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Ten Thousand Days

The Forfeit

September 14, 2021

Photo: Brian Erickson

Day 2543 – Day 2586

I’ve been intentionally practicing gratitude every day for over seven years and still, sometimes I forget how glorious life is – all the time.  Right now, my heart feels heavy all the time and that is how it is going to be, for awhile.  

The weather echoes my mood.  For the rest of the week (most likely the month), it will rain, and the clouds descended into the Valley this morning.  The amount of rain in the PNW is enough to give anyone Seasonal Affective Disorder and so in winter, I return to the festival of colour that is my artwork. Despite the dull pallor that surrounds me, I am immersed and engaged in life whenever I am Painting.  Visual art – whether painting or photography –  is like making music or writing poetry in that it expresses the ineffable.  Some things need colour, tone, rhythm and texture to be understood by the heart and known by the mind.

I stopped at the intersection that leads to my workplace this morning, and I felt myself on the verge of tears again.  I looked for approaching traffic (there is never any).  In a defiant last stand of summer, the sky glowed behind Mt Baker.  I reached for my phone to capture the image but the eye of the camera doesn’t capture light in the same way as the human eye.  And the heart captures it in an entirely different way: the only way that the beauty, love and death can be lived as one. 

The sky was emblazoned in glorious hues of yellow as the sun disappeared behind layers of cloud. Moments of beauty.  This is what enkindles our hearts.  Much like love. 

Winter is the forfeit of summer as grief is the forfeit of love.

 

For what are you most grateful, today?

Milestone

Seven Year Itch

September 7, 2021

Day 2558

Today is not 2558.  Today is 2579.  But, on Day 2558, we hit seven years of gratitude.  I completely missed it.

I missed it because there was a death in my immediate family two days before.

I completely forgot to show up to any appointments or notice anything much that entire week.  I’d be surprised if I had been performing as normal.  I’m just not an automaton.

You might think I’d be angry with God but I’m not.  Yes, I’ve experienced anger but not with God.  In fact, I’ve been grateful.  I’m grateful for the life lessons that I experienced for having been a part of the same family as the person who passed away.  I’m grateful for the memories that I carry with me and although the manner of their final sendoff is not as I would have hoped, I’m grateful that I found a way (creatively, I might add) to say goodbye and get the closure that I needed.  And finally, I’m grateful that I was able to get right with the person before they died.  I can’t be responsible for how they received my love, forgiveness, amends and release, but I know that I did what I needed to do to be able to look at myself in the mirror and feel good.   I made sure that I said goodbye with authenticity and integrity before the final moment came. 

When the final moment came, I was not there.  I was not there when my mother’s final moments came, either.  I was the only family member who was living far away at the time.  And so, perhaps I am the best equipped to know how to get closure when you can’t be there.  While I’m not grateful to have lived most of my life without my mother, I am grateful for the lesson that struggling for years to get closure gave me: get right before the time comes and stay right with people.  Never let a day end with anger or unforgiveness between you.  And always, love.  And if you love, let it be expressed. 

One of the most powerful expressions of love is, of course, gratitude.  Without this practice, I’m not sure I could bear this loss with any grace at all.

Even as illness hovered and death came to our home, I knew this anniversary was coming up for some time now, and I have wondered all year whether I would experience some form of 7-year itch with this practice.  All I can say is that the more that I practice gratitude, and allow myself to express my appreciation, the more open my heart becomes.  The more open my heart becomes, the deeper this practice becomes and the more joy there is – even in the face of sorrow.

If I’ve got an itch, it is to see how deep this joy can go and the many ways that gratitude will give me grace in sorrowful times.

 

For what are you most grateful, today?

Milestone

2500

June 21, 2021

Photo: Kal Visuals

Day 2500 (reprise)

It wasn’t until I posted a video yesterday and needed the day count that I realized I had reached this milestone.  It was Father’s Day and my living family of origin was gathering to wish my Dad a happy day.  It was summer solstice and the longest day of the year.  And it was 2500 days of gratitude.

I think milestones are important markers in our lives.  They let us reflect and appreciate and they let us dream. They help us to make meaning of our lives.

To me, this is the biggest milestone, yet.

I’m not sure what to make of it.  I texted a few people who have been on the journey with me from the beginning.   Everybody wanted to know what I was going to do to celebrate.  Sadly, I wasn’t able to do anything to celebrate the day.  However, I will take myself kayaking later this week to celebrate both my birthday and this milestone.

One person wrote back about how this was a great personal commitment.  That didn’t feel quite like it captured what this was for me.  Of course, it is a personal commitment, but it has become more than that.  It seems to be morphing into something but right now it is in the in-between and so that makes it hard to describe.

