"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, April 30, 2015

The Hills Are Alive

Today I am grateful for my co-workers and our shared experiences, for the work ethic I was taught by my parents, and for new green life.

On my commute to work, I cross the Mississippi River and head up a long hill out of town. That hillside has been gray and brown for months. I have been itching for green and it is getting here. The daylight is coming earlier, so when I headed to work on a sunny morning yesterday it looked like those riverside hills and bluffs were indeed alive-alive with green. It has been a beautiful last few days. The green is fresh and vibrant and one of my favorite things about this time of the year.

A few minutes after appreciating the hills of green, I had NPR on my radio to catch the news headlines and heard the latest on the earthquake in Nepal. It was such a shift . . . from the hills are alive with green to the hills are a place of . . . devastation, disaster, death, injury, grief, need. Such a dichotomy. Such a shift.

The death toll is over 5,500 and expected to rise. Supplies are desperately needed in hard to reach places. And yet, there was the huge crowd that gathered to witness a teenage boy being rescued after surviving five days in the rubble of a building. From heartbreaking to heartwarming.

Life is like that. We never know what may be coming our way. What we do know is this moment. What we can appreciate is the here and now. We can live in fear for what might happen or we can live in the opportunity of what is happening, right here, right now.

How can I help? How can I contribute? Right here. Right now.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Caterpillars and Butterflies

Today I am grateful for the transforming that has and continues to take place in my life. I am also grateful for time with our grandson and for my stepdaughter's perseverance.

The "Word for the Day" on www.gratefulness.org last Thursday was:

"There is nothing in a caterpillar that tells you it's going to be a butterfly."
Margaret Fuller

What came to my mind as I let it brew on this quote over the last few days were words like transformation, evolving, metamorphosis. I love words and their intricacies. 

Transformation means a thorough or dramatic change in form or appearance. Evolving means developing slowly, especially from simple to more complex. Metamorphosis means changing into a completely different form or person. All of those definitions fit the caterpillar/butterfly scenario.

Applied to my own life, two of those three words apply better than the third. Recovery from alcoholism and gratitude practice have helped me thoroughly transform into a heathier and more self-assured person. These efforts, the life I lead, my faith and spirituality, and the people I am around regularly all help me to continue to evolve. Sometimes I need to be reminded of patience and that this evolving can be a slow process. But because of the progress I have made, I am more accepting of how the growth comes incrementally, sometimes very small increments, sometimes bigger ones. But it comes. 

Metamorphosis is the word I would throw out of the mix. I don't believe I am a completely different person than I was. I believe I have always been the person I am today. I was just lost behind some layers of messy stuff that needed to be cleared out. This butterfly just took a lot longer to emerge.

This saying also helps me feel some compassion and patience for others. I was in caterpillar mode for a long time. I am guessing I am not alone in that. Let's give each other time and support in our transforming and evolving. Let's not be the one who contributes to keeping the caterpillar in the cocoon longer.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Missing Silver

Today I am grateful for the connections I have with others in recovery. I am also grateful for a nice evening to watch my son's first baseball game of the season.

Sam's team won in a long, up and down game. It was to be expected early in the season. I appreciated that after falling behind right away, the team kept plugging along and didn't give up.

Keep plugging along and don't give up. That is sound advice in many ways. Gratitude practice allows me to better follow that advice because it energizes me and gives me clarity about priorities and what I should do next.

I came across this saying the other day:

"Too many people miss the silver lining because they are expecting gold." 
(Maurice Setter)

This really resonated with me because it is what so many of us do with gratitude, me included. We miss the many small gifts throughout the day or week, while holding out for a promise to be fulfilled, for the news to be good, for the money to be there, or whatever else we are holding out for. 

Those daily gifts may seem inconsequential, but they really are not. They are the stuff that life is made of. They are promises coming true in our lives. They are always there. For me they include things like: air to breathe, people to love, food to eat. Nothing insignificant about any of those things. We just tend to minimize them because we take them for granted or we want and expect too much of them and of ourselves.

Today I will keep plugging along, noticing the silver linings of life. I encourage you to do the same. 

Monday, April 27, 2015

I Have a Confession

Today I am grateful for time with family yesterday and for good salads to make and share.

A special thank you to my sister Zita and my mom for making the trip up to visit us yesterday. It was really good to see you and we are glad you got to meet the newest addition to our family-Leo.

I have a confession to make. To myself. To anyone who read yesterday's post. Moving meditation is a good practice for me, but it is also a bit of a trap when I am not careful.

I love to be efficient with my time. I am busy and always have many things I hope to accomplish in a day's time. It doesn't hurt to be an effective manager of time, but I have to use caution. Yesterday morning part of my motivation for moving meditation was to save time. I wanted to go for a run at some point, the dog needed to go out, I needed my prayer and meditation time. Let's combine all three Lisa instead of doing them each separately.

That's my confession. That's what I mean when I say I am making progress with meditation practice, but that I still have much room for improvement. How effectively was I meditating? That's debatable. I am not being too hard on myself though. It didn't hurt me or anyone else to combine my efforts. And better to do some meditation than none. Better to make the effort than to just say "what's the use?"

All or nothing thinking has done a number on me over the years. I am trying to recover from it still. Meditation, even practiced with mixed motives, is still meditation. It still helps bring me some peaceful presence and better awareness and listening. And each of those things are great antidotes to that all or nothing business.

Have a good day!

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Running Meditation

Today I am grateful for the fresh air of this beautiful morning. I am also grateful for the healthier thoughts that are present in my mind when I am present in the moment.

This morning I woke up with some soreness in my legs from yesterday's run. Our dog Oliver needed to go out. The daylight was just arriving. It was a good morning for some moving meditation. Most mornings I try to practice some humility by praying on my knees. But moving meditation works too.

