny. They each went with me to chemotherapy treatment six years ago. That's a good friend. I appreciate the deep and meaningful conversations we can have.

Both Jill and Jenny are true friends. Kindred spirits of mine. Add to that list my friend Sheila who happens to be celebrating a birthday today. Happy  ___th Sheila!  I am deeply blessed to have all three of these women in my life. They have helped bring out the best in me, and for that I am so grateful.

I am feeling deeply blessed today as we prepare for marathon weekend. Feeling anything deeply is a gift. Yes, sometimes that means feeling pain. But without the pain, how would we ever fully appreciate the joy?

The many miles in my previous 11 marathons have brought deep feelings . . . some physical, others mental, emotional, and spiritual. Especially in the later miles when a person needs to dig deep to keep going. Those same miles have brought some physical pain. That can hardly be avoided. But the endorphins, the spectators, the city we get to see, all take the edge off the pain and add to the joy.

What do you feel deeply today? What are feeling deeply blessed for today?

I will be taking a blog break for a few days. I plan to be busy living life deeply and fully. I wish the same for you.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Celebrating Life

Today I am grateful for time away from work and my friends at our local breast cancer support group.

I wore my Seattle Marathon shirt yesterday. That was marathon #11 last December. I like wearing my marathon shirts because they are reminders to celebrate life and gratitude. It's not about ego for me, and if someone else perceives it that way, I hope they read this. I am deeply blessed to be alive, to be able to run, to be able-bodied and alive. I don't run fast and I don't win age groups, but I live my dream and share it with my husband Darcy.

I could have died drunk in my late teens. I could have had a different cancer diagnosis six years ago. I am here, alive, and happy to be! I am mindful of this day as a gift.

What do you think of when you hear "celebration of life?"  If you are like me, one of the first things that comes to mind is a funeral being called "a celebration of life." That's a comforting and appropriate thing to call it, but let's not reserve celebrating life for only those times. Shouldn't we be celebrating life every day?

That's my goal. Gratitude practice helps me reach my goal.

This was the quote in my gratitude journal today:

"The days come and go, but they say nothing. And if we do not use the gifts they bring, they carry them as silently away."  Ralph Waldo Emerson

Gratefulness gives voice and meaning to my days. Onward!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Gloves of Gratitude

Today I am grateful for the fresh fall air and breeze as we enjoyed Sam's last football game of the season yesterday afternoon. I am also grateful for my favorite cereal/banana combination.

The gloves in the picture below will serve an important purpose on Sunday when we head to the starting line for the St. Louis Rock 'n' Roll Marathon. (Thanks to Sam for taking the picture for me.) We anticipate a little chill in the air and will be outside for an hour or more before we start the run. The gloves, though a little worse for wear, will help me stay warmer. I don't like cold hands. Once I start running, my hands will end up too warm with gloves on, and I will discard them.


It is fitting that these gloves will make this trip with us and be with me at the starting line. They are the same gloves I wore at the start of my second marathon-The WhistleStop in Ashland, WI on October 15, 2005, nine years ago today. (I didn't recall the date right away, but I went to look at my finisher's medal when I was preparing this post and it had the date on the back.)

I don't recall which one of us bought these, but my memory says it was a two-pack and my sister Ruth wore the other pair on that chilly morning. I was wearing a fanny pack, so when my hands got warm, I put the gloves in there and have had them ever since. I am sentimental that way. They are now worn thin and it is time to retire them. I can't think of a better send-off after these 9 years than to bring them from Marathon #2 to Marathon #12.

They will bring good vibes with me. Not only did my sister Ruth run the WhistleStop, so did my sister Zita. Zita hadn't been able to run the Chicago Marathon the previous year because she had just undergone cancer treatment. My high school friends Beth and Melissa (of the "Lake City Nine") also ran it. My sister Aileen ran the half-marathon and other family and friends were also running or there for support. It was a good weekend and a good run. It was especially meaningful to see Zita cross the finish line. Little did I know what breast cancer would bring to my running days over the next years.

