Thanksgiving Thoughts 2018

Last weekend I had the privilege of attending a silent retreat in Tucson. The silence was a gift in and of itself, but the time also allowed me to regain perspective in areas including the gifts in my life for which I’m grateful. I’d been keeping a gratitude journal again for awhile, but that has been done in the midst of the busyness and clamor of life.

John O’Donohue wrote about the blessings in our lives for which to be grateful. The simple yet deep areas that were part of what came to me in the silence:

Blessed be the gifts you never notice,

your health, eyes to behold the world,

thoughts to countenance the unknown,

memory to harvest vanished days,

your heart to feel the world’s waves,

your breath to breathe the nourishment

of distance made intimate by earth.

As I recall last weekend, I realize that being in silence allowed me to be aware of things I would normally miss, which in turn  led to a fuller sense of  gratitude. I took the time to notice and watch the hot air balloons and appreciated their colors and the courage of those in them. I took the time and rather than assume only bees were flying around a planter, I looked closer and realized many of what I noticed were actually tiny yellow butterflies flitting about and how happy I felt in watching them. In listening to the retreat director I became so very grateful for my eyes and vision when I found out that she was going rapidly blind but was slowly learning to find gratitude for other things-friends who helped her, her husband’s arm, the ability to still see a sunset, the richness of her relationship with her son and his family, and audiobooks to continue her love of learning, prayer, and faith development through books.

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When in silence I also found I very much appreciated no social media … a separate commitment I’d made to myself for the retreat and which I found I missed not at all. Was that the “nourishment of distance made intimate” for me as I instead focused on nature, reading, and writing? Perhaps, it certainly felt that way.

At Thanksgiving we are taught to be thankful for fun times with family, football, a large dinner, and friends. I wonder what would happen if we each took 30 minutes to be silent. Might we recognize gifts in our lives, large or small, that we otherwise wouldn’t notice? Would we notice our bodies and the health we have, despite what we do not have any longer? Maybe we would take the time in nature to notice yellow butterflies or appreciate clouds slowly moving through above us, and be amazed at the process of movement that happens when we think all is still around us. We might even take the time to read or write and learn more about what is below our own surface. Or recognize through a picture, odor, taste, or sound the memory of a day in the past full of hope and allow it to imbue our hearts with hope again. Just maybe our hearts would feel a movement and allow it to impact us and notice how a similar time also influenced us this year. And in all of this, it’s just possible we would breathe more deeply, fed by the nourishment of life within and around us rather than just by turkey and gravy.

So here’s my challenge to each of you this Thanksgiving. Take 30 minutes and be in silence. Perhaps before you rise in the morning, after your feast while you take a walk alone, or in the evening before bed. Turn off the TV, put down the iPad, silence your phone. And notice what is around you. In you. What you’re grateful for in your life or your children’s or your relationships. Maybe even just see what comes up as you close your eyes and relax for that time, or meditate. Treat yourself to the gifts of silence to see, hear, smell, or increase in awareness of some lost idea re-found. I would bet you will end your day even more grateful than you might otherwise be this Thanksgiving. Then pick up the phone or pad and tell someone for whom you recognize deeper gratefulness. And thank yourself for this gift of time for you. May you in doing so feel even more “blessed by the gifts you never notice”.

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Freedom Within

The 4th of July always brings back warm memories for me. Childhood memories of family, neighbors, being in the Elmhurst 4th of July parade, a huge neighborhood picnic, mama’s potato salad, Mrs. Grosser’s Rice Krispies chicken, watermelon, and a day that ended in a trek by all of the neighborhood to a park for fireworks. According to the Elmhurst History Museum, fireworks commenced at one of several parks during this time period, one of which was Elridge Park.   Elmhurst was my home town, one in which family, friends, and neighbors counted.  Where one felt safe, and where life was measured by the seasons passing from the 4th of July picnic, to fall school and the smell of tar on the road, to winter snow storms, to spring flowers and roller skating.