The steady footfalls of my feet, the birds singing, the changing light, and Oliver's predictable behavior all served to bring peace to my mind and energy to my body. As I run, I say some of the prayers I typically say. And I pray for others. I always pray for those I know or know of who are current or ongoing cancer patients. I pray for those suffering from alcoholism and other addictions. I pray for family members and others who are facing challenges of any kind.

It's a long list when I am done. It gives me perspective. What I like about running and doing such prayer and meditation is that it feels like the energy of my run, of each footfall, is going out to those people who may need it today.

I added an A-Z gratitude list to finish my run. It began with A for air to breathe and concluded with Z for my sister Zita who is coming to visit with our mom today.

Meditation used to be such a mystery to me. I am at least making progress. If I define meditation as putting my mind in an open and receptive place, aware and ready to listen, then there are many ways I can reach that place. Running meditatively is one.

How do you reach that place?

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Raindrops Rolling

Today I am grateful for sound sleep for a few hours last night. I am also grateful for the awareness that even when I don't feel very grateful practicing gratitude can still be a helpful pursuit.

I am emotionally tired this morning and weighed down by some worries and concerns surrounding both family and work. But I also have many things I am looking forward to as well.

Yesterday I got to see my good friend Jill for a short visit. Our schedules don't allow the regular time together we used to have and I miss that. I enjoyed our conversation yesterday though, and her reminder to me as I left to "just breathe." Read a post about that here.

It stems from a time in the midst of chemotherapy treatment when Jill and I were meeting at our usual spot. It was one of those heavy days for me. When I rolled into the parking lot she was already there. Her windows were down and Anna Nalick's "Just Breathe" was playing on the radio. Just breathe Lisa. Just breathe. It has been a good reminder for me ever since.

So I left my visit with Jill yesterday on a cloudy and gray day. It had been sprinkling on and off, but nothing much. A couple hours later my son Sam and I got in the car to head to his baseball practice. That is when it decided to start raining more. We ended up waiting in the parking lot for a while and they had no practice.

While he was out in the rain with his coach and teammates for a bit, I sat in the car. Initially I was frustrated that I hadn't thought to grab a book or magazine to look at or my journal to write in. (I am one to ALWAYS be doing something while waiting.)  Then I remembered Jill's reminder to just breathe. I didn't need to be doing anything at that moment other than breathing in and breathing out, winding down from a busy week.

For a few minutes I listened to and watched the raindrops hitting the car windows and rolling off. It was relaxing. It was a break that was helpful. It calmed my thoughts and brought some acceptance.

Raindrops rolling. Gratitude rolling.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Let It Be . . . Here I Go Again . . . Maybe I'm Amazed

Today I am grateful for ears to hear with and eyes to see with. I am also grateful for the multitude of songs I have loved over the years.

The inspiration for today's post came from random songs I heard on the radio yesterday. One while I was driving, the other two while I was out running. I thought about linking to YouTube videos of each song, but I decided to skip that part. If you know any or all of the songs, you can recall them in your mind, maybe start singing some lyrics, and enjoy an internal moment instead of an external one. That in itself is something to be grateful for.

"Let It Be" by the Beatles came on my car radio while I was driving home from work. That is one of my favorite songs from the "Fab 4." It was a fitting song. Busy day-let it be. Personalities and pressures at work-let it be. More to do than time to do it-let it be.

Let it be. Gratitude practice. Pause. Notice the gifts.

It was a beautiful day for a run yesterday, the best weather day of the week, so although I was tired I got myself going (and Oliver for part of the run too). I was enjoying the release, the perfect running temperature, the calm winds, the time to myself, the music coming from my armband radio.

When Whitesnake's "Here I Go Again" came on, I broke out in a smile. I know I am using old technology when it comes to my armband radio, but there's the fun-I get pleasantly surprised by favorite songs I didn't know were coming because it wasn't a playlist I created. "Here I Go Again" was definitely a favorite of mine in the late '80's, and it used to be one of my drinking songs. Here I go again. Down into the depths of self-pity, the loss of control, down into the bottle or can. Down.

As I entered into recovery, for some reason this song became more of a hopeful tune. Here I go again. On the right road. Looking for the positives and finding them. Here I go again into a new day with new hope and energy. I am still going.

Late in my run, Paul McCartney's "Maybe I'm Amazed" came on. I love the pace and power of this song. But there's no maybe about it. I am truly amazed. Profoundly amazed. Steadfast gratitude practice has brought amazing clarity, amazing grace.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Sunshine

Today I am grateful for my son Sam and the opportunity to be his mom. I am also grateful for my favorite sweatshirt.

After several cloudy, cold, windy days in succession, complete with some snow, we welcomed the sun back to our neck of the woods yesterday. It was still chilly, but the brilliant sunshine gave me hope that the warmth will soon follow. Soon is a relative term, but it is safe to say that in the coming months I will write about extreme heat and humidity and wish for a cooler day like the ones we have been having.

The Sun is a most interesting and amazing marvel when you think about it. It's another one of those things we take for granted. We wouldn't be here without it, but how often do we pause in gratitude for it?

Here are some interesting Sun facts:
*One million Earths would fit inside the Sun.
*The Sun is middle-aged at about 4.6 billion years. It has enough hydrogen left to
burn for about another 5 billion years.
*It takes 8 minutes for light from the sun to reach the Earth. But that energy took millions of years to get from the Sun's core to its surface.
*The Sun is an almost perfect sphere which is pretty incredible for something that size.

What amazes me is how scientists have figured out this information. It is so humbling to consider my individual place and space in this vast universe. Humbling, but gratifying. We may be small and are only here for a short period of time, but we are not insignificant. We make a difference in one another's lives. We make a difference in our own lives.

What wonderful opportunties we have today to add to life's significance. To make a difference. Thanks for making a difference in my life.  Onward!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Getting Pelted

Today I am grateful for simple messages with profound implications. I am also grateful for a run in some wind-driven snow yesterday.

