Lessons in Gratitude Day 1,000–A Thousand Days of Gratitude

Nearly four years ago my life took a bit of a tumble. My “series of unfortunate events” began in September of 2010 with the death of my father and continued through the ending of a seven-year relationship, the loss of a job, and a move from a home I’d shared with my partner for nearly six years. I found myself dazed and for a time completely at a loss as to what had happened to me and why and how to move forward in this strange new reality in which I had landed. How on earth did I get here? What am I going to do? What will happen to me? What will happen to my children? So many questions, so few answers at the time.

Somewhere through the fog of confused incredulity, a light slowly began to dawn and I realized that I couldn’t sit around asking myself why all these bad things happened to me all at once. I needed to do something. Having suffered from depression and been on medication for a number of years, I recognized that I would have to do something to keep my spirits up. When I had lost my job, I also lost my health insurance and could no longer afford the antidepressants that had kept me afloat for such a long time. I would have to develop other strategies for battling depression. It seemed daunting at the time; I had no idea if I could actually manage my emotions in the midst of such difficulties.

In those first weeks after I’d moved with my son into a condo complex a dozen miles from our earlier habitation I floundered a bit. Surrounded by boxes my life felt cluttered and chaotic. I took several important steps that over the course of time turned my life around:

  • I began volunteering at the Berkeley food pantry. I didn’t have a job, but I knew I needed to get out of the house and doing something useful. So once per week I drove those dozen miles a few towns over to offer my time, my muscles, and my energy to serving people in my community.
  • At the encouraging of my therapist I began participating in a weekly meditation gathering at the East Bay Meditation Center. I had heard about the place years before but had never gone. Through my participation in the weekly gathering, the occasional daylong retreats, and classes on various aspects of mindfulness meditation and Buddhist principles, I became connected to a community that offered me a quiet space to begin healing.
  • And on June 30, 2011 I posted the first entry in Lessons in Gratitude.

Having created a daily, intentional space for recalling and expressing my gratitude for the many blessings i have in my life has in itself been a blessing. In the midst of trauma and feelings of sadness, grief, and suffering this blog has allowed me to seek and without fail find the good things present in my life. Yes, I was struggling through some difficulties but I rarely lost sight of how very many good things I experienced on a daily basis. I called this blog “Lessons in Gratitude” because not only was I grateful for the tangible things I could see, hear, feel, and experience but also for the intangibles, for the lessons I learned about forgiveness, perseverance, grief, letting go, and so many other deeply valuable, life-affirming lessons.

Now it is approaching midnight here on the East coast. Within a few moments it will be Christmas morning. I didn’t intend to reach the 1,000th day on this particular night/day and yet here it is. I have no clue what I will do next. Will there be a 1,001st day or will I leave it at 1,000? Will I continue my daily writing practice in a different form? At this moment all is possible, all is uncertain. We shall see what happens next when it happens. In the meantime, I remain grateful to everyone who has at one time or another found your way to this little blog. It has meant more to me than I can say to have flung my words, thoughts, and insights “out there” to the world to see who might be touched, moved to express their own gratitude to the Universe for all the blessings in your lives. They are many and all around us should we choose to look for them. As for me, I trip over them every day they are so abundant.

A thousand days is a nice, round number–the kind my sister Ruth approves of. She would think it terribly messy for me to keep writing until the end of 2014 and have an untidy number like 1007 days, but we shall see. I have a tendency to be untidy about such things. I can say this for sure: I never would have made it to 100 days let alone 1,000 if it hadn’t been for some really special people in my life. These include my family–my siblings and my children (and even my four-legged sidekick)–who kept me going emotionally, spiritually, financially, and so many immeasurable ways; my small circle of close friends who linked arms and caught me when I fell and held me up til I could stand again; a wonderfully patient and supportive therapist who met with me nearly every week for nearly two years even when I could not afford to pay her; coworkers who let me learn how to be a leader with them and discovered the depth of their own leadership in the process. So many people to whom and for whom I am grateful.

I will close by sharing this piece from Lessons in Gratitude Day One:

I am facing some challenges in my life right now but those challenges are far outweighed by the number of things I am grateful for. So, I am challenging myself to write every day about at least one thing I am grateful for. Not a list of things, but one thing (or more) that I’m grateful for and why. I’m not sure how long I can sustain it, or if I’ll write a public blog every day or simply write it in my journal. But, I am challenging myself nonetheless. All those people who recommend doing this can’t be wrong. There’s simply nothing to lose by doing this.