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Swimming Pool where I learned to swim in the early 1960’s
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Elmhurst 4th of July Parade circa 1960’s

But the 4th of July meant that we were celebrating freedom, something that is more sought after today, and less taken for granted than it seemed to be back in the mid-1960’s. This 4th of July I want to remind you that freedom is at least as much how we own things internally as how life occurs around us.  Too many are feeling less free in this country, and feeling very much compromised, reduced, limited, and forsaken.  I am not going to address any of the politics on either side of this, that’s for other places and times.  But I do want to address how to own one’s independence of spirit.

This automatically takes me to a famous psychiatrist/neurologist named Viktor Frankl who died in Vienna in 1997 but survived four concentration camps in the 1940’s including Auschwitz.  He was a man who knew no freedom for 3 years, and yet in that time he learned mental freedom, psychological freedom, and spiritual freedom.  He developed through these experiences and times a new form of therapy he called logotherapy or existential therapy.  He believed that not only can we survive extreme times, but we do so through the spiritual self that cannot be reduced by circumstances.  I don’t know about you, but I have struggled with this thought at times; and yet, I also know this is how I’ve both enjoyed the wonderful times in Elmhurst, and some extremely difficult times in my life later.  In fact, during high school a dear friend gave me Dr. Frankl’s book, “Man’s Search for Meaning”; and, in reading it I found strength and power to go on.  How?  By finding meaning for my soul and heart, regardless of what might be difficult.  (Note:  I recommend this book highly – see https://amzn.to/2z64yQ8)

At this time when life in our country is rife with difficulty, I believe we must also remember the freedom that Dr. Frankl suggested, particularly when he said, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”  So, this 4th of July, let us celebrate this.  And let us also remind ourselves that what we hold most dear in this country, freedom, is what we are celebrating and what some are fighting to retain or regain.  And when the parades begin in your town, or the picnics begin, and even through the last of the fireworks going off, may we remember we hold the deepest freedom within to choose our attitude.  Only then can we be fully empowered to celebrate freedom.  And only then can we begin to make real choices about freedom and take steps to further defend it.  From the child’s heart of freedom within me from the 1960’s, to the child’s heart in you, Happy 4th of July!

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Finding a Recipe for Personal Peace

It’s an interesting time of year.  Especially this year.  I’m finding that there is more stress in my office – people are struggling with everything from depression to new cancer diagnoses to severe anxiety over the state of the nation to concerns for those in/leaving Aleppo to fears related to Russia and the last election to family issues surrounding get togethers – whether Christmas, Hanukkah, or other family times to concern for the rights of all groups – LBGTQ, Dakota Sioux at the pipeline location, cultures, and ethnicities of all kinds.  I’m finding the issues as numerous as the people listen to and speak with and yet as consistent.  And I’m finding that at the end of this week, many are needing more support than usual.  And this isn’t just clients – it’s also friends and loved ones.  The end of 2016 is heralding more anxiety than I’ve seen in my office in a very long time.

So, how to manage?  How to find the moments of enjoyment?  To allow peace in at a level that surpasses the heightened emotional state.  I’ll share some of what I find personally helpful. Perhaps some will resonate with you.

About the World:  Choose one issue that you can take action on and then decide what it will be.

Is there an issue calling you more than another?  Some protest, some pray, some accept, some wait to see, some advocate, some chant.  If your choice is pray, then pray daily about that issue at a certain time, and then put it away.  If you advocate, find a group that you can work with on this.  Or go to a vigil of peace.  Donate to a group.  But choose that one thing – we can’t deal with everything – we can’t impact everything – but we can choose one and be one.

Here are some resources:

Aleppo:  Doctors without Borders, International Rescue Committee,                                                              International Committee of the Red Cross

Dakota Pipeline:  Walk a labyrinth to support Standing Rock, consider how                                                 others are doing it through unique ways such as the City of Seattle,                                              or find other creative means.