Yesterday I heard someone scoffing at "one day at a time."  It was just a passing comment and not directed at me. In hearing it, however, I had a surge of gratitude that I don't feel that way. I'm not a scoffer. I try to live it. Simple message with profound implications. Simple idea. Harder to do. But it can be done. Mindfulness, via gratitude practice, helps make it possible to leave yesterday's regrets and tomorrow's worries in their place and give my energy to today.

About that wind-driven snow. We have had a fairly decent spring, but not this week. It has been unseasonably cold and windy. And it was snowing on and off yesterday. Darcy and I headed out for a run in the midst of intermittent snow squalls. At one point we were heading straight into the wind and getting pelted with a snow and sleet mix. It wasn't fun, but yet it was. We looked at each other, laughed a little, and forged on. Soon it was better, though a couple more rounds of the mess would hit us before we got home. By the time we wrapped up our run, not much over 30 minutes, it almost looked like the sun was going to come out.

Sometimes when life pelts us with unpleasant feelings and situations, it passes quickly and we can be grateful for that. At other times, life pelts us with an ongoing challenge and it wears us down. I think of others I know being pelted with the struggles of a loved one with dementia, a serious eating disorder, ongoing cancer treatment, relationship concerns, financial strain, and more. It is tougher to find gratitude in such an onslaught, but it is still possible.

We can help one another with messages of support and gratitude. We can buffer the pelting we ourselves may face today by starting out in a grateful mindset. That will make us less likely to pelt others and more likely to be helpful. It's worth a try isn't it?

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Journey of a Thousand Posts

Today I am grateful for daily recovery and living. I am also grateful for this blog as I hit the milestone of 1000 posts.

The journey of a thousand blog posts begins with one post. That was just over three years ago. I am amazed that I have reached this blogging milestone feeling the way I feel and so very grateful to be learning what I am learning. I have no intention of slowing down.

I am learning that the layers of mindfulness and gratitude are truly endless. I will never perfect this practice and that is the point-to simply continue to practice.

A quote I really appreciate is this one, attributed to James C. Penney:

"Only the disciplined are free." 

Discipline. That is what it takes to compose and publish blog pieces about gratefulness and practicing it in my daily life. To be habitual about this, or anything healthy and sacred, takes discipline. The freedom has especially come in via the energy this practice and the writing involved create. And also the freedom I feel as a writer who believes in her writing more than ever before. 

This idea of discipline and freedom is not new. Pythagoras spoke of it 2500 years ago with his words: 
"No man is free who cannot command himself."  

Being a person in recovery from alcoholism, these words carry wider appeal for me. There is freedom in recovery opposite the bondage that came with active drinking. I don't believe I command myself, however. I have help from others and a Higher Power. I do the footwork.

My friend Terrie did me a huge favor over twenty years ago when she encouraged me to try being more grateful for what I do have to help offset the mire of self-pity that I was fond of wallowing in. There was always an excuse to drink, always an excuse to berate myself and my life, when the lens I was looking through was cloudy with perfectionism, self-hatred, and negativity.

A thousand posts have brought me clarity. I am deeply blessed and today is a gift. A thousand posts have given me a daily outlet that has liberated the writer within. The writing and the gratefulness have fortified me in so many ways. A post at a time. A day at a time. Thank you to all who inspire me to keep on keeping on!

Monday, April 20, 2015

How Can I Help?

Today I am grateful for exercise, sweat, and my physical capabilities. I am also grateful for a quiet evening at home last night.

The "Word for the Day" recently on www.gratefulness.org was this from Julia Butterfly Hill:

"I wake up in the morning asking myself what I can do today, 
how can I help the world today."

I was intrigued by the writer's name and looked her up. You can read more about her on her website here. She is an environmental activist who in her early twenties was seriously injured in a car accident that took a year to recover from. A couple years later she spent 738 days living in a redwood tree, in protest and for awareness.

She has since spent the last 15-plus years making a difference as an environmental and social activist. She lives her own words.

Do I live my own words? Am I helping others and our world? It starts in my own home and my workplace. It extends to the other places I go on typical days. A smile and a friendly greeting is a good start. Thinking of others and how I can be of service is a good mindset and will help both them and me.

I'm not the kind to live in a tree or make news headlines as a protester. But I can still make a difference in ways that are far-reaching. Conserve some water to help the world's supply of safe and clean water last a little longer. Treat others with respect and dignity as persons, regardless of how different they may be from me in their views, their religion, their looks.

Help, not hinder. That is a good approach for the day ahead.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Free Upgrade

Today I am grateful for my husband Darcy and our marriage. I am also grateful for a good solo run yesterday morning. Darcy and I often do our long runs together, but I also appreciate the time to myself when I get the opportunity.

Darcy and our son Sam spent time yesterday updating and switching cell phones. We are at the point in our contracts where we are eligible for a free upgrade. Darcy was ready for that upgrade and of course Sam was ready to get his dad's phone because it's newer than the one he had.

I have a few weeks to decide if I want to upgrade my phone, and I probably will. With today's technology, a new phone can have a lot of advantages over one that is two years old. "Free" becomes a little less free with needed protection and features, but it's still a good deal. Loyal customers that we are.

There's another kind of free upgrade I don't have to wait for though. It doesn't cost any money. It just takes a little time and effort. I can upgrade my level of gratefulness each morning with some pausing, writing, praying, noticing.

Instead of speeding up my Internet like a new phone might, it slows down my world long enough that I take notice of the moment, of this day and the opportunities I will have in it. Like the bigger screen and clearer pictures on newer phones, gratitude practice helps me see things that are right in front of me with more clarity, more appreciation.

If I am loyal to this regular upgrading, the dividends are immediate. I am more calm and peaceful. I keep my priorities straight and my mouth shut more. I have energy and I apply it better. I see, feel, and hear the daily gifts that are all around.