There's a lot of good energy, fun memories, and large quantities of gratitude signified by those little gloves above. Run on!


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Awareness? I'll Take Advocacy and Action.

Today I am grateful for the people I work with, both adults and young people. I am also grateful for what others have taught me about advocacy when it comes to breast cancer and taking actions to help end it.

Besides Lisa Bonchek Adams and Dr. Gayle Sulik, bloggers like Nancy Stordahl at "Nancy's Point" and AnneMarie Ciccarella at "Chemobrain . . . In the Fog" have taught me a lot about the right kinds of awareness, what true advocacy in the breast cancer arena means, and they do it with humor and grace. I also highly respect the work done by the organization Breast Cancer Action http://www.bcaction.org/

We have been lulled into some false sense of progress regarding breast cancer. Certainly, there have been advances in treatment. But when it comes to the ultimate goals of curing the cancer people already have and preventing others from getting it, we have been seriously sidetracked by pink stuff to buy, misleading pictures of triumphant warriors in pink, and efforts to save body parts with catchy names.

I am grateful to better understand how we are hurting our own cause, and what I can do to try to help. I am only one person, but I can do my part. It is all any of us can do. I am also grateful for the writing I have done that has helped me affirm where I stand. It has been both validating and healing for me. Here is a link to a guest blog post I did for "Nancy's Point" a couple years ago. It is titled "The Sum of All My Parts."

Here is a link to a post I wrote last October, which includes a post from two years ago. In it, I appeal to others to take action, the kind of action that is already making a difference by helping pick up the pace of research into what causes cancer and what can cure it. More helpful than the latest pink item anyone of us could buy but often doesn't truly help the right efforts.

The Health of Women Study and the Army of Women are both efforts of the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation. HOW now has over 50, 500 women signed up. I have completed a few online questionnaires for this and it has been easy. The effort is gathering data from both women who have had breast cancer and those who have not in hopes of figuring out causes and prevention. Check it out at healthofwomenstudy.org

The AOW is now almost 377,000 strong. This requires a brief sign-up process and then you are notified when new studies are looking for research subjects and you can join the study if you fit the criteria. It is also for both women who have had BC and those who have not. Check it out at  armyofwomen.org

Both of these efforts are totally voluntary and you choose what you wish to participate in. It is energizing to me to take actions like joining these two. I feel like I am trying to be part of the solution, to help move things beyond the stalemate we seem to be in.

Please consider joining one or both if you haven't already. You do make a difference.

Monday, October 13, 2014

For All Those With MBC

Today I am grateful for today, just today.

That is not oversimplified, it is the best way to live life. It is what I strive for. Staying in today, in the moment. I learned this in recovery from alcoholism and had it driven back home quite emphatically when I faced my own cancer diagnosis.

I am deeply grateful to be over six years out from my breast cancer diagnosis and have NED (no evidence of disease). I don't live in fear, but I also try not to live in denial. Cancer is wily and mysterious. It can come back in anyone at anytime. Today I am thinking of those who are living with what remains my biggest fear: late-stage metastatic breast cancer (MBC). Cancer that remains in the breast is not deadly. Breast cancer that spreads, or metastasizes, to other parts of the body is incurable and is what takes nearly 40,000 lives a year in this country.

Some are diagnosed with MBC at the time of their initial diagnosis. Others have NED for years after their initial diagnosis when MBC comes roaring into their lives.It is a valid fear for people like me; 30% of those of us initially diagnosed with early stage breast cancer will develop metastatic disease.

Hence the precious nature of today, the reasons to view it as the gift it is. Keep priorities straight. Put our time where it matters most.

Today is the 6th annual Metastatic Breast Cancer Awareness Day. In the midst of all things pink during the month of October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, it is important to put aside the fluff and fanfare and zero in on those who need our help, support, and research dollars the most-those with MBC.

