Tag Archive | mindfulness practice

Gratitude Practice, One Year Later

I am still grateful for Liberty wooden jigsaw puzzles. And for the leisure to work one slowly, a bit a day, in between other work.

I’m grateful to know a little bit about birds of the world which not only helps with this puzzle, but reminds me of the wealth and diversity of life in the remaining wilds of this fragile planet. I have held macaws, cockatoos, and eagles on my arm; watched osprey and crested caracaras on the wing in the wild; I’ve befriended hummingbirds, magpies, jays, phoebes, finches; I am grateful for all the birds who have touched my life, and for the thousands more kinds of birds I can only dream of. I’m grateful for a cat who has learned not to catch them anymore.

I’m grateful today that I did it: I kept my commitment to myself to post at least one thing I’m grateful for each day (except two or three) since last winter solstice. How the year has flown by! I’m grateful today for most of the same things I was a year ago, and for many of the same things I’ve been grateful for on most of the fleeting days in between.

I’m still grateful for coffee from Rubicon, and for biscotti and knowing how to bake it, and for having all the ingredients readily available; grateful for the luxury to work from home, where I can enjoy my little rituals in one room and return to my desk in another. I’m grateful for geraniums, an indoor garden, and the end of the darkening days.

I’m grateful for multi-colored LED lights, and a little fake Christmas tree, and being able to hang it with ornaments this year since Topaz has (I hope) outgrown her rambunctious adolescence. I’m grateful for spiritual traditions which celebrate love and life, for Christ and for Buddha, for the generosity and good will of friends and neighbors. I’m grateful for homegrown grapefruits that arrived in the mail today and the zing they’ll bring to many days this winter. I’m grateful for cookies, cakes, condiments, and a wreath that were all delivered to my door, and for the strength of community that brings joy and comfort in these dark days. I’m grateful for a life of connection despite isolation.

I’m grateful for gratitude practice, one year later, and for the innumerable benefits I’ve reaped from focusing my attention on gratitude every day for a whole year. I am happier, stronger, calmer, and more resilient; my heart is lighter, brighter, and more open; my grasp of the interdependence of all of us is stronger and more clear; the world I inhabit seems a kinder place than the one I dwelt in a year ago.

I won’t be stopping my daily gratitude practice, but I’ll no longer be posting those musings every single day. I’ll be grateful to go to bed some nights the moment I realize I’m sleepy! More than anything doing this practice over the past year, I am grateful for you, the friends I’ve known for years and those I’ve never met, who have followed me through this adventure and sent words of thanks, encouragement, support, and love. To hear that my simple practice inspires you to look at your own life through a lens of gratitude inspires joy that knows no bounds. May you be healthy and well. May you be safe, and free from harm. May you be genuinely happy. May you be filled with loving kindness, this winter holiday season, and always.

Poetry

Poetry on a plate: I’m grateful for gingerbread biscotti turning out so beautifully!

Thanks

Listen
with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water thanking it
standing by the windows looking out
in our directions

back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you

over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the door
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks we are saying thank you
in the faces of the officials and the rich
and of all who will never change
we go on saying thank you thank you

with the animals dying around us
taking our feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
thank you we are saying and waving
dark though it is

W.S. Merwin, “Thanks” from Migration: New and Selected Poems. Copyright © 2005 by W.S. Merwin. 

I’ve fallen in love with poetry all over again after years of ignoring it. I’ve fallen in love with a dead poet. I am a poet at heart, have always been, I see the world through a poet’s eyes; not a musician’s, a grocer’s, a farmer’s, a politician’s. I’m grateful for my poet friends Christine, Gary, Diane, Marion, Tara, Jane… and all the poets I’ll never know. Grateful for sonnets, sestinas, odes and lyrics; for free verse and form, for the particular sensitivity of the poetic soul. I’m grateful that my mentors introduced me to the soul of W. S. Merwin, 17th poet laureate of the US in 2010, with this quote:

“On the last day of the world
I would want to plant a tree” 

― W. S. Merwin

Why? Why would I want to plant a tree on the day the world is ending, when it will never grow big, when no one will sit in its shade or eat of its fruit? Why would I choose to do that, rather than run around like Chicken Little or try to satisfy every hedonic desire in the short time left? Well…

… Why would I not?

I’m grateful for poetry: for inspiration, consolation, validation, affirmation, transformation…

Diagnostic Imaging

Amy reminded me that I may not have mentioned popcorn yet: I’m grateful for popcorn!

I’m so grateful for all the X-rays, sonograms, mammograms, echocardiograms, CT scans, MRIs, and other diagnostic imaging I’ve had in my life; grateful for the technicians who performed them, the radiologists who interpreted them, the medical schools and personnel who taught these people how to make these images and read them; the doctors and nurse practitioners who’ve shared my results with me. I’m grateful for the various machines, and all their tiny, complicated components, and the decades, centuries, of scientific investigation by thousands of humans whose names I’ll never know, that led to these machines being invented and improved.