This is a free upgrade that doesn't require a contract renewal, just renewed effort each day. Try it.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Green

Today I am grateful to "sleep in" this morning and I am grateful for the many colors I can see with my working vision.

There really is so much to see. I was thinking about seeing the color green yesterday, for several reasons. The main reason is that green is slowly returning to our yards and trees. It is a sight to behold and one of my favorite things about spring. It starts out slowly, just giving hints of the new life on the way. Then the pace picks up and soon you hear lawnmowers going and the light in the house has changed because the leaves on trees are altering the way the sun comes in.

Green is also a prominent color at the school I work at. It is one of our school colors and we see it in many places-mostly on people but also on walls, banners, posters and such.

And then there's the green of cash. Money in hand. I don't usually carry a lot of cash with me. It tends to get spent too quickly if I do. In our world of electronic payments today many people don't carry or use cash much.

But I know that whatever form it comes in, I am grateful that my family and I have enough money to pay the bills, eat, and enjoy what we like to do. Could we use more money? Sure. Most of us could. But we do fine with what we have. I attribute some of that to gratefulness. I appreciate what I already have and I try to take care of it so it lasts. I am not always in pursuit of bigger and better or the newest upgrade.

Gratitude practice helps me see clearly that I am already deeply blessed; right here, right now.

Friday, April 17, 2015

There's So Much to See

Today I am grateful for our grandson Leo's active little feet and I am grateful for the thoughtful young man our son Sam can show himself to be.

Besides this blog and my various journals, my other regular writing gig, and it is actually a paid one, is my column "Gratitude Flow" which appears monthly in our local newspaper. I get $30 a column. Below is yesterday's column, my 27th. There is indeed much to see. I will go into this day with my eyes open and my mind present. It's a good start.

There’s so much to see
            When was the last time you paused to consider what your five senses do for you? If you are anything like me, it’s probably been too long. What an amazing gift each of our five senses are. I am fortunate to have all of mine in good working order. Most of us do. If you are someone who has a hard time seeing, or can’t hear well, or have lost the sense of smell, I want to tell you how sorry I am that you are without one of these direct links to others and our world. The rest of us need to pay better attention and try not to take these sensory marvels for granted.
            For starters, think about our eyes and the wonder of being able to see all that is in front of us and around us. When I go for a run or a walk, I try to notice what nature has to offer that day. It may be the changing daylight as the sun rises or the clouds clear. It may be the hint of fresh green we are starting to see in the new grass. It may be the rabbit or squirrel that scampers playfully away. Or it is the crack in the sidewalk ahead that I need to be careful to avoid, or the car at the intersection that I need to wait for.
            When I step into my house, where we have lived for nearly ten years, do I see the many aspects of it that I love and appreciate? On many days, I can walk right past memorable photos, a treasured family heirloom, or my favorite recliner and not think anything of it. Here is a good gratitude practice to try. Pick one room of your house each day for a week. Give yourself a few minutes of uninterrupted quiet. Step into each room with your eyes open, really open. Scan the room and think about everything you appreciate there. Feel in your heart the special memories that are stirred up by what you see. Consider the gratitude in having that room in your house, at simply having a roof over your head. Seeing with a fresh set of eyes is a great way to pause and be thankful.
            If you commute to work, or take a usual route many days to the store or to drop your kids off at school, how many things are you missing as you drive along the way? Granted, your focus should be on the road and other drivers, but we can still see the beauty and the changes along that route if we simply remind ourselves to look at what we are passing. I am as guilty as anyone when it comes to getting caught up in thoughts of work or the day’s to-do list. I miss the sun coming through the tree branches, or the nice driver who let a turning vehicle go ahead. Yet, part of my brain does see these things. We can train our brains to focus on them and not get so caught up in the thoughts that end up blurring our vision, at least figuratively. It starts with awareness and an intentional pause, a deliberate mind-clearing to make way for fresh views.
            Just like we can miss subtle changes and beauty while driving, we can also miss subtle messages from the people who surround us if we don’t have our eyes in proper focus. Do we walk right past a family member who was hoping to ask for our help but has decided not to because we look “too busy?” Do we miss the look on our co-worker’s face when an idea is brought up? A look that could tell us how to best proceed. Do we miss observing our child and our pet having a fun time because we were too intent on our next task? 
            We are busy people with busy lives and full days. Our sight helps us through these days, an hour at a time. To miss less of what is in our line of vision doesn’t require a major overhaul or much time, it simply requires some moments of looking and really seeing the things for which we can be grateful. They are always present,  just sometimes unseen.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Try Pausing

Today I am grateful for a bike ride last evening and some laughs shared with others.

Habitual gratitude is not only the name of my blog, it is my daily goal. Practice habitual gratitude and my mind and heart are clearer and more positive. My energy is fuller and my path for the day is smoother. I better handle whatever comes my way.

I know that it works. I incorporate various practices into my life to make sure that I am keeping gratefulness as a priority. One of those practices that I continue to hone is pausing. Brother David Steindl-Rast and Pema Chodron both talk about this. Many who discuss and write about mindfulness and meditation talk about the pause.

If you would like to learn more about the life, teachings, and writings of Brother David Steindl-Rast, the website www.gratefulness.org is a good place to go. On April 11 this was the "Word for the Day":

"Try pausing right before and right after undertaking a new action, even something 
simple like putting a key in a lock to open a door. Such pauses take a brief moment, 
yet they have the effect 
of decompressing time and centering you."
(A life practice from Brother David Steindl-Rast)

I have been one to complicate things and overthink them. It has taken me a long time to figure out that this pausing, even momentarily, carries a lot of value. I find that pauses do indeed help me decompress and get back to center, which then allows me to move forward in healthy ways. I don't feel as rushed because I am where I should be-in the present.

