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Gratitude Practice

Gratitude Practice, Ten Thousand Days

Rolling With It

March 16, 2020

Photo: Mauro Mora

Day 2027 – Day 2039

I’m a bit late in uploading a post.  I have been extremely busy – and not in a fun way.  But I’m rolling with the punches. I hope you are, too.

Some of the work I do comes into full force in times like these and I’d like to get past the work that is very earth bound and practical (and to be honest, really hard on the heart) so that I can get to what I feel is my real work at this time.  I have been so busy with my day job that I have, I’m displeased with myself to admit, let my spiritual work slide a bit in the past week.  On Thursday I was feeling so stressed out by a combination of the work I am doing and the response I’ve been receiving that I was stress eating everything in sight.  I’m grateful for the love and support of some good friends, particularly CMF, who helped me remember who I am and the worth in what I’m doing.  I got it together and I am doing what I can to bring my professional skills to a sometimes-unwilling client.  And, I am taking care of myself and my family (I’m single, no kids, so that is extended family).

There is a lot of panic buying and we are seeing the worst in people coming out.  There is nothing wrong in being prepared and in fact, I think it is our civic duty to one another that we get prepared to stay home for a good long time.  But we don’t need to run over the old ladies and push toddlers out of the way to get that last packet of toilet paper.  When I see it in the store, I buy a single pack because I know that my father, my sister, my nephew, or my aunt will need it.  I’m good, I’ve got what I need.  And so, when I’m out buying my bok choy and other fresh veg each week, I shop for my circle.  We all can do that.  I know a co-worker struggled to get a certain brand of gluten free pasta.  When I was in the store, I saw some of it on sale for 2 for $4 and I bought 2.  I didn’t buy 10.  There will be enough for all of us.  I preserved my garden last year, and I have more dehydrated kale than anyone would ever wish to have to eat. (This year, I will not plant 9 kale plants. I bought a flat of seedlings and couldn’t give the stuff away to other gardeners.  Now I know why!  Anyway, 3 will be enough for fresh kale all season, so I’m seeding my own seedlings).  We all, if we calm down a bit, and look in our larder, probably have enough to eat for the next month.  The people who don’t are those who live very close to the poverty line or who have no space to store food.  Relax.  Leave something on the shelves for them.

Today I will go to the post office, and on a battery run (check the battery in your thermometer and consider having a spare).  I’m doing that on behalf of a whole bunch of folks.  If we work together, we can minimize our contacts and maximize our social distancing.

I have a busy week ahead as we begin to implement some of my recommendations but I’m grateful that I decided not to work the whole weekend and I took some down time to go out in the sunshine, even though it was blowing my hair off with the winds through the prairie, here.  And, I’m grateful that I opted to pick up some flowers and some potted plants.  I will pick up some more seeds and seedlings tomorrow in anticipation of planting a lovely garden on my deck in a few weeks.  My job is not one that has a work – from – home option but if I do get stuck at home, I want to be surrounded by beautiful flowers.

I am grateful, too, for the creativity of my friends who are organizing online concerts and online body music classes.  If I get stuck at home, I’d have loads of things to occupy my time!  And, I’m hoping that if the world slows down a little, we will all have time to catch up via Skype or Zoom or whatever networking programme you use.

I’m really busy for the next few weeks with work that is important to be done right now.  But I didn’t want to let slide the other important things in my life, like marking my journey of gratitude.  This has been hastily written but I think you will forgive me for my messy hair and lack of punctuation.  The key in the gratitude journey is to just keep showing up.

We see a lot of ugly in people right now.  I’m guessing that this obsession with toilet tissue has to do with our primal fear.  Poo is pretty base chakra stuff.  And, having toilet roll is a mark of modernization and civilization, in many of our psyches.  As long as we have toilet roll, our civilization will not crumble and in a world where the great threat is something we cannot see or control, the one thing we can control is our poo and how civilized we are about it.  I get it.  But civilization is about being civil to one another.  I know we are remembering that, and I’m grateful to see that happening.  If you panicked, I forgive you, and let’s get back to working together as a civilization.  Sh*t’s gotten pretty real in Asia and Europe already.  It’s about to get real in North America and Australia too.  Let’s roll with it, and look out for ourselves as well as looking out for each other.

Remember, that in dark times there is so much goodness, too.  If you can’t see the goodness, then I encourage you to BE the goodness in your world.  Help someone who needs some help getting prepared or is in isolation, today.  Share some of your toilet tissue with others.

 

Photo: Hello-I’m-nik

 

 

For what are you most grateful, today?

Gratitude, Gratitude Practice, Love, Milestone

Two Thousand Days of Gratitude

February 6, 2020

Photo: 30daysreplay

Day 2000

During the first year of my gratitude practice, I made it a habit to ‘check-in’ about what was going on with me, at regular intervals.  This was how I discovered the impetus to give back, and my increasing capacity and desire for connection – both interpersonally but also at a more profound level, in experiences of Oneness.  I’ve also observed, at these check-ins, the urge to find purpose and meaning and the necessity for mindfulness, presence and authenticity in order to live gratefully.

