The Thankful Heart

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It’s easy to become immune to, and much less grateful for, the small things in our lives. We allow our feelings of being overwhelmed and our yearning for achievement and material satisfaction to overshadow the precious little gems of life that are all around us.

In our quest to experience the more seductive and exciting “highs,” we have lost sight of the fact that most of life, indeed a vast majority of it, is made up of small things and moments, one right after the other.

Learning to appreciate these things and moments play a huge role in creating a peaceful and happy life. Although the things themselves may be small, failing to appreciate them has really big ramifications!

The failure to acknowledge and, indeed, appreciate the small things breeds an inability to be touched by life. The wonder and awe of life is diminished, the feelings associated with appreciation and gratitude are missed, and, perhaps more than anything, you’ll be sweating the small stuff all the time. The reason this happens is that when your attention isn’t on what’s right, beautiful, special and mysterious, it will be on what’s wrong, what’s irritating, and what’s missing. Your focus of attention will encourage you to be “on edge” and on the lookout for problems instead of the small things that bring you big joy and are right in front of you.

Unfortunately, this type of attention feeds on itself and becomes a way of seeing and experiencing the world. You’ll be too busy thinking about the condescending remark you over heard at lunch or the way your blouse doesn’t look quite right to notice the friendly smile of the checkout clerk or the beautiful art on the classroom wall.

On the other hand, when the bulk of your attention is on what’s right with your life, what’s precious and special, the payoff is enormous. You’ll re-experience the feeling that life is magical and every moment is to be treasured. Instead of complaining about the litter on the side of the road, you’ll notice the colors of the trees and plants. Again, your attention will feed on itself and, over time, you’ll notice more and more things to be grateful for. Your habit becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

When you talk to anyone who is very sick or who has had a near death experience, they will tell you that the things you usually think are “big” are, in fact, relatively insignificant; whereas the things you think are small are, in fact, what’s most important. Money, for example, or physical beauty, or an accomplishment, or a material possession can seem to be the end-all, feeling extremely important, even more than life and death issues. Yet, when looking back on your life, it’s very likely that these things that once were in clear focus have lost their luster. They will seem less important, maybe even superficial. On the other hand, the beauty of nature, the touch of newborn fingers wrapped around your own, a lovely smile, or the gift of friendship, will be precious and indeed priceless. From an online article by Kristine Carlson http://www.positivelypositive.com/2012/07/20/be-grateful-for-the-small-things/

Never will I be as grateful as I could be. Any reminder to focus on the meaningful things is always welcome. No matter how much I improve my practice of thankfulness there is ALWAYS room to grow my gratitude.

The unthankful heart… discovers no mercies;
but let the thankful heart sweep through the day
and, as the magnet finds the iron,
so it will find, in every hour, some heavenly blessings!
Henry Ward Beecher

“Three Good Things”

Once upon a time I believed achieving happiness was the purpose of my life.  Experience has since taught the pursuit of happiness actually leads to a good deal of unhappiness.  My vantage point of today tells me happiness is actually a consequence of a very different pursuit in life – the pursuit of the evolution of my ability to love myself and others.

In days past my pursuit of happiness has included many different, but unsuccessful approaches including:

1. The pursuit of momentary pleasure drove me for a long while during the time when I believed happiness was the same as pleasure.  It took empty experience over decades to teach me that sex is not happiness nor is sex love.

2. The pursuit of money, the control it gives and the things money can buy was a catalyst for achievement for much of my adult life.  I thought having then what I did not have as a child would fill in some missing parts within.  Once I had an over abundance I found I felt more hallow than even before.

3.  I realize now my pursuit of happiness included a burning need to be valued as a human being by others.  My childhood environment provided almost none of that reinforcement and instead I felt a need to impress others, to be admired and thought well of.  In that thinking my happiness was attached to what others thought as I attempted to get love, attention and admiration in an impossible way.

Today the fact rings true within that true happiness is not the result of DOING, but of a way of BEING. Rather than being a result of the momentary pleasures or money or even other people, it is the result of my intention to evolve daily as a loving human being.

As a further aid in my positive evolution I am cultivating a new habit.  Each morning I focus on what I am grateful for and ask myself “what three good things happened yesterday”.  This practice comes directly from the book “Flourish” by Martin Seligman whose work I admire and has found a great help to me personally.