And I’m grateful for the nameless lives of various creatures, maybe humans, lost ‘in the interest of science’ as these inventions evolved. This doesn’t mean that I condone testing on animals; simply that I accept that it has been done in the past (and there may be occasions when it’s still necessary, but certainly we’ve come far enough that most of it can be avoided), and I appreciate the sacrifices, willing or unwilling, that test ‘subjects’ have made through centuries. I can feel sorry that some things have happened, and still be grateful for the ramifications of the outcomes.

Anyway, back to the list: I’m grateful for the specific people that work in the Delta Hospital radiology department (and I know I’m not the only one) who consistently show such professionalism, efficiency, and compassion in their work. I’m grateful that my recent brain MRIs show only average signs of ‘aging.’ And I’m grateful that my cervical spine MRIs don’t show anything imminently life-threatening. I could whinge about the catastrophic evidence of: degeneration in the vertebral facets, “reversal of the normal cervical lordosis,” “moderate to severe left foraminal narrowing due to left-sided arthropathy and hypertrophy,” and “central canal stenosis with ventral cord flattening.” It doesn’t sound good, and certainly is enough words to explain this ongoing, worsening neck pain.

Oh well. It is what it is. Accepting this, now I can move forward taking into consideration options, making informed choices on the best ways to minimize physical and mental suffering, adapting my lifestyle with diet, appropriate postural adjustments, exercises, and therapies to improve my health. Yeah, it wasn’t great news, but it was more information than I had before, and reassuring in some respects: I don’t need surgery right now, for example, and there’s no cancer. While my brain may be a little older than the years allotted me so far, my spine might be fifty years older than that. One thing, though: my heart keeps getting lighter and younger every step of the way. Too bad they don’t yet have diagnostic imaging to evaluate consciousness; mine would show I’m getting better every day.

Acceptance

“Yacht Race off Boston Light” three days underway. This pink sky is one of the most challenging sections of any puzzle yet.

Yesterday was interesting. I was too tired to write about it last night, and probably won’t do it justice tonight, but want to express my gratitude to the imaging technicians at Delta Hospital. Everyone was so kind, from the receptionists on. There were some little glitches, at intake and with the MRIs, that would once have really frustrated me, but my growing capacity for accepting things as they are instead of thinking that they should be different served me well.

I may have never met a more tender, compassionate, and sweet tech than Toni, the woman who did the bone density scan. We were practically in tears of loving-kindness by the time she led me back to the waiting room. The MRI tech was very business-like, though also considerate and kind. I remembered Deb’s encouragement to ask for what I needed, so asked for extra pillows to support my knees to reduce sciatic strain; and when the classical music station wouldn’t play, I squeezed the ‘stop’ bulb. Remarkably, the only stations that would play were country, and something called ‘soft rock,’ which was horrible. I experienced extreme aversion during the first MRI as the DJ blithered on and on, and when there was ‘music’ its beat clashed with the machine noises inside my head until, despite a concerted effort to remain focused on my breath, I was completely rattled. I squeezed the ‘stop’ bulb again when anxiety rose to unbearable-verging-on-panic, and fortunately that was the end of the first session. I continued in blessed internal silence for the next three tests. It was a lengthy exercise in conscious relaxation, first my face, then abdomen, then shoulders, back to abdomen, back to face–as one area relaxed another tensed up, and I cycled through one after the other, consistently returning attention to the breath. Nothing like a long MRI to strengthen meditation practice.

During the whole second scan, there was a little lump in the pillow, which bored into my head. I breathed through that, but it got worse and worse. It was fascinating to watch my mind deal with all these sensational challenges. She wanted me to keep my head perfectly still when she pulled me out to inject the contrast dye, but I had to insist that she smooth the pillow. It wasn’t really a pillow, just a folded cloth. She was exasperated, and in a hurry. I said calmly, as she prepared my arm to stick a needle into it, “I need to not feel anxious, and I need to feel that you’re not in a hurry.” She softened instantly, apologized, and explained that there were two emergencies waiting and there was only this one machine, and one of her. This put things in a different perspective for me, and we both calmed way down. She thought to put a little lavender patch on my chest, which actually helped a lot. This experience, which was stressful and could have been really horrible, was transformed by my ability to accept things as they were each step of the way, do what I could to change them, and then accept again. And again, there was much tenderness and well-wishing between us as she walked me out.

