Opening to gratitude.

joyroot

What can take us out of our gloom and melancholy? Sometimes the veil is pulled back and we can glimpse a larger picture, a connection between all things, an appreciation for the here and now, and we are grateful.

Brother David Steindl-Rast explains how these jolts into a different reality can change a day, and, perhaps, even a world:

My vision of the world? My hope for the future? This topic sounds a bit big. Allow me to start small—say, with crows. They are my special friends. Just as I am writing these lines, one of them, the shy one among my three regular guests, is gobbling up the Kitty Fritters I put out for them. This brings to mind a short poem by Robert Frost that might provide a stepping-stone for our deliberations about world-vision and hope for the future—if any.

The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree
Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.

Surely you will remember a similar experience of your own: some quirky little incident made you smile, changed your mood, and suddenly the world looked brighter. If this ever happened to you, the key for understanding a causal chain of great consequence is in your hand:  any change in attitude changes the way one sees the world, and this in turn changes the way one acts. When Robert Frost claims that the crow’s little trick “saved” part of a day he had rued, or of which he repented, he means this in the full sense of a redeeming change of heart. When he got home, I’m sure he greeted Mrs. Frost in a better mood than he would have been able to do without the crow’s nudge. And there is no telling what this did to her—and to the way she treated the dog afterwards, or talked more kindly to her neighbor.

He continues to suggest five small, easily adopted ways to bring this gratitude into your life and, consequently, into the world:

1.  Say one word today that will give a fearful person courage.

All gratitude expresses trust. Suspicion will not even recognize a gift as gift: who can prove that it isn’t a lure, a bribe, a trap? Gratefulness has the courage to trust and so overcomes fear. The very air has been electrified by fearfulness these days, a fearfulness fostered and manipulated by politicians and the media. There lies our greatest danger: fear perpetuates violence. Mobilize the courage of your heart. Say one word today that will give a fearful person courage.

2. Make a firm resolution never to repeat stories and rumors that spread fear.

Because gratitude expresses courage, it spreads calm. Calm of this kind is quite compatible with deep emotions. In fact, mass hysteria fostered by the media betrays a morbid curiosity rather than deep feeling—superficial agitation rather than a deep current of compassion. The truly compassionate ones are calm and strong. Make a firm resolution never to repeat stories and rumors that spread fear. From the stillness of your heart’s core reach out. Be calm and spread calm.

3. Make contact with people whom you normally ignore

When you are grateful, your heart is open—open towards others, open for surprise. When disasters hit we often see remarkable examples of this openness: strangers helping strangers sometimes in heroic ways. Others turn away, isolate themselves, dare even less than at other times to look at each other. Violence begins with isolation. Break this pattern. Make contact with people whom you normally ignore—eye-contact at least—with the cashier at the supermarket, someone on the elevator, a beggar. Look a stranger in the eyes today and realize that there are no strangers.

4. Give someone an unexpected smile today

You can feel either grateful or alienated, but never both at the same time. Gratefulness drives out alienation; there is not room for both in the same heart. When you are grateful you know that you belong to a network of give-and-take and you say “yes” to that belonging. This “yes” is the essence of love. You need no words to express it; a smile will do to put your “yes” into action. Don’t let it matter to you whether or not the other one smiles back. Give someone an unexpected smile today and so contribute your share to peace on earth.

5.  Listen to the news today and put at least one item to the test of Common Sense.

What your gratefulness does for yourself is as important as what it does for others. Gratefulness boosts your sense of belonging; your sense of belonging in turn boosts your Common Sense—not the conventional mind set which we often confuse with it. The common sense that springs from gratefulness is incompatible with a set mind. It is just another name for thinking wedded to cosmic intelligence. Your “yes” to belonging attunes you to the common concerns shared by all human beings—all beings for that matter. In a world we hold in common, nothing else makes sense but Common Sense. We have only one enemy: Our common enemy is violence. Common Sense tells us: we can stop violence only by stopping to act violently; war is no way to peace. Listen to the news today and put at least one item to the test of Common Sense.