Fears for America/Russia/Future :  Check out Bend the Arc Jewish Action                                                     PAC, meditate for world peace or bring it down to just the USA, or                                                 consider the meaning in Rumi’s words and decide what step you can                                             take to prosper this idea:

                                                    Out beyond ideas of wrong and right,

                                                                     there is a field.

                                                                  I’ll meet you there.

                                                    When the soul lies down in that grass

                                                         the world is too full to talk about.

Remember to limit all your activity to a specified amount of time so that it doesn’t                 leak out into your entire day and life. Perhaps 10 minutes a day?  Perhaps an hour?                 No more than that – you do need to also live the life you’ve got.

About Family and Friends and Demands:  Well, this seems to always bring challenges during holiday times.  Holidays are wonderful and yet the pain of childhood, difficult interactions with someone in your family, or just managing all the family requests and friend requests can be challenging.  Take charge of it this weekend.

Sit down with your spouse/partner/self and list all the possibilities for the next two weeks.  The parties, services, friends you want to see or those who want to see you, the things you want to do alone, the things you want to do together.  Now – what is realistic?  Cull it down in some fashion.  Perhaps going from:

ALL the requests and hopes

Those you really want to do

Those you really do NOT want to do

Those you need to do – add to the really want to do list

That’s your list – what you’re going to do.

Now take out your calendar and put each of these items into the family calendar.  Add the professional demands as well.  Is there a conflict of items?  If so – decide what to do.  Modify the times, limit the activity, decline an invitation, make a choice not to do one.

See how the final calendar looks.  Then see how you’re feeling about it.  If you are immediately tense, then perhaps something must go.  Look at it again – and breath.  If you are finding the peace doesn’t improve, then take a break, go back to it.

My personal recipe for a better holiday season:

1 cup spiritual time

1 cup exercise

1 cup demands for chores around the house

2 cups relaxation time – read, watch a movie, extra time with Murphy (the dog),                                                                       an extra walk

2 cups family time

2 cups friend/social time (I’m an introvert though, an extrovert may need more,                                                                         adjust to taste)

Add spices to taste (music, candles, cuddly pj’s, a cup of decaf tea, a special book)

Mix with care and then spoon out into daily portions.

Sprinkle liberally with love.

Take only one portion each day!

Ongoing Concerns: This is the depression, new cancer diagnosis, health concern, business challenge(s), etc.  All of this I believe we need to both care for and limit.  There are only so many business days between now and the 31st of December.  Only so many hours at work.  And even if we need the MRI for the dog, the PET scan to evaluate cancer and how it’s spreading – or not, the blood test results for our health concern, or the resolution of our depression – only so much CAN happen in the next 15 days.

Today, for example, I needed to schedule an MRI for Murphy.  And no matter how much I wanted that done today – I could not control all of those who had to work to make that happen.  So, I had to work to accept, look, I’ve done all I can, it’s either going to be scheduled today, or I’ll see what I can do on Monday.  One last call came and it happened.  Then the printing job came back not exactly as it was expected to look.  I could get upset – or I could realize it looks fine, just not as expected.  So…acceptance was in order.  But each was a choice.  I wish I could say I reacted so well each day, I don’t, I’m not perfect, but thankfully today I was able to work on acceptance one thing at a time. And, in the midst, I kept a priority to be present to my clients – anything else could wait.

So, what am I suggesting?  Again, decide what and how much time to give the items on your agenda.  Today mine were;

  1. Get Murphy to vet
  2. Take action on what vet suggests
  3. See clients
  4. Write blog
  5. Look at report
  6. Handle emails

What helped was the agenda set ahead of time.  And knowing that I could always add more – if I had time.  But otherwise, this was it.  Tonight – that’s different.  I see tea, a good book, and music in my future.  But for now – I’m finishing up the business, then going to do some shopping.

So – let’s all try this – one day at a time.  One agenda item at a time.  And remember the mix – include some spirituality (today it’s music for me) and exercise (walking).

May you find your own recipe for peace today.

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