I will say that the marker of 2,000 days feels more daunting than even the 5-year mark.  We’re used to counting time in years when we’re asked how long we’ve lived somewhere or been in a job.  It’s a kind of backward counting up of time spent.  With the counting of days, there is more of a sense of counting time that is remaining.  At 2,000 days, I am 1/5 of the way through the Ten Thousand Day goal.  Having equated ten thousand days as my remaining life expectancy, I feel the urgency of time passing and making the most of my spiritual practice and habits of living well and gratefully.

And yet, standing at the 2,000-day mark, the first thing I have been noticing over the past year is a kind of apathy and boredom in my practice.  I don’t think grateful living is boring.  I don’t think being thankful is boring.  I just found myself unmotivated to practice, and I was finding myself frustrated with the place I find myself, in life.  I have been resisting my life with so much passion that I lack more than a drop of it to look deeply enough into the life that I wish was different to find things for which to be grateful.

As I write this, I see that what I needed to do was surrender to this little life that I find so boring, in comparison to the life I’ve led these last 20 years.  I needed to surrender to the quiet and see what I would find in my stillness.

Friends and spiritual companions have tried to advise me to stay still and just be.  In that stillness, a lot of things can arise, and I think that is what terrified me.  Being back in my family of origin, I knew that whatever arose and needed to be healed would be something from which I have run, for as long as I could walk.  Perhaps that’s why I chose not to surrender and I filled my life with travel, art, sport and a fair amount of Netflix.  I fell victim of the terror of the pain that precedes healing.

When you run, you never get far away from that thing.  That thing is strong and is always nipping at your heels, threatening to overtake you.  There is no peace in running.  No amount of travel and no overcrowded schedule could keep the dogs at bay, forever.

I’ve said this before, but gratitude is not the property of the positive psychology movement, although it is only positive psychologists who seem to have had interest in promoting more good feeling, rather than alleviating the bad.  It has – as spiritual trends do – gotten co-opted by the spiritual BS artists out there.  We may not know them when we see them, but if we pay attention, we can smell them a mile away.  The yoga dudes and dudettes who pranam and utter platitudes of non-attachment, but whose identity is tied up with being a ‘teacher’.  I’ve gotten pretty good at spotting them – usually they are chatting-up some member of the attractive sex, talking tantra or some other spiritual tradition in which they’ve superficially dabbled, for their own egoistic purpose.  I don’t fault anyone for following them, for a time. Finding a teacher who is the real McCoy is not easy.  I went through 3 different spiritual masters and tested my teacher for nearly 12 years before I was certain that I had found the right path for me.  And, I’m certain he is the real deal.  He is grounded and concerned with matters of both the soul and the spirit.  They are very different things.

I have never been one to approach the practice of grateful living as the endless pursuit to ascent to Spirit.  That is ungrounded, and can’t be sustained.  I’ve always believed that a spiritually mature practice must not only reach to the heights of spirit but also be prepared to descend into the depths of the soul.

I’ve also never claimed to be a perfect spiritual wayfarer.  I’ve only claimed to be on the path and depending on where you are in your journey, I may have walked a little further.  I still have a very long way to walk, and if you’re ahead of me, I thank you for lighting the way.

I have been sitting with this feeling of boredom and dissatisfaction with my practice for more than 9 months now.  I’ve plumbed the depths before, finding terrible beauty in my pain as it is transformed.  But this has been different.  It’s been neither glorious, nor agonizing.  It has just been meh.

The Universe handed me a gift, in the form of a surgery that went horribly wrong.  One day I was stuck in the petty resentments that I had been carrying with me everywhere I ran these past few years and, perhaps, all my life.  The next day, I was at the mercy of a surgeon who ended up gifting me a month in various hospitals and several surgeries.  I learned some private and painful things, in the hospital, about the isolation of serious illness and about the unique gifts and woundings that I received from my family of origin.  I came out of hospital a stronger woman – not just for having had my internal organs and systems repaired by the best liver surgeon in the country.  I came out stronger for being unable, any longer, to entertain the distraction of busyness or the denial of what needs healing deep within me.  I came out with a steadfast conviction to do what I came here to do.

There have been rapturous moments in my life where I feel such great joy and gratitude for my existence that I know that I could die, happily, in that moment.  Was I ready to die?  No.  Would I cling to life in the final second if I were to die in those moments? Yeah, probably.  But, last August, around about midnight, I was awoken and told that I was heading to major reconstructive surgery, and the porter was there to take me.  I was alone.  I barely had time to text my folks and my small prayer circle of friends to let them know.  My organs were shutting down and the surgeon needed to get in there immediately.  I was scared.  I didn’t spend all of my life as a wayfarer to choose fear in this moment.  As the porter wheeled me down the hallway, the nurses took my hand and wished me well.  I cried, all the way to surgery, knowing that I’d go in there with no final words, no final hug or kiss.  I was alone and I may never come back.