The five steps I am suggesting here are small, but they work. It helps that they are small: anyone can take them. Imagine a country whose citizens—maybe even its leaders—are brave, calm, and open towards each other; a country whose people realize that all human beings belong together as one family and must act accordingly; a country guided by Common Sense. To the extent to which we show ourselves not hateful but grateful this becomes reality.

Who would have thought that a prankish crow shaking down snow from a hemlock tree could inspire this vision of a sane world? Well, if we leave it to the crows, there is still hope.

Small steps; big pay-off. And, to remember, keep your eyes open for the birds. They are there, singing songs of hope.

 

What do you have to lose?

entitlement

What do you feel entitled to? Your life, job, spouse, happiness, health, good weather? It’s remarkable how we can feel that we have earned our stations in life and are entitled to all the good things.

Until something happens to take it away.

A diagnosis, job loss, natural disaster, and then we realize we weren’t entitled to any of it after all. It was a gift, and we hadn’t been grateful.

Think of all you have been blessed with and be grateful.

Finding home.

lights

Are you broken? Lost?

Lights will guide you home.

Consider the story of The Tenth Goose told by Richard R. Powell in his book Wabi Sabi for Writers:

Nine Canada geese lift off a clear mountain lake; droplets from their wings cast lines of rings behind them on the glassy surface as they rise. Light gray feathers reflect amber light from the early morning sun, a clean glow off each curved body. You watch their broad wings grip air, watch nine bodies rise and fall in rhythm against the dark forest behind them. Each bird’s neck kinks in counter-time to its wing beats so that all nine heads remain level and each set of eyes gazes steadily out at the cool dawn, bright mystery of sight amid the shiny black head feathers. Closer now, you make out the expressionless curve of their beaks, see one goose’s thin moist tongue as she honks; hear the whistle of air across wing feathers as they pass over your head. Then you notice that there is a tenth goose far back, low to the water, working hard to catch up, honking softly, as if each wing beat hurts. This goose loses a feather as she passes close over you and you watch the feather spiral and glide to the ground. You pick it up and it looks perfect, each barbule lying neatly against its neighbor, the tiny whorl of fluff near the calamus soft to the touch. Then you see that the shaft is not perfect; it is cracked open from the middle to the tip.

You keep that feather, tuck it under the strap around your car’s sun visor, look at it every day you drive to work and remember the tenth goose. Remember your own efforts to keep up. And somehow, that tenth goose gives you courage. You wonder if she will find enough food or if winter will separate her from the rest, separate her from life. She speaks to you in a dream one night. In the distracted moments of the day she speaks to you, in the elevator or while you wait in traffic. Then one night she is there in your dream again, as silent as her feather in your car. She tips her head at you and that beak, with its lumpy prominence like a Roman nose, bobs up and down and you realize she is giving you permission to speak. In the dream you speak and she turns her head to hear you and you tell her your fear of dying and your hopes while living and she comes and rattles her beak between your fingers.

There is beauty and strength in the broken places, a beauty that continues on even when everything is a struggle, that faces setbacks with determination. Sometimes we are one of the nine geese, sure and strong, in sync, but sometimes we are the tenth goose struggling to keep up. And there is beauty in that, too:

It is a kind of beauty on the edge of defeat, a beauty tenacious and brave, and it is the beauty left behind when the warm, honking goose is gone. And not just flown away–but dead and gone. That feather remains as a testament to the beauty in living; and even when the feather dries and cracks and is eventually eaten by insects or the drab extension of time, it will live on in the imaginations of those who hear the story of the tenth goose.

Remember the Story of the Tenth Goose and take heart.

And, for a treat, here is Coldplay.

 

Why hold back?

afternoon

Does anything keep you from plunging into life? Whether you savor it, delight in it, enjoy it, or not, time will keep moving. You will get older; opportunities will pass. Perhaps it is time to say: I will savor this day; I will delight in these people; I will enjoy my time here while I can.