I was feeling pretty pleased with myself as I left the hospital, for the emotional skill with which I’d navigated the morning, and decided to treat myself to a deli sandwich. But there’s no deli near the hospital, so I stopped at Sonic to see what I could find. At the drive-up menu, I realized I couldn’t bring myself to order factory-farmed chicken or beef, so I left; but circled back and ordered three fried sides. I was glowing with acceptance when the little girl brought my limeade and a small bag, and was only mildly disappointed to find inside the bag just one little wrapped burger. I accepted the error with good cheer, and she said she’d be right back with my order. Way too long later, two more “Welcome to Sonic, may I take your order” queries, and finally my bag of sides, I almost lost it when I opened the bag to find they were small instead of medium, and there was no mayo. Acceptance out the window! Attachment in high gear: I wanted what I wanted and I wanted it NOW! But still, I managed not to be too grumpy. When the manager brought a double handful of condiments and apologized, she said “It’s just the two of us, people didn’t show up…” My perspective adjusted itself instantaneously, all frustration melted, and I assured her it was no problem. We smiled and laughed and wished each other happy holidays.

The food was a big disappointment. But I accepted that easily. Fast food is what it is. I drove home filled with compassion for the people who worked at the hospital, the patients who needed emergency MRIs, the harried staff at Sonic, and deeply grateful for the skill of acceptance.

Surviving the Day

Detail from “Yacht Race Off Boston Light,” James Edward Buttersworth c. 1880, Liberty puzzle.

It sounds melodramatic on the surface. Why wouldn’t I have survived the day? Why bother to be grateful for something so mundane? Yet this was the first day I’ve driven beyond Crawford since witnessing that shocking wreck on the highway. I passed the scene twice, on my way to Hotchkiss and back. I ran some quotidian errands–gasoline, picking up cat fud at the vet, a few groceries at City Market–and drove home. That’s all. But I was tense and anxious, not only because of the wreck, but the Covid risk of going about in a county that largely never believed in the virus in the first place, flouted the original mask mandate (down to the Sheriff’s department which became an instant hot spot), and has concluded that it’s through with Covid now whether or not Covid is through with it. In the past couple of weeks the county has recorded roughly 1.1 deaths a day from the virus.

We tend to assume, each morning that we rise alive, that today is just another day to spend like any other day, that we’ll make it through this day without dying; and that’s just ridiculous. Lots of people die every day, many of them without pre-existing conditions and without any warning. Shit happens. I’m learning to take nothing for granted. I was grateful to wake up alive again this morning, and I’m grateful for surviving the day. Each night I try to fall asleep with my pulse pounding in my neck. Tomorrow, I’ll be grateful to make it to the hospital (and back) for some tests to try to determine what this sensation is about, and pinpoint the cause of other strange symptoms as well.

Or at least rule out some icky options. As Francisco said, “When you know what it is, it’s just pain.” When you don’t know what it is, it can grow into a menacing monster. Driving from town this afternoon, the thought of home beckoned like a lighthouse, as it will again tomorrow. If I can only make it there, and back again to safe harbour, then I can finally relax; then I will be happy. Ha! Each day, each breath, a new adventure.

Meditation

Monkey mind had me in its grip tonight but meditation quickly calmed the screaming beast inside. (photo from Unsplash)

I found myself ruminating about an upcoming stressful event, and getting more and more physically uncomfortable, feeling flushed and short of breath, anxious, shaky, even angry–all from my thoughts alone. I am grateful I’ve been practicing meditation for years, and recognized a good opportunity to use this skill to calm myself. I lay down and played a 24-minute recorded meditation by B. Alan Wallace called “A Tour of Shamatha Practices,” which focuses the mind on the breath. In no time, my breath calmed, my mind calmed, and I let go of unskillful thoughts and projections. I certainly don’t know what the future will bring: why waste precious time fretting over it? It could as easily go well as poorly, and the attitude I bring to it will largely determine how stressful, unpleasant, or comfortable it will be for me. I’m grateful meditation restored mental balance tonight, and grateful I had the presence of mind to turn to it instead of letting monkey mind ruin my evening.

A Simpler Life

Grateful for butternut squash gnocchi sautéed with shiitake mushrooms, garlic, rosemary, and a splash of sherry.

I had a brief conversation this morning with a friend who said she was glad she didn’t have to worry about me. It reminded me of one of the undersung benefits of mindfulness practice. When we are calm, ok with what happens, unattached to outcome, we become a resource for those we love, an example, an offering of calm no matter what happens. This is the aspiration; not that we accomplish that in the early days. But over time, inhabiting the values of equanimity and compassion, gradually recognizing that (as George Saunders said), “Kindness is the only non-delusional response to the human condition,” we begin to understand that remaining calm in a shitstorm is a generous gift to others.

The recipe called for frozen squash purée, but naturally, I used leftover garden squash I had roasted last week for soup. So simple, so delicious.

