Monthly Archives: November 2013

Gratitude is a practice

Every Thanksgiving, as I sit at the dinner table surrounded by my and my husband’s family, someone suggests that we go around the table and say what we’re thankful for. And I laugh to myself. They may not remember that I started this tradition, many years ago, but I did. I used to be the one who insisted we do this, because I am a firm believer in having an attitude of gratitude. But over the years I got tired of the moans and groans that came from around the table, so I stopped suggesting it. And now every year someone else does. For that I am thankful!

I do think it’s a wonderful tradition, and I do like practicing the attitude of gratitude. I make a gratitude list nearly every day. I’ve found that I feel better, that my life seems better and even is better, when I’m grateful for all that I have. When I actively go out of my way to notice it all, call it out, and be thankful for it.

I’ve focused on having an attitude of gratitude for years. But more recently I stumbled upon the concept of gratitude as a practice. I don’t know if I thought of it myself, or read it somewhere, but it stuck with me. I’ve heard it well explained by Brenè Brown, who explains that “’having an attitude’ doesn’t always translate to behavior.” And that putting the attitude into action is what really matters. That “gratitude without practice may be a little like faith without works—it’s not alive.”

Gratitude is a practice because it’s something I can do (or not do) every day. I can actively choose to be grateful. To notice. To appreciate. Or I can not. I do feel better when I do. And sometimes I forget to anyway. But when I remember, I feel my spirit lift, a smile hit my face, my outlook get better – all these things when I chose to practice my gratitude. And still I sometimes forget.

But that’s okay, because eventually I remember. And someone else at the Thanksgiving table will remember for all of us – and ask us to share what we’re thankful for.

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Be Here Now

Be. Here. Now. These are simple words, and yet I sometimes forget them. I can spend my moments thinking of other moments, and my days planning other days. My minutes focused on anything, everything, but where I actually am at that instant and how I actually feel at that instant. So I’ve started playing with being more conscious, more mindful, and more fully here, now.

I notice my breath when I’m breathing, and pay attention to my feet as they touch the ground. I watch for reactions in my body and call them out – the excited feeling in my belly, the speeding up of my heart beat, the warmth that fills me when I am with, or think of, the people I love.

I try not to judge my reactions and actions. I try not to judge the thoughts that pop into my mind, or the visions that pop into my thoughts. I, again, aim to be that vessel that allows feelings, reflections, and opinions to flow through me. To not assess, appraise, analyze, or evaluate, but to just let things be. To let me be. Be Here Now.

I make extra effort to notice the beauty of the world around me – as simple as red berries on a bush, or the hugeness of the full moon. I make extra effort to notice the beauty of the people around me. I appreciate the ones I know and love, and respond with curiosity and kindness to the strangers I meet along the way. I wave “Hi” to the little girl at the train station who is calling out “Hello” to everyone who passes her, and smile when I notice the joy in others’ lives and faces.

There is so much in the here and now, even when the here and now is hard. There’s the opportunity to move through what’s hard and still be okay, and the opportunity to learn and practice new skills and approaches. To find the good, even in a mountain of not so good (or even bad).

Be. Here. Now. It’s a challenge and an opportunity. It’s a goal and a blessing. There is much in my now for me to enjoy. I’m going to be here now.

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The beauty of a sloth

Two weekends ago my family was at a zoo in Saint Paul, Minnesota. It was a small zoo, for someone from New York, but good enough. There were “real” animals – lions, tigers, giraffes, zebras. And there was a sloth, sharing a cage with various species of monkeys. The monkeys zipped about, swinging and jumping from hanging vine to hanging vine. The sloth was amazingly sloth-like, slowly making its way up a branch in the cage.

The sloth was slow, so slow. And the zoo volunteer told us that, actually, for a sloth, it was pretty much speeding its way along. That the four-foot path along the branch was an accomplishment for a sloth. It was a huge journey. A major achievement.

I thought of how “sloth” is an insult to many people. It is, in fact, one of the seven deadly sins. And I felt sorry for this sloth. It wasn’t his fault (he was a he – the she was in a different part of the zoo) that he was slow moving. He was a sloth. He wasn’t lazy or sluggish. He wasn’t suffering from apathy or shiftlessness. He was a sloth.

Then I started to wonder what I could learn from the sloth. I’ve mentioned before that I’m working on slowing down. I’m taking more pauses, being less frantically driven, allowing myself more time to move slowly up my branches. Now I’m playing with the balance of moving fast and moving slow – knowing that I don’t want to throw away all of my energetic movement and accomplishments, but that I also want to make room for more space, more slowness. To enjoy the days I quickly take action and get “it” all done, and also permit myself to move slothfully up a metaphorical branch at times, and to view that as an accomplishment. Enough for one day.

There was beauty in that sloth. His movements were smooth and fluid. He calmly took his place, and held his space, in a cage full of monkeys that were excitedly swinging and jumping from branch to branch. The sloth was not disturbed. He seemed content to let the monkeys create chaos around him, and to just be a sloth. He saw nothing wrong with his sloth-ness. He contentedly, calmly, moved from where he was to where he wanted to be. And that was enough.

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