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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Spring – Time to be Revived

Spring!!!  My two favorite seasons are fall and spring – so I was thrilled to realize spring was so close and we would be soon enjoying the final celebration of Easter (for those who are Christian).  There are always a lot of articles written about spring and Easter and how both bring new life and hope after a time of darkness.  For those of us in the valley we did have shorter days, but very little cooler weather and lots of warm days once we hit the 70’s on February 6 and it’s never cooled down again according to AccuWeather.com.  So, we are moving into spring with hope for longer days and closer to average temperatures here!  If I consider this in my approach to my life it would be for days full of more of what I hope and want to do with people I love; and average work/life balance.
Recently I was struck again when I was reading about people interviewing for jobs.  The fact that many in Gen X will ask about how employees are able to manage work/life balance is notable.  According to Workplacetrends.com employers are trying to respond to this newer demand with more flexible hours and settings.  Still, 20% of employees are still reporting that they are working an average of 20 hours a week at home in addition to their regular hours at work.  Technology appears to be driving this as employees are no longer working “regular hours” but are expected to be available by phone and/or email even on weekends and evenings.  I hear this often when I see people.  While it varies, I’ve seen it limit severely a client’s ability to do anything due to excessive demands placed on her to the point she became ill from working 7am to 10pm most days with weekends requiring 4-6 hours of her time answering her boss’s emails.  I’ve also heard of individuals who are not required to work at all on off hours, although very few when in a professional position.  Most of us may cry for work/life balance, but are now working longer hours and finding our serenity and balance compromised.  Gen X and Gen Y both tend to use the flexibility offered through many companies, i.e.:  days to work at home, 4 day work weeks, vacation time, etc. better than others.  So if you’re not doing that, begin there.  Then after using these employment flexibility tools, what to do?
Plan Activities for Yourself:  Seems like an old idea, right?  Well it’s amazing how many times I hear that people are not planning an activity that they enjoy very often, if at all.  If you have a family, be sure as a family that both a fun activity is planned that you all enjoy (movie night) as well as couple time (walk and coffee, dinner, go out dancing).  Also create planned time for yourself (take a bath and pamper yourself, take a yoga class alone or with a friend, paint some pottery, take a walk with the dog).  Having those activities on your calendar (yes, enter them on your calendar – don’t just keep them in your head) will help you begin to see there are other parts of your life and you’ll maintain awareness.
Make Time for Spirituality:  Whether it’s a church service or daily journaling or prayer or walking the labyrinth once a week, find what fits for you.  I’m always amazed when I talk with one young woman who is finishing college and taking 15 units including her final project, doing 2 internships which each require a full day’s work, volunteering for a group, maintaining an active social life, completing her job search, and yet she also finds the time to journal and pray each night.  At her age (22) she has developed habits that would do all of us quite well regardless of our age.  Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do”.  So to be balanced, and include a dimension other than work and household chores, we must begin including those activities on a regular basis.
Limit Electronics:  This is the toughest for so many people – myself included.  It is the electronics that have brought the end of the 8 or even 10 hour work day.  And also brought much in the way of ease of reading, access to information, and kept us in closer contact with loved ones.  But much is in how we manage them – or they will not manage our lives, but take them over.  I found it interesting that when I did a quick search for limiting electronics all that popped up were sources related to children.  So, we know we need to or we are looking for ways to limit children at times – a good practice, for sure.  I found an excellent article in which the author wrote her goals for limiting her own time, and I loved it because all of the guidelines were also expanding her life!  Melissa Monahan wrote on Global Business Hub at Boston.com ideas like planning half-hour periods during which she will not even look at electronics, taking time during her travel weekly to read a book and not look at her email and phone, and phone a friend rather than text three times a week, etc. (see http://www.boston.com/business/blogs/global-business-hub/2013/09/screen_time_rul.html – it’s worth the read!)  While you may have work related concerns, it’s important to also take time away – even those of us on 24-hour call for crises take breaks and it’s incredibly important to your health and that of your relationships to do so.
If you do some of the above, you’ll actually find you’re bringing some life balance back.  Winter is a time of hibernating and slowing down.  Spring is a time for new adventures and growth.  As Harriet Ann Jacobs said:  “The beautiful spring came; and when Nature resumes her loveliness, the human soul is apt to revive also.”    So go outside and soak in the sensory experiences of walks, bike rides, working in the garden, or having a picnic at a park.   And go within and with family and broaden your experiences each week.  It’s time to bloom!