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Matthew Del Degan and Lovebot: Heroes of Compassion and Love

February 9, 2016
Lovebot. Art by Matthew Del Degan. Photo by @Pinkstarpix

Lovebot. Art by Matthew Del Degan. Photo by @Pinkstarpix

You may have noticed stickers of a retro-styled robot with a vibrant red heart popping up across your city.  If you have, chances are these are part of the Global Love Invasion.  Next in our series of people making a difference – with the skills and talents they have, where they are – is Toronto based artist and designer, Matthew Del Degan, creator of Lovebot.

TTDOG reached out to Matthew Del Degan to discuss the spread of compassion and kindness through the icon of Lovebot.   If you haven’t seen the character on the streets of your city, you may be wondering: What is Lovebot?

“It’s a cold concrete object in Toronto with a big heart, or warm center,” says the artist, “It’s a metaphor for the robotic interactions of people in our city…” 

Lovebot was Del Degan’s design response to the way urban commuters were failing to engage their emotions, particularly their compassion, when interacting with one another.

PEOPLE HAVE UNIQUE LIVES and THEY ARE ALL SPECIAL!” He ardently asserts. ” That grocery store clerk is probably going through some things, just like you.  You have feelings and the ability to love, and so do they! Maybe I’m an odd ball, but when I get groceries I ask people how they are doing, what they have been up to and if they feel good today, so that it’s not a robot interaction.”

 Lovebot, with its faceless solidity and seemingly incongruous vibrant red heart “lovingly disrupts the robotic routines of humans and reminds them that there is love in their cities and kindness around every corner.”

The artist’s design appeared on the streets of Toronto in the form of a Lovebot sticker and paste-up, which won the hearts of street art fans, and quickly made its way around the world through volunteers eager to spread the disruptive visual message of compassion, kindness and love.

All I ever wanted them to do was to make people smile,” says the artist.

And he did.  Not content to rest on his success, the artist expanded beyond the quickly changing art gallery of the street. He took the visual language of the project to a wider audience through a more permanent type of installation that engaged the entire community.  The aptly titled “Love Invasion”,  saw the artist embark on a series of trials and errors to create a 250 pound, 2 foot tall concrete Lovebot.  This unusual sculpture and several models of various sizes were installed in the footfall of commuters to encourage city dwellers to reflect on their surroundings and their participation in the culture of the concrete jungle that typifies a big commercial city centre.

“If I can make a cold hearted person smile then good, and if a child stumbles upon a concrete robot in the city, then I’ve caused magic or wonder in someone else’s life.  It’s about creating true value, and for me that’s a positive change in someone else’s life.” 

Matthew Del Degan’s “Love Invasion” went beyond the messaging of a single artist to a wider community.  By using his Lovebot in the service of illuminating and amplifying kindness and love, the character became the image of a global art-based social movement for love and kindness.

Working with a team of friends and volunteers, Matthew Del Degan created and self-financed an army of 100 Lovebots.  He called on the people of the city of Toronto to help recognize individuals and organisations who had engaged in outstanding acts of kindness by nominating them to receive a concrete Lovebot sculpture.  This act not only recognized the kindness and love that already existed in the city, but stood as a reminder that small acts of kindness can be monumental because they contain within them the potential to be exponential – inspiring more compassion and kindness from those who witness or remember them.

“Attaching a sculpture or small monument to kind acts caused, well, kindness to seem monumental.”

 

 


 

“I’m not thinking that a concrete robot can inspire someone to love…the stories behind them may.”  

 


 

 

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) prepared this introduction to his work:

Matthew Del Degan belies the well-worn stereotype of Millenials as selfish, disengaged individuals with a sense of entitlement and solely preoccupied with sex, partying, video games and music.  Whilst Matthew is a skydiver with over 130 jumps, a motorcyclist, active public artist, and is a notoriously avid gamer –  an aspect of his aesthetic that is reflected in the retro feel of the Lovebot – he is a man on a mission and living from a sense of purpose.

His mission to be vulnerable and to share his love feeds his purpose to make the world not only a kinder place, but one where love and kindness is amplified.  A muscular man sporting a platinum-blonde mohawk, he not only thwarts stereotypes of his generation, but also of his gender.

“In North America we have an idea of what manly is:  big, strong, brutish, often overbearing, tough, and aggressive. To me that sounds like a large baby.  I am a very physically strong man.  I kickbox, and I lift concrete robots often, however, I recognize that compassion and love is what makes a man a true hero.  A hero, is someone who fights for good, who is loving and giving .  A true man looks after others and their safety.   They are powerful, yes, but also supremely gentle.

I guess I just had the perfect father who was all that and more.  And, my mother was also just spectacular.  The women in my family are top notch. I owe a lot of my love to my grandmother, who was my best friend and took me everywhere.”

As head of the Love Invasion project, Matthew awarded the first concrete Lovebot sculpture to his grandmother, in recognition of all her kindness and love.   To borrow from the American journalist Hodding Carter, the artist’s family has given Matthew Del Degan the roots from which to take wing with his dreams.

 


 

“…compassion and love is what makes a man a true hero.”

 


 

 

And in like fashion, the father of Lovebot gave his creation its own wings to soar.  Taking a back seat, he provided the platform through which the kind deeds of others could shine, deepening the meaning of Lovebot and the committment of Toronto citizens to its ethos.

“I’m not thinking that a concrete robot can inspire someone to love,” he says, humbly, “but, the stories behind them may.”  

By recognizing acts of kindness, compassion and bravery, the Love Invasion not only raises awareness of all the good that is being done in the community but acts as counternarrative the media’s unrelenting message of bad news and trouble in the world.

“Love became my focus because this world is missing it. It’s a sad world.  You know: starvation, animals going extinct, pollution, corruption, beheadings…people wasting their lives on Facebook laughing at cats and fail videos of people falling off things.  This world is a sad world, but I’m not going to sit…and watch it be that way. So, because I know how to love, and this world needs it, that’s what I do.”

Subverting the zeitgeist of disaster, disconnection and disempowerment, Matthew Del Degan’s work for love, kindness and compassion becomes an avante garde occupation.  As has always been the case for society’s vanguard, the way is not always easy.

“I cry. I bleed for my work. I suffer,” admits the artist.  “People don’t see that part. I never asked for this to be easy, and I’m not surprised when it’s hard. I receive hate.  It’s unbelievable.  But, at the end of the day, I have something to fight for and I’m living my dreams…Sometimes I question everything… But now there are too many people who respect what I do, and who support it or have contributed to it and like I said, this world needs more love. I just choose not to stop or give up.”

The Love Invasion of Toronto is mapped out on the Lovebot website to encourage visits to the monuments and reflection on one’s own memberships in communities of friends, families, coworkers and neighbours.  For those who are inspired by what both Matthew Del Degan and those who receive the Lovebot honour have done to bring love, compassion and kindness into their community of the city of Toronto, but who are perhaps at a loss as to how they can make a difference in their own communities, he has this advice:

“If you sit there and do nothing, this world will only get worse. ..Get up and do something. Be a small part of the fight for love. You don’t have to change the world, but if you make one person smile… you change their world… 

It’s perspective. Change your attitude and your world changes. My perception or circumstance is seen though my lens. When I change that lens what I feel is very different, but the circumstance may be the same….I’m only heading towards better things and now I’m biting off far more than I can handle… but that’s how I got this far…Work and bite off more than you can chew, then swallow… that’s how you grow…

Just don’t give up on this world or yourself. We all deserve better than that…Don’t waste your life. Do what you want to do. “

When the artist is not creating concrete sculptures, he is busy creating new projects and art for sale.   He recently launched the first Lovebot toy, and is busy molding his special edition Valentine’s Lovebot which allows fans to have a piece of his art in their home.  As well, he is currently organizing an art event ‘spectacular’ showcasing some of the finest art talent in Toronto.  But Matthew Del Degan remains committed to his vision of making the Love Invasion a global art-based social movement.

“I’m also working on a new sticker package designed to be shared globally. Lovebot fans often want to share the love when they travel or in their respective countries. So I’m designing a larger, cheaper, package for them to do just that.  I’m also building my group of volunteers around the world.”

 

Matthew Del Degan recently shared more about the kind acts which have merited a Lovebot monument with MTV:

 

 

TTDOG sends Matthew Del Degan and Lovebot much love and best wishes for continued success. As is our practice, we asked the artist one final question:  For what are you most grateful and where do you find your greatest joy?

 

“I’m thankful for my life, and I’m thankful for everything I had been given and what I’m managing to do with it.

I find joy in living. I’m not waiting for heaven, that would be so stupid when it’s right here, right now in front of me.”

 

 


 

“Just don’t give up on this world or yourself. We all deserve better than that.”

 


 

 

 

To learn more about Lovebot, to volunteer for the Global Love Invasion or to support the art and design of Matthew Del Degan:

 

Websites:  Matthew Del Degan, Lovebot
Instagram:  Lovebot, Matthew Del Degan
Facebook:  Lovebot
LinkedIn: Matthew Del Degan

 

 

 

Gratitude, Gratitude Practice, The Daily Practice, The Practices

Establishing A Gratitude Practice

November 27, 2015
photo-1428279148693-1cf2163ed67d

Photo by Sebastien Gabriel

Setting out to establish a habit of being grateful may seem a daunting task, when one sees the words “Ten Thousand Days of Gratitude.”  Unlike Malcolm Gladwell’s ten thousand hours for mastery, gratitude does not require ten thousand days of practice in order to become habitual or to feel the benefits in one’s life.

In a few days, the mood is increased and the attention begins to focus more on the positive.  Over the course of time, one moves from a daily or weekly practice of reflective appreciation into  “grateful living.”

Just as in winning the London marathon, one doesn’t suddenly decide to accomplish the goal, buy a pair of trainers and run 26 miles in record time.  One builds up with gradual practice and training.  The gratitude journal is the basic building block of training for grateful living.

 

 

The Gratitude Journal 

The Basic Process:

The practice is simple.

Taking some time to reflect on what is good in one’s life and writing this in a journal is what is known as keeping a gratitude journal.  One can keep the journal daily or weekly or at some frequency in between.  One’s journal should be kept at least weekly and should contain at least 3 items for which one is grateful in each entry.

In order to reap the maximum benefits, keep the journal in a deeply reflective way: take the time and space required to deeply feel a sense of appreciation for those things, people and moments that fill the journal.

