Gratitude, schamtitude…(yeah, I made that up)

Today is Thanksgiving, a day in America where either you sit and rail against the atrocity of the day and the atrocities of this country and avoid the gorge-fest known as Thanksgiving Dinner. Or you are sitting around in pajama jeans because you are planning on eating like a human on death row, as if tomorrow all the food on the planet will suddenly disappear. November is also a month when people strive to express their gratitude for all that they have; an activity that I must admit has value.

Last night the college boy (that is my son for newcomers) posed a question that stayed with me all night and into the morning. Why is it that in order to express gratitude, we often do it at the expense of others? Trust me, I am guilty of this myself, after all it’s never “Gee, I am thankful for my house, food, blah-blah” Instead “Well at least I have a roof over my head, hell some people don’t even have that.” Yes, it is true that many on this planet are without basic necessities; it is an evil reality of the world we live in that many go without. Everyone over a certain age knows this on some level. Yet, must we only feel good about ourselves when we compare ourselves to others? I admit, I have no answers but it was something that made me think, so I pass it on to you.

Today is a day for me to just be, despite my grand plans to cook a feast, I outsourced the cooking to local chefs (giving thanks all the way for the financial resources that made that possible) who decided to offer pre-made dinners for the slackers amongst us. Funny thing is I like to cook, hell I love it, but truthfully I didn’t feel like cooking for this holiday. Hell, I hate cooking for most holidays, all the joy of the holiday is sucked out for me, when I spend 8 hours on my feet. In the past, I broke my back trying to create the perfect holiday, and I often ended up let down and in a mildly depressive state.

This year I started a personal gratitude project, where every day I write down 5 things that I am grateful for in my gratitude journal. There are days when I repeat things, days when the things I am grateful for are really silly (yes, I have been known to be grateful for not being constipated) and other days the things I am grateful for are huge. As this personal gratitude project winds down (not sure if I will continue it in 2013) and we enter a season when gratitude is the thing to do (Facebook daily gratitude anyone?). I realized that I felt less inclined to participate in a show of gratitude because for almost a year I have tried to live a life of gratitude. Gratitude in a strange way has become routine to me, therefore today is a day just like any other day except that my long lost brother is flying in this evening to join us. Considering that he was last here when the seven year old was a one year old, that is a big deal, but the rest of the day is just a day for us and based off what the man unit and college kid have said, we are just fine with that.

On that note, if you are having a blowout feast with multiple desserts, have one for me since in my slacker state; I have only made one pie. Enjoy the blessings of this day and if you are going shopping on Black Friday, stay safe and don’t get trampled.

On jackpots…gratitude and being in the now

It’s probably no surprise to regular readers of this blog that I am an avid listener of public radio, so much so that my alarm clock is set to wake me to the sounds of the local public radio station. As usual today the clock went off at the normal painful time of 7:25am and I took the first few minutes to listen to world happenings while finding my bearings. The hot story this morning was the Mega Millions jackpot which is up to some ridiculously crazy sum of money, in my groggy state I really didn’t pay much attention until I heard a man say he was praying he could win the jackpot so that he could finally start living life. I am not sure why, but that statement stayed in my head throughout my prayers and meditation this morning.

As I hopped online a little later, I noticed many people talking about what they would do if they won the jackpot. There is nothing wrong with playfully fantasizing about what we would do if we won a jackpot but as I strive to be more mindful in all areas of my life, I often think how many years I wasted not enjoying the life I have at hand.

Look, I am not saying anyone is unhappy with the life they have at present but I do believe words have power and what we speak is powerful and can impact how we feel. For someone to say even in jest that winning a bajillion dollars will allow them to finally starting living life, actually says a lot. It says what most of us think, that life finally begins when we lose weight, get our degrees, get a partner and the list goes on. I most certainly have been guilty of thinking that if I accomplished XYZ that I would finally be living and nothing could be further from the truth. I spent 6 years or so in my late 20’s to early 30’s going to school getting my undergraduate and graduate degrees. When I was in school, I gave up a lot, missed a lot too; always thinking that once I received my degrees life would be grand. Well those papers are nice, but life didn’t magically change other than I owe a shitload of cash. I don’t regret going to school though I regret that I went at such a pace that I missed a lot of life because I was under the impression something special would happen once I met my goal.

The thing is every day we wake up, in reasonable good spirits with a relatively healthy body/mind and a roof over our heads, food on the table and people who care about us, is a great day. We live our lives as if time is infinite and that we know we will get 90+ years and the fact is not even our next minute is promised. Life can change on a dime, ask Trayvon Martin’s parents…he went out to grab a snack and never came home.

There is nothing wrong with a little fantasizing or even daydreaming about the what if’s, but far too many us ignore our now and stay focused on things that are not promised thus missing what we do have. This has been a struggle of mine and one that in the past year I have worked to deal with, because more times than I care to admit I realized I was ignoring what I had in hopes of what I wanted.