Indeed there hasn’t been anything to lose and so very much to gain. Thank you for being with me on this journey of 1,000 days. May you find gratitude flowing in and from you each day and may it find expression in a form that is meaningful to you. As for me, I will continue offering gratitude every day in some form or other for as long as I am able. For the strength and ability to do so I am most exceedingly grateful. And so it is.

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Lessons in Gratitude Day 999–On the Eve

I have sat many nights like this one, leaning against my study pillow, laptop propped on my lap, staring at the blinking cursor wondering what I would say and how I would tie it to gratitude. Here on the eve of 1,000 days I find myself in a quiet space. I ran from here to there and back and forth today, not lighting in any one place for very long. I began as always with my journal writing and my regular morning routine, though three hours later than usual, beginning at 8:15 rather than 5:15. I took care of the dog, then had breakfast with my daughter before heading to the grocery store to pick up some items for the sides I’m preparing for Christmas dinner. After a very brief respite, we drove a familiar stretch of Beltway to go to Virginia to pick up my sister to go with us to the movies and then took to the Beltway to take her home when it was over. Over the course of the day I drove nearly 100 miles and spent over three hours driving.

So now I sit at the end of this day contemplating simple blessings and grateful that I have a treasure trove of previous posts from which I can draw on an evening when I am tired and moving at a mentally slow pace. And so I spun the Random Number Generator wheel to select a posting from a earlier time. Rereading this post from July 2012 reminded me about how much I love nature and while I don’t get out into the wild open spaces as often as I’d like I have to be sure that I get out often enough to refresh my spirit. So enjoy this post and join me in my appreciation for the natural world.

I so love the natural world–animals, birds, trees, plants, even insects, arachnids and reptiles. This includes rocks and stars and all manner of things. Nature provides a virtually inexhaustible supply of fuel for gratitude. No matter how challenging or even mundane the circumstances are over the course of a day, week, month, etc., when I am outside I can look around me in nearly every direction and experience something beautiful or interesting or fascinating–sights, sounds, smells, physical sensations. The beautiful sights of the moonrise over the past week inspired many a sigh (and one or two haikus) and the feel and sound of the wind rustling through the trees behind the complex is luscious, particularly on a warm day. The smell of the yellowed grass in the fields and hills all around the Bay area remind me of the smell of wheat straw from the farm I used to work on many years ago. It’s all within a 30 second trip outside the door of my condo.

I have at times lamented living in this metropolitan, urban area. I’m a country girl at heart and know that someday I’ll find myself happily puttering around a farmlet of my very own. For now, I have to find the country–find nature–wherever I am. And although the sounds of the city surround me–trains and sirens, the nearby highway, and choppers and planes flying overhead–this evening I can also hear the sounds of the night critters waking up. It’s all pretty spectacular as far as I’m concerned.

Now sometimes I am a little less than enthusiastic about the sounds of the natural world. For the past few nights I’ve slept with both windows in my bedroom closed. Every morning around 5 some bird sets out making very loud screeching, trilling noises. The first morning I noticed this, as I balefully lifted my tired head from the pillow wishing the shrieking bird would be a great deal less enthusiastic in its greeting the morning, I envisioned some massive winged creature perched in the tops of the pines. As the days passed, I half considered leaving the windows open so I could wake up and stalk the bird–not to harm it, but primarily to satisfy my curiosity about what could be making such a shrill racket. But I decided that my stalking could wait for the weekend when it doesn’t matter if I don’t get enough sleep. Then, to my delight I actually heard the creature shrieking earlier this evening. Grabbing my camera, I headed out of the house following the direction the sound took me. To my even greater delight, I found the beastie, and though I didn’t get a clear shot of it–with my camera–I managed to snap a few photos that will help me identify it later. Contrary to my original sleepy, muddle-headed conjecture, the bird is rather small. My original thought upon viewing the fuzzy photo was that it was a black-capped chickadee, but upon visiting allaboutbirds.org, I quickly determined that is not what it is at all. I will be spending a little time cruising around the website searching for what the creature actually is and loving every minute of it.