 

Relaxed Presence and Attention:

To help make the gratitude journal a deeply reflective practice, begin each session by becoming present, attentive and relaxed.  It can be helpful to spend a few minutes to let go of the stresses, worries and strains of the day. By taking this time, one becomes more emotionally and intellectually present and focus and attention is improved.

Begin by getting quiet. Sit with the back straight (but not straining), with feet on the floor or on a pillow, if the feet do not comfortably touch the floor.

With the eyes closed, bring the focus to the breath. Without interrupting or changing the normal breathing pattern, simply witness the pattern.  Observe the air flowing in and out of the nose, chest, and belly. If thoughts or emotions arise, notice that they have arisen, and without judgement, simply return the attention to the breath.

Do this for at least 2 minutes before commencing the journaling session.  Feel free to do those for as long as it takes to become alert and present.

 

 

Building the Habit 

Goals are easier to achieve if our goals are specific, measurable, realistic, achievable and time bound.

 

  • Specific:  Be as specific as possible about why the people or things or moments are meaningful and be as specific as possible on what it is that is appreciated.  Being grateful for the way one’s partner listens, without interrupting or problem solving is more meaningful than being grateful for one’s partner or even the fact that one’s partner is good at listening.
  • Measurement: Efforts can be measured in terms of days of practice against the targeted number of days, or, perhaps more meaningfully, theough a weekly or fortnightly mood check-in at the start of the session.
  • Achievable: There will be good days and bad days.  Some days it will be very difficult to think of three things for which to be grateful. Do the practice, anyway.  Use the aid of some prompts to help activate the gratitude response. An example can be found in our article  “20 Things for Which to be Grateful”
  • Realistic: Be realistic about the time the journal will take and about the other demands on one’s time.  If days are chaotic, perhaps it is wise to begin the day with the journal.  If one morning gets missed, there is the entire day and evening in which to carve out time and catch up that day’s entry.  And, if all else has failed that day, it is possible to complete the journal as a last task before sleeping.  If time is very scarce, consider journaling weekly rather than daily.
  • Time Bound: Set aside a time each day during which to journal.  Try to make this a regular time every day or each week.  At the start of the journey, set a goal of 21 days if journaling on a daily basis and 10 weeks if doing it weekly.  Extend this time as you wish, but begin with a short, time bound period to help maintain motivation.

 

Why Gratitude?

Positive psychologists argue that each of person has an emotional set point which makes it easier for some individuals to be grateful.  Fortunately, practicing gratitude or giving thanks need not be predicated on feeling grateful, although studies indicate that gratitude practice does lead to positive emotions.

In a series of studies, Robert Emmons of the University of California at Davis and Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami found that the keeping of a weekly gratitude journal led to a decrease in symptoms of physical illness, an increase in life satisfaction and an increase in optimism.   Those who kept a gratitude journal on a daily basis were more likely to help someone else.  Those who regularly practice gratitude report better sleep patterns, suffer less stress related diseases and are more interconnected in their communities.  School children who practiced gratitude for several weeks had noticeable learning improvement, long after the experiment ended.

 

 

 

Achieving the Goal

As in much of life, the point of this practice is not to achieve the goal, but to alter the manner in which one sees the world.  Along the way, one also gains the benefits of the process.   Moving from a goal orientation to making gratitude a habit will take considerably longer than 21 days.  However, considering the benefits experienced, it seems strange to even consider returning to an attitude of entitlement, of taking life for granted and of disconnection from community.

There is no need to make a Ten Thousand Day commitment.

Simply continue to take time to notice the wonder of life and to be grateful.

 

 

 

Articles, Gratitude, Gratitude Practice, The Daily Practice, The Practices

20 Things for Which to be Grateful

November 25, 2015
Photo by Matt Jones

Photo by Matt Jones

Sometimes when we look at the world or at our lives, we see so much that is negative, it is hard to think of anything for which to be grateful. Those who talk about gratitude can sound like saccharin coated nuts.  But, once we start the process of looking for things, people and moments to appreciate, it really does get easier.

When I lived in New York, every year at Thanksgiving, my friends would take turns expressing something for which they were grateful.  I think it is a practice common in many American households. It was never something we had adopted in my home for Canadian Thanksgiving but it was a tradition I loved, immediately.  I know the standard things we all say: family, friends, health, etc.

But if we want to go deeper, or to find different things for which to be grateful, a little reflection may be needed.  There are an infinity of possibilities in our day to day lives but perhaps they get taken for granted in our rush through the day.  When we really look into our lives and take the time to think about everything for which we are deeply thankful, we find so much that brings meaning to our lives.

To prepare for Thanksgiving or to inspire you to start that gratitude journal, I have made a short list of prompts to help you uncover all those things and people and moments you really do appreciate.

Let’s not keep appreciation limited to an annual event! Let us build those muscles for gratitude on a regular basis.  I hope you have fun trying this!

  1. Your favourite place in the city or town you live:  Think about this place.   What does it smell like? What do you see and hear when you are there? How does it make you feel when you are there? Why is that important to you?
  2. Helpful tools and inventions: It might sound banal, but how often do we take for granted the tools that make our lives easier? Our car that gets us from place to place, the coffee maker that creates the elixir of life whilst we shower, the spell check that removes rude misspellings in our memos and emails, and the computer that lets us write our gratitude journal are all worthy of appreciation.  What tools and inventions make your life a little easier?
  3. Your best childhood friend: Whether you are still in touch or not, there was a time when this person was your best friend.  What did you like about them? What sort of things did you do together? How did you feel, being around them? What did you learn from them? Is there something you appreciate about them or about the time you shared that you never told them? Appreciate it now.
  4. Laughter:  This is one of my favourites. What and who makes it possible for you to have a giggle, a chuckle, a belly laugh or to lose control and laugh hysterically?
  5.  Favourite smell or taste experienced recently: Be as specific as possible.  If chocolate is your favourite taste, is it Kit Kat or is it the special dark chocolate Kit Kat you find only at certain retailers? What smells or tastes pleased you, today?
  6. A little luxury: For everyone, the idea of luxury is different, but we can find luxury in the everyday.  Maybe it is a once a week coffee drink at a local café, or the occasional haircut where someone else washes your hair and you relax.  Maybe it is an extra 15 minutes in your warm bed on a cold morning before getting ready for the day.  Where is your little bit of luxury, in life? What makes it possible?
  7. Favourite sound: What is your favourite sound? Maybe it is a band, birdsong at sunrise, or children laughing.  Listen to something you love and see how it makes you feel.
  8. Adventure:  Where do you find adventures, great and small? We don’t have to take a holiday to travel.  Books from the library, films in the cinema, television and the Internet tourist blogs can all take us on adventures.  And, we can take small adventures everyday by speaking to the cute person at the coffee shop who makes us blush and fumble our words.  We can take the bus to a new area of town or go hear a band we have never heard.  We might try cuisine that is foreign, or a wear a colour we think is too bold.  How do you find your adventures? What makes it possible for you to have a little adventure now and then?
  9. Compliments: Think of someone who has paid you a compliment in your life.  How did it feel?
  10. Kindness: We are all recipients of kindness but the key is in noticing when it happens.  Think of the last time someone bought you lunch or a coffee or the last time someone held the door for you.  Has a stranger struck up a conversation with you or offered you directions? Perhaps another register opened at the grocery store and the clerk called you over to be served next.  If you can’t think of a time you received kindness then be kind to another person and appreciate the response that you receive.  Maybe it will take 5 acts of kindness to strangers before someone smiles. Do it anyway. The world needs it.
  11. Romantic Love: This should be self explanatory. But, sometimes, when love ends, it hurts.  No matter how it ended, love always has given us good feelings at some point.  The challenge is to appreciate those moments even in our grief.  I like to call this a beautiful hell. Where was the beauty in that relationship. There you will find something to appreciate.
  12. Other Love: The Greeks had names for various types of love: Eros (see above), Philia (friendship), Ludus (playful love), Agape (a kind of spiritual love for all), Pragma (longstanding mature love), Philautia (self love).  Where in your life do you experience these forms of love as either the lover or the beloved? What and who makes it possible, in your life?
  13. Coziness:  What makes you feel cozy? Who or what allows you to indulge in that coziness in your life?
  14. Vitality:  Most of us lose our youthful energy as time goes on.  What makes you feel alive? Is it the cold wind on your face? Is it hiking to a mountain top? Is it singing loudly to music in the shower or in the car? Is it jumping out of a plane or cresting a loop on a roller coaster or maybe diving to the bottom of the ocean? Is it making it through the Pilates class on Wednesday night and feeling your abdominal muscles ache the next day? What is it that reminds you that you are alive?  Where do you get some of this in your life? What makes that possible?
  15. Timelessness:  Where do you lose track of time? Is it when you draw, or paint or swim? Perhaps you lose track of time photographing wildlife or singing or simply sitting and noticing the breath.  How does it feel to lose track of time?  What makes it possible for you to engage in activities in which you go into flow and lose track of time?
  16. Seasons: What is your favourite part of the season? Why do you like it? What makes it possible for you to have a place and a time to enjoy it?
  17. A cherished memory:  Think of your most cherished memory. Relive it in as much sensory detail as possible.  Who or what made this memory possible, for you?
  18. Sources of strength:  From whom or what do you draw strength when life is difficult?
  19. Absence: We can be grateful for those people and things present in our lives but we can also be grateful for those now absent.  We may be grateful for their absence because they were causing us pain by their presence.  Or, as I tend to practice this one, we may simply be grateful for lost loved ones despite their absence.  One of my favourite toasts is: “To absent friends and family” because it brings them into the here and now, to be with us in our moment of deep thanks, even as we are missing them.
  20. Teachers:  Who has been your greatest teacher and what lessons did you take from them? How has that helped you in your life? Teachers can be either benevolent or difficult people and circumstances in our lives. Sometimes, difficulty is our greatest teacher and finding meaning in our adversity gives us something to appreciate, even from our most difficult and darkest hours.

 

The list is not exhaustive.  I hope you give it a go, and will keep adding to it.  The more we appreciate the small moments, the more we recognise how much we have for which to be grateful.

 

Please help us build on the list! For what are you grateful?

 

Gratitude, Service, The Daily Practice, The Practices

On Service

November 11, 2015
Photo by Lotte Löhr

Photo by Lotte Löhr

The fourth of our daily practices, which arose organically during the first year of daily Gratitude practice, is that of daily Service.