Last night I shared on twitter a tool I use to keep me grounded in my now, every night before I go to bed, I go low tech and grab a pen and my journal (remember those?) and write down what I call gratitudes. Gratitudes are 5 things that happened over the course of my day that added some value to my life, made me smile or were just cool as hell. I admit it was hard at first, initially my list was pretty redundant: man, kids, house…you get the point. Then I really started looking at my days and saw gifts where I had never seen them: staff member who made my day easier, cuddles with my kid, great conversation, sunrise that made me stop and so on. Some days the gratitudes just pour out and some days I admit they are hard but the point is to see what I have and in looking to see what I have, it makes me more present in my life.

Winning a jackpot probably does add a lot of value but often times what we need and what will truly make us happy goes far beyond money. So good luck if you played but even if you don’t win, remember you are already a winner!

These are not nice times that we are living in; it seems almost daily our senses and souls are confronted with a never-ending stream of misery. Some say that things are not really bad, it’s just that technology and media cycles have increased our capacity to hear about the misery that is projected onto our fellow beings 24/7. I agree there is some truth in that but the constant stream of negatives seeps into our souls and has us living for the future and what we are hoping for or looking back in the past for what we had. I can’t speak for anyone else but for me such living is not life. It keeps me in a state where I ignore my present and considering that yesterday is gone and tomorrow isn’t promised all I have is this moment. This moment to grasp with arms wide and my heart ready to receive and enjoy.

Last night as I tweeted with others about the Trayvon Martin case and was reminded of just how fucked up our culture is when it comes to men of color, I felt myself tensing up and getting angry. Of course this is a situation where that anger is justified, after all a young man’s life was cut short all because a man felt he was entitled to play the role of judge and dole out punishment for perceived crimes (walking while Black). As the outcry and demand for justice for Trayvon continues, we are also hearing the shared stories of all parents raising black and brown boys and the state of anxiety that we live in constantly. Oh, it may not be a debilitating anxiety but for anyone that has ever raised or loved a man of color, there is a certain sense that tomorrow may never be.  Just last night I was reminded of that as I read a news report out of my hometown, over this past weekend 10 people lost their lives including a 6 year old girl and 40 were wounded. For 10 people tomorrow did not come.

In the past year, I have been striving to be present and lessen my anxiety and while I can’t change the world single-handedly I can change how I perceive it by the very act of being present in each moment and receiving the good with the bad. Last night as I did my evening meditation and gratitude, I was struck by for all the shitty things that happen, for most of us there is something good even in the darkest moments.

Since the beginning of the year, I have completed a daily gratitude journal, at night before I go to bed, I write down 5 things that I am grateful for. I admit when I started this process I had a hard time with this concept, often repeating the same things, family, roof over my head, etc…you get the picture. Recently though I have seen a shift in my daily gratitude, sometimes giving thanks for things it’s so easy to take for granted yet add to our quality of life. After all, hot water to shower with is a given but wake up one cold morning in need of a shower and find out there is no hot water.

I share this today because so many of us our grappling with life and big issues and frankly it is easy to not see the good in a world gone mad. Yet a practice of daily gratitude is one way to keep us grounded to our truth and see a hint of sun when the overcast clouds seems like they will never go away. So with the arrival of spring and new beginnings, I encourage you to take on 10 minutes of gratitude before you head to sleep. It will change your life!

Gratitude when you really don’t feel like it

I had yet another night where sleep alluded me as it often does these days. Clearly my mind wants sleep but my body says, no girl….no sleep for you. As a result I often wake up in need of an attitude adjustment, but today I woke up after 4 hours of sleep and decided maybe I should look at the positives in my life. Believe me, being positive when you are running on little sleep with a long day ahead is hard. So here are my gratitude’s, feel free to share your own.

1. Hot water, nothing feels better on a cold morning than a hot shower followed by great smelling lotion to slather on to keep the dry skin at bay. Today’s lotion is a warm vanilla sugar.

2. Hot coffee made with love, need I say more.

3. A cheery six year old greeting me at the bottom of the stairs, how can I not smile?

4. Raisin Bran with ice cold milk

5. A true partner who is willing to color outside the lines with me and throw caution to the wind.

Such simple things make up for a lack of sleep, that said old friend, sleep I would love it if you came back.

Acceptance and gratitude…what 2011 taught me

Looking back over 2011, this was the year where I got serious about doing the deep soul work that you try to put off but eventually realize you have to do if you want to grow. I have always struggled with gratitude and acceptance, like so many it’s easy to take what I have for granted and want for more. Yet early this year it hit me that in my search for more, I am missing my life; instead living life through the eyes of the want monster and comparing myself to others.