Love of nature, like gratitude, keeps me grounded and connected to the planet. No matter what else is going on in my life, I still take delight in the world around me and the beings that inhabit it. I’ve been a would-be naturalist for my whole life and will always be intrigued by and grateful for the beauty of life that surrounds me. I look forward to keeping my eyes and ears open for my little friend in the days ahead. In the meantime, I think I’ll still be sleeping with my windows closed for a while longer.

Dark-eyed Junco Photo

Dark-eyed Junco

A December 2014 postscript to this post. The critter in question who created such delightful racket was a Dark-Eyed Junco. Once I discovered what it was, my irritation at it’s waking me each morning evaporated like morning dew on a summer’s day. Gratitude and love of nature once again trumps irritation. So it is and so it shall be!

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Lessons in Gratitude Day 998

Today I packed up my work belongings, cleaned out and off my desk, and walked on wobbly legs (physically sound, but emotionally wobbly) out of the office suite where I’d worked for a little over two years. If I had hoped to make a calm and quiet exit, it was not to be. I had entered a colleague’s office to drop off a laptop and a box of files, and as I stood there, the immediacy of my departure fully hit me. Tears filled my eyes and threatened to spill out. I quickly headed back to my office to pile the last of my remaining boxes onto the cart to haul down to my car. My daughter, who had accompanied me in to help with the packing up, left me to have a moment to myself as I closed the door to my office for the last time. I walked into the office of another colleague who had come in a few minutes earlier to catch up on a few things. I handed him a DVD he had loaned to me nearly two years earlier (I never watched the whole film) and wanted to say something but could only choke out, “I have to go now,” as tears choked off any reasonable communication I might have attempted. He looked startled as I hurriedly made my escape.

I had almost done it, gone through the entire week of goodbyes, hugs, and well wishes without losing my composure. It wasn’t as if something bad would happen were I to give over to some of the moments of sadness that had threatened to well up, but I felt as though I couldn’t afford to allow myself to do so. Yesterday I had allowed myself to finally feel some of the emotions that had been bubbling beneath the surface. I talked to my daughter of the many things I was grateful for–most notably the people with whom I’d worked–and allowed all my feelings of both gratitude and grief well up and spill over. It’s been said that people come into our lives for a reason, season, or lifetime. There is no doubt that the team of people I worked with came into my life for a reason and a season; it has yet to be determined as to whether or not these are lifetime relationships.

I came into this work role after having worked through the dramas and traumas of 2011. I had come across the country to this area wounded and wearied from over 18 months of struggle and perseverance, pain and persistence, anxiety and acceptance. I came with hope that I could make a difference and do some good while at the same time recovering a sense of equanimity and wellbeing. I needed to continue healing and getting my feet up under me. In this place, with these colleagues, I was able to begin to see what was possible and begin to accomplish it. Together we were moving forward. I could not have foreseen that something different awaited me.

Sometimes when we least expect it, something comes looking for us. Through a completely unexpected set of circumstances a new opportunity found its way to me. I wasn’t looking for it, wasn’t even thinking about it, and yet it came. I am a firm believer in that old adage that everything happens for a reason and that beyond that things sometimes actually unfold the way they are meant to, even if it might not make sense at the time. As for the circumstance that ultimately led to my standing in my office this morning packing up my stuff and leaving, I could not have predicted it would happen; I simply didn’t see it coming. During the series of unfortunate events that befell me in 2011, each thing that happened was unexpected and deeply painful, and yet I am convinced that each of the events was absolutely destined to occur. If I had been paying attention I would have seen the signs.

As in 2011, the circumstances that precipitated my departure were unexpected but unlike that time it was a positive opportunity that created the change. So now I find myself at the threshold of a new adventure. The last several weeks have seen me getting my affairs in order and closing the chapter on the last two years. I remain deeply grateful to the team of folks with whom I worked closely every day, as well as others scattered throughout the institution with whom I established good relationships. I will greatly miss them in the months ahead, but will also be creating connections with new colleagues. What is clear to me is that I must’ve learned whatever it was I needed to know and grow into during the brief time I was here, and the pathway opened up to show me my “what’s next,” when I hadn’t even been looking for it. I am grateful to the Universe for things unfolding exactly as they should. My prayer was to end well at this place and to begin well at the next. So far, so good. May it continue to be so.