It seems natural that when we feel abundant, our impulse is to “give back” through service.  Indeed, research by Fowler and Christakis revealed that those who were recipients of abundance are statistically more likely to be generous and “give back” to others.

For many, the word “service” is laden with emotional linkages.  For some, it evokes religious connotations, for others, notions of subservience.   Yet, when considering the alternatives, it is arguably the best term for training ourselves in a daily practice of giving.

 

 

What is Service?

Many other words could have been chosen to express the act of giving.  Kindness and charity, are both good words, but we will see that they each have implications, in common parlance that we do not wish to adopt in our practice of daily giving.

One might, in fact, wonder why not simply use the word “giving”?

 

Giving is a word that references the individual who is doing the action.  Inherently, it contains no implication that the gift must be of benefit to the receiver.  Presumably, whatever we give is fine, as long as it is a gift.

However, consider this: how many times have we received an unwanted gift and found it to be, rather than helpful, a burden? It is a burden because we have to express appreciation for something we did not want, because we have to ensure we don’t hurt the feelings of the otherwise well meaning giver, and because we need to devise a manner in which to store, use or dispose of the unwanted gift.  We see this in humanitarian disasters when boxes of unwanted donations clog the transportation systems of aid, and are often useless in solving the most urgent needs of the crisis at hand.

By giving someone something that is unwanted, it is as if we are taking a stance of superiority and saying “I know what is best for you.”

 

Service, on the other hand, is meant to benefit the welfare of another, not to be a burden upon them.  Service implies no superiority but respects the dignity of the one served by taking their needs as the guide for where and how to act.

 

 

The term Charity is a term found in most major religions, and is a virtue to be performed in order to gain the favour of ones God or create karmas.  Any hope for reward, including eternal reward, is transactional.  When we are transacting we are not serving. The two are fundamentally different acts with different interests as their motivation.

Moreover, the concept of charity has often been associated with a sense of pity which stems from a sense of superiority of the giver over the receiver.

 

Service,  is a selfless gift of our time, effort and resources to benefit the welfare of another.  Service implies no superiority and is tied to no particular spiritual tradition, but forms a part of practicing secular ethics.

 

The term kindness describes the quality of being considerate, generous and friendly.  Friendliness implies a social benefit not only to the receiver but also to the giver. Whilst there is nothing wrong with the warm feelings that service engenders, there is always a danger that setting out to be ‘kind’ may include an underlying and self serving motivation to improve our welfare through social connections that make us feel good about ourselves or improves our image in the eyes of the community.

A broader sense of connection, through compassion, often fuels our will to serve, and that service creates positive effects on our social connections which promotes further service.  Any positive impact on our own feelings of social connection as a result of service, must not be the motive for service.

It is possible to conduct acts of service for those with whom we have no relationship or indeed, those who will ever know we have served them. In many traditions, acts of service are conducted anonymously, in order to remove the temptation of expectation of reward through improved social standing.

 

Service can be for the benefit of any sentient being, known, or unknown, of present or future generations and can be for the benefit of the living planet.  Through a recognition of oneness through compassion, service is performed with the humility of knowing that were it not for our own good fortune, we may be the ones in need.

 

Photo by Angelina Litvin

Photo by Angelina Litvin

 

This sense of commonality with the one being served is a kind of oneness which we might call empathy.  When empathy is coupled with a desire to act to alleviate, suffering, this is compassion. the Buddhists call compassion a particular sort of kindness, “loving kindness” (mettā).  This special (loving) kindness  – compassion – is cultivated by the Buddhists to enhance the human preponderance for altruism.

 

Altruism is a good synonym for service except that it implies conditions which can be challenging to sustain on a daily basis, for most individuals.   To be altruistic  is to act to improve another’s welfare, even at risk or cost to ourselves.  Service includes a cost to ourselves of time, effort, or resources, however, altruism describes the most noble forms of service wherein we not only forego benefit, but we are willing to experience personal sacrifice in service to others.

By way of example, when we share our meal with someone who is hungry, this is a cost to ourselves and benefits the other.  This is service. When we forego eating, in order that another who is hungry can eat a meal, that is a personal sacrifice.  That is altruism.

The highest form of service is altruism. Through performing daily acts of service and cultivating compassion, we can train ourselves for altruism.

 

Summing up, we can define Service as the following:
Service is a humble and selfless act of giving, to benefit the welfare of another sentient being, known or unknown to us, of current or future generations, and is ultimately guided by the needs of the one being served.  Service involves a cost, and may involve but is not dependant upon personal sacrifice.

 

 

 

Why Practice Service?

When one experiences abundance, cultivated by gratitude practice, it seems natural to want to share that abundance with others.  One could choose to be selfish and bask in the experience of abundance, but research shows that we adapt to the level of hedonic pleasure received from the things (not the relationships) that fill our lives and our happiness cannot be sustained, all things held constant, without the addition of more “things.”  This generates a never ending cycle of wanting more and more, in order to be happy.   Psychologist Michael Eysenck has termed this adaptation phenomenon “the hedonic treadmill.”

Service as a key to Happiness

What can make for lasting happiness, according to research by positive psychologists, are non material qualities such as fulfilling social relationships, a sense of gratitude, and a sense of meaning in one’s life.  Service generates all of these – for oneself, for the receiver and for the community.

Service not only improves the wellbeing of the receiver, it improves the wellbeing of the community.  Service, by contagion, creates a more generous social circle as those who have benefitted from an act of service, tend to be more grateful and inclined themselves toward service.  And while service can provide meaning to our lives, making us feel fulfilled, often it is those who have benefitted from an act of service that find meaning in their own lives by helping others.

When we focus outside of ourselves through cultivating oneness (through, for instance, compassion) and by giving (though service), we create a loop in which our own and other’s happiness becomes self sustaining.

And it isn’t just individual happiness that is in question. In his talk on Altruism in Monterray, Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard describes why cultivating compassion and service (what he calls: altruism) may be what is needed to save ourselves, our planet and our future generations.

 

 

 

Where do we begin?

Saving the future of mankind is a daunting task for any one of us.  And whilst a life of altruism may be a noble goal to which many of us aspire, for many more of us, it is likely that the idea of daily personal sacrifice is inconceivable.  Through daily service and the cultivation of our capacity for compassion, we can build our capacity for compassion.

 

The service contagion

We need not despair by thinking that we cannot make a difference.   By cultivating compassion and performing daily acts of service, we help to create a more altruistic planet.  Researchers Chistakis and Fowler, conducted a study in Massachusetts and found that among adults, all emotional states and behaviour is contagious.

Interestingly, contrary to popular belief, their findings indicated that negative emotions and behaviour were no more contagious than those that are positive.  Giving (what we call “service”) was found to inspire others to do acts of service to there by a factor of three, meaning that in any network of people, a single act of service could impact on tens or even hundreds of people, some of whom the person conducting that original act of service had never met.

Research by Paul Zak found that service or giving or altruism released chemicals in the brain like oxytocin that make individuals feel good.  This chemical response causes individuals to increase their acts of service in a reward loop that makes an individual more and more inclined to altruism.

Anyone who doubts that a single person can make a difference through service should consider the mathematics of these findings.

 

Cultivating Compassion

Cultivating compassion isn’t just of benefit to mankind and the planet, it benefits each of us in our own lives.  According to the Stanford University Centre for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, individual benefits include an increased ability to feel compassion for self and others, increased calm and ability to cope with stressful situations, increased ability to cope with feelings of overwhelm, better relationships, better job satisfaction, and a more nurturing and fulfilling family life.

We can cultivate compassion in many ways.  Developmental psychologists Rosenberg, Fabes and Hoffman have found that we can cultivate compassion in children by teaching them lessons through induction and reasoning rather than reward and punishment.  As an adult, loving kindness meditation helps to develop our capacity for compassion.

Being able to increase our compassion muscles great news because according to research by Pearl and Samuel Oliner, compassionate individuals do tend to be more altruistic.

 

Simply Serve and Serve Simply

Daily acts of service need not always be sacrificial acts of altruism.

As long as we act from an attitude of humility, and selflessness and our action is guided by the need of the other, our daily service can have ripple effects within our families, community and world.  Service can be as simple as holding the door for another person, offering directions to lost tourists, offering temporary companionship by striking up a conversation with an elderly person who is alone or simply offering a compassionate smile to a forlorn or grumpy seeming stranger on the tube.  Smiling is contagious and feels good.

Spreading a smile, therefore, is one of the easiest ways to spread good feelings, as we see in this famous Ted Talk by Ron Gutman, founder and CEO of HealthTap health apps.

 

 

 

 

Articles, Gratitude, Gratitude Practice, The Practices

Receiving Thanks

October 7, 2015
Photo: Jonathan Pendleton

Photo: Jonathan Pendleton

Sweet pumpkin lattes, the cinnamon scent of apple pie baking in the oven, leaves catching flight and lingering like a lover’s kiss before tumbling into an auburn and maroon carpet for children to crunch or swoosh aloft in a final hurrah of autumn. For North Americans, these are the signs which begin a season of giving thanks.

Thanksgiving is my favourite holiday.  Although it has a tradition steeped in colonialism, if we separate the day from its history, it is a day to celebrate our bounty.  At least, as a Canadian, I was raised to see it this way.  There is no gift giving, no hiding or distribution of candy.  It is, simply, a day to recognise our good fortune and to gather with loved ones.

I am home this Thanksgiving, which is a rare treat. How will I celebrate this year? I hope to do things a little bit differently.

We are not perfect, but we are getting better at expressing our gratitude in Western culture. This whole magazine and my own ten thousand day commitment is based on the practice of expressing gratitude.  But what about the flip side?  Where do we hone our skills in being able to receive gratitude? Stranger still – is it possible to ask for appreciation for those things which matter to us, and from those who are dearest to us?

We know, by now, that being grateful feels good.  Several studies have shown this to be the case. But equally powerful is the experience of being on the receiving end of gratitude – of being appreciated.  Leadership trainers cite one of the most common and easily remedied causes of job dissatisfaction is the feeling of not being appreciated.  It is a costly oversight. People perform better, are more engaged and act more cooperatively when they feel appreciated.  And, if one feels appreciated during the good times, one is more likely to redouble efforts and commitment in bad times.

In intimate relationships,  feeling appreciated is equally important.  One of the keys to relationship success, according to American relationship counsellor and author, John Gray, is feeling appreciated – for both the big and the small things we do for one another.  A lack of appreciation, and the expression of opposite emotions (criticism and contempt)  has been correlated with marriage failure in studies by psychologist, John Gottman.