Embrace each other and fly.

onewing

We need each other–our friends, our families, our communities. We would be lost alone. Consider this remarkable video of a seal who turned to a group of boaters for help when it was in dire need. (Be prepared–it’s intense!)

Sometimes we’re the seal; sometimes we’re the people in the boat providing safe harbor. With each other, we are capable of so much more than any of us is alone.

Miracles everywhere.

miracle

Miracles are everywhere, really. You just have to notice them. Consider the people you love and all the circumstances that must have happened in just a particular way to bring you into each other’s life. Consider all the moments that have led you to right where you are today. All the twists and turns, and forks in the roads. Survival, alone, is a bit of a miracle when you think about it.

Consider this wedding dress:

2000-11073

It was handmade by the bride out of the parachute that saved her husband during WWII. As stated by the curators at the Smithsonian where the dress is now housed:

This wedding dress was made from a nylon parachute that saved Maj. Claude Hensinger during World War II.

In August 1944, Hensinger, a B-29 pilot, and his crew were returning from a bombing raid over Yowata, Japan, when their engine caught fire. The crew was forced to bail out. Suffering from only minor injuries, Hensinger used the parachute as a pillow and blanket as he waited to be rescued. He kept the parachute that had saved his life. He later proposed to his girlfriend Ruth in 1947, offering her the material for a gown.

Ruth wanted to create a dress similar to one in the movie Gone with the Wind. She hired a local seamstress, Hilda Buck, to make the bodice and veil. Ruth made the skirt herself; she pulled up the strings on the parachute so that the dress would be shorter in the front and have a train in the back. The couple married July 19, 1947. The dress was also worn by the their daughter and by their son’s bride before being gifted to the Smithsonian.

To Walt Whitman, everything was a miracle. You just needed the right eyes to see it that way. Consider his Poem of Perfect Miracles:

REALISM is mine, my miracles,
Take all of the rest—take freely—I keep
but my own—I give only of them,
I offer them without end—I offer them to you
wherever your feet can carry you, or your
eyes reach.

 

Why! who makes much of a miracle?
As to me, I know of nothing else but miracles,
Whether I walk the streets of Manhattan,
Or dart my sight over the roofs of houses toward
the sky,
Or wade with naked feet along the beach, just in
the edge of the water,
Or stand under trees in the woods,
Or talk by day with any one I love—or sleep in
the bed at night with any one I love,
Or sit at the table at dinner with my mother,
Or look at strangers opposite me riding in the car,
Or watch honey-bees busy around the hive, of an
August forenoon,
Or animals feeding in the fields,


Or birds—or the wonderfulness of insects in the
air,

Or the wonderfulness of the sun-down—or of
stars shining so quiet and bright,
Or the exquisite, delicate, thin curve of the new-
moon in May,
Or whether I go among those I like best, and that
like me best—mechanics, boatmen, farmers,
Or among the savans—or to the soiree—or to
the opera,
Or stand a long while looking at the movements
of machinery,
Or behold children at their sports,
Or the admirable sight of the perfect old man, or
the perfect old woman,
Or the sick in hospitals, or the dead carried to
burial,
Or my own eyes and figure in the glass,
These, with the rest, one and all, are to me
miracles,
The whole referring—yet each distinct and in its
place.

 

To me, every hour of the light and dark is a
miracle,
Every inch of space is a miracle,
Every square yard of the surface of the earth is
spread with the same,


Every cubic foot of the interior swarms with the
same;

Every spear of grass—the frames, limbs, organs,
of men and women, and all that concerns
them,
All these to me are unspeakably perfect miracles.

 

To me the sea is a continual miracle,
The fishes that swim—the rocks—the motion
of the waves—the ships, with men in them
—what stranger miracles are there?
What are your miracles?