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Lessons in Gratitude Day 997–Counting Down

Five, four, three, two, one…It seems as though I am in countdown mode these days. Counting down the last days of 2014, the last days of this blog (again), the last days of work before the holiday break, the last days working with a wonderful group of people. Counting down. I will write more about this in the days ahead, whether here in Lessons in Gratitude or in my other blog, “Consider This.”

For this evening I am in the throes of various countdowns without the energy to write a coherent post of any depth of meaning or value. So I decided to spin the Random Number Generator wheel to see what options presented themselves. I was pleased to land on an interesting post on fear that I wrote nearly three years ago. As I prepare to transition to a new institution in a new place I do not find myself frozen in a place of fear, though god knows I’ve been there often enough. Re-reading this post reminded me of what I went through to get to the place of relative calm and equanimity I’ve managed to arrive at in this moment. I am grateful for the lessons I learned and am grateful to be able to continue to share them with you. Please enjoy this post from Day 211, written in January of 2012:

Tonight I want to talk a little bit more about fear, about the F. E. A. R.–False Evidence Appearing Real that I mentioned in yesterday’s blog. This morning I woke early in the predawn darkness, my limbs warm with a kind of nervous energy and the touch of fear that sparks it. I tried praying, offering lovingkindness meditation, and just letting my thoughts run randomly. Nothing really seemed to calm me down, so I eventually got up. As I started into my morning ablutions, I once again began thinking about fear and I recognized that familiar feeling of being a fraud. It’s about the image that I present to the world of being at ease, of having things relatively under control, or at the very least remaining calm in the midst of the storm. Looking at myself in the bathroom mirror this morning I chided myself by saying, “The reality is that you’re scared all the time.” Even as soon as the words came out of my mouth (and yes, I did say them aloud), I realized that they were not entirely true.

Over the course of past year and in the last several months in particular, I have been on a journey of grieving, struggling, healing, persevering and moving (I hope) toward overcoming the loss and pain of 2011. I have not wanted to be defined by the upheaval that occurred last year, so I set about actively working to overcome depression, self-doubt and a myriad of obstacles and hindrances that threatened at times to rob me of any sense of wellbeing and optimism that things could get better. This has been an act of will. And part of this process has been my determination to speak as positively and optimistically as I could about the situation in which I found myself. This process of putting one foot in front of the other and moving intentionally toward improving my attitude about everything included taking several actions, one of which was focusing on and documenting those things in my life for which I am grateful. Yes I had suffered a number of significant losses, but I still had many blessings in my life. Over the months as I’ve written this blog and started volunteering and interacted with people, I have been told many times how courageous and inspiring I’ve been. And there’s where the fraud thing comes in.

Sometimes I honestly don’t what it is that gets me out of bed in the morning. I don’t know why people tell me I’m brave when much of the time I feel quivering, anxious, and at times quite terrified about what’s going to happen to me. I’m not sure how I can be considered courageous when the magnitude of suffering I’ve endured is so minimal in comparison to what so many others bear. And while part of me (a rather large part) has no wish to see any further hardship come my way, I am well aware that there are millions of people who would happily switch places to have my problems. My son taught me the expression, “first world problems,” and he’s right. Much of what I’m dealing with are first world problems. In the scheme of things, while life has been challenging, I am still blessed in many, many ways. And in spite of the tone of what I’ve just written, I am also not belittling the struggles that I had through much of 2011. Times have been difficult; but this is also true: I know they are going to get better.

So how does gratitude factor into this equation? I think that practicing gratitude, living my life with a sense of appreciation for the richness that is present in some form every day keeps me grounded and gives me something to hold onto when False Evidence Appearing Real takes hold of me. I experience fear in some measure just about every day, if not literally every day. Gratitude provides the balance I need to keep fear from sweeping me away. Something inside of me rests in total calm and certainty that I have the means to handle whatever comes my way. There’s a sense of peace and equanimity there that I get glimpses of periodically and the lets me know that all shall be well. I am grateful for that, even as I am awed and humbled by it. It isn’t my own courage that I rest on; it’s the grace of a loving God that keeps me in “perfect peace” when nothing else seems to make sense. For that I am deeply grateful.