We all have a sense, that as adults, we are responsible for using pro-social means of getting our needs met and we are aware of the powerful impact of being appreciated, in our lives.  So why is it, then, that we struggle to ask for praise, acknowledgement and appreciation?

Photo: Milanda Vigerova

Photo: Milanda Vigerova

We struggle because to ask for what we need and to beopen to receiving it puts us at risk. We expose our needs and we risk rejection. Brene Brown, leading expert in vulnerability research, admits:  “The difficult thing is that vulnerability is the first thing I look for in you and the last thing I’m willing to show you. In you, it’s courage and daring. In me, it’s weakness.” (Forbes, April 21, 2013)

And so, we are called to be brave, to step into the unknown and to take a risk, when we ask to be appreciated.  We expose our tenderness and our wounds.  But only by exposing them, without shame, can we let those wounds be healed.

I started this piece by saying that this year I would celebrate differently.  In 2002, I was ordained in the Cathedral of St John the Divine, in Manhattan.  My father did not attend my ordination. Every year, when we gather for Christmas, Easter or Thanksgiving, he asks someone to say the blessing.   It has never been me.  And that has hurt me.

This may be our last Thanksgiving together, and given that I have worked to model a purposeful life of grateful living, I would like to be acknowledged for my work, and appreciated for this very significant part of my life.  I have asked him to ask me to say the blessing this year. Will it happen? I don’t know.  If he asks me to give the blessing, it will be wonderful. If it doesn’t happen, it will be very sad for me, but it won’t change who I am.  Now is the time to heal this wound or to sew it up and move on with the scar tissue, knowing that I gave it my best and I dared to be vulnerable in order to connect with him.

So, again, I turn it over to you, dear reader.

 Where in your life do you need to feel appreciated?
Where in your life are you willing to ask for it?

If you don’t know where to begin, why not begin with this 3-minute investment in a Ted talk by addictions counsellor, Laura Trice?

I wish you a wonderful season of gratitude.  Please know that I appreciate your presence in my life.

Gratitude, Ten Thousand Days

Gratitude, Joy, Oneness and Service (Day 401 – 407)

September 30, 2015

Photo: Paul Green

I flew to Vancouver, this week. In fact, I decided to go, booked my ticket, packed and flew in about 4 days.  I make the trip 3 or 4 times a year so you would think,that a 10 hour flight and 8 hour time difference would be nothing.  You would be mistaken.

The trip to Vancouver is the easy part. I warn you – there will be a lot of sleepless nights in London, on the other side of this trip!  But for now, it is okay.  The sun is out, and I have seen both sisters, my folks, my aunt in hospital, attended a concert and even Got to see an old friend already.  It is hard to believe that this week started out in London, interviewing an interesting new art collective, Food of Warin London and ended in an old Commonwealth outpost, For Langley, over a cup of tea.  Life feels busy but I feel a bit like a scrambled egg.

I am grateful that I arrived safely and despite getting ill after being awake for 24 hours on 1.5 hours sleep the previous night, I am still standing and moving! I am grateful I got to see my Dad and sister, who both have health issues that worry me, when I am far away. And, I am grateful that I had time to visit my aunty Lilly in hospital after her recent stroke.

It was an absolute joy to hear Jesse Cook and his band play, on Monday night.  I am grateful that I managed to get one of the few remaining tickets, for the show.  If you’ve been following me on an old blog for the first year of gratitude practice, then you will know that he is special to me.  I would have to say that my moment of Oneness was not found in being squished by a broad-shouldered neighbour on the plane until our shoulders became one. Nope, it was better! For the second encore, Jesse played Fall at Your Feet and the entire audience sang the chorus softly back to the band.  It was beautiful. I can only hope it was as moving for the band as it was for me.

And finally, while my whole trip includes an element of service, I would say that I am grateful that my work schedule here is flexible and that has allowed me to visit my aunt in hospital 3 times.  I am single and childless, and her situation as a childless widow is also my greatest fear. I am grateful that for even just 10-15 minutes a day, I was able to be there, for her.

And so, it only remains for me to ask you….

 

 

For what are You most grateful, this week?
Articles, Gratitude, Music, Oneness

Centre Stage: Dan Shears & The Velveteen Orkestra

September 9, 2015
Dan Shears featured on Ten Thousand Days of Gratitude.com

Dan Shears & The Velveteen Orkestra (Photo by: Plainview Media)

“While weaving tales of love, heartache and fantasy in his intensely dark and mystical style, Dan Shears is proving himself to be one of London’s more interesting and captivating artists…”

(www.danshearsmusic.com)

I first encountered Dan Shears in 2012 at Union Chapel. He was opening for another folk singer, Charlene Soraia.  Charlene was riding a wave of popularity following a successful commercial campaign for Twinnings tea which used her cover of The Calling’s song “Wherever You Will Go.”

When Dan took the stage, the room fell into an awed hush as our senses were captivated and our hearts were lost.   His bio describes his sound:

 

“Beautiful, flowing vocal melodies, with lyrics that bring to mind carnivalesque lullabies written by a much older soul, cascade over delicate and intricate guitar work and songs so immersed in passion and pathos that they’re sure to haunt the memory long after the first listen…”

Dan Shears has played gigs throughout the UK and Europe and has garnered himself a loyal following.  Quirky, witty and waif-like, his angelic voice floats through dark lyric and complex melodies causing audiences to swoon as he sings of longing, loss and revenge.  Sometimes playing solo, often accompanied by Megan Affonso’s enigmatic harmonies and cello, and by Sarah Boughton on the violin, the sweeping orchestral richness of his sound is fully realized when the full Velveteen Orkestra takes the stage.

 

This evening, London will be treated to such an event at the Karamel Club (Chocolate Factory, 2 Coburg Road, Wood Green, London N22 6UJ ) as part of a Pledge Music event.  I caught up with Dan about tonight’s gig and his upcoming first album, Shadow & Whimsy and asked him about the process of crowd funding his first album.

 

You’ve had a really great crowd funding campaign!

I was very nervous about launching a crowd funding campaign in the beginning.  There is a real risk that you could look really silly in public if you don’t get the interest you were hoping for.  When we launched and people started pledging and sharing the campaign online, I was thrilled but also a little relieved.  We reached our target 2 weeks before the deadline which was great, because now it means we can continue running the campaign right up until we release our album.  It is wonderful to have had so much interest but most importantly, I am so excited to get the album finished and hear it complete, all the way through for the first time. 

 

You’re headlining tonight at the Karamel Club as a result of that campaign – Can you tell us more about that?

I think it’s more to do with us having more band members than the other acts, if I’m honest.  There are other people playing who seem on far more people’s radar.  I certainly won’t get carried away by the fact that we’re playing last, it’s just nice to have been invited to play off the back of our PledgeMusic campaign.  We’ll put on a good show and hopefully let a few more people know about us. 

I understand you’ve had a challenging journey to get this album made?

Actually, since we began making this album, it has been a joy.  The lead up was hard though.  Our third EP was recorded and pretty much complete but then was lost.  A great deal of time and energy was spent trying to get it back but to no avail.  It got to a point where I considered knocking music on the head and just spending my spare time going to watch my football team instead… perhaps if Millwall had been having a better season at the time, things might have turned out differently.  After all that time we decided to draw a line under the music that we lost, put a load of new songs together and make our first album.  Although it has taken a while, making this album has felt very liberating and has definitely brought us together even more, not only as a band, but as a group of friends.

 

How does the new album differ from your previous EPs? 

The new album (Shadow & Whimsy) is heavier than the previous EPs but there are still a lot of elements that have remained in our music.  We are always influenced by European folk music and Americana but with some of these new songs, we have added a bit more bite that I guess is reminiscent of bands we love like Queens of the Stone Age and Masters of Reality.  The horrible situation with the lost third EP bred a lot of anger and frustration, so some of the new songs started to come out a lot more aggressive.  We have really tried to use the instruments to add drama and paint pictures.  The strings and brass instruments add a real elegance in songs like ‘Pound of Flesh’ and ‘Waltz in Viscera’ but there are also songs such as ‘Hook in Your Head’ and ‘The Bloody Anthem’ where they sound like a horror soundtrack.  The last 45 seconds of ‘The Bloody Anthem’ sounds like a thumping gypsy dance around the roaring fires of hell.

 

 

That sounds amazing! I’m curious to know more about the band and how you chose the name? 

Quite a lot of things about our band are juxtaposed.  Musically, artistically and sonically we are both: – elegant yet unrefined; noble yet savage; pompous yet inferior.  We have a sound that some might consider to be nodding towards the baroque composers, yet we do it with a degree of venom and snarl that somewhat tarnishes or humbles that ornate, gilded beauty.  Our lost EP was going to be titled ‘The Street Urchin Opera’ which was kind of leaning on the same theme.  Velveteen is a very cheap material made to look like something very expensive and luxurious so we thought it was a good way of describing a group of penniless musicians playing passionate, operatic music.  The album title of  “Shadow & Whimsy” is another reference to those opposed themes.

 

How did you first get into music, Dan?  Mandolin is rather unusual – How did that come about? 

Joining a band was always something I wanted to do even when I was very young.  I sang in my first band at school when I was 12 just doing Beatles and Kinks songs.  I began teaching myself the guitar soon after that and began writing songs as soon as I could put a few chords together.  Writing songs was always the goal, right from the beginning.  I think I was always drawn towards those dark, melancholic folk sounds but it took a lot of time to actually discover that was the case and where I could find that kind of stuff.  When I began finding out more about the folk music that I liked from various parts of the world, I realised that the mandolin was quite often used so I bought one and decided the learn.  If you can play the guitar then it’s not a difficult transition to the mandolin.

What is your writing process and your inspiration for the haunting melodies and lyrics that are a Dan Shears signature?  What part does the Velveteen Orkestra play in the writing process?

I can’t really be mechanical when it comes to writing, I could never force a song out of me.  Sometimes a song will be complete all but for the lyrics for months before it gets finished.  Suddenly the melodies and word spaces that I’ve been “humm”-ing or “la la”-ing for several months, will align with each other and the words come.  I want people to form a relationship with our music in the same way that I have with my favourite artists.  For me, a compelling melody is your first line of communication. Your melody is like your first kiss with your listener and your lyrics are the warm embrace and the flutter in the heart that says they want keep you in their life.  The Velveteen Orkestra is wonderful at enhancing the aesthetic of the songs.  Illuminating the mood and imagery that emanates from the lyrics or the chords.