Anytime I focus on what I am thankful for and get away from what I wish were different, my life experience improves.  And the more I do that, the greater and more lasting the improvement is. “What three good things” is a simple method of redirecting attention towards positive thoughts and away from negative thinking. It works wonders for me.

We human beings evolved spending much more time thinking about negative experiences and possibilities than positive ones. That’s what kept us safe in the wild and from becoming some animal’s lunch.  Starting when we lived in caves the instinct was strong to spend a lot of time thinking about what could go wrong and how to avoid it.  Once upon a time there was an evolutionary advantage to this dominant way of thinking, but for modern humans this negative bias is a source of a lot of anxiety, depression, and general lack of wellbeing.  Luckily, by re-directing my thoughts intentionally towards positive events, I have found I can do a lot to correct this negative bias.

Dr. Deborah Barnett, Ph.D. writes the “3 Good Things” exercise, also known as the “3 Blessings” exercise, is a great Positive Psychology technique that has been well-tested. It has been shown to increase well-being and decrease depression and anxiety. Martin Seligman, Ph.D., conducted a study using this exercise. The results were that 94% of very depressed people became less depressed and 92% became happier in 15 days. Furthermore, the results lasted for at least 6 months.

“The good things” is simple to do.  Each morning soon after I first get up I pick out 3 things that went well the previous day (many prefer to do this in the evening at the end of the day).  In just a few words I write down three events or experiences that went well and why they went well or what felt good about the experiences. I’ve learned what I choose does not have to be spectacular or dramatic.  Something as simple as being grateful for the sweet strawberries at dinner, appreciating a cool, misty morning or a call from a good friend the night before are good examples of simple, but meaningful reasons for me to be grateful.

Growing my awareness of gratitude has been a profound life-changer.  Always I felt I was thankful, but looking back now I realize before I spent 90% or more of my time focused on what needed to be improved, what needed to change, what I needed to be wary of, what had gone wrong or what might go wrong.  While I can’t say the percentage has reversed to be vastly all gratitude, there is balance now.  My life today contains at least as much thankfulness and well-being as it does worry and anxiety.   I am grateful for my gratitude!

If you don’t get everything you want,
think of the things you don’t get that you don’t want
Oscar Wilde

Free download of “3 good things” log page show in image at top.  No strings attached.
http://papernstitchblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/3goodthingslist1.pdf

Originally Posted here on October 27, 2011

 

 

Inspiration Journal

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When my grandmother, Zelda, passed away a few years ago at the age of 90, she left me with a box of miscellaneous items from her house that she knew I had grown to appreciate over the years.  Among these items is an old leather-bound journal that she aptly named her ‘Inspiration Journal.’

Throughout the second half of her life, she used this journal to jot down ideas, thoughts, quotes, song lyrics, and anything else that moved her.  She would read excerpts from her journal to me when I was growing up, and I would listen and ask questions.  I honestly credit a part of who I am now to the wisdom she bestowed on me when I was young. Today I want to share some of these inspiring excerpts with you.

  1. Breathe in the future, breathe out the past.  No matter where you are or what you’re going through, always believe that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.  Never expect, assume, or demand. …if it is meant to be, it will happen, or it will show you the next step that needs to be taken.
  2. Life CAN be simple again.  Just choose to focus on one thing at a time.  You don’t have to do it all, and you don’t have to do it all right now.
  3. Let others take you as you are, or not at all.  Speak your truth even if your voice shakes.  By being yourself, you put something beautiful into the world that was not there before.
  4. You are not who you used to be, and that’s OK.  You’ve been hurt; you’ve gone through numerous ups and downs that have made you who you are today.  …nobody stays the same, but some people will still tell you that you have changed.  Respond to them by saying, “Of course I’ve changed.  That’s what life is all about…”
  5. Everything that happens helps you grow, even if it’s hard to see right now.  Circumstances will direct you, correct you, and perfect you over time.  So whatever you do, hold on to hope.  The tiniest thread will twist into an unbreakable cord.
  6. Do not educate yourself to be rich, educate yourself to be happy.  That way when you get older you’ll know the value of things, not the price.  In the end, you will come to realize that the best days are the days when you don’t need anything extreme or special to happen to make you smile.
  7. Be determined to be positive.  Understand that the greater part of your misery or unhappiness is determined not by your circumstances, but by your attitude.
  8. Pay close attention to those you care about.  Sometimes when a loved one says, “I’m okay,” they need you to look them in the eyes, hug them tight, and reply, “I know you’re not.”
  9. Sometimes you have to let a person go so they can grow.  Because, over the course of their lives, it is not what you do for them, but what you have taught them to do for themselves that will make them a successful human being.
  10. Sometimes getting the results you crave means stripping yourself of people who don’t serve your best interests.  This allows you to make space for those who support you in being the absolute best version of yourself.
  11. It’s better to look back on life and say, “I can’t believe I did that,” than to look back and say, “I wish I did that.”  In the end, people will judge you in some way anyway.  So don’t live your life trying to impress others.  Instead live your life impressing yourself.
  12. If you’re looking for a happy ending and can’t seem to find one, maybe it’s time to start looking for a new beginning.  Brush yourself off and except that you have to fail from time to time.  That’s how you learn.  The strongest people out there – the ones who laugh the hardest with a genuine smile – are the same people who have fought the toughest battles.  Here’s the link to the full blog post: http://www.marcandangel.com/2012/09/24/12-things-my-grandmother-told-me-before-she-died/