I like that it is called "a life practice" because that is the only way it works. Yesterday's pauses won't help me today. Only pauses today will help me stay present and mindul in the hours ahead.

I am going to pause before I publish this post. Breathe in. Breathe out. Awareness. Openmindedness.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

About that List . . .

Today I am grateful for early morning quiet and for core strengthening exercises.

At the end of yesterday's post I mentioned that I was starting a gratitude list on a piece of paper right then and there. I did. Before I left the house for work I had over 20 things listed. By the time I headed home from work another 25 or so items had been added. Before bed, the list was over 60.

Things on the list ranged from blooming magnolia bushes to smiles and a good meeting at work. Also included were bananas and connections via phone, texts, and emails with people I care about.

I made a conscious effort to take action and record who and what I appreciated about my day. It made a significant difference in my day. I know it did. I had woken up early yesterday morning, with thoughts of work stuff that needed to get done. It was a busy and draining day at work. That set up will often leave me tired and irritable by day's end, and my family sometimes gets the brunt of my irritability.

Well, I was definitely tired yesterday by the time I got home from work, but I was pretty calm and quiet too.I give most of the credit for that to my intentional effort to actively practice gratitude throughout my day. I kept my mouth shut when on other days I might have fired off some unnecessary and harsh words.

Most days I don't keep a running list like I did yesterday, but it certainly is something I could do, that any of us could do. But we get caught up in the workings and happenings of that day and we lose some of the momentum of our good intentions.

That is where the action of pausing comes in. I am improving at this skill, but it takes practice. Brother David has more words of wisdom on that. I will turn to his words again tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

And a Benedictine Monk

Today I am grateful for a nice birthday for my husband yesterday and for my job and the people I am connected with in many different ways there.

A few days ago I wrote about Pema Chodron, a Buddhist nun. How about some words from a Benedictine monk? Brother David Steindl-Rast's words are already prominent on my blog header: "In daily life we must see that it is not happiness that makes us grateful, but gratefulness that makes us happy." 

Those words guide and direct my gratitude practice. And I find truth in them. Gratefulness leads to contentment. It helps me see that what I have, what I am, is enough. So simple, yet so profound. And so elusive for so many when caught up in the endless stream of information, advertising, over-scheduling, and unreasonable demands we put on ourselves and one another.

Pause. Pay attention. Take the risk of being fully awake to your life. Read more about these from Brother David in earlier posts titled Are You Awake? and Worth the Risk?

Brother David has written much over his nearly 89 years of living. Here is another quote of his I came across recently:

"We have thousands of opportunities every day to be grateful: for having good weather, to have slept well last night, to be able to get up, to be healthy, to have enough to eat . . . There's opportunity upon opportunity to be grateful; that's what life is."

Opportunity upon opportunity. Am I squandering them or bringing them to fruition?

I just got out a piece of paper and started a gratitude list for my day. I will carry it in my pocket and add to it as my day goes on. I encourage you to do the same. Action required. 

Monday, April 13, 2015

L

Today I am grateful for my husband Darcy and our lives together. I am also grateful for our family and home.

The short title of today's post is my way of subtly wishing my husband Darcy a Happy 50th birthday. You may wonder where the heck I am coming from, until you consider that "L" is the Roman numeral for 50.

Half a century. Five decades. If you like numbers, consider these:

Fifty years old means over 2600 weeks of living, over 18,250 days, over 438,000 hours, over 26,280,000 minutes, and over 1.5 billion seconds. That is a lot of living. I am grateful I have known Darcy for over 17 of those 50 years now. It's a cool thing to consider that the older we get the higher the percentage of our lives we have spent together. We have a history. A growing and good history.

There have been challenging weeks, hours, minutes. There have been joyous weeks, hours, minutes. There have been mundane and complacent times and there have been troubling and concerning times. We have much to be grateful for together and I have much to be grateful for as I consider this man celebrating his birthday today.

That "L" could also stand for the love we share, the long runs we take together, the laughter we arrive at in a variety of ways, what we learn from each other as spouses, parents, and now grandparents, the lives we lead side-by-side, the laundry, the lawn, the letting go of anger and frustration that may crop up. And back around to more love.

Happy 50th Darcy! I love you!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

A Channel of Peace

Today I am grateful for the sunrise I started my day with on our front patio yesterday, and the sunset I ended it with on our back patio. I am grateful for the good hours between the two.

Yesterday I wrote about Pema Chodron and unlimited friendliness, about how avoiding pain and discomfort actually leads to more of both. Each of us can either contribute to the intolerance and hatred in the world, or we can help lessen it. I hope I am doing the latter.

This quote seemed timely:

"Each of us can become a blessed channel of peace for the healing of Earth's wounds: 
We can awaken from apathy and find creative, non-violent ways to transform the abuses 
rampant in today's world."
(Nan Merrill with Barbara Taylor, from Peace Planet: Light for Our World)

The book this quote comes from is about the healing and connecting power of prayer. It came out after 9/11. I believe in prayer as an individual. I believe in prayer for others. But there is a broader praying I could do more of, and I am guessing most of us could. Prayers for nations, peoples, the Earth itself. 

When I pray for others, whether I know them or not, I am more open and gentle in my approach. Gratitude and unlimited friendliness combined with prayer create even more patience, tolerance, and peace.

I pray today for our Earth and the care it needs for survival. I pray for all people who are facing grief today, no matter where they live or what caused their loss. I pray for each of us to appreciate this day. 

Saturday, April 11, 2015

A Buddhist Nun-The Work and Writing of Pema Chodron

Today I am grateful for a seat on our front patio from which to view the day's sunrise. I am also grateful for the experience of reading writers for the first time.