 

Well, you’ve certainly fluttered the heart of this fan!  Your lyrics are rather dark.  Should we be worried about you, Dan?  Worried about those who live with you? 

You should all be worried… I’m coming for each and every one of you haha.  I’ve always been drawn towards art that is darker in nature.  I wrestle with the darker thoughts that reveal themselves in my head and exorcise them by putting them on the page rather than letting them fuel anything destructive.  I find being onstage, quite liberating as well.  I share things in songs, I’d be far less inclined to share in life.  I can be a me that I’m a little frightened of being out in the world.

 

Are there any other collaborations in which you are engaged and any other media in which you’d like to work that you haven’t yet?  Why does that interest you?

I have sung vocals on an album with Woody Woodgate from Madness which has been my main collaboration in recent times.  Woody used to teach at my school when I was doing A-Levels so we’ve known each other for a long time.  I hadn’t spoken to him since I left school however, so I dropped him a message one day and he said how spooky it was because he was actually trying to find me so he could ask if I would sing on his album.  Charlene (Soraia) and I have talked about maybe doing a duet one day, that might be fun.  I would envisage it to be something similar to that song Nick Cave did with Kylie.

 I would very much like to get involved in film.  Our music kind of veers towards the cinematic so I think it would be great to get involved with a film project.  A song from the new album is being used in a film over here but it would be great to try and compose some music especially for a film.

Your Pledge Music campaign is still running and there are all sorts of goodies and special offers including a pre-order of your new album, Shadow & Whimsy.  Where can people find those offers ?

Yes!  I have done a little video appeal you’re welcome to share and people can find the album pre-order and other offers at my Pledge Music site:

 

http://www.pledgemusic.com/projects/shadowandwhimsy

Can we give the readers a little sample of your music?

Sure, our video for ‘Dressed Up in Sables’ from Shadow & Whimsy is still in editing but will be out soon.  We have a video by Plainview Media of our song ‘The Rest is Silence’ from our first EP, The Eternal Mystery of the Human Heart.  It is softer than our current album but it will give you a flavour of our sound.

 

Where can people follow you?

Everything is under Dan Shears music – that’s Shears like the shears you cut with, because nothing says Rock n Roll like gardening equipment. 

 

Facebook:  www.facebook.com/danshearsmusic

Website:  www.danshearsmusic.com

Twitter:  @danshearsmusic

 

And my final question for you, Dan is this – For what are you most grateful, in this moment?

I am most grateful for my family.

Articles, Chronic Illness, Gratitude

On Gratitude and Chronic Illness

August 27, 2015
Photo: Andrew Phillips

Photo: Andrew Phillips

I have decided to write this in response to an article by Toni Bernhard in the Buddhist magazine Tricycle: 12 Things You Should Never Say to the Sick

Unless we are enlightened beings, there can be no happiness without first experiencing and accepting our suffering.

Unless we are newborns, we will have had experiences of loss, abandonment, despair and suffering.  Unless we are able to feel those feelings and move through them, they will become repressed, possibly lead to somatic illness and will at the very least, get locked away in a part of our hearts that is no longer available for other emotions, like love and joy.  We must be able to suffer our pain in order to celebrate our joy.  There is no escaping it.  Trying to push someone past their pain and trying to cheer them up with positivity short circuits that process.  It is often not even for their benefit, but out of our own discomfort with the spectre of empathy, and the personal pain that might be triggered, that we do this.  I am pretty sure that I have been guilty of this same behaviour from time to time but it only serves to alienate the other person from me.

I think about this in relation to chronic illness. There is stigma around incurable conditions and so, when I approached my “someone” about talking to me for this article, she asked not to be identified.  This, however, is what she had to say, on the subject:

“I have been suffering a setback for the past week and simultaneously, am in denial.  It doesn’t help that some people closest to me have been feeding my denial for over a year.  I understand that their intentions were to keep me positive, but the thing about denial is that unless the thing you’re denying turns out not to exist, you eventually have a rude awakening at some point.

I am awakening to the reality that after a year, I am not cured.  I’ve had a good year.  I’ve been productive, I’ve become happier despite my situation, I’ve accomplished milestones and I have plans and a purpose for the future.  But I am not healed, I am not ‘recovered’ and I am not cured.  And, with this knowledge, I need to take on a major challenge.

I am facing the need to return to employment. I have a job offer.  The problem is that it requires a huge relocation.  I’m not sure a relocation would be the best thing for me right now.  I’m not sure my employer ‘gets’ my capabilities and needs.  And, I’m not really sure I understand my own capabilities anymore.  The other night, I was having a bad day of chronic illness symptoms and I did an unwise thing:  I read the Wikipedia entry on this illness.  The prognosis is poor.  The success with return to work is poor.  The amount of adverse impact on an individual’s life and the emotional stress of this illness is higher than any other chronic illness.  Great.  Just what I needed to hear (not).

When asked what impact reading this dismal view of her future had on her, she replied:

Intellectually, I know these statistics but I have chosen to ignore them.  You might say it is denial.  (And, of course, you would be right) I chose to call it positive thinking.  And, to be fair, I seem to be functioning at a much higher level than many people with this illness.  But, that doesn’t mean that I am not aware of how much my life has changed.  I met a fellow recently, who has unbounded energy.  I used to be like that.  I remember my yoga teachers asking what my secret was.  They wanted to bottle it and sell it.  I certainly don’t have that energy any more.  He’s a lovely fellow and so full of life and he has held a mirror up to me and I struggle with the image I see – of not being that person I was – anymore.

I have always been an over achiever – give me anything to do and I will learn to do it and I will learn to do it well.  I will put everything into it.  I went to an ivy league school and came out with other ivy leaguers among the top 1/3 of the class.  I have moved, shaked, travelled, done and accomplished a thousand things.

And I am not that person anymore.

Who am I?

I have been asking myself that question a lot lately. It is certainly not a question one expects to be asking at this age. Okay – midlife crisis aside.  But this is not a midlife crisis.  It happens to be a crisis that has occurred at midlife.  I don’t know what my capabilities are, anymore.  The main thing associated with my illness is an overwhelming fatigue that rest cannot assuage.  But it is so much more than fatigue.  There can be pain, dizziness, body system dysregulation, immune system failure, and cognitive impairment, among other symptoms.

I don’t know what of all of that is mine to keep.  And depending on that – I don’t know what my capabilities are, in this world.

I am afraid of trying, of getting back out there – and failing.

I have enjoyed having this time away from everyone.  It has allowed me to rest, to retrieve those things like art, music, writing and photography (and lately, meditation and yoga) that bring me joy.   It is also, at this moment, allowing me the space to figure out who I am in this changed physical body and who I want to be, in the future.  But in that process, there is a lot of grief over the person who is no more.  It is like I’ve lost my spouse and I have to learn to go on with my life, with half of me gone.

I am in mourning.

And just as we would not say to a widow:  “Oh don’t worry, you’ll get over it, I did,” it is equally less helpful to tell anyone the same thing about an illness that fundamentally changes the way we must engage with the world and leaves us essentially isolated when we are ill.

I asked what friends and family could do to help her feel less isolated:

They could educate themselves and not place the entire burden on me to always explain myself.  I haven’t the energy to keep explaining and educating others, let alone justifying my treatment or life choices.  I need to preserve my energy for daily living and getting the most I can out of life.  I need to be able to be assertive with my needs and I am happy to offer an initial resource but we don’t expect a cancer patient or a paraplygic to keep explaining their condition.  We should not expect this from those with chronic illness – even those that are ‘invisible’  and unpredictable, like mine – to do so.  

On the nature of an invisible and unpredictable illness:

People think that because fatigue is a key symptom of this illness, they know how I feel. Everyone is tired. But this trivialises the debilitating nature of our fatigue. This illness is not tiredness, exhaustion or burnout.  Those alone go away with enough time and rest.  Tiredness is just a symptom of my illness.  And, I think a lot of doctors use the label of this illness when people present with chronic tiredness and do not have any other physical cause like low iron or thyroid issues.  There is no definitive test but Universities in California have found that there is a distict difference in the brain of those with this illness – particularly in our white matter.  When I read about that, I wondered whether I would rather know or not know what my brain looks like and what that says for my prognosis.

But, misdiagnosis leads to further misunderstanding of the illness.  Those who ‘recover completely’ probably never had it in the first place.  The prognosis for this illness is that it is chronic.  One does not recover.  One ‘manages’ and one works to improve dramatically impaired levels of functioning.  Nobody ever ‘recovers.’

I spent the last year in denial about that – hoping that I would find that the diagnosis was wrong.  I hoped that with enough rest, I would also be jumping around claiming to be completely recovered.  A year on, I can’t say that.  And that causes me grief.

On how she sees herself returning to her professional career:

I won’t return to working 36 hour days and to the levels of stress I was under.  I won’t return to that.  Who would want to? But, I may never return to full time employment.    I do need to bring in an income.  I am going to have to find a way to earn a living as a single woman on a part time salary.  How I will do that is something I don’t know.  And that scares me.

And for the first time in the time since I left employment, I must face this hurdle and it is daunting.

And so, after a year of denial and isolation,  I’m scared.  I am frustrated and angry, I am saddened, I am still bargaining my diagnosis but I can see I need to move to acceptance and to mapping out a new and changed life.

Nobody is where they thought they would be.  I never thought I would be here.”

Photo: Tania D Campbell

Photo: Tania D Campbell

 

One of the things I hope that I can do with my book on gratitude is to provide it to people suffering from debilitating chronic illness.  It would be worse than useless if I wasn’t honest about the down times, the sacrifices and how difficult accepting and coping with illness is – especially given that there exists so much misunderstanding and judgement around it anyway.

What people never really understand is the shame of being unwell in a culture obsessed with wellness.  And, every time someone tries to cheer up a person with chronic illness with talk of how they or their friend or their second cousin once removed managed to recover from this illness, it compounds the shame and the guilt of not being able to heal oneself and get well.

Like the article in Tricycle advises, if you love someone with a chronic illness, don’t advise them on treatment, don’t cheer them up, don’t tell them they look wonderful and force them to correct you by telling you they actually feel awful.  I would add that this would force them to explain how many days of rest they had to trade for this moment ‘out’ or what they’ve had to sacrifice that you might simply take for granted, in order to look good and be out.