Today I loved discovering a post Marc and Angel Chernoff’s made on their “Hack Life” blog about a year ago. I enjoyed it so much I just had to include some of it here. Thanks Marc and Angel. I enjoy your blog and am grateful for the reminders of what matters!

Advice is like snow…
the softer it falls,
the longer it dwells upon,
and the deeper in sinks into the mind.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge

The Occupation of Childhood

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Play is the most important activity in the lives of children.
Sometimes it seems more important than eating and sleeping.
Sometimes play is easy and fun.
Sometimes play is trying hard to do something right.
Play is the work, the occupation of childhood.
L.S. Lagoni

The ‘occupation of childhood’ is just as important to adults, but most of us have lost that knowledge in responsibility, ‘real work’, worry and generally being grownups. It’s been more than a decade since I had playtime regularly with my son as he grew up. I had nearly forgotten the joy of playing and how healthy it is.

Scoff at the thought of playing with finger paint, coloring in a coloring book or making a collage from magazine cut-outs for no particular purpose if you want. You don’t know what you’re missing. A unique and artistic friend and I got together for ‘playtime’ yesterday. We had planned to make collages for a couple of months, but our adult lives gave us excuses to kept it from happening.

We warmed up with finger paints and then moved on to the serious business of cutting pieces that moved us from magazines for our collages. It was interesting that the longer we did that, the quieter we became; each intently focused on finding just the right things to cut out. As we were scissoring stuff from the pages, each was understood completely in the moment by the other. Without speaking hardly a word it was clear between she and I that what we were doing was not just for children. This was serious and meaningful business for grownups: PLAY! We were doing the simple, enjoying the uncomplicated while being completely at home with each other and enjoying the ‘Now’. How very cool!

Play is simultaneously a source of relaxation and stimulation for the brain and body. A sure (and fun) way to develop your imagination, creativity, problem-solving abilities, and mental health is to play with your romantic partner, office-mates, children, grandchildren, and friends.

Play is often described as a time when we feel most alive, yet we often take it for granted and may completely forget about it. But play isn’t a luxury—it’s a necessity. Play is as important to our physical and mental health as getting enough sleep, eating well, and exercising. Play teaches us how to manage and transform our “negative” emotions and experiences. It supercharges learning, helps us relieve stress, and connects us to others and the world around us. Play can also make work more productive and pleasurable.

Despite the power of play, somewhere between childhood and adulthood, many of us stop playing. We exchange play for work and responsibilities. When we do have some leisure time, we’re more likely to zone out in front of the TV or computer than to engage in creative, brain-stimulating play. By giving ourselves permission to play with the joyful abandon of childhood, we can continue to reap its benefits throughout life. http://www.helpguide.org/life/creative_play_fun_games.htm

Thanks for the play-day K.! It was big fun and the positive effects are still bouncing within now a day later. My collage (below) is still hanging up in the kitchen. I still don’t have a clue what it means, but know what I randomly chose and glued down speaks from my heart and soul. Maybe it all has no meaning except I was able to feel contented like a child. And that’s a huge gift. How wonderful to feel seven years-old again!

