I’m grateful for another Boyz Lunch today, outside on the patio, hummingbirds flitting through, Stellar lying next to John, John’s hand on his head; grateful for these and other friends who accept me just the way I am, and through the years have supported me in my ongoing exploration of how that is, as it changes (like everything does, always, ineluctably); grateful for people who have loved me through my many incarnations in this lifetime; grateful for a safe habitat in which to spread my wings.
Oh, and watch for a bunch of canaries in the Pioneer Days Parade on Saturday! I’m grateful for Ellie, Mary, Suki, Brad, Danielle, Kim, Ana, Kathy, and everyone else who has chipped in energy, time, money, and creativity to create and support the countywide, non-partisan Canary Committee in their efforts to bring attention to the extraordinary drought affecting our particular habitat in Western Colorado, and the dire need to conserve water.
I’m grateful to finally harvest enough lettuce from my garden to feed friends, for Gosar’s sausages (available at Farm Runners), for Cousin Bill’s reminder of how delicious roasted cauliflower is, for Penzey’s Justice that Amy introduced me to, and for the ease of a salad made with canned beans: so simple, so delicious! I’m grateful for another day alive in this body aware of all the sensory pleasures life offers, and for learning the mindfulness skills that enable me to experience each day with gratitude and meaning.
I’m grateful for resilience, his and mine. Stellar slid into another bout of inexplicable diarrhea that started yesterday morning but wasn’t conclusively an issue until after dark, as usual. Why does it always strike them at night?
I’m grateful that I remembered the potty pads I keep for Biko, and remembered my brilliant idea of a sheet path to the door in time to protect the rugs, and had a brand new case of paper towels on hand to line the path for the next run(s). I stayed up late monitoring the situation, then had to get up a few times in the night to let him out and clean up. I’m grateful I had Imodium in the medicine cabinet from the Shitstorm a year ago, grateful I remembered it was there, grateful it seems to have settled things by midday.
I’m grateful for mindfulness practice every day, but especially today. Under the tender tutelage of Mindful Life Program founders Mark and Laura since last summer, I’ve been learning more about meditation, motivation, and meaning than I have in all my years of casual study and dedicated interest. I’ve begun to fully embody qualities like patience and compassion, which may come easily to some people but have taken me years of practice. I keep my attention trained, for the most part, on what matters, and don’t let my mind drag me off into what ifs or if onlys.
In this way, I was able to remain calm as the gravity of this episode sunk in, recognizing that it’s happened before, we got through it before, and he was just fine (as fine as possible with his bad back end) before; that it was likely it would resolve in a couple of days and we’d go back to our normal, peaceful routine. I was able to accept that this is how it is right now. Further, I had confidence that if all wasn’t well later, and his health took a dark turn, I could handle it. Resilience. So I didn’t fret, I got up when I had to, slept lightly, did what I could do to mitigate mess and cleaned up when necessary, all with unruffled patience and a heart full of unconditional love for my dear companion. I tended and rested through the day, and by evening, all does seem well, neither of us much worse for wear. I’m so grateful that I could hold this unfortunate event in perspective, respond appropriately, and still enjoy many aspects of a quiet, calm snowy Sunday.
Today’s mindfulness activity was to “do your best to give love to yourself so that you’ll have more of it to give to others. Pick a healthy attitude or activity that you would like to nourish and engage in it as much as possible today. Try to be mindful of how this impacts your feelings toward yourself and your interactions with others.” I read this minutes after getting up after sleeping in past nine am for the first time in months. Sleep, I thought. I’ll sleep as much as possible today. I didn’t sleep at all again til a few minutes from now, but I sure felt relaxed all day long. I’m grateful for every opportunity I had to connect with someone who matters to me, and for the relaxed comfort in my own skin that the extra sleep allowed me to feel. I’m grateful for the daily guidance from a wise and generous teacher, that reminds me I can choose to be the best version of myself in any moment. I’m grateful for all the pieces of this life in this moment, and for the privilege of sleeping in once in a while.