Sow love.

sowlove

How do we bring peace to a contentious world? Perhaps the only way is to meet hate with love, anger with forgiveness, strife with peace. Please take a minute to enjoy these children singing Make Me a Channel of Your Peace:

Make me a channel of your peace.
Where there is hatred let me bring your love.
Where there is injury, your pardon, Lord.
And where there is doubt true faith in You.

Make me a channel of your peace.
Where there is despair in life let me bring hope.
Where there is darkness only light.
And where there’s sadness ever joy.

Oh, Master, grant that I may never seek
So much to be consoled as to console,
To be understood as to understand,
To be loved as to love with all my soul.

Make me a channel of your peace.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned.
It is in giving to all man that we receive,
And in dying that we are born to eternal life.

 

Cultivating a gratitude practice.

blossom

We think of gratitude as something for the high points of life. But what if it is a practice we cultivate, day in and day out, for all the moments in life? What if we actively look for the good in a dismal situation? What if we seek out the positives that came from trauma? Perhaps bad experiences led you to meet someone who has become important to you or to be able to help others going through something similar. Somehow, someway, there is good to be found in any situation.

As we practice building up our gratitude muscles, we become more resilient.  In this lovely article by Kristi Nelson, she says:

Gratefulness, like mindfulness or yoga, is an awareness practice and a way of training, deepening, and directing our attention. The point is not to become an expert in grateful living—never wavering from a grateful outlook—but to recognize that gratefulness can offer us a “touchstone” for life (especially in difficult times) where we can return our awareness again and again in order to shift or expand our perspective. Like other forms of practice, gratefulness makes us more resilient and flexible, and also offers a way to frame and learn from everything that unfolds in our lives. Through practicing over time, we gradually become more and more able to recognize the opportunity in every moment. Practice helps us to deliver on presence, and being present leads to so much else that is beneficial.

If you have a moment, enjoy this lovely video to welcome you into your day with gratitude and love.

How to handle toxic people…

fault

Do you  have any difficult people in your life? Chances are you can’t force them to be less toxic, but there are steps you can take to be less bothered by the encounter. In this article by Christine Carter, she suggests, among other things, that showing mercy to this difficult person will rebound to you:

Anne Lamott defines mercy as radical kindness bolstered by forgiveness, and it allows us to alter a communication dynamic, even when we are interacting with someone mired in anger or fear or jealousy. We do this by offering them a gift from our heart. You probably won’t be able to get rid of your negative thoughts about them, and you won’t be able to change them, but you can make an effort to be a loving person. Can you buy them a cup of coffee? Can you hold space for their suffering? Can you send a loving-kindness meditation their way?

Forgiveness takes this kindness to a whole new level. I used to think I couldn’t really forgive someone who’d hurt me until they’d asked for forgiveness, preferably in the form of a moving and remorseful apology letter.

But I’ve learned that to heal ourselves we must forgive whether or not we’re asked for forgiveness, and whether or not the person is still hurting us. When we do, we feel happier and more peaceful. This means that you might need to forgive the other person at the end of every day—or, on bad days, every hour. Forgiveness is an ongoing practice, not a one-time deal.

When we find ways to show mercy to even the person who has cost us sleep and love and even our well-being, something miraculous happens. “When we manage a flash of mercy for someone we don’t like, especially a truly awful person, including ourselves,” Anne Lamott writes, “we experience a great spiritual moment, a new point of view that can make us gasp.”

Here’s the real miracle: Our mercy boomerangs back to us. When we show radical kindness, forgiveness, and acceptance—and when we tell the truth in even the most difficult relationship—we start to show ourselves those things. We realize that we can love and forgive and accept even the most terrible aspects of our own being, even if it is only for a moment. We start to show ourselvesthe truth, and this makes us feel free.

Perhaps you can show that difficult person mercy today.

Laugh! :)

laughwet

Need to lighten up? Does it seem like you’ve been serious and somber for a long time? One way is to immerse yourself in laughter. Go to a park, and listen to the little ones play.  Think of funny jokes. Consider the absurdity of things. For help, listen to these little ones and their rip snorters.