One such patient is Lisa Bonchek Adams. She is an amazing writer. And she is two years into her MBC diagnosis. If you want an understandable run-down on treatment options, side effects, clinical trials, and everything else someone with late stage cancer may be dealing with, check out Lisa's well-written blog at http://lisabadams.com/  Even more amazing, yet painful to read, are her posts written as a mother, wife, daughter, friend who knows she has limited time. Her words are very powerful.

Here also is a link to an essay written by me that appeared on Dr. Gayle Sulik's blog "Pink Ribbon Blues" in October, 2012. It is titled "Paralyzed or Catalyzed."

I have never met Lisa Adams, but I often think of her and others with MBC. A terminal illness must remind them often of how precious and fragile life is. Why wait for that kind of reminder? Appreciate the day and the opportunities it presents. That's my plan. All any of us have is today.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

By The Fire

Today I am grateful for a beautiful fall day and a nice variety of colors to enjoy on our early morning run yesterday. I am also grateful for time to sit by a fire in our fire pit last evening.

I have been a little resentful of factors pulling on my time and on our family time. Work has been very busy for me, as I knew it would be this year. We added a new grade level and made several other changes. I am developing and helping deliver character curriculum for three grade levels. They aren't daily lessons, or long lessons, and I have supporting materials, but anything new like this takes time. It also stretches my comfort level. It seems that things are going okay and I feel pretty good about it so far, but I have also second-guessed and been overly critical of myself. (That used to be par for the course. Now it isn't. Progress I guess.)

Family circumstances have also kept us busier and more challenged in ways over the last few months. A lot of acceptance and patience has been applied, and some days it works better than others.

I have been pushing myself over long hours at work, getting up earlier to do some things before leaving for work, trying to maintain house and home, staying committed to blogging, training for a marathon. I have essentially been running myself ragged and squeezing the joy out of life rather than embracing it.

To sit by the fire last evening and just enjoy the cool and crisp air, the company of my husband and son, to appreciate the warmth and light coming from the fire, to say goodbye to the daylight were all good for me. I recognize my unhealthy cycle of overdoing and overthinking when I find myself unable to just sit and do nothing, when I think I need to keep moving and accomplishing things.

Sometimes what we need most to accomplish is nothing.

Sitting by the fire reminded me of that last night. Being able to write these words this morning confirms it.Gratitude in the tough moments is often the greatest teacher.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

The Stillness

Today I am grateful for rest, ice cream, a nice morning for a run, and pre-marathon excitement and anticipation.

A couple days ago this was the Word for the Day from Gratefulness.org:

"Let us accept the invitation, ever-open, from the Stillness, taste its exquisite sweetness, and heed its silent instruction."  (Paul Brunton) 

These words were just what I needed the other morning. Just the reminder that would help me face that busy and full day ahead. But the words resonated with me beyond that initial reminder.

"Let us accept the invitation . . . " What a beautiful and calm opening to a new day, a new activity, a chance to meet someone new. Not pushing our own agenda too heavily. Not missing the joy in the work because we are rushing too much. Not getting caught up in our own heads and missing the many messages that we get when simply paying attention.

" . . . from the Stillness . . ." Whether or not you believe in a God, a Higher Power, nothing or everything, who can refute the power of the Stillness? Being aware in the moment, being still and quiet, holds so much power, so much amazing grace. It takes practice, and I can only say I have made some progress in being still. I can also say, however, that it is now an important and meaningful life endeavor for me . . . to accept the invitation of the Stillness, to be open to what I might learn about myself, others, and the world around me today.

" . . . and heed its silent instruction."  If I start out with an open and quieted mind, I better receive the guidance and direction that is best for me. A closed mind means I have put myself entirely in charge and it will likely be an exhausting day of wasted thoughts and energy.

Today I will seek the silent instruction of the Stillness. Breathe in. Breathe out.
Stop. Look. Listen.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Recovery Wisdom

Today I am grateful for time with other recovering people last night and for reminders and validation that I am on the right track.

I appreciated the time with two good friends of mine as we attended an event celebrating women and recovery, from addictions and from mental illness. We heard from two women who shared their own stories and who have written books about their journey and about how to heal and recover. I appreciated the open sharing and the efforts to reduce stigma.