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Lessons in Gratitude Day 997–More About Letting Go

Some people have an amazing ability to hold a grudge. The other day I was talking with a friend, telling them that I had heard from a person with whom I haven’t spoken in many years. This person had taken advantage of what had once been a solid friendship and ultimately did what some people would call betraying me. But when they reached out to me a few weeks ago, I was surprised but pleased. See, I had long since gotten over what they had “done to me,” and had moved on with my life. I was able to reconnect with them and while we probably won’t stay in close contact, it was good to clear away the stale air of more than 15 years of estrangement. Anyway, as I was telling my friend about my unexpected encounter with this person from my long ago, they said to me, “Oh right, I know from your blog that you believe in that forgiveness crap.” Forgiveness crap?

I was momentarily startled at this reaction but then reminded myself about my friend’s relative capacity (or lack thereof) for offering forgiveness if they felt that had been wronged. I had to shake off a sense of judgment of them for holding decades-long grudges against people for all manner of slights and injuries. It is not for me to judge anyone for how they choose to react to various situations; I have my own reacting and coping strategies. I have generally felt like I can’t afford to hold grudges or ill will against someone, even if they “deserve it.” Life is too short for me to take myself through all those changes.

What I will say, though, is that I am sad for my friend. I’ve written about “that forgiveness crap” in this blog many times. I am a firm believer in the power of forgiveness mostly for the benefits it bestows on those who offer the forgiveness much more so than for the one who receives it. When you think about the actual words, “holding a grudge” it conjures up the image of something holding onto something, carrying around the excess baggage of unforgiveness. It would seem to me that over time it would all get terribly heavy and burdensome, particularly for someone who is carrying multiple grudges. It seems like an awful lot to carry. How about letting go?

I don’t want to act all sanctimonious and act like I have it all figured out; I don’t. What I do have is a strong hunch that it serves me better to let go the grievances–legitimate or otherwise–that I have periodically have against people in my life. When I say I can’t afford to hold grudges, I mean it. I feel like it is a waste of time and a whole lot of energy to be angry at someone who did something to me that was harmful in some way or that I didn’t like. So while I may feel something at the outset, I have learned to let go of the anger and hurt as best I can. And while some pains are deeper than others depending on the nature of the wounding, sooner or later as time passes I slowly ease and then lose my grip on the negativity that the original wounding created. The scar that remains behind serves as a reminder that, while injury did occur, it healed until there is barely a memory of the original wound.

I am grateful for the gift of forgiveness. It is indeed a gift that keeps on giving. To truly forgive from the heart is one of the best gifts I can give another person and yet it is definitely a gift I give to myself. It is as wise and profound a spiritual practice as is gratitude, generosity, meditation, and prayer, and while I don’t necessarily want to have occasions where I am injured and am called upon to offer forgiveness, I nonetheless won’t shrink away from it. For that I am most exceedingly grateful. And so it is.

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Lessons in Gratitude Day 996–Made for a Purpose

This morning I was stirring my coffee with a regular teaspoon, realizing that I perhaps needed to use a longer spoon that could reach to the bottom of my rather deep coffee mug. I thought about the long handled iced tea spoons I had in the silverware drawer that were created simply for the purpose of being able to reach down into the bottom of a tall glass to stir up the grains of sugar that had fallen to the bottom. Most people like “sweet tea” and so tend to load it up with sugar which coalesces in the bottom of the glass unless you have an iced tea spoon into the stirring up. (Of course it always ends up back at the bottom, but for a time it actually makes the tea sweeter.) So those long handled spoons exist for very specific purpose; kind of like those tiny little forks that came with my cutlery set. I must have 20 of them and I have no idea what I’m supposed to do with them.  But there is little doubt in my mind that they were absolutely created for an purpose.

People are like that too. We are each made for a specific purpose. Sometimes the purpose eludes us for some or most of our lives. Imagine how comforting it would be to say, “I know that I am here for a specific purpose,” and to really know what that purpose was and be walking in it. How wonderful would that be? I can remember when I was unemployed and beginning to get discouraged that I was never going to find a full-time job that would meet my financial obligations and draw upon my strengths. Out of the blue I received a phone call from a friend of a friend who encouraged me to have faith that I was fully equipped with exactly what I needed to do the job I had recently applied for. “Everything’s going to be okay, you’ll see.” she promised me. And it was. A few months after she’d called me I took a position for which I was quite well suited. More than once in the months that followed I often felt a sense of “rightness” in what I was doing that let me know that I was fulfilling the purpose for which I had been uniquely made.