What do most Nobel Laureates, innovative entrepreneurs, artists
and performers, well-adjusted children, happy couples and families,
and the most successfully adapted mammals have in common?
They play enthusiastically throughout their lives.
Stuart Brown

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Behind a Farting Camel

 

Hafez or Hafiz was a Persian poet who lived in the 1300′s. His work has been influential since that time even though little is actually known today about him and his life. His work made deep impressions on writers such as Thoreau, Goethe and Emerson with the latter referring to him as “a poet’s poet. Hafez has been a favorite since I became aware of his writing during my young “hippie days” (or was that “hippie daze”?)

In this piece, Hafez writes about depression and seemed knowledgeable about the subject hundreds of years before Jung and Freud. There are a few days per month I have to deal with “cycling depression” that brings a sort of dimness and lethargy into my life. Writing like the piece below from Hafez helps me understand I am far from alone. Many today suffer as I do and many did a hundred generations before me did too.

I know the voice of depression
Still calls to you.
I know those habits that can ruin your life
Still send their invitations.
But you are with the Friend now
And look so much stronger.
You can stay that way
And even bloom!
Learn to recognize the counterfeit coins
That may buy you just a moment of pleasure,
But then drag you for days
Like a broken man
Behind a farting camel…
O keep squeezing drops of the Sun
From your prayers and work and music
And from your companions’ beautiful laughter
And from the most insignificant movements
Of your own holy body.
Now, sweet one,
Be wise.
Cast all your votes for dancing!

In recent years the days of my depression usually pass like wind through a tree when limbs are moved by the passing but no damage is not done. Through counseling, support of peers and those who care about me, and reaching a level of understanding that “depression” is a ‘normal’ malady, I am much healthier today than ever before. Some deal with migraines; some throw their back out; I cope with depression. And I do it quite well these days and am grateful for all the love, support and insight that makes that possible.

If depression is creeping up and must be faced,
learn something about the nature of the beast:
You may escape without a mauling.
Dr. R. W. Shepherd

Originally Posted on June 6, 2012

The Power of Hopeful Wisdom

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*Voice 1: You have been given a second chance to start your life over.

Voice 2: How can that be? I’m late middle age… hell, I’m old.

Voice 1: You can’t throw this opportunity away. If you do you will be a colossal fool.

Voice 2: I’m tired and don’t believe in things like I once did. Leave me alone.

Voice 1: If you get the chance to do something and don’t do it then you’ll simply live with regret.

Voice 2: I have failed so many times I am tired of even thinking about starting new.

Voice 1: That’s a worse situation than trying something daring and maybe not succeeding. At least you tried. Dare to dream!

Voice 2: Why should I believe I still have the ability to make what I wish for come true?

*Voice 1: If you did not have the capability to make your wildest wishes come true, your mind would not have the capacity to conjure such ideas in the first place.

Voice 2: But I am emotionally beat up and battle-scarred.

Voice 1: There is no limitation on what you can potentially achieve, except for the limitation you choose to impose on your own imagination.

Voice 2: So you’re saying if it is to be it’s up to me?

Voice 1: What you believe to be possible will always come to pass – to the extent that you deem it possible. It really is as simple as that.

The voice in my head was naively hopeful in my youth (Voice 1). In middle age, the experienced voice became wiser, but cynical (Voice 2). By fighting my tendencies and stirring both Voices together I was able to connect a measure of wisdom and hope. It took intention and a lot of effort to change my perceptions, but was worth the struggle.

To be wise to some extent and hopeful at the same time, now that’s a great life. I am grateful it is mine.

I am old and I have had
more than my share of good and bad.
I’ve had love and sorrow, seen sudden death
and been left alone and of love bereft.
I thought I would never love again
and I thought my life was grief and pain.
The edge between life and death was thin,
but then I discovered discipline.
I learned to smile when I felt sad,
I learned to take the good and the bad,
I learned to care a great deal more
for the world about me than before.
I began to forget the “Me” and “I”
and joined in life as it rolled by:
this may not mean sheer ecstasy
but is better by far than “I” and “Me.
Meryl Gordon

*Voice 1 borrowed from the writings of Anthon St. Maarten and Lorena Bathey

Better To Have Lived in Truth

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There’s the little empty pain of leaving something behind – graduating, taking the next step forward, walking out of something familiar and safe into the unknown. There’s the big, whirling pain of life upending all of your plans and expectations. There’s the sharp little pains of failure, and the more obscure aches of successes that didn’t give you what you thought they would. There are the vicious, stabbing pains of hopes being torn up. The sweet little pains of finding others, giving them your love, and taking joy in their life as they grow and learn. There’s the steady pain of empathy that you shrug off so you can stand beside a wounded friend and help them bear their burdens.