Just let them be who they are because they are struggling to know and to accept who they are – now.

The positive talk in the head of a person with chronic illness needs to come from them, from their appreciation of life and of what blessings they still have, despite their limitations.  So, Please don’t tell them to be grateful for what they have – it only serves to highlight what is lost.

When asked about gratitude, our sufferer had this to say:

“I am grateful that I have had more therapy than Woody Allen and I continue to have support because that foundation has given me the ability to be self reflective and given me the tools to cope with whatever I discover about myself.  

I am grateful that I have my gratitude practice to keep me positive and I am grateful that I can still be creative.  I know that I am blessed with the opportunity to redefine myself, even if it is due to illness.  And, in the passage of time and in acceptance of what has been lost, I will come to appreciate what is to be gained in this experience.

I am not there, yet.

And that’s okay.” 

 

 

Art, Articles, Community, Gratitude, Milestone, Music, Oneness

Celebrating 365 Days of Gratitude

August 16, 2015

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For those who could not attend Sunday’s milestone celebration of reaching 365 Days of Gratitude….

I am not one for big speeches but I wanted to just take a moment to thank you all for marking with me the passage of a milestone of 365 days of Gratitude practice. Well that’s Actually a year of Gratitude, Joy, Oneness and Service.

I realise that some of you have followed me on Facebook some have followed my blog and some had no idea I was doing this at all. It really wasn’t something I set out a year ago to do but as is the nature of the process, it kind of snowballed.

What began as a Facebook meme to post 3 things daily for which I am grateful quickly became a daily practice of appreciating 3 good things and noticing moments of joy. I felt the positive effects of the practice quickly and soon added a component of daily service and a daily practice of nurturing empathy, connection, compassion, awe and purpose.  What started as a 7 days commitment snowballed into 21 days, a month, 3 months, 6 months, 9 months and now…a year of Gratitude, Joy, Oneness and Service.

And while we celebrate this milestone of a year, I am happy – and a little scared – to commit today to Ten Thousand Days of Gratitude practice and to continue to write about it. For you keen mathematicians and accountants here today, you will already have calculated that by the time I reach that milestone I will be more than 27 years old….er. 27.2 to be exact.  If I am still around at that point, I will renew my vows, then.

You might wonder why I am making such a big commitment…well, it’s simple… After studying to write drama and fiction, I quit writing stories several years ago because I just couldn’t find my way to writing a happy ending.  Writing about gratitude (and joy, oneness and service) has given me both the experience of and the ability to write about happiness.  I think those who have been on the whole journey will agree that I have blossomed and I intend to see it through to the end.

I have already written a year’s worth of gratitude journals and observations on the practice and now it’s time to focus on shaping that into a book. I am also launching a new web magazine Ten ThousandDaysofGratitude.com and I am working to find a way to use my skills to work with the UK charity Action For Happiness.

My wish, if I can put it out there, is that others will pick up the practices and this will spread. So please, do spread the website far and wide.

I want to thank Ruth from Canvas café for giving us this space, Street Art curator, Greg Key (Instagram: @speckles76) for leading our lively street art tour, Dan Shears for providing us with some of his music, Luke Harvest for his work on setting up the website, C Michael Frey for the logo design, Faith Amy Romeo and Natasha Westover for being gratitude wall guardians, Debbie Heath for the original 7 day Facebook challenge, Paula Montgomery for prompting me to add Joy, all the street artists of London for the beautiful art that gave me so much joy, and Louis Masai for agreeing to be my first interview on my focus for the year ahead – Service. It hasn’t happened yet so watch for it in upcoming posts.  A big thank you to all my readers here and overseas.

And of course I want to thank You all for being a part of my life. You have each been a part of my daily practice. Without you, I wouldn’t have much to say.

So, here’s to you. Thank you.

 

 

A Street Art Walk in Celebration of all the Street Art of London that has been part of the Joy of this year!

Greg Key, Street Art Exhibition Curator and Photographer took us around today and highlighted some of the works that have meant so much to me over the last year.  Greg has been one of my street art mentors this year, helping me to get to know which artist is associated with which works and to find the works I’d like to see.

After a career in the entertainment business and in hospitality, Greg’s passions for modern art and particularly street art have created the hottest new curator on the London Art scene.  He is curating his first show, “Underhand,” in London, opening 10 September, with a dazzling array of some of the finest talent on the London Streets today being represented.  Check out the show:

“Underhand”
(10-21 September)
BSMT Space
5 Stoke Newington Road
N16 8BH

Follow Greg on instagram: www.instagram.com/speckles76

 

1. Louis Masai (paint)

Louis paints about endangered species, he says, in order create awareness for beings without a voice.

Louis went on to art college in Cornwall and was rather discouraged by his teachers not to pursue art as a way to make a living.  In 2010 he moved to London where he has proved them wrong. While Louis does not like the image that the term ‘street art’ conjures and prefers to think of outdoor art as public art, his outdoor paintings in London, and particularly his campaign to save the bees (with Jim Vision) led to massive exposure of his work through social media.  Since 2010 he has had at least 3 solo shows in London and has been included in several group shows.  He continues to paint a combination of indoor and outdoor pieces with a focus on animals, giving them a human trait as human beings like to anthropomorphise animals.

  Personally: Louis Masai holds a special place in my heart.  In the midst of the first few days after leaving work, a friend posted an article about Louis.  My friend and I are both champions of environmental issues and both have a special interest in water.  I was aware of the dangers facing the honey bee, but seeing Louis work made me take street art a little more seriously than I had done.  I started following him and his work to find that he not only was concerned with the bee but also with endangered species and biodiversity loss.  Louis has worked with activists like the IUCN on the RED Endangered Species List to raise awareness through his paintings and of course he and Jim Vision created the whole bee project and worked with beekeepers, honey users in manufacturing things like candles, honey, beer and with seed companies who provided seeds that were distributed where he painted in order to help the public re-conceptualize where and how to plant seeds to protect the bee habitats.  Louis doesn’t really sit comfortably with the idea of being an activist per se.  The intersections between art and music are another area that interests him.   He considers himself an artist, but does recognize that his paintings and his visual language have a power to raise awareness and make people engage emotionally with the issues and he does make visits to schools to talk to young people about art, the environment and about music.  When it became clear to me that my friend’s mother was unwell, I made it a mission to find whatever murals still remained of Louis’ bees.  I contacted Greg here on instagram and asked the location of the murals.  I wanted to send some cheer in a very dark time to my friend.  Greg kindly offered to show them to me but given the reason why I was photographing them, I decided to go alone.  I didn’t know how serious the illness was and within hours of sending the photos, my friend’s mother passed away.  So Louis (and also, Greg) will always be a part of that tender moment. Later, I had the good fortune to be able to attend a solo show of Louis’ and I found what I already knew would be the case – a passionate, purposeful and open hearted soul with a heart breaking sensitivity to the decline in biodiversity and loss of species that is accelerating around us today.   That night,  I bought my first piece of street art as a gift to myself for my birthday.  It really was quite accessible for a painting.  Of course, it was a bee.  And I plan to buy more and support his work in the future. Follow Louis online: www.louismasai.com Follow Louis on Instagram: www.instagram.com/louismasai Follow Louis on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/louismasaimichel?fref=ts       2. Anna Laurini (paint, paintedpaste up) Anna Laurini, is an Italian painter from the abstract expressionist school who works in acrylic,collage and mixed media.  On the street her paintingsreflect a cubist style.  Her work ranges from cubist to non-representational expressionist and touches on a kind ofneo-plasticsm with abstract and vibrant geometric shapes.  Shehas been painting for more than 20 years.  She  has studied at Central Saint Martins in London and at the Art Student League in New York City and the F.I.T. in New York.  In case you’re wondering that is the Fashion Institute of Technology. For that past 10 years, she has lived and worked between London, Milan, and New York City.

  Personally: Our paths have criss-crossed for those 20 years but we only met this year.  She is Italian, as I said, but she lived in New York around the same time I did in the mid to late 1990s.  She moved to London about ten years ago and her paintings have been sold in London, New York, Australia, I asked her why she paints on the streets and she told me it was for fun and also because of the same experience I’ve mentioned from the other artists – it gets exposure.  Her street paintings currently feature the face of a woman and a man – although she has told me that if you prefer, you can see in them two women or two men.  She uses the faces and the couple because they are very quick to paint on the street and as I’m coming to understand, all artists seem to have a character that is associated with them and is in a way – their brand – though this she did not tell me, I’m just figuring this out. When I first saw her faces, I fell in love with them.  There is something very different about these pieces to the rest of the paste ups or paintings on the street.  They’re cheerful.  She must have hit the area I was walking hard because when I first noticed her faces, I suddenly saw three in one day and I was on a mission to find out who painted them.  I was certain the person behind the faces was a very interesting person, indeed.  Anna often adds the text that inspires the painting to her works – sometimes it is a quote from a philosopher and sometimes it is a song.  To me, the reason I love her paintings are that they are so vibrant and positive – something that isn’t popular in art but I think should be – her work enlivens my spirit while making me think.  You can’t get better than that as a result, from a piece of art. A sample of Anna’s paintings:  http://www.saatchiart.com/annalaurini Follow Anna on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/anna-laurini/45169637820 Follow Anna on Instagram: www.instagram.com/annalauriniblue         3. ALO (painting, hand painted paste up) The Saatchi gallery, where ALO had a solo show in 2014 describes ALO this way:

“ALO is an Italian artist based in London. His first works appeared in the streets of Perugia, Rome and Milan. Subsequently, the artist expanded his practice to include works on canvas and found materials as well as continuing to install works on walls in London, Paris, Berlin and elsewhere in Europe. The artist describes his style as ‘Urban Expressionism’.”

As mentioned, ALO was the focus of a solo exhibition, Hail to the Loser, at the Saatchi Gallery last year.

 

 

Personally:

I had taken a street art tour in 2010 and I learned some of the main artists around at that time who Greg may show you today – names like Stik, Cityzenkane, and JimmyC.  I remembered being delighted to see JimmyC paint while we were walking around Shoreditch and so when I decided to go out and find something to shoot for my new Instagram account last year, I set out to find a JimmyC painting.  Across the street was this very interesting paste up of a person that drew me from across the road.