I’ve written before about my belief that we each fulfill a unique purpose in the world (see Day 285, written in April, 2012.) It goes deeper than any single “job” we might hold at a given time in our lives and goes to the heart of who we are and why we’re on the planet at this time. I believe there are those fortunate individuals whose life’s work and life purpose overlap and align perfectly, but for many of us that alignment doesn’t happen right away. We may flounder for years to find the place where, as Frederick Buechner says, “your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” But if we’re fortunate we find ourselves in the place just right where all those things converge. I have experienced flashes of that over my lifetime, and the more I come to understand my deeper purpose, the more I believe I will be drawn to the work that needs exactly what I have, what I bring to what I do.

“To find out what one is fitted to do and to secure the opportunity to do it is the key to happiness,” wrote educator John Dewey back in the early 1920s. I am grateful to be in a process of clarifying and refining what I am best “fitted” to do and having opportunities to perhaps do the work for which I am well-suited. May it continue to be so as I walk in the power of that awareness. May it be so for us all.

Posted in Gratitude, Happiness, Life Purpose, Work/Employment | Leave a comment

Lessons in Gratitude Day 995–Not This Day

“A day may come when the courage of men fails, when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship. But it is not this day.”
King Aragorn in J.R.R. Tolkein’s Return of the King.

I spent the better part of an hour writing on a post for this evening. It just did not seem to come together well, it was flawed and so I did what any good writer would do–I put it aside (versus virtually crumpling it up and tossing it into the virtual garbage bin.) I spun the RNG wheel about five times in search of a suitable post I could repeat rather than write an original, and while I ran across several good ones, none of them felt like the right one for this evening. And I have to write something this evening because I didn’t write Friday or yesterday. And so here we are.

Tonight I am grateful for the simplest of things. Like last week I noticed that the tufted titmice had returned to the feeder for the first time in nearly a year, and that an enormous blue jay has begun frequenting it when it can get past the sparrows and finches that voraciously attack the feeder these days. Then there’s the really good cups of tea I made for myself yesterday–the perfect balance of tangy lemon and sweet honey mellowed together with plain old black tea to serve up the perfect cup of comfort on a cold day. Perhaps it was time spent this weekend with family, laughing together as usual with my sister Ruth and her children twice this weekend. One cannot laugh too much and one cannot spend too much time in the company of much-loved kinfolk.

It is late here. I will perhaps lament being up so late and having to rise at 5:15 tomorrow morning. I will probably be tired and tomorrow night will find me half asleep writing tomorrow’s blog. Still, I am grateful to have a few words of gratitude to share with you this evening. I had hoped to make it deeply meaningful and insightful, but at the end of it all, it comes back to being grateful for the very simple, very basic things that bring moments of contentment and joy in to my life. I am simply grateful to be here in this moment right now.

Earlier I was telling  a friend how grateful I have been for all of the “difficulties” I’ve faced in recent years. “I have grown so much through all the drama,” I told her, “I really wouldn’t trade any of it because it has made me who I am today.” N brag, just fact. I had to learn the many important lessons that I learned during the difficult days. I learned to stand strong in the midst of the challenges, and by standing strong I mean learning to give up, let go, and go with the flow of whatever was happening rather than fighting and resisting where it was trying to take me and what it was here to teach me. By embracing what was happening, by–as corny as it sounds–befriending whatever showed up, I grew stronger, wiser, more internally congruent than I had been. I was ready for whatever wanted to happen next.

I am ready now for what is next. It is as it ever has been: navigating life’s challenges with a grateful heart is a way to get to what’s next. I have embraced it and it has led me right. No, I wouldn’t trade anything. I’ve learned as much from the pain as from the pleasure, from difficulty as much as ease. And while I am truthfully hoping for a little more ease in the time ahead, I’ll take what comes with as much gratitude and grace as I can muster. And so it goes.

Posted in Gratitude, Living in the Moment, Overcoming Challenges, Simple Blessings/Gratitude | Leave a comment

Lessons in Gratitude Day 994–The Accidental Optimist

I’m not sure what happened, but somehow I’ve come to be an optimist. I never would have thought myself so, in fact I used to think of myself as not only pessimistic but cynical–which to me is an even deeper level of pessimism than simply being pessimistic. My movement from adulthood into elder hood may have been when it happened, but whatever the case I’m pretty sure that it happened. And so I find myself hopeful about the world, about the future, even when the things I see happening around me point toward chaos, negativity, and destruction. Yes, my optimism is definitely is a function of more than simply becoming older and reaching “elder hood,” but also the wisdom that all of my life experiences–including and especially some of the most difficult ones– have made me, shaped me, forged me into who I am.