What strikes me about 2500 days of gratitude is how quickly time passes and yet how so much has changed.  These past 2500 days have been some of the hardest of my life and I am hoping that there are better times ahead but I also know that there are some very hard times coming.  With all that said, I can’t imagine where I would be without gratitude.  I’d be a horrible, cranky, angry person if I were still here on this planet at all.  Gratitude has been a life buoy for me.  But, it has been more than that.  It has been an organizing principle around which I have designed a way of being.  It is also the cornerstone of a set of secular spiritual practices and it seems to be the fuel for a kind of life mission.

For the first time, I’ve reached a milestone, knowing that it was coming, and not really being able to say much about it.  I know that this year  I’ve found my ministry in it.  I also realize that there is something about Faith that I need to flesh out in this set of practices.  But I’ve also been discouraged about my ability to reach people and about people’s possible lack of appetite for the simple yet profound practices.  Beyond that, I think I need to just sit with it for a little while longer.

I feel quiet.

I was with my family yesterday and I never mentioned my milestone.  I’m not even sure whether they are aware that I have a website, let alone over 100 videos on YouTube.  Sometimes, we need to protect what matters most to us.

Some people can’t stop bragging.  I’m not one of those people.  Sometimes people think I’m being la-dee-dah because I mention the time I went to a Sufi centre in Istanbul or that I got to attend a climate change conference in Bali, or that I saw most of Caravaggio’s surviving paintings at an exhibition in Budapest.   It is just the life I’ve lived, living overseas.  But still, I learned a long time ago to keep quiet about the things I’ve done, with most people.  I have discovered that many people who have done something out of the ordinary keep quiet about it.   So I’m not alone in keeping things to myself, especially if I think that a person might not appreciate the accomplishment I have achieved.

Still, it makes me wonder.

And so, maybe I will just sit in wonder and in silence and gently paddle my way around this milestone and let it reveal itself as it wills.  In another two months, we will have another milestone of 7 years to celebrate.  Reaching the “Quarter Way” marker feels bigger than even 7 years but maybe by the 7-year mark I will understand this moment and have more to say about what this moment means.  I am reminded of the marker on the pier in Key West that marks the southernmost point of the United States.  I always felt wonder, when I saw it, at all that lies beyond.

Photo: Frank McKenna

 

For what are you most grateful, today?

 

Ten Thousand Days

Goodnight, Sir / God Save the Queen

April 17, 2021

Photo of Windsor Castle by King’s Church International

Day 2433 – Day 2436

I will be up in the wee hours of the morning to “attend” the funeral of the Duke of Edinburgh.  The Queen is the monarch of my adopted country and the head of state of the country of my birth.  But the royal family are – as Russel Brand called them – totems as well.  The highs and lows of their lives have marked my own humble passages.

When I was young, I thought my mother was on the money.  She was beautiful, dark haired, and regal like the Queen.  The Queen was my Power-animal Mum and she wasn’t a totemic-grandma to me until later in life, when my own mother and grandmothers passed away.  Being the youngest in an enormous Catholic family means that many of your relatives die when you are a child.  But the Queen’s enduring presence is, in a way, a comfort to me, because I get to see what my mother might have looked like, and what she would have endured, had she lived.

When Diana and Charles married, my mother and I rose at some silly hour and watched their wedding from my mother’s home in Florida.  Both of us were romantics but life proved to be disappointing to us both in that regard.  Sadly, it proved to be disappointing for Diana, as well.

The death of Diana marked a period in my life where I was grappling with separating from family, too.  Individuation and emancipation didn’t come with balloons, banners and a raise but with a healthy dose of punishment, too.

When I moved to London, it was on the Queen’s land at the Windsor Castle estate that I was initiated into a weekend intensive to launch my post graduate coursework.  Coming home on a dreary day from classes, I rounded the corner to enter my student housing in London to find myself 50 feet from Her Majesty the Queen who was visiting a primary school on my street, as if reminding me of the importance of education and tradition.

When William married Kate, I “attended” their royal wedding in Hyde park where visitors were treated to big screen televisions, an official wedding programme/order of service and a live band in the park who played the hymns.  We all stood and sang together and prayed together and cheered together.  I attended the wedding with the man I came closest to marrying, but by then we both knew that we would never be married and were learning to live with the disappointment of the decision that was never really a decision but became the inevitable.

And in a few hours, I will awaken and “attend” the funeral of HRH The Duke of Edinburgh and rehearse the emotions and the protocols that I know will soon befall me, as I bid farewell, inevitably, to my own 90-year-old father.

As I ponder and work on my own altruism this month, I am in wonder at the devoted life of Service that Elizabeth II and HRH The Duke of Edinburgh have each given to the Commonwealth and to me, as my totem.  Goodnight, Sir.