It has probably been a couple of years since my sister Danita suggested that I read books by Pema Chodron. It took me some time, but I finally read one of her books a couple weeks ago and I am waiting for another one through our public library. Pema Chodron is an American Buddhist nun. That sounds like an interesting combination. She has been a principal teacher at the first Tibetan monastery for Westerners, Gampo Abbey in Nova Scotia. She is also a mother and a grandmother.

The book I just got done reading is Taking the Leap: Freeing Ourselves from Old Habits and Fears. It's a quick read at around 100 pages, with 10 chapters with titles like "Learning to Stay," "Getting Unstuck," The Importance of Pain," and "Unlimited Friendliness." Those titles sum up what I took away from the book.

We can learn to pause, to be more aware in each moment so we can experience what that moment has to offer. In that awareness, we can get unstuck by breaking old patterns of thinking and acting. To do that, we need to lean into pain, to sit with some discomfort at times so it can teach us what it is meant to teach us. With growing awareness of ourselves and the world around us, we are more likely to see our fellow humans with an open mind. That allows us to consider treating everyone with unlimited friendliness. Ourselves included.

That doesn't mean we smile and skip around. It means that we value the other person. Simply acknowledging that person, even if we dislike them, especially if we dislike them, is a good start in reducing some of the intolerance, hatred, and violence in our world. I really liked this aspect of the book. Maybe I have reached a point of better self-awareness, years in the making, that I am now more capable of considering others and how we share this human journey.

As a world, a nation, a society, we are so caught up in things that can suck us into a vortex of negative thinking if we aren't careful. We have been conditioned to avoid pain and promised many ways that work to help us avoid that discomfort. Yet, it all creates more pain, discomfort, and intolerance.

Instead, I will try to pause, lean into what the day brings, both joys and discomforts, and remember that I can make unlimited friendliness possible. I encourage you to do the same.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Listen Generously

Today I am grateful for the rain we have recently received, helping us catch up from a few dry months. I am also grateful for the people who share their words and wisdom with me, both people I personally know and those I don't.

One of those people I don't know is Rachel Naomi Remen, M.D.  It was her quote on listening to create a sanctuary for others that I blogged about on Wednesday. I came across another quote of hers, also on the topic of listening:

"When you listen generously to people, they can hear the truth in themselves, 
often for the first time."  (Rachel Naomi Remen)

I knew her name sounded familiar, so I looked her up. She is the author of Kitchen Table Wisdom: Stories that Heal. I have heard of the book but not read it. I think I will put it on my reading list. As I read her biography, I found out that she is a pioneer and leader in the field of integrative medicine. Integrative medicine is about treating the whole person, not just the physical person. It is about integrating things like nutrition, meditation, and exercise into a patient's treatment plan; not just surgery, medications, and such. I am a firm believer in the healing power of this integrated approach. They have worked for me, both as a recovering alcoholic and a breast cancer patient.

I appreciate the work of people like Dr. Remen. I appreciate her quote above as well. To listen, simply listen to another person, allows them to form their own thoughts, feel their own feelings, and indeed this often leads to new truths about ourselves, or old truths newly recognized and accepted. 

There are so many people who have been my listeners, some simply by chance, that have helped me find my own truths. I am grateful to you all. I hope I have been that kind of listener for others.

Pause. Listen. No need to rush in with advice. That's not the listener's job. Simply listen generously.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Sleeping Cutie

Today I am grateful for coffee, pauses, and a desire to keep writing, blogging, and practicing gratitude.

We had the chance to watch our grandson Leo last night while his mom ran some errands. We sure do appreciate the time we get to spend with him. He is nearing four weeks old and is filling out. Since I have only posted pictures of him one other time here, I thought it was time for a second picture.


That is one sleeping cutie! Grandpa fed him and burped him and Grandma helped work out the fussing and get him to sleep. I'm sorry I repeat myself, but the words precious and peanut just keep coming to mind. He feels less fragile though. His head and neck are getting stronger. He likes looking around and is more alert. I look forward to watching this little guy grow and learn.

And he is certainly helping me grow and learn as well. He reminds me of what really matters. I marvel that our son Sam used to be that tiny. I miss those times with Sam, but I also love the teenager who is growing into a young man. Leo also reminds me of how we all need love and care. He depends on his parents and grandparents. We each depend on others, but also ourselves.

Today I will strive to be loving and caring as I move through my day. To those I cross paths with and also to myself.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Creating a Sanctuary

Today I am grateful for my job and some good self-care last evening. I am also grateful for the soothing sound of our outdoor fountain.

My hearing can be muffled, as I wrote about in a post last week, but listening is serious and blessed business. If someone entrusts me with their thoughts and feelings, the least I can do is give them my full attention. The most I can do is give them my full attention.

The following quote was recently gratefulness.org's "Word of the Day":

"Our listening creates a sanctuary for the homeless parts within another person." 
(Rachel Naomi Remen)

Those are profoundly beautiful words and ones I had not heard before. What came to my mind as I considered these words are the people who created a sanctuary for my suffering, homeless parts all those years ago when I was actively alcoholic and then newly sober; full of self-hatred, self-pity, fear and doubt. People like Sheila, Deb, Peg, Phyl, and Terrie. Some of them listened to the crying, depressed drunk. Others listened to the young woman struggling to find sobriety. They all listened to me and my pain. They were indeed a listening sanctuary for my homeless parts. It made all the difference. It continues to make all the difference. Thank you all! 

With the pace of our society today, with the prominence of technology in our daily lives, I fear that listening is becoming a lost art. That really concerns me. Relationships of any kind don't work without good listening. A text, a tweet, or other digital connection can never fully replace the face-to-face human connections that come with genuine listening.

Today I will try to be the kind of listener who creates a sanctuary for others. Pausing in gratitude is a good start because I am listening with my heart and soul.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

"Small and beautiful graces"

Today I am grateful for a nice spring break and a job to return to.