Occasionally comparison can be good, but too often it sucks the life out of us. I have chosen a career path where by choosing to work at small grassroots sized agencies, the reality is a large salary is simply not going to happen. Fact is small agencies rarely have the budget to pay out large salaries and perks. Yet I have been fortunate, my hours are flexible, the type of flexibility that is a blessing when you are a parent who works outside of the home. When the six year old is sick, rarely do I have to figure out what to do, instead I can delegate to a staff member or worse case simply make the decision to be closed for the day. I am fortunate that my office is also a ten minute walk from my house so when the car decides to break down, I can walk to work. I am embarrassed to admit though that too many times in the past I have looked at my professional peers who are at larger agencies or friends who don’t work in the non-profit sector and felt bad about my career. Instead seeing people who can afford vacations, fancy toys and other things that my budget simply does not allow for and pretty much getting caught up in the woe is me dance. That dance sucks!

No, this year I have struggled to stay present in my reality instead being thankful for the blessing of my basic needs being met. Some may say that is simplistic, but all around I see those who are struggling with day to day needs and these are not my clients but friends. When I realized that several people I consider friends are regularly going to the food pantry to feed themselves and their kids, it gave me a reason to pause. I haven’t faced food insecurity since I was a kid, not even when I was a young single Mom did I worry about food. I may have worried about getting out of debt and building a nest egg but I don’t worry about the roof over my head or food on the table.

No, I don’t have health insurance since my employer is unable to offer it and my partner is self-employed but thankfully we have the means to pay out of pocket for routine care. I have to pay slowly but even my dental needs are being addressed on an on-going basis. I have an acquaintance that has identical dental issues and is unable to even afford to pay to get a tooth removed. That gave me pause. When my root canal failed and it was clear I needed to do something, I was able to get the damn thing removed.

Turns out when I am living my life, while I may not have the bells and whistles, I do have what I need and even some of what I want. There are no guarantees in life, so I accept that at this time in my life I am okay. While I have made a lot of progress with gratitude, I admit acceptance and I are still battling. For the past few months, there has been something I have wanted, but it’s starting to look like it’s just not going to happen. Mentally I have accepted it, as painful as it is but emotionally I am still working on it….to quote Bob Wiley from one of my favorite films What About Bob? “Baby step to four o’clock. Baby step to four o’clock.” It’s all about the baby steps.

Giving thanks

Last night it was a raw rainy night up here in my corner of the world. The kind of night that begs you to look at the simple blessings it’s so easy to take for granted. Things like shelter, heat, a warm cozy bed and someone to snuggle with in that warm cozy bed. How many of us don’t even see those things as blessings? Yet for too many people in this world, they don’t have access to  the essentials of life yet in a country like the US, its easy to get mad and feel sad because we don’t have XY and Z. Nevermind that those extras are not necessary, like small kids we want what we want when we want it!

So on this wet chilly Thursday, I invite you to share what you are feeling thankful about today. Right at this moment, I am thankful that today looks like a day I can work from home as we are expecting high winds on the coast and the rain is planning to stay all day. So not having to leave the house is definitely a plus on a day like today. I am thankful that my back pain is not as bad as it has been and thankful I have an upcoming appointment with an osteopathic physician who does manipulation. Very thankful for a fridge full of food, I am thinking some sautéed veggies and brown rice is in our future today.

 What is it that is  making you feel happy and blessed?

Seek serenity not security

Its a busy week up here in Maine, work deadlines and monthly female woes have me under the weather so I may be a tad sporadic in posting this week. That said, I wanted to share something that I read this week from this book SimpleAbundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy. The author wrote this book during the economic downturn of the 1990’s but clearly with the financial happenings going on at present the lessons can be applied to our current day.

Too many of us of, yours truly included seek security in having financial stability yet as we are learning in this downturn, our so-called stability from either our seemingly stable jobs (not) to our hefty savings in 401K’s and other financial instruments can be taken away at any time. Even those plastic cards we keep in our wallets can suddenly mean less if the card issuers decide to take away our high limits.

So in these turbulent times, I invite you to join me on the quest for financial serenity…to seek peace no matter where we are financially. If you are like me, you may have a mountain of debt yet if your basics such as shelter and food are taken care of, then you have much to be thankful for. In today’s NY Times, there is a piece about the growing numbers of families across the country who have lost their homes but are living in motels…folks who were formerly middle class and at the moment are not being tallied as homeless, they are living below the radar. It goes without saying, these folks are having a rough time.

It also served as a reminder that as I look at my large house that through God’s grace and blessings, no longer carries a mortgage, though I will of course have to pay insurance and taxes that I am indeed blessed. So while the daily news is grim, lets look at what we have and be thankful.

Catch ya later…happy Hump Day!