I’m grateful that I didn’t have a dog today, especially a dog on his last legs. Between snow and rain over the past few days, there was a quarter-inch thick ice sheet on my windshield, and the patios weren’t much better. It broke my heart a few times over the past few winters when Stellar or Raven would dash out the door, slip on ice, and slam down on the concrete. They were tough dogs, but it had to hurt, and the last few times Stellar slipped on ice or the smooth wood floor it took him down substantially for awhile. I covered the floors in rugs the best I could, which helped a lot inside, but even if I let him out slow and careful he still slipped on ice a couple of times and went down hard. Poor little old legs.

So I was grateful that I didn’t have to go out much today, and only had to take care of myself out there when I did go. I’m grateful to be slowly unwinding the physical and emotional trauma of the past few months with Stellar, the past two years, really, of his decline. I lost so much that I held dear in that time: Auntie, Diane, Michael, Ojo, Raven, a certain independence, trust, friendships, faith… and most recently, my best and truest companion. It was pretty grueling. I’m grateful for a simpler life right now, for as long as this lasts. Grateful that my body can finally unwind, my mind can let go, my heart slowly open. Life hurts. I’m learning to be okay with that.

And while I can list the losses, the blessings, beauties, and joys of these past two years are incalculable. I might paraphrase Saunders and say, “Gratitude is the only rational response to being alive.” But I won’t, because I know there are many for whom the suffering of the human condition is just too great in any given moment to survive. My heart recognizes and aches for those who live in intolerable conditions; yet, I can only be grateful for all the choices, decisions, encounters, near misses, and lucky chances that led me (through generations) to be right here, right now. I could complain about what’s missing, but choose to focus on the moments of tenuous calm, the fragile peace and uncertain ease of this precious day, one day at a time.

I’m grateful for one meal at a time, one day at a time.

Favorite Things

Using up the last of the dog-pill ham on a sandwich with Havarti, mayo, mustard, and homemade bread & butter pickles, along with the last of the squash soup. I’m grateful to have enough to eat, and to recognize my good fortune rather than take it for granted.

I’m grateful for the simple pleasures of favorite things, like the chartreuse blanket Deb gave me years ago, the hori hori garden knife from Lee Valley that Garden Buddy noticed the other day, double dark chocolate Milano cookies, Zoom cooking with Amy, year round Christmas lights, a hot shower, bees on flowers, happy shows, the Raggedy Ann doll I’ve had for sixty years, a camera phone in my pocket, and a cheese sandwich with plenty of mayonnaise. It’s great to be grateful for these tangible things, and important not to look to them alone for happiness. I’m also grateful for a “life of the mind,” and for meditation and other skills to train that mind; for knowledge and wisdom acquired through years of choices, mistakes, and unintended outcomes, along with deeply satisfying results sometimes, like this house I live in. I’m grateful for new ideas and experiences, for old friends, and for a heart that keeps on ticking.

Knowing Better

I’m grateful for at least knowing better, when I engage in unhealthy behaviors like caving to cravings (too much sugar, for example), or divisive speech, or even staying up too late so I’m asleep on my feet. Knowing better I can, if I choose to, examine what gets in the way of making consistently healthier choices.

Shifting Perspectives

Speaking of dogs, I’m grateful for a visit from tiny dogs today.

I’m grateful for the ability to stretch enough to shift a perspective now and then. “The Power of the Dog” turned out to be more fascinating than fearful. Based on the horse punching, and a few reviews that seemed to emphasize intimidation and manipulation (all three emotional triggers for me) I was turned off. If it had been promoted differently, I’d have probably not resisted as much. If, say, it had been advertised as a sensitive LGBTQ period New Zealand western with a twist, I’d have been all over it. I’m grateful that Michele’s analysis and Deborah’s reassurance gave me the resolve to finish watching it, and it turns out the horse punching was actually the hardest scene for me. Yeah, he drove poor Rose to drink, but he didn’t really torment her all that much. Who among us hasn’t been bullied? Why did the buzz focus on his mean behavior instead of his vulnerability? The film was so much more than that.

We get entrenched in our views about things, people, points of view, and often it’s hard to let go: of preconceptions, resentments, grudges, judgements, personal emotional wounds. I’m grateful my heart cracked open a little more today, though it wasn’t easy to face my own intransigence. I’m grateful for shifting perspectives.

I’m also grateful for homemade sweet and sour sauce. The only thing missing with the egg rolls the other day was sweet and sour sauce. Hoisin was good, but no substitute. The mustard was really a bust with the particular brand of powder I had. So I picked the easiest, quickest S&S recipe that came up, with five ingredients on hand, and was delighted with the result. In ten minutes I had the perfect sauce to balance the rich Hoisin and salty filling.