I went to the funeral yesterday of my co-worker's mother. My co-worker just retired last June and had been doing much caregiving both prior to retiring and certainly in these last months. Her mom died just weeks short of her 90th birthday. As I spoke to my former colleague during the visitation, she mentioned how her mom had been pretty restless and agitated in the couple weeks before she died. But the night she died, she was more restful and at peace. That seems like an indication of her readiness to let go.

To go from the joy of Easter services one day to the solemnity of a funeral the next day was a contrast. But both services had beautiful music and the hope of new life.

The priest who gave the sermon used the phrase "small and beautiful graces." Those words really struck me. That is how we touch one another's lives. That is how we make a difference. Those are the gifts we are given and the gifts we can give others. Small and beautiful graces. My friend's mother undoubtedly gave and received many, many small and beautiful graces over the decades of her life.

The church where the funeral was held was not the same church building that the deceased had attended much of her life. I thought of my father's funeral and how it was held in a newer church built on the same land that the church he went to most of his life had stood on. It's a beautiful church and was needed to replace the previous one's structural problems. But I recall feeling a little out of sorts in that newer building. I suppose because my childhood memories were of the other church and when a parent dies it seems natural to return to some of those childhood memories.

Maybe it is best to remember our deceased loved ones with that phrase "small and beautiful graces" and to take that phrase into our own day today. Look for opportunities to give and receive small and beautiful graces today. Pause. Pay attention. Be grateful. That is where grace begins.


Monday, April 6, 2015

A Health Fair Experience

Today I am grateful for a warm bed and my husband beside me. I am also grateful for the opportunity for a new experience that our local health fair presented me on Saturday.

Add to my gratitude list a nice Easter with my family and one of my favorite things about the day-the joyful music at church. It was our grandson Leo's first church service and he slept through it all, including the bagpipes that opened and closed the service.

I have been to health fairs before, but only as someone coming in to see what others have to offer and discuss. This time, I had a table at the fair. Most vendors are affiliated with a health organization or a retailer selling health-related products. As far as I could tell, I was the only one there as an individual and with nothing I was trying to sell. I guess I was trying to sell an idea, but a free one.

Here is a picture of my modest and low-budget display:


The turnout for the event was disappointing, but likely attributed to a busy holiday weekend for many. I was a little discouraged by that, but by the time the event was over I appreciated the various little connections I had made and the conversations I had been able to have with others. I walked out feeling good about the morning and about my ideas and the work I put in getting ready for the event.

My favorite idea was the basket of blank thank you notes I had out. I encouraged people to take a couple and write them to someone they wanted to thank and then send them or hand deliver them. People liked that idea and some mentioned right away to me or their children who they had in mind for the thank yous.

Another idea that you can see prominently in the display is the bright yellow poster board with the cornucopia and "Today I am grateful for . . . " on it. My hope was that people would stop by and add some of their own gratitudes to the poster. Several did. It ranged from their pets, their family time, their content baby, to the spring sunshine and more.

Some walked right past my display and on to others. They may not have known what to think of my topic, or maybe they aren't ready to hear about it. I had enough affirmations and validations from those who did show interest that I am considering doing it next year, and to also look for other opportunities to do something similar at other venues.

The bottom line is that I am grateful I put the hours in getting ready for the event, and I am grateful for all of the people I made connections with on Saturday. I hope my passion for the topic and the practice of gratitude was evident. Onward!

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Happy New Day!

Today I am grateful to hear birds singing and for the fresh opportunties that the hours ahead will present.

I also want to say thanks to my friends Candy, Claire, Lori, Dorothy and Harvey for coming out to the health fair yesterday and stopping by to see me. And to Darcy and Sam for their help. I appreciate all of you! More on the health fair tomorrow.

Happy Easter to those of you who celebrate it. Happy new day to everyone! That is the beauty of mindfulness and trying to live a day at a time . . . each day comes with a welcome freshness that I look forward to. When I am stuck in the muck of regret, worry, or fear, a new day may feel like a burden.

Easter and spring bring a welcome set of words to mind too. I looked back at some of my previous posts on and around Easter.  Here are some of the words and phrases I used:

*new beginnings
*vulnerability
*rebirth and renewal
*awakenings
*sunrise
*renewed and refreshed or stale and stagnant?

I prefer fresh over stagnant. The rebirths and renewals come in little ways. I rarely have big, flashy awakenings. The little ways add up to significant changes in my outlook and approach to life though. They add up to the right kind of energy being applied to healthy priorities. And vulnerability allows us to have open hearts, souls, and minds.

Happy new day! Enjoy it and the opportunities it will present.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

The Wealth of Health

Today I am grateful for an early morning run in the coming daylight. I am also grateful for the opportunity to see the incredible natural artwork of sculptor and artist David W. Cook, and to hear some of the sources of his inspiration.

Check his work out at his website here. Thank you to David and those who joined me in walking through the woods to some of his latest creations; made of vines, twigs, and branches.

A recent front page photo in my hometown newspaper showed workers at the new health care clinic that was celebrating a one-year anniversary. On the wall behind the workers was this quote:

"The greatest wealth is health."

It is actually a quote attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson and sometimes written as "The first wealth is health." Either way, the quote is spot on. Health is so vitally important to our quality of life each day. Not just physical health, but mental, emotional, and spiritual health as well. I feel blessed in all areas.

I am nearly seven years out from a breast cancer diagnosis, NED (no evidence of disease) and in daily recovery from alcoholism. I haven't taken a drink of alcohol in over 25 years. I haven't smoked a cigarette in over 18 years. I have run 12 marathons and have begun training for number 13.

It may sound like those things have everything to do with physical health. And true, they do have much to do with my physical being-what I like to refer to as this earthly vehicle that I reside in-but they also have everything to do with my overall wellness. All of those things listed in the previous paragraph have done much to expand my mental, emotional, and spiritual health as well.