I am grateful to the royal family for being a symbol throughout my life for they have given me stability in a family that lacked it and an ideal on earth to which I could affirm my allegiance, when my own life lacked personal mentors and role models.  They have been an emblem of home, no matter where I have roamed and I’m grateful for their constancy.  People living in a republic will never know the blessings of having lived under the reign of the longest reigning monarch.  Whatever may happen to the institution of the monarchy when Her Majesty the Queen passes away, she and her family have been a part of the great task of meaning-making in my life.

Send her victorious, happy and glorious, long to reign over us.

God Save the Queen!

 

For what are you most grateful, today?

Ten Thousand Days

Have A Little Faith

April 1, 2021

Photo: John Towner

Day 2384 – Day 2420

I think we all can agree that this pandemic has been difficult for many people.  At the macro level, we’ve seen worse times.  World War II comes to mind.  On a micro level, I can’t recall a time when things have been worse, as a whole, for myself and those closest to me.  For me, personally, being ill 18 months ago and watching my organs fail put so much of my life in sharp contrast and I was able to see things very clearly.  Morphine helped.  I remember feeling a heightened sense of awareness of every sensation and wondering if I had suddenly become “woke” from my brush with death.  To an extent, yes, that happened, but it was at a sort of spiritual level, not at the level of heightened sensation.  For that, I must thank the morphine.  It may be a very addictive drug, but I will give it credit.  For those who are facing death, the sense of wellbeing it provides is priceless.

The whole world could use some morphine right now.

But, this is not Ten Thousand Days of Bitching, as much as I sometimes would like to shift focus.  I told my aunt that this has been a very difficult time – and it isn’t just a difficult time for me, but for a group of us who are bound together in a bit of misery right now.  She texted me back and said that she hoped I would soon return to my happy and grateful self.

Oh no, I said.  I’m always grateful.  Otherwise, that sense of gratefulness would just be a kind of greed over good times, not true gratitude.

Happiness, on the other hand is something that is fleeting and is dependent on circumstances.  There is a lot we can do to boost our happiness and much research has gone into the science of happiness – both at the macro level of society and at the micro level of the individual.

But in February, I led my followers on YouTube in a focus on Joy.  Having taken the time to contemplate Joy more deeply, I had a few insights about the difference between Joy and Happiness.

I would love to be known for my happy self but I’d feel it was a true life-achievement if I were known for my Joyful self.

Joy, it seems to me, is a bit different from the feeling of happiness.  Joy, as I defined it, is a feeling of peace, contentment, vitality and an enjoyment of life, on its own terms, independent of circumstances.  Joy is at the centre of just about every major spiritual tradition, even if it is not apparent on the surface.

Dig deeper and joy is at the heart of the work and rewards of a spiritual life.  I’m so grateful that I’ve always had a strong spiritual call.  It makes Joy accessible even in the darkest times.

When I first started this work on gratitude, I had a chat with Professor Lord Layard whose work on Happiness was ground breaking and he is one of the editors of the UN World Happiness Report.

I remember vividly one piece of advice he gave me.  He challenged me to consider how to encourage gratefulness in those who were not people of faith.  To whom, he asked me, are they grateful?

And so, I made it a point to speak to the secular majority, and to always focus on how any person could practice gratitude and the many other practices that arose as I observed myself in that first year of gratitude.

Over the years, of course, new practices emerged as being part and parcel of the practice of a life of gratefulness.  (Purpose, Meaning, Mindfulness, Authenticity, Empathy, Love).

Joy arose so quickly, as an additional practice to couple with gratitude – it was part of the original Facebook challenge that I set myself in those first 3 weeks.  But it wasn’t until I sat down and really did a deep dive on Joy this past month that I realized that what I was offering at TTDOG was a spiritual path for the non-believers in a God concept.

Essentially, these practices are spiritual practices and engaging in these practices is spiritual discipline.  At the heart of that, there must be faith – in something.

For those of us who have a faith in the Divine Quantum (and who I consider fortunate to have that), faith is easy to define.  But for those willing to do the work of Ten Thousand Days of Gratitude, without a God concept, the repository of that faith is a little different but it is there.

Perhaps it is a faith in the innate goodness of humankind.  Perhaps we might replace the word faith with a more palatable word ‘belief’ and it becomes a belief in statistical evidence for the science of happiness or a belief in the neuroplasticity of the brain.

Whatever it is, there is some belief, some faith, some hope, that leads someone to decide to embark on a course of practices to improve their well-being or the well-being of the society in which they live.

And so, in the midst of Joy, I found another crucial component of a walk of Ten Thousand Days of Gratitude, and that is Faith.   Faith in something greater than ourselves enriches all of our practices whether that something is some God concept, science or one another.

And so, we will be adding a new practice and a new focus on finding and strengthening our faith.  Perhaps, to avoid all negative associations we will call it belief, or something even more benign.  Watch this space.

 

Photo: Sergio Capuzzimati

 

For what are you most grateful, today?