And if you’re very, very lucky, there are a very few blazing hot little pains you feel when you realized that you are standing in a moment of utter perfection, an instant of triumph, or happiness, or mirth which at the same time cannot possibly last – and yet will remain with you for life.

Pain is a part of life. Sometimes it’s a big part, and sometimes it isn’t, but either way, it’s a part of the big puzzle, the deep music, the great game. Pain does two things: It teaches you, tells you that you’re alive. Then it passes away and leaves you changed. It leaves you wiser, sometimes. Sometimes it leaves you stronger. Either way, pain leaves its mark, and everything important that will ever happen to you in life is going to involve it in one degree or another. Jim Butcher

I regret the times I damned my pain or prayed for it to be gone. At that moment I did not realize I was being sculpted by discomfort into a better and wiser man. In hindsight that sort of growth reminds me of being an adolescent boy when I woke with my legs hurting so much from growing overnight that they could barely support me. But once I walked for a few minutes, the aches subsided quickly. I was simply growing.

And so I have gratefully begun to better accept the outcome of pain, although the bearing of it will never be something positively anticipated. It is through allowing grief, sorry and anguish to do their work that I become wiser and through that  wisdom, grow more content.

We never know when our last day on earth will be.
So, love with full sincerity, believe with true faith,
and hope with all of your might.
Better to have lived in truth and discovered life,
than to have lived half heartedly
and died long before you ever ceased breathing.
Cristina Marrero

Live Forever

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A simple, but profound thought for a Sunday morning….

Sometimes I feel like if you just watch things,

just sit still and let the world exist in front of you,

sometimes I swear that just for a second time freezes

and the world pauses in its tilt. Just for a second.

And if you somehow found a way to live

in that second, then you would live forever.
Lauren Oliver

When such captivating moments grasps me, the wonder of life swirls all around and I am overwhelmed with gratefulness.

The purpose of life is to live it,
to taste experience to the utmost,
to reach out eagerly
and without fear
for newer and richer experience.
Eleanor Roosevelt

Living Takes More Courage Than Dying

Whatever you do, you need courage.
Whatever course you decide upon,
there is always someone to tell you that you are wrong.
There are always difficulties arising that tempt you
to believe your critics are right.
To map out a course of action
and follow it to an end requires
some of the same courage that a soldier needs.
Peace has its victories,
but it takes brave men and women to win them.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Until my time comes there is no way to be certain, but experience makes me believe that living takes more courage than dying. Whether spending time well or badly, healthfully or sick, heartbroken or happy; being alive takes strength and guts. With severe illness or great sadness, even more so. And the older one gets and the more hurt and mistakes accumulate, the braver one must be to live well.

It is a fact of life that we find ourselves in unpleasant demoralizing situations which we can neither escape nor control. We can keep our morale and spirits high by using both coping and hoping humor. Coping humor laughs at the hopelessness in our situation. It gives us the courage to hang in there, but it does not bring hope. The uniqueness of hoping humor lies in its acceptance of life with all its dichotomies, contradictions, and incongruities. It celebrates the hope in human life. From one comes courage, from the other comes inspiration. Cy Eberhar

There are times when I get pulled down thinking “my life is difficult”, “I’m lonely”, “why do I have to go through this” or even the proverbial “why me?!”. Any human being who says they don’t think and feel such things is a liar. It’s the human condition to resist the difficult, to wish away what brings discomfort and to want ‘calm waters’ all the time.

When difficult or grueling times come I find relief in reminding myself life is tough; always has been, always will be. If it were easy all the time much of the value of life would be lost. I am grateful for the reminder this morning, that hardship, uncertainty and pain are just as much a part of a good life as love, peace and joy. Without the former, the latter would not mean nearly as much.  Learn to smile at yourself and you’ll always be amused!

It has been said that brave people are not necessarily fearless;
they are simply accustomed to, and more comfortable with,
facing fear and moving ahead in spite of themselves.
Tracy Cherpeski

http://powerstrengthgrace.wordpress.com/2011/05/14/fear-fullless-it-takes-courage-to-live/

Originally posted on September 20, 2012