The piece struck me as conveying the angst and energy of German expressionism between the wars with a very modern feel.  I looked all around it because his pieces often have words embedded as part of the art as if jar and force the viewer out of any intimate engagement with the representational form and designed to make you think about the image, rather than simply feel it.  At least that’s what it does for me.

I remember looking at the writing on the side and thinking AILO?  What is AILO?  I didn’t realise it was ALO but it was one of the first pieces I posted in an attempt to identify the artist.

Recently, I saw another piece of ALO’s work near Liverpool street and I noticed the word ribbon in the hair of the figure.  I really hadn’t noticed those details when I was looking at the art on the street.  Anyone who knows me knows that I like to look at art very very slowly and I take my time with a piece so you don’t really want to go to a gallery with me…I will spend the whole day there.  On the street, however, I look quickly.  I snap the shot and move on because I am influenced by the hurried feeling of being on the street in London.  When I saw that detail, I realised that I wasn’t giving these pieces their due and I decided to go out and find a piece by ALO and when I did, to let his work remind me to slow down and really take in the art on the street as if I were in a gallery.  It was a wonderful lesson for me.

Follow ALO online: www.aloart.org
A sample of ALO’s paintings at Saatchi:www.saatchistore.com/74-alo
Follow ALO on Instagram: www.instagram.com/alo_art
Follow ALO on Facebook:https://www.facebook.com/aloartofstreet?fref=ts

 

4. Skeleton Cardboard (paint)

The bio on the website for Well Hung Gallery as this to say about Skeleton Cardboard (https://wellhung.co.uk/artists/skeleton-cardboard/):

This anonymous artist has littered the streets of London with his skeleton figures for the past few years. Painted on walls around the east end of London and on discarded pieces of cardboard free for passers by to admire or to take – These macabre yet playful figures on one hand remind us of our own mortality and on the other show a whimsical take on our existence.

Like Basquiat, Skeleton Cardboard uses primitive images to challenge the consumer culture that alienates the individual in a world where technology creates the perfect image at the expense of intimacy.

Skeleton Cardboard’s recent show in Shoreditch was a smash success and he currently has installed a piece in a group show at the Lollipop Gallery in London.

 

  Personally: When I was walking around the streets in East London, I found these cheerful skeletons that looked like they were dancing and making fun of the consumer culture of the 21st century.  They made me laugh and as I anonymously appreciated and photographed the street art around town, I found the skeletons became like friends, meeting me here on Redchurch street, popping up over on Sclater street and then surprising me with a big fat hello on Bethnal Green Road.  The first ‘secret location’ show I attended (at the invitation of Savant) was Skeleton’s show in London.  A delightful man, I ventured to tell him what I thought about his art and I mentioned another famous street artist.  I hoped he wouldn’t be offended that I had to resort to a comparison, but it was the right thing to say.  He had been greatly influenced by the other artist and I was happy that the way I had interpreted his work aligned with his intent.  He has given me confidence to say what I think when I engage with art.  His work makes me smile and it also makes me think.  A sample of Skeleton Cardboard’s paintings: https://wellhung.co.uk/artists/skeleton-cardboard/ Follow Skeleton Cardboard online: www.Skeletoncardboard.tumblr.com Follow Skeleton Cardboard on Instagram: www.instagram.com/skeletoncardboard Follow Skeleton Cardboard on Facebook: Scot Bared Kolanerd / Skeletoncardboard           5. PLIN (paint) PLIN is an anonymous US based artist who works with paint and paste up.  His figures create a whimsical look at modern man in all his angst and joy.  PLIN’s art celebrates the potential of positive images to create a more thoughtful, engaged and happier community and society.

 

 

Personally:

There is a running theme in a lot of the art that has been part of my life and my practices this year has been that which is cheerful, intelligent, makes me laugh or becomes a ‘friend’ on the street.  I started noticing PLIN’s toothy faces some time ago, and for the longest time, the piece on Quaker street made me smile every time I passed it.  Like a friend saying hello on Brick Lane, the face on the corner told me to have a great day photographing art or wished me to get home safe when I was heading down to the night bus. They look a bit ferocious these faces, but to me, like an older brother that looks out for you, they are comforting.

I had the pleasure to meet the artist recently and discovered an intelligent, poetic soul.  I will never forget what PLIN said to me:  ” Street artists have a duty to paint every day here” because of the relative freedom that artists in London enjoy.  It made me think of my own writing and the fact that I have lived in reasonably free societies.  I think its a duty to write every day and maybe sometimes to say some uncomfortable truths.  That is how we defend our right to free speech and truth – by exercising it.  I am grateful to PLIN for that insight.

Follow PLIN on Instagram: www.instagram.com/monsu_plin

 

6. Fanakapan (graffiti artist and painter – paint)

Fanakapan is a British artist best known for his realistic yet whimsical and luminescent balloon animals and letters.  He is a pop artist, using commonly known images in uncommon and unexpected ways.  His images often evoke memories of childhood, sometimes evoking happier times, sometimes injecting a dark sense of humour to his images of innocence. Fanakapan works throughout Europe and in collaboration with other artists.

     Personally: It’s no surprise that these cheerful and sometimes darkly comic figures would appeal to me.  When you see Fanakapan’s balloon figures lighting up the streets, its like there is a birthday party going on everywhere.  In a difficult time in my life, Fanakapan’s art made me happy.  My favourite piece that I had the good fortune to see has been painted over but that is the beauty of photography.  In fact, when I saw it for the first time, Pharrel’s song ‘Happy’ came to mind.  I know its not a deep analysis of his work but I don’t care.  It moved me and it made me feel good.  We need more of that in this world. The very first live painting event I ever attended was because I saw that Fanakapan was advertising it on Instagram and I wanted to see the artist paint.  I was still too shy to say hi, but I loved watching the artist paint. Follow Fanakapan on Instagram: www.instagram.com/fanakapan           7. Savant (painting, paste up and collage) Savant is an anonymous British paste up artist whose art is of the original political genre of art with disruptive messages.  Savant’s work challenges the structures of society and the loss of critical thinking.  His works include both images and words and displays a wry sense of humour.  His images depict the sinister side of complacency and the death of the “individual” in the modern world.  His paste ups which use words, on the other hand, prompt the viewer to stop and to think, and moreover, to question the process of thought itself, thereby saving themselves from the oblivion that is the modern consumer culture.  Being paste up, these works are more transient than paintings and are part of a street conversation where other artists and viewers contribute to the dialogue with their own disruptive messages.  In this way, Savant is one of the artists on the London streets that is upholding and defending free speech and political discourses of the “common man on the street.”

 

 

Personally:

The first day I went out photographing street art to do something with my instagram account, I encountered several artists that I would continue to follow in the future.  Savant was one of these first.  The first piece I saw by Savant was a collage paste up that said “Art is Dead” but it had been degraded and hit by a graff who had ripped off the “Dead” and had written in the word “Jesus.”  I liked that:  Art is Jesus.  I really liked that.  It not only spoke of a dialogue between Savant and the anonymous graff, but it challenged me to think – what did I believe? – Is art dead, or is it a spiritual salvation.  For me, I knew it was the latter.

Savant was really the first artist who invited me to meet other artists.  I had given the artist a positive quality of them and their work on my How to Fall in Love with Anyone photo series on Instagram and I received and invitation to a Skeleton’s show with Savant’s partner and friends.  I felt very warmly welcomed into a world full of wonderful, creative, intelligent and positive people.  I am grateful to Savant for that and I love to find new pieces that make me think.


Follow Savant on Instagram: www.instagram.com/seanussavant
Follow Savant on Facebook: www.facebook.com/seanussavant

 

8. WRDMSTH (paint stencil and paste up)

WRDSMTH is an American artist.  He is a street artist and writer living in LA and he posts a new piece daily around the world.  His signature is a stencil painted typewriter with a pasted up saying above it.  Each of his paste ups are inspirational or romantic in nature and are designed with the feel good factor.  He began pasting up the street art in November, 2013 and intended only to continue until he had 1K Instagram followers. He currently has just shy of 50K followers and continues to post daily.  WRDSMTH has always loved street art and as a kid was intrigued by the graffiti messages he would see on walls.  After a good year creatively (ie in front of the computer) he took up street art as an active and creative outlet that would give him a daily break from the relentlessness of sitting in front of a computer screen, writing.

He was born in the Midwest, worked as an advertising copywriter and then moved to LA to pursue his dream of writing.  When asked why he has taken up street art, he has said:  “I write things on walls that I wished people would have said to me when I first moved here.” (TheLAgirl.com)

When asked for his mission statement, WRDSMTH has said “WRDSMTH aspires to inspire others on a dialy basis with colourful and well-chosen words crafted into indelible thoughts that are temporarily tattooed onto walls around the world…” (hdfmagazine.com)

  Personally: For me, WRDSMTH is extremely dear and speaks to the writer in me as well as the person who has struggled from a rather beaten down and physically unwell individual a year ago to who I am now.  In the course of trying to get well this year, I dusted off the old writing pen and paper and tapped the keyboard for months until the rust was gone and things started working again.  For me, both my writing and my sense of positivity has grown in the process and along the way, this anonymous fellow writer was sending out positive messages that, some days, I needed so very badly.  I follow him on Instagram and Facebook because I don’t always see a new piece in London but I can see a new piece daily on social media.  WRDSMTH has come to be a little bit of a cheerleader in my head and really represents for me, personally, what PLIN talks about – the positive power to street art to change the world. Follow WRDSMTH on Instagram: www.instagram.com/wrdsmth Follow WRDSMTH on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/WRDSMTHinLA?fref=ts           9. D7606 (paste up) A relative newcomer to the London street art scene, anonymous paste up artist D7606 juxtaposes vibrant crayon box coloured images of iconic objects with iconic star personalities to create pop art paste ups that brighten the city streets.  A pop artist, he collaborates with other artists and has made a name for himself for being a great collaborator.  Most notably, his work is usually seen with painter and paste-up artist C-3.  The name D7606 is taken from the model of a British train engine from an era when he was a train photographer, but he is quick to note that he is not a trainspotter.  He is not an artist by trade or training but his passion for the street art he was photographing on his rambles in East London took him into creating his own works.  He takes great joy in seeing his work up on the streets of London and being seen, enjoyed and photographed by thousands of people a week.