What I appreciated as I listened were the many reminders and the wisdom shared that told me what I am doing to work on my own recovery, and to support others in their recovery, is working and makes good sense. It works when I choose to work it, which I try to do daily.

Those efforts include aspects of physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health. I run and get other forms of regular exercise. I work to keep my thoughts positive. I talk with others close to me when I am struggling. I try to be of service to others who need a helping hand and a listening ear in recovery. I seek a relationship with a power beyond myself. These efforts are all intertwined and all made stronger by incorporating gratitude practice throughout.

Consider what area of health may need a boost for you today. Take a little step in the right direction. That is a good start. I will start with breathing, just breathing.


Thursday, October 9, 2014

An Eclipse and a Neighbor

Today I am grateful for the food we have in our refrigerator and cupboards. I am also grateful for the crisp fall air.

I appreciated my run yesterday after work. It cleared my head and gave me some free endorphins to boost my energy and attitude for the rest of the day. It was just what I needed after another full and hectic day at work. In fact, on my run, I started thinking about this blog post, then I tried to recall what I had blogged about just yesterday morning. It took me a couple minutes to rewind and work through the clutter before it came to me. A good indication a run was a good choice. I always feel better, clearer, after a run.

Back to today's post. Something else I enjoyed yesterday, earlier in the day, was the chance to see the lunar eclipse unfold. Darcy and I took our dog for a walk around 5:30 a.m. and got to see the "blood moon" we had been hearing about on the news. It was beautiful and bit eerie all at the same time. On my way to work an hour or so later, I got to enjoy the remnants of the eclipse before the moon set for the day.

On our morning walk, we encountered a woman we'll often see walking early in the day. We know she lives in our neighborhood, but we don't know her name and our only interactions are these brief exchanges on our respective walks. We'll usually greet one another and maybe make a comment about the weather. She always seems upbeat and is moving at a good clip.

What she said yesterday, after I asked her if she had seen the moon, was this: "It was worth getting up for."She was referring to the eclipse, but I thought of the day ahead. It was certainly worth getting up for. As long as I feel that way and approach my day with such an attitude, it seems to go much better. Thanks neighbor!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Having Something To Do

Today I am grateful for the right words when I need them. I am also grateful for this blog and the focus it gives to my gratitude practice.

The quote for today in my gratitude journal was a well-timed one, sending me the right words:

"Thank God every morning when you get up that you have something to do which must be done, whether you like it or not."  (Charles Kingsley)

I was having a bit of a bumpy start to my morning, and already ahead of myself with thoughts of the day ahead. When I read this quote, it reined those thoughts in. Even the tasks I would rather not do are proof that I have a life and that my life matters. Some tasks are enjoyable on certain days, not so much on other days. Some tasks are ones I almost always look forward to, others I just look forward to getting done. But there is satisfaction, and gratitude, in all of them when completed.

Mindfulness teaches me to enjoy the task as I am doing it, not just when it is done. When I am mindfully present, it makes all the difference in how I go about my day and how I feel about the work and actions of that particular day.

This blog is a task, and such an important and inspiring one for me. Although I had a few ideas for a post this morning, I was feeling a little pressured about what I was going to blog about today. I open my gratitude journal to write in it and the solution is found in the quote above. Funny how things work out.

I am grateful for the tasks that await me today, and the reminder that each task is part of a meaningful life.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Fainting Robins

Today I am grateful for faith to help me through each day. I am grateful for those who have helped pick me up when I was struggling, years ago and yesterday.

As I wrote about Emily Dickinson the other day, I thought of one of my favorite poems written by her. It reads:

If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain; 
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain. 

This has always reminded me in a kind and gentle way to think of others, to do what I can to be helpful, to ease suffering when I see it. Just being a kind person as I move through my day is a good start. A friendly smile and hello may be just what someone else needed. If I am deep in thought and walk right past them, I haven't shown much compassion for my fellow humans. One of the best ways to get out of my head is to reach out to others, to just be aware of them and how they are doing.