“How do you do that?” someone asked me recently. We had been talking about how sometimes we have to fragment ourselves so that we can fit into and function in places and situations that are unnatural or sometimes even harmful to us.

“It’s true that I have sometimes had to break myself into different pieces and shed certain parts of my identity in order to go into some situations, interact with some people, and do what needs to bed done.” I replied to her.

“It is unfortunate that we have to do that,” I acknowledged, “but you get forged back together in the fires of those situations. The fragments or shards that you’ve broken into get reforged, sometimes into something stronger than what you were before. So yes, fragmenting oneself can be damaging, but the redeeming side of it is that you come out on the other side stronger and better for having endured it.”

See? An optimist’s point of view…

I think perhaps it’s because I’ve been through some really challenging times in my life and have come out stronger on the other side that has allowed me to become more optimistic. “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” the old adage says, and to an extent that’s true. It is in the fires of life’s difficulties that we learn what we’re made of, we persevere against tall odds, and if we’re really fortunate we emerge from  those trials with a deeper sense of compassion for the people around us. If I’ve been through a particular difficulty I am more likely to empathize with and have compassion toward others than if I didn’t have some of the struggles that I’ve had. Perhaps that is not how everyone approaches life, but it’s how I do it, these days at least.

I’m grateful for having developed a sense of optimism and hope in the world around me. To do some of the work that I do and maintain a sense of equanimity, I have to believe the best of people even when they have at times shown me the worst of themselves. I’m not entirely sure how and when I learned this, but when I looked into my backpack of life tools and experiences, I discovered an extra measure of wisdom, compassion, and hopefulness. Important tools to have in my line of work. I once told a young, newly forming social change agent that one has to be able to hold both hopelessness and hopefulness in oneself at the same time. We will have those moments when the work we’re doing might feel hopeless, and yet I believe there is always hope. Not sure where that comes from, but I’m sure glad it’s there. Yet another gift, yet another blessing to be grateful for. And so it is.

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Lessons in Gratitude Day 993–The Wisdom of Nothing

Sometimes the best answer is to wait, to take no action on a particular thing and simply wait to see what happens. “Don’t just do something, stand there!” a little zen joke suggests. And so I did. It recently had a situation in which I wasn’t quite sure what to do, so rather than plunge blindly in and take a particular action, I decided to do nothing. In the midst of my inaction, the situation resolved itself in my favor. Had I made a move it is hard to say what would have happened–at the very least it would have cost me more than waiting did.

People sometimes mistake waiting for inaction. Waiting is often a very active process. When faced with the situation I mentioned earlier I had a number of possible actions to take: (a) run after something I wasn’t sure that I wanted or that was “for” me, (b) walk away from something that potentially was exactly what I needed/wanted, (c) wait and do nothing and let things unfold. There’s probably a (d) and maybe even an (e), but those were the options I saw in front of me in the situation. I will add that there was an element of emotion involved in all three alternatives. For (a) it was desperation: “Oh geez if I don’t do this then I won’t get something wonderful. With option (b) it was irritation, “well if it’s going to be like that then forget it. I don’t want it. There are other things I can have instead of this one. And option (c) it was the “let’s leave it up to the Universe” option that said, “Let’s not do anything. Let’s wait and see what happens.”

At the end of the day, doing nothing resulted in my getting the thing that I wanted without having to struggle for it. I think I had to let go, to be willing to walk away. It was either going to work out for me or it wasn’t, but I didn’t have the time or energy to expend worrying about it. And so I did something–nothing–and I waited. It could be that I’m too tired this evening to explain how doing nothing worked out pretty well for me in this situation. Obviously, doing nothing is not always the best option; in fact doing nothing can sometimes appear to have negative consequences. I think it requires discernment to truly know when to take a particular action and when that action is to do nothing. It’s kind of like the serenity prayer that’s so often cited in 12-step processes: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things that I cannot change,” (do nothing), the courage to change the things that I can,” (taking action), “and the wisdom to know the difference,” (discernment about when to do nothing and when to take action.)