 

 

Personally:

I knew D7606 on Instagram before I had ever seen a piece of the artist’s work.  Mr. D kindly tagged the art that I was photographing and posting on Instagram and quickly became a street art mentor to me.  When I photograph a piece of art, I am well aware that the beauty of it is all in the artist’s hand, not my camera.  My job is to hold the camera straight and still, not to add weird photos and then to give proper credit to the artist.  Mr. D helped me to do that.  I don’t actually think I would have become so interested in street art this year if it hadn’t been for Mr. D.  The day I spotted my first piece by D7606, I was so excited – here I had found a treasure left behind on the London streets by Mr. D.  I went to Upfest specifically to meet Mr. D and say thanks for all his help this year.

Follow D7606 online: www.d7606.co.uk and www.d7606.bigcartel.com/
Follow D7606 on Instagram: www.instagram.com/d7606art
and www.instagram.com/d7606
Follow D7606 on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/D7606/395466227213600?fref=ts

 

10. Zabou (stencil and freehand paint)

The Upfest Website describes Zabou (http://www.upfest.co.uk/artist/zabou)

Originally from France but based in London, Zabou is an exciting street art talent who, since bursting onto the scene in 2012 has been gaining a growing reputation for her striking art. Her images are a mixture of stencil and freehand technique, combining both sharp lines, colourful shades, dripping and splashes of paint. She plays on stereotypes and pokes fun at conformity, from spray painting nuns to satirical takes on the surveillance state.

A photo posted by Tania Campbell (@pinkstarpix) on

Personally: You will recognize Zabou’s art from the image used for the milestone event today.  Zabou’s work makes me smile and is bright and cheerful and that’s why I like it.  She is irreverent and that aligns with my own sense of humour.  I had the pleasure to briefly meet Zabou artist at Upfest and like many of the street artists we finally meet, she was nothing like I expected her to be.  Firstly, I thought she was a he.  I somehow thought that her large scale murals were the work of a man.  It was a delight to find that she was a charming young woman with the courage to be so wonderfully outspoken through her images.  There are a couple of pieces by Zabou on the streets of Paris that I hope to see.  They are much more poignant and beautiful.  I’d very much like to see that side of her art. Follow Zabou online: www.zabou.me Follow Zabou on Instagram: www.instagram.com/zabouartist Follow Zabou on Facebook: www.facebook.com/zabou.artist

 

The Music of 365 Days of Gratitude

Dan Shears EP’s were available for those who attended as a little thank you for coming.    A little taster from Dan’s Youtube channel for those who could not make it:

As you know, Music is one of the things for which I am most grateful.  And, over the year, I have written many times about how much I am grateful for music.  Many times it has been for certain artists that have meant so much to me like Jesse Cook, Dan Shears, DJ Sheb i Shabbah, Jai Uttal and Krishna Das, but over the year I have posted happy songs as well, and so I put together a playlist of music that meant something to me this year for the party.  I have to thank Milo V- for adding a few updates to my music taste which tended to run from sappy housewife to runaway yogi to 50 year old gay man.  You’ll still find my personality all over it, don’t worry.  I chose all the songs and their order. DJ Pinkstarpix Lola Sumangali in da house! Don’t be put off with the Sanskrit at the beginning.  I have played Jai Uttal to invoke Ganesha because it is good to invoke Ganesh at the start of any new venture (oh I dunno – like TEN THOUSAND DAYS OF GRATITUDE, perhaps?) and I have closed by thanking the patron God of all Bhaktans like me – Krishna.  I have had the pleasure to sing with both meant at kirtan and they fill my heart, always.  If you couldn’t be there, I hope the videos will give you a sense of the spirit of the day.   As always, please buy the music.  I have chosen youtube videos rather than Spotify simply to encourage you to support the artist by buying the actual songs.   DJ Pinstarpix Lola Sumangali’s 365 Days of Gratitude Mix

 

Spreading the Practice:

I want YOU to be happy.  No strings attached.  I just want you to be happy. Please consider taking up some of this practice into your own life? Almost everyone attending today’s celebration wrote something when asked for 3 things for which they are grateful.  Here is the result:

 

Won’t you add your three things in the comments?

Articles, Gratitude, Ten Thousand Days

Welcome

August 9, 2015


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Welcome to the new home of our practice of Gratitude on the net!

Many of you will know that I have launched this site to mark the completion of a full year 365 days of daily gratitude practice and for those who have been on that journey with me, I want to thank you for your support and for following me here. For those who are new to this journey: Welcome! I hope you will continue this journey and find some useful resources here.

My devotion to gratitude began as a whimsical self tag on a friend’s meme that suggested practicing keeping a gratitude journal and counting every day 3 things for which I am grateful. I was to post the results. I had always loved the practice of counting my blessings and so I thought it would be a positive injection into my life.

The challenge was to last 7 days. During that week, I noticed another friend had pledged to post her daily moments of joy in her life for 21 days. I liked that, so I decided to practice both keeping (and posting) a gratitude journal for 21 days and noticing moments of joy. With 3 weeks in, it seemed simple to make it a whole month. A month became 3 months. Three months became 6 months. A year seemed within reach.

As I journeyed through the year, I found many positive changes in myself, my outlook, my physical health and my good fortune. It wasn’t long before my overwhelming sense of abundance compelled me to give back to the world. And, so, I added a daily practice of service. I didn’t want to focus on big lumpy investments of time and commitment but the small things we do for others as we go through the day and to try to amplify them.

It became difficult to remember those small things and so I considered that most times I would have done things for others because I would have experienced empathy or compassion for others or because I simply felt an inexplicable connection with them. And so, we incorporated a final and wide sweeping element of the first 365 days of practice: noticing Oneness.

People have asked me about religion and gratitude. While practicing gratitude is part of many religions, I don’t believe there needs to be any spiritual basis for practicing Gratitude or noticing moments of Joy and Oneness or for being of Service. In a world without ‘God/dess’ or a force greater than ourselves (What I call the ‘Divine Quantum’), one can still be grateful that the winds of chaos have brought good things into one’s life.

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As for Service and Gratitude, they are part of the social contract of life. We give to others because our life is full at least partly because of the service of others.

The only part of this daily practice that really overtly makes reference to spirituality is Oneness – and even then, it is only a part of the whole concept. Oneness involves a connection with something greater than oneself and also, to me, other things, including friendship, empathy, compassion, love, sex and those moments of awe experienced when looking at beautiful art or in the presence of nature.

I have achieved a year of daily gratitude journaling but achieving the milestone is not the reward or the end of the journey. And, so, it is time to go on, and expand on what was learned in that first year – here.

Of course, underlying all of this practice is the practice of Mindfulness – the practice of being attentive, in the present moment, without judgement. Without a mindful approach to life, one would not be able to recount three things each day, but more importantly to notice our moments of joy, connection and compassion. We haven’t really explored in the first year some of the underlying themes like mindfulness nor the wider dimensions of application to our environment and ways of working.

We have so much yet to explore with the simple concept of gratitude and where it will lead us. I am so excited that you have decided to explore with me!

My hope is that what I share will encourage you to try some of it at home, in your own lives. To be completely transparent, I think it would be great if the whole world took up daily gratitude practice and we all learned to live gratefully. I think it would be the salvation of our planet, our communities, and of ourselves.

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Already there are so many people living gratefully, although they wouldn’t call it that, per se. The artist and musician who gives all to her art to make the world a more beautiful and/or positively thoughtful place is living gratefully and using her gifts in the service of others. She does it because it brings her joy and into oneness when she is in the flow of creating. The nurse, who tends to the sick and dying lives gratefully by making each of those precious moments meaningful and full of tenderness. She experiences the joy of helping someone either become well again or die with dignity and there is no doubt that in her patients most vulnerable moments, she is able to experience oneness with them and that what she does is service to the world. The humanitarian or environmental activist who takes action to save the planet is serving us all in his efforts and has surely chosen the profession because of a sense of oneness with the suffering of others or the planet and understands gratefully that he is fortunate for the world is a fragile place and needs caretaking. When he makes a difference, it fills him with joy. The mother who raises children and works a full time job lives gratefully for the opportunity and privilege to give of herself to raise and nurture good hearted children into good hearted adults and she experiences joy in their successes as much as her own and it is she who perhaps experiences the ultimate oneness with another human being as she and her child were once One.

Won’t you join us in living gratefully?

xx

If you’d like to see some of the posts from the first year of practice, you can still read a selection of them here:

My First Year of Daily Gratitude Practice

Articles, Gratitude, Ten Thousand Days

Why Ten Thousand Days

August 9, 2015

photo-1429041966141-44d228a42775When I started thinking of writing a book on my experience of practicing gratitude, I was looking for a title for that book. I work with an idea – a title, a character or an event as a launching pad when I write.

I thought of 365 Days of Gratitude as an obvious title and I chatted it through with a friend who has been with me on every step of this journey. She was not impressed. It was backward looking, and sounded as if I had completed my journey.

Had I really completed my journey? The year had been transformative. Why stop now?

Well, I hadn’t intended to stop, but I also hadn’t intended to continue my journey publicly. But, why not? I came back to our next meeting proud that I had made a new and, if I may say so, a rather “stretch” target. I had been reluctant throughout the year to commit to anything bigger than another 3-months. Each time I committed to another milestone, the ego would get all over the path telling me how boring, stupid and useless was this whole idea. I knew it would call forth my demons, but I bit the bullet and announced: “A Thousand Days of Gratitude”.

She thought it was a good idea. Good. Not great.

Meh.

“Well,” I said, a little more defensive than a person grounded in gratitude should be, “Malcolm Gladwell says it takes ten thousand hours to master anything, but I felt the benefits of gratitude in the first few weeks. I don’t need ten thousand days of gratitude.”

“Don’t you?” She asked.

Did I?

I wondered. The idea really sank in. Ten thousand days is nearly 30 years. Given the age I was, that would quite conceivably be the rest of my life. A lifetime of gratitude. Wow.

But what if I didn’t make it? I had taken milestones in manageable chunk so as not to fail in a public commitment. Thirty years was not guaranteed. But then again, neither is tomorrow. If I continued to write about gratitude for ten thousand days – and I physically didn’t reach that milestone – I would guarantee to write a real happy ending, to my own life.

I would learn to write what I had always wanted to put out into the world, as a writer.

It is morbid to think of creating a happy ending for one’s life, so instead, let’s consider Ten Thousand Days of Gratitude as a roadmap for an adventure into a happy life, built on grateful living.

So, welcome, friends, to the rest of my life. I hope you will journey with me, for at least awhile, and maybe find and take something to inspire your own journey of grateful living.