Fainting robins take many forms. We know one when we see one. Sometimes it is us.

How can I ease pain and aching today? It starts with not focusing on my own physical and emotional aches and pains. Gratitude practice helps me and that puts me in a good place to help others.


Monday, October 6, 2014

Patience in Training

Today I am grateful for the wisdom in simply pausing in quiet. I am also grateful for the lessons life presents when we are paying attention.

Yesterday my husband and I went grocery shopping, then had to make a second stop at a different store for a few more items. These were just a couple of things we needed to get done on a busy day over a busy weekend. I think my Higher Power was trying to send me a message about the importance of patience. I got it. Believe me, I got it. And I am most thankful for that.

Starting at the grocery store, we filled our cart along with many other shoppers. We headed to what looked like the shortest checkout line. I was doing okay with my level of patience, but ready to get going so I could get home to other stuff on my priority list.

We started unloading the cart and I noticed the checker was moving fairly slowly and deliberately. I mentioned to my husband that we had chosen the wrong line. He pointed to a sign just in front of us that I had clearly missed up to this point. It said something like "Cashier in training. Thank you for your patience." I saw the young lady, the new employee, doing her best and I just breathed in and thought let's relax and help her out and not add to her pressure.

We all need to learn new things and it takes time. We all need to exercise patience. That's a skill I continually need to practice. Thanks for the opportunity to practice. Even when I feel rushed, most of the time I don't really need to be. This was a good reminder to slow down and I actually appreciated the more manageable pace I could use to pack our bags.

After loading the car, we headed to our second stop, grabbed the few items we needed and checked out. My husband had a refund card to apply to the purchase and we clearly had an inexperienced checker again. It just took a minute for her to call someone over to assist her, and it was a simple step she had missed. Her fellow employee said something kind, along the lines of "Most of us had trouble with that at first."

No big deal. Trainees needing time to learn. Customers appreciating a little extra practice with patience. We all learned something valuable.


Sunday, October 5, 2014

Soul Ajar

Today I am grateful for a scenic morning run yesterday and for the challenges and rewards of parenting.

One of the gratefulness.org quotes earlier this week was from Emily Dickinson. It said:

"The soul should always stand ajar, ready to welcome the ecstatic experience." 

I have always liked and respected the poetry of Emily Dickinson. I am no expert on her or her work, but I know that she lived a pretty isolated existence and that her poetry is often stark and grabs the emotions of the reader. That is my kind of poetry. Her work was not publicly recognized during her lifetime, only posthumously. But what an impact her poetry has had since her death in 1886 and the first publishing of her work in 1890.

I would like to think that I have a couple things in common with Dickinson. She wrote prolifically, writing over 1,800 poems. My pace has slowed in recent years as I have ventured more into essays and blogging, but I have over 1,500 poems I have penned. There was a long time I wrote from a place of loneliness and pain such as you find in Dickinson's words. I know my poems helped free me. I can't know what her poems did for Dickinson. Did they lead her to ecstatic experience? Was her soul ajar?

Soul standing ajar, ready to welcome life. What an idea. What a loaded possibility. Soul ajar. Willingness. Readiness. All made more feasible, more open and awaiting, when there is mindfulness. And gratitude in this present moment helps bring the mindfulness. The ecstatic experiences, small ones and more significant ones, seem to follow when we are paying attention.



Saturday, October 4, 2014

Layers

Today I am grateful for the opportunity to participate in service work with my colleagues yesterday, and for an entertaining movie in "This Is Where I Leave You."

I am also grateful for layers of warm clothes. They were needed yesterday as I helped remove invasive buckthorn from a nature preserve and when I attended my son's football game later in the day. I appreciated the hours of fresh air and being outside, but it was a brisk fall day that required protection against wind, rain, and cold. Layers are the best way to go when you will be both inside and outside and when you aren't sure if it will rain. They are easy to add and subtract as needed.

