Count your blessings instead of sheep.

presentblessings

When your weary head fills with all the things you need to do or all the things that have gone wrong and keeps you from sleep, consider instead your present blessings. Let the negative thoughts drift from your focus like clouds blowing across a starlit sky, and turn your attention to the things you are grateful for, right here, right now.

For inspiration, consider this poem, Three Gratitudes, by Carrie Newcomer:

Every night before I go to sleep
I say out loud
Three things that I’m grateful for,
All the significant, insignificant
Extraordinary, ordinary stuff of my life.
It’s a small practice and humble,
And yet, I find I sleep better
Holding what lightens and softens my life
Ever so briefly at the end of the day.
Sunlight, and blueberries,
Good dogs and wool socks,
A fine rain,
A good friend,
Fresh basil and wild phlox,
My father’s good health,
My daughter’s new job,
The song that always makes me cry,
Always at the same part,
No matter how many times I hear it.
Decent coffee at the airport,
And your quiet breathing,
The stories you told me,
The frost patterns on the windows,
English horns and banjos,
Wood Thrush and June bugs,
The smooth glassy calm of the morning pond,
An old coat,
A new poem,
My library card,
And that my car keeps running
Despite all the miles.
And after three things,
More often than not,
I get on a roll and I just keep on going,
I keep naming and listing,

Until I lie grinning,
Blankets pulled up to my chin,
Awash with wonder
At the sweetness of it all.

 

Pleasant dreams.

Ever grateful.

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.

Savor the scent

smell

Smells can shortcut the synapses and connections in our brain or body and take us straight back to the past. A certain perfume, the ground wet after a gentle rain, cherry tobacco in a pipe, a campfire in the woods, whatever it may be, and our mind flashes to a different time we smelled that smell. Sometimes it takes us right to a time when someone we lost was still with us. Sometimes the smell can calm us or give us courage. Sometimes that smell takes us to a place where we can remember something or someone we once loved. When this happens, we can pause and be grateful for that person or thing. If the smell takes us back to an unpleasant memory, we can pause and be grateful that we survived that particular obstacle and moved on, and we can celebrate our strength.

For a lovely instance of a mother’s smell calming a crying baby, take a look at this video:

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Thank you, God, for most this amazing day.

amazingday

Today is a gift. Soak in the beauty all around you. Treasure the people in your life. Hold on to gratitude that you are able to be here, now, with all that there is.

In the words of e.e. cummings

i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any–lifted from the no
of all nothing–human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

e.e. cummings

And then take just a moment to watch this beautiful video. Happy Today!

Choose kindness.

kindgesture

So much of our suffering is invisible. Loneliness, sorrow, depression, not fitting in. We can bind up our own cuts and scrapes, but how do we bind up those kind of wounds?

There is an old parable about heaven and hell. In both, people are forced to eat with spoons that are too long to feed themselves. In hell, they are starving. In heaven, they feed each other.

When it comes to these invisible hurts, we are healed by kindness, one to another. We don’t know when we are being kind that it may help someone, but it certainly can’t hurt. And it may be just the long-spooned nourishment that someone else needs.

To inspire acts of kindness today, watch this video of a poor baby elephant stuck in a muddy hole. The gratitude its mother shows its rescuers will melt your heart.

 

Rest and be thankful.

rest

Without the rests and pauses, music would just be noise. The pauses add shape and definition to any composition and allow the rise and fall of the melody to stand out. In order to hear the music that is our life, we need to pause. Between tasks, before we react, when others are speaking. We need to rest when we are weary, to conclude that not everything needs to be done today, now, or maybe even at all. Sometimes less is more.

And as we pause, let us give thanks. For this life, these opportunities, these people (including those who vex you), and the abundance of life all around us.

Thanks for it all.

You are always with me.

thread

How hard it is to lose someone you love. There is so much that seems unseen or unfelt without being shared together. So many visceral, tangible reminders of your loss are everywhere. Sounds, smells, songs, times of day, stories, jokes, and so on. Everywhere you look. There’s no escaping the weight of the loss really.

The only thing that makes it bearable is to consider it not loss, but a gift. Moments shared colored your life and made it brighter and more nuanced. The threads of memories you shared become woven together with threads from all the people you’ve loved and become the tapestry that is your life. And that ever-presence becomes not a stab, but a comfort.

e.e. cummings captured it well:

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
                                                      i fear
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you
here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)
To all those we have loved and miss dearly, let us look back fondly, grateful for all the colors they brought into the tapestry of our lives, and repeat together:
i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

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How do we pray.

preciouslife

What does it mean to pray anyway?

Is it a prayer when we breathe in the scent of the baby in our arms as we close our eyes against the press of tears and think, “Thank you, thank you, thank you”?

Is it a prayer when we groan with the weight of hopes and dreams unrealized and unclear and seemingly out of reach?

Is it a prayer when we crumble to the ground, broken, and whisper, “Help. Please help me.”

Is it a prayer when we stand in awe of creation as Mary Oliver does of this grasshopper:

The Summer Day

by Mary Oliver

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

Yes, all of it. It is a prayer every time you are grateful. It is a prayer when you reach out in hope. It is a prayer when you glimpse something more, deeper, wider than the here and now. Paying attention to whomever or whatever is right in front of you and to the longings of your own heart puts you in the middle of the miraculous unfolding all around us.

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

Thanks for the memories.

splashgoodbye

Loss is hard. Whether it is of a spouse, a child, a friend, or a pet. We carry a hole with us where that loved one was. But when we sit and consider that relationship and dwell on the things about it for which we are grateful, the loss hurts a bit less.

Smiles replace tears. Warm memories flood our senses. Laughter surprises us. We remember ways we’ve grown or blossomed because of that relationship. Gratitude replaces hurt or anger or grief.

We remember that, yes, we had to say goodbye, but how lucky we were to say hello.

Our hearts start to heal.

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.