Recently I was mildly chastised by a coworker for not being particularly swift in making a decision and taking action on some things that he perceived needed to be done. “You are a person in authority,” he told me, “you can’t be waiting around for everyone to agree and reach consensus. You just need to do it.” In one way I agreed with him, but went on to explain that sometimes what looks like inaction was really not inaction at all. “Why aren’t they doing something about such-and-such?” We opine when we perceive that our elected leaders, our bosses, people in authority appear to be “doing nothing.” And let me be clear: more often than not I am one of those folks who feel like we are surrounded by “do nothings.” And yet I am coming to understand that some of them aren’t passively doing nothing, they are actively doing nothing. Doing nothing can in some cases be a strategy.

I’m grateful for the wisdom of doing nothing. Sometimes doing nothing is exactly what I need to–well–do. For me the challenge is knowing when doing nothing is the wise course and when intentional action is being called for. Tonight, however, I am grateful for one of those times when doing nothing was the correct response to the situation and one that ended with a positive outcome. I celebrate doing nothing!

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Lessons in Gratitude Day 992–Endings and Beginnings

I am not a big fan of endings. I know they are a natural and even necessary part of life, but that doesn’t mean I have to like them. In 2011 when I first started this blog I was reeling from a series of unexpected endings: the end of a six-year relationship, the loss of a job, and moving out of the home I had shared with my partner and our small family and into a condo with my son and my dog. Those endings were difficult, painful, and abrupt. I spent much of 2011 and nearly all of 2012 regaining my footing, getting my bearings in a new and unfamiliar landscape, and recovering a sense of who I was and what I could do in the midst of the drama and trauma that had overtaken my life.

In October of 2012, my rickety little ship limped into the safe harbor here in the same city as my three sisters. I came with a hope and a promise that things were on an upswing after a number of difficult yet oddly rewarding months in California. I came to work with a wonderful crew of people doing important work and became part of a team who at times resembled a wonderfully wacky, sometimes dysfunctional but always passionate and hardworking family. I had my share of challenges in this new place, but I managed to find my way back to lovingkindness, compassion, joy and equanimity to balance the pain, loneliness, depression, and anxiety that had attended me when I first arrived. Embraced by my sisters, reconnecting with them after living far away from them for decades I slowly began to recover and heal.

Now I am approaching an ending of my own making. After two years safely anchored among family and connected closely to a cadre of terrific staff in my office as well as good colleagues in other units across our institution, I am being drawn away back to sea on a new adventure. As was the case with the abrupt and painful endings I experienced over three years ago, I didn’t seek this new adventure; it came looking for me. Sometimes good things also sneak up on you, popping up in front of you when you least expect it, or tapping you on the shoulder while you’re looking intently in front of you. Such was the case when this new opportunity in a new place presented itself. At first I studiously ignored it. I was busy, I had other important things I was working on and was making good progress. Still, at each step in the process I struggled. This new opportunity was intriguing but I already had important responsibilities, vital work to be done. And there were my sisters, my colleagues, my work.

After weeks of agonizing struggle, weighing pros and cons, connecting with loved ones and trusted advisors, I arrived at the decision point that I would in fact pursue the new opportunity. Then came the exceedingly difficult part of letting my office colleagues know–one by one–that I was leaving. Over the past days and weeks as the circle of people whom I have told of my imminent departure I find my life taking on a surreal quality. In meetings I still find myself saying what we will do next month, only to realize that the “we” will not include me. Initiatives that I’ve helped create and launch will go on without my participation, my guidance, my leadership. Though this ending has been of my choosing, it is nearly as difficult as those that were outside of my control. It still involves a letting go, a saying of farewells, a walking away from people about whom I’ve grown to care very deeply.

We all will manage the endings that will take place over the next week (I leave right around the holiday). I might not shed a tear externally, but on the inside my heart is weeping. I know it sounds melodramatic, but it’s true nonetheless. I am grateful for the connections I’ve made to these people; they are firmly attached to my heart tissues and cannot be removed. They have added many colorful threads in the tapestry of my life and I hope I have woven parts of myself into theirs. I am not a fan of endings and yet I must make an ending for this chapter of my life.

With most endings come beginnings. I am grateful for the opportunity to connect with a new group of people in a new place, once again doing important work. It all seems to be part of the seasons of life. People and places flow into and out of our lives leaving indelible marks, even as we leave our marks on them. I am grateful for this place and time in my life, for the people now in my life and who will remain. Endings and beginnings. And so it goes.

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