What about the other layers in our lives? The layers of comfort we feel with the various people we know. Some are mere acquaintances, others we allow to see us and know us on a deeper level. That requires layer removal, which requires time, faith, and a caring heart. I am blessed with people who have helped me peel away layers that were simply weighing me down and holding me back, people who help me shine the light within.

There are layers of recovery and gratitude practice as well. When I started on the journey of recovery, I would have never believed that the layers of pain and self-hatred I had could be sloughed off to reveal a person who actually liked her own reflection in the mirror. I wouldn't have guessed the strength and hope I would be able to tap into with faith in a Higher Power and messages from that Higher Power coming through many wonderful people.

When I begrudgingly began a gratitude journal nearly twenty years ago, I had no idea it would work, and work so incredibly well. The layers of gratitude I know today and can pull from continue to be revealed to me. From the air that I breathe as I begin this day to trusting others deeply enough to freely love them, I am so blessed.

What are layers revealing in your life today? What needs to be added and/or subtracted?

Friday, October 3, 2014

Leaves Taking Their Leave

Today I am grateful for the different pace today at work will offer. I am also grateful for leaves rustling in the breeze and ears to hear them.

Leaves are taking their leave from trees lately as we head further into fall. Fall is my favorite season. I love getting my jeans and sweatshirts back out and needing to sleep with covers on again. I love the crispness in the air and the colorful beauty of trees and plants as they transition to the next stage in the cycle of life.

I observe how a breeze will pick up leaves, sometimes gently, sometimes harshly, and move them about. Our human lives are similar. Sometimes a gentle breeze carries us along calmly. At other times, strong winds intrude on our peace and we have to buffer ourselves. I shore myself up with gratitude practice.

There are countless leaves, all with their own uniqueness. They each took part in a life cycle that is amazing when you stop to think about it. Considering this helps me appreciate and respect the fellow humans I will interact with today. We each belong. We each are important.

I like the sound that leaves make as I walk, run, or bike over them. The leaves don't care. They don't have feelings. But pausing to appreciate them and their place in our natural world reminds me to pause and appreciate many other things. As I mindfully give thanks for a seemingly insignificant leaf, I am really pausing to give thanks for the gift of life, the gift of today.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Look!

Today I am grateful for the fall colors we are enjoying and for warmer clothes in my closet.

As I read Melody Beattie's words today in Journey to the Heart, these struck me:

"Look! See how much you've changed. See the difference in your perspective." 

I may not be feeling that exclamation point this morning, but the rest definitely applies and I owe it to gratitude practice. From self-hatred to self-acceptance. From self-pity to gratitude. From fear and ego to faith. From the downward spiral of despair to the upward spiral of hope and energy.

It didn't and doesn't happen overnight. It takes time and effort. But it does work. Focusing on my blessings somehow brings more blessings. I "look" and "see" what has maybe always been there, but with fresh eyes and an open heart.

Whether or not my "look" has an exclamation point today doesn't matter. Not every day will have that added oomph! The key is that I look for the blessings and acknowledge them. I encourage you to do the same.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Cream Cheese Frosting

Today I am grateful for the experience I had as a teacher and elementary counselor and how I can draw on that in my current job. I am also grateful for cream cheese frosting.

Cream cheese frosting and the pumpkin bar it was on were a treat for me last evening. I do like my sweet treats and I often succumb to their enticement. I justify it because I run, I don't drink or smoke, I work hard.I deserve it.

Sometimes I feel a little guilty or I overindulge and wish I hadn't. But I try to be kind and gentle with myself, and for me that includes enjoying a sweet treat when I feel like it.

It gets me thinking this morning about how "lightening up" and not being too hard on ourselves is really so important to how we feel and how we live life. I have made progress in this area, and gratitude practice is one key reason why. When I focus on what I do have, on the daily gifts, on the people who care about me, it becomes harder to beat myself up. And that is a good thing.

Cream cheese frosting last night. Looking for more of life's little joys today. Have a good one!