Yes, I’m grateful for hats: warm hats, sun hats, fancy hats, ball caps, and berets – but HATs in this case stands for Habits, Attitudes, Tendencies. I’m grateful for the easy acronym to remind me about these constant companions, and grateful for learning the importance of recognizing one’s own HATs, acquired through a lifetime of coping with the diverse experiences of being human. We all have some good hats, and we all have some unhealthy hats. By cultivating mindfulness, one aspect of which is the ability to choose where to focus my attention, I’ve been learning how to observe and modify my tendencies, enhance and increase my healthy habits, and let go of unhealthy attitudes and habits. Or at least, if I can’t let go yet, observe and acknowledge which habits do not further my flourishing, and which do, and move in the right direction.
Judgment, for example, has been an unhealthy HAT for me. I was raised in a family that wore their judgments like Kentucky Derby hats, flamboyant and unapologetic. I have certainly lost some opportunities and friendships through the years because of my judgments, as well as caused myself immense unnecessary suffering. Letting go of judgments, however gradually, is one of the healthiest things I’ve ever done. The HATs I’ve been examining for months now are old, new, ancestral, picked up along the way from various other people… and some that I’ve knitted all by myself. Some still fit, some have become too tight, uncomfortable; some are comforting, some flattering, and some are quite unattractive. I’m grateful that on the hatrack of my mind there’s always room for another good hat, as I strive to get rid of old, unhelpful hats.
I learned about HATs in the mindfulness teacher training course I’m halfway through. I’m grateful that conditions aligned so that I could spend this first year of Covid in deep introspection, pursuing a new calling. I’m grateful for the teachers in this course, and especially grateful today for a flyby visit from two of them as they passed through town on their travels. Stellar vociferously and highly approved of Laura and John, who joined us for a walk to the rim, and some crispy, cheesy pan pizza outside in the garden afterward. I’m grateful for my new winter hat: it’s perfectly fine to picnic outside when it’s freezing, as light snow starts to fall.
Today I’m grateful again for technology, for the access it gives me to teachers around the world. From the Mindful Life Program just across the mountains in Carbondale, which during the Time of the Virus might as well be in Australia, to Catherine Ingram who actually is in Australia, to Stephan Pende Wormland in Copenhagen, Denmark, and a host of other interviews and lessons from meditation teachers to top chefs to health experts.
As anyone knows who explores the world online, you can find out everything about anything whether it’s true or not, so I’m also grateful for education and discernment, which allow me to make healthy choices about what I turn my attention to. After a weekend in retreat, I spent the day catching up on housework while listening to these teachers, including Catherine’s latest In the Deep podcast titled “People Can Be Disappointing.” Each episode includes a short talk, followed by questions from participants, and Catherine’s responses to them. This one felt particularly relevant to me today.
From relationship disappointments to global disappointments, each question resonated with my own experience at some point in recent months. At one point, she discussed the conspiracy theories rampant in the US these days as coping strategies. “There’s some kind of psychological twisting going on in their being… they’re not stupid people necessarily but they believe things that are absolutely bonkers, and huge numbers of them are believing these things…” She speculates on some possible reasons.
And it struck me then that everyday wonders have ceased to engage these people; they’ve cut their milk teeth on high-tension drama in entertainments that celebrate killing and perversions: just look at the content of TV’s top dramas in recent decades; look at the goals of most video games; look at the stimulus-driven ambitions of advertisers. Is it any wonder that people believe they live in these conspiracy theories? By believing, they no longer need to envy contestants on Reality TV, for they have entered their own Reality Show. Like The Truman Show, but backwards. Instead of living in a ‘perfect world,’ the people who believe QAnon and the like are choosing to believe the sickest, most depraved, terrifying fantasies about Others, specifically about people like me, and other good neighbors and decent legislators and even now our current President.
It’s dumbfounding. Why choose to spend your fleeting time on this planet, your one precious life, thinking unthinkable thoughts, when you can find much more engaging entertainment in the miracles of this infinitely wondrous planet with your own senses by opening them to the beauty of nature? Catherine is right: there is too much of something or not enough in the broken souls who let themselves be deluded by outrageous, grotesque imaginings; but it’s not entirely their fault. A materialist culture which has lost its connection to the wild world, Nature, the wisdom in impermanence, and filled that void by streaming the darkest make-believe of human imaginings into our eyes, ears, and minds with traumatizing entertainments, has conditioned many people, Americans in particular, to need ever more shocking stimulation to feel alive.