Clearly, that list is missing a key component though. That is my gratitude practice, a daily exercise for me. Such practice has broadened and clarified my thoughts and feelings and expanded my sense of connectedness to others and the world around me.

I am not only able to run for miles, I am able to pause for moments, and able to keep my mouth closed when to open it could be hurtful. Healthy practices, all of them.

Our health is one of our greatest treasures and simply needs to be acknowledged on a daily basis. I have had unhealthy days--some by my own choice, some because of things beyond my control. Today I make healthy choices and when life's circumstances throw curve balls I am better equipped to stay on a better course.

Healthy perceptions. Healthy actions. Healthy thoughts. Healthy feelings. Healthy priorities. They all go together.

Speaking of health, today I am stepping into new territory and I have a table at our community health fair. I am titling my offering "Enhancing Wellness Through Gratitude Practice."  I'll let you know how it goes. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Have a healthy day!

Friday, April 3, 2015

A Good Day 3 x 3

Today I am grateful for positive thoughts built on positive perceptions, made possible by habitual gratitude practice.

Yesterday was a good day. No big plans, no special events, just a typical day during my spring break. My husband and son had the day off too, so we all could enjoy a nicer pace. It was the kind of day that presents a good opportunity to do a 3 x 3. A 3 x 3 is a simple gratitude practice I thought of a couple years ago and do from time to time. I list three things I am grateful for and three reasons why for each. By the time I am done, I already have at least 12 reasons to be grateful, often more.

Yesterday consisted of things I appreciated throughout the day, including the different times of day themselves. Here's a good day 3 x 3:

1. Morning
     a. Time to sit out on our front patio and enjoy the coming daylight.
     b. Hearing the birds sing.
     c. A long run (about 12 miles) with my husband Darcy.

2. Afternoon
     a. Holding our grandson Leo while he slept.
     b. Playing baseball with my son Sam.
     c. Enjoying a family meal together, prepared by Darcy.

3. Evening
     a. Time to work on some writing ideas I have.
     b. Enjoying a cold glass of almond milk with a sweet treat.
     c. Having a phone conversation with my sister Danita.

It was a good day. My expectations were reasonable. The pace was reasonable. The result was many little joys noted throughout the day.

Habitual gratitude practice makes such days possible and makes such days a treasure.

I encourage you to do your own 3 x 3 today. Pay attention. The material is there.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies

Today I am grateful for the friends I have in the local breast cancer support group and for my friend Dorothy and the chance for yet another walk and talk yesterday.

I have put the miles on the last few days while walking and talking with three different friends. Yesterday my friend, and new neighbor Dorothy, and I walked in the windy warmth. We got caught up on a few things going on in our lives and the lives of those around us. Dorothy is one of my spiritual advisors and was in that role even before she became an ordained minister.

To be able to walk and talk with a friend. To spend time with other members of our local breast cancer support group, all of us having known one another for several years now. To be alive. What blessings! What extensive gratitude.

In the midst of all this, I caught some of the six hours of the PBS documentary: "Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies." It is based on the Pulitzer-prize winning book The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer written by Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee and initially released in late 2010. I was fascinated by this book when I first read it. It was so well-written as it gave both the history of human efforts to understand cancer and the deeply personal stories of both patients with cancer and the doctors and researchers working to demystify it.

Combine excellent writing with the work of documentary producer Ken Burns and director Barak Goodman and the outcome is captivating video. Even before my own cancer diagnosis, I was paying more attention to news about cancer because of my sisters' breast cancer diagnoses. When I was diagnosed with breast cancer myself in 2008, I opted to be well-informed with reputable information. I had always been a history buff too, so I did some reading on the history of breast and other cancers.

Cancer scares me. My biggest fear for myself and many others I care about is the "m" word of metastasis. But I still prefer information to aid in my understanding of what we are up against with this wily and deadly disease. Faith helps me face the fear.

I so appreciate the many advances that have been made in cancer treatment, especially in the last 50-60 years. They have helped me and many people I care about. They have helped millions. The latest research in immunotherapy looks promising as well. But cancer continues to humble humans in many ways. We need to continue the right efforts and appropriate funding in order for research advances to keep moving toward a cure.

Thank you for this excellent book and equally excellent documentary. Thank you to all who made them possible. I would encourage you to check either or both out.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Muffled

Today I am grateful for shirt-sleeve warmth on a spring day and for another walk and talk opportunity yesterday, this time with my friend Betsy.

Betsy and I have known each other for nearly 15 years and we have some common ground both professionally (we are both educators) and personally. On a pleasant spring day, we enjoyed the walk and the ease of conversation between two people who have mutual trust and respect. Thanks Betsy!

Turning my attention to the title of today's post, let me tell you where "muffled" started. In recent months I have woken up with a plugged ear from time to time. It usually popped shortly after I got up, and I didn't think too much of it. In recent weeks, it seemed to get worse, happening more often and lasting longer. I even had a couple days where my hearing was muffled for hours, for a good portion of the day. That was challenging and unnerving, and I decided I needed to look into what might be going on.

The likely problem was ear wax buildup. My sister Ruth suggested that I try Debrox Earwax Removal Aid. Thanks for the suggestion Ruth! It seems to have done the trick.

But those mornings of muffled hearing, those couple of days when it lasted well into the day, were good teachers for me. I have my hearing and my health. They are deep blessings and I want to appreciate them. As is often the case, we begin to take things for granted over time. Gratitude practice helps me not fall into that trap. Muffled hearing served as a good reminder too.

Pondering muffled also had me pondering how I muffle the little joys of each day by getting too busy, too caught up in things, forgetting to pause. What obstructs the peace and treasures within the day? What mutes the true gifts that surround me?  I do when I get ahead of myself or when I continue to relive a regret, a mistake, a what-if.

Muffled gratitude is better than no gratitude, but I prefer the full effect. Today I will seek clarity in the moments of opportunity that present themselves.