So the very technology for which I’m grateful today, for giving me access to living humans with great insight and wisdom, is the same technology that allows malevolent delusions to collect enough followers to assume a false alternative reality, because “so many people are living within the shared lie,” as Catherine says. Are there antidotes to these poisonous effluents on a societal level?
We’ll know more later. Give me the silent wonder of a gentle snowfall any day. Give me the miracles in my own back yard, the surprise of an underground burrow, the vast perspective of a starry night, the impossible fragility of a bee’s neck. These are the true realities I choose to pay attention to, to believe in. I am the hoof of the doe, stepping into the stream; moments ripple round me. In the time of long light, I see god in green shadows, and the wheatgrass whispers ‘yes.’
I’m grateful today for mindfulness practice. The simplest definition of mindfulness that I can share after six months of in-depth study on the subject is: mind training. So that ‘mindfulness practice’ becomes ‘mind training practice.’ It’s still and always practice. You never get there, because of impermanence: ‘there’ is no fixed point, ever. It’s always changing, along with everything else including your means of locomotion to get there, the companions you meet along the way, your own fitness for the journey.
Most of us invest five minutes to an hour or more each day in our physical fitness, whether simply brushing our teeth and running hot water over our faces, or more: a weight training workout or a run, or a swim, or a yoga class three times a week, or or or… and a hot shower afterward. How many of us devote ten minutes a day to mental hygiene? I’ve always spent more time each day on introspection than I ever have on dental hygiene. The difference is, now I’m actually training my mind, instead of simply riding it. (Like a horse, right, cowgirls?) I also floss more often.
A key component of mindfulness practice is breath. Of course, breath is a key component of everything. We’re spending a lot of time practicing awareness of breath this weekend in our class retreat, but more about breath another time. Immersed in a weekend intensive, each exploring our own way of being across the four domains of body, mind, emotions, and spirit, the domain of spirit especially resonates with me today. This domain is comprised of one’s sense of purpose, one’s sense of worth, and one’s sense of connection, or belonging. Today, I’ve been examining these three aspects of my way of being whilst teetering on the brink of a yawning pit of existential angst. It’s fascinating. I’m so grateful for mindfulness practice!
His Holiness fled his country the year that I was born. For as long as I can remember, I have been paying attention to his journey in exile in news reports, and later reading his teachings, and later still following them. Buddhism is less a religion than a philosophy that encourages one to examine for oneself to discern the truth of the teachings. I’m grateful for the Dalai Lama, for his teachings, even for the fact that his forced exile enabled him to bring the ancient wisdom of Tibetan Buddhism out into the wide world at large. I’m grateful I got to sit in the audience one year when he spoke at the Boulder Theater.
Because the Dalai Lama had been a beneficent force in the back of my mind for most of my life, I leapt at the opportunity last spring to partake in an online retreat exploring The Four Noble Truths of Buddhism. I’m grateful for that opportunity and for Dawn who shared it with me. I’m grateful for the teacher of that retreat, John Bruna with the Way of Compassion Dharma Center in Carbondale, and for his wife Laura, whose curiosity prompted her to ask about the thickness of my house walls which she could see behind me on the Zoom screen. (Grateful for Zoom, and all the connection it has enabled during this year of social distance.)
I’m grateful that Laura’s spark of interest led me to become her student in the Mindful Life Program, and for all the goodness that has flowed from that choice into my life this year, as I pursue a Mindfulness Teacher Training course that will result in my ability to share the benefits of meditation and mindfulness practice as a certified teacher. I’ll be bona fide!
I’m grateful that I’m spending the first weekend of this new and hopeful year in another online retreat with John and Laura, as we explore the possibility of “Bringing our Innate Goodness into the New Year.” I’m grateful to be learning to be a better friend to myself as I reflect on good things I’ve said and done in the past year, and learning to shush the harsh voice of my inner critic who harps that it’s never enough. It’s a helpful skill to cultivate, being your own best friend.