I knew that it was up to me to fight my way through as much as it was the surgeon’s job to keep me alive.  And so, I started humming the theme music of Rocky, in my head.  It sounds stupid, but we reach for whatever comes up from our subconscious to achieve what we need, in those moments.  When I was finally wheeled into the operating room, I followed the team of surgeons’ directions as they stitched in an epidural and lay me down for anesthetic.  Humming Rocky and telling my surgeon I’d fight to see him on the other side, I laid back.  In my last conscious moment, from my soul, I surrendered and called out to my God: “You are the surgeon.”  It might seem a weird thing to say, but to me it simply meant that I was surrendering with complete faith to the will of my Beloved.

We have to live in this world where the compelling story is the rising up in Spirit.  But we must also keep a foot in eternity and move to the demands of the soul.

The trouble that I’ve had with gratitude lately is, I think, rooted in resentment.  Some things may never change, but we can change our relationship to them.  We can let go of resentment and find things for which to be grateful.  By the time I was released from hospital, more than 2 weeks later, I took with me a renewed sense of purpose, a clarity of who is really in charge of this tiny life of mine, a deepening of faith, and an awareness of the imperative of surrender.  In some ways, I grew up in hospital.

I know the strength of my relationships.  I know where I need to place my attention both in this world and the other.

And, this brings me to the second thing that is arising at this time of check-in.  I am acutely aware of the depth of my capacity to love and also of my fears of being loved and broken open by that love.  There is an imbalance there that I know needs to be sorted out, if I’m going to have the experience that I wish to have in this incarnation and beyond.  My path is the path of love, and so I’ve got a lot to do.

Fortunately, I have a rising awareness and experience of the marriage of gratitude and love.  I’ve not conducted any clinical trials or studied a group of students’ brains.  All I can say is that, for me, I am becoming very aware of the connection between gratitude and love and I intend to make this connection a subject of observation, contemplation and action.

Photo: Brittney Burnett

I don’t think this revelation is unique to a Sufi or a bhaktan or a spiritual mystic.  I think that through gratitude we can all clean the mirrors of our hearts and create, amplify and reflect more love in the world.

That’s all I have for day 2,000.  Of course, I’m grateful to all of you for walking with me, on this journey.  I hope that you are finding something of value here for your own unique voyage.

 

For what are you most grateful, today?

 

Gratitude, Gratitude Practice, Meditation, Oneness, Ten Thousand Days

Watching Clouds

January 30, 2020

Photo: Joshua Gresham

Day 1986 to Day 1993

My friend P-asked me if I’ve been painting.  I haven’t painted in over 6 weeks, and I feel guilty.

Another friend asked me last week how my writing was going and she told me I should be so successful with my writing because I was so talented.  I haven’t been writing enough lately, either.  Am I supposed to be flattered or feel like a failure with the fact that I should be so much more successful than I am?  I choose to be flattered and let my own judgement go – as much as my ego will allow me to do.

I watch my friends solving the world’s problems on the international stage and I wonder if I made the right choices and I ponder:  when did I stop advocating for children’s rights and working to end child poverty?  I can’t pinpoint the exact date or moment or choice to take a particular job that started to take me off that course.  All I know is that today, I was thinking back to a former version of myself, which has been lost in the update to my operating system, and I feel guilty.

Maybe it seems noble to feel guilt over how little we seem to have become, despite all this valuable life experience.  I wonder whether the value we place on life experience isn’t a little misplaced.  Surely not all life experience helps us to be what we could become.  That trip to India that changed the course of my studies, the job that took me into climate change and away from child poverty, the economic meltdown that took me to the City and out of sustainability, the breakup of that relationship that left me bleeding for the next few years…are these all helpful life experiences on the road to being and becoming, or do some of them just weigh me down as I drag them from scenario to scenario?  There is a reason they call it baggage.  It’s so darned heavy to carry around.

A friend shared with me, yesterday, a meme that went something like this:  to truly love someone is to grieve, without blame, the death of many versions of our beloved, as they inevitably let their dreams die, let fall by the wayside those traits we found so charming, to be replaced with new traits that may or may not be as charming.  If we only love the static version that we once fell in love with, that isn’t really love at all.  I think it is a very popular form of psychosis, and our need to control our partner into remaining as a single mirage is the cause of ruin in many relationships.  If we are willing to grieve and to face each new day with our partner, trying to see the unchanging soul within them, shouldn’t we also do that for ourselves?  Are we also not beloved? I do believe that we are always the Beloved’s beloved, whose arms are always open wide, waiting for our hearts to turn towards Him so that we can dissolve into Him.  There is no grief in that final annihilation.

I know that there are practical things that I need to change in my life and I’m impatiently waiting to be fully healed and ready to take on those challenges.  I’ve heard it said that one ought to make life’s waiting room into life’s classroom.  That’s all depends on where you’re at in life. Sometimes unlearning is far more important.

When asked if he was a Hindu, Swami Satchidananda always used to reply that he was not a Hindu, he was an Undo.  Osho taught that we need to unlearn all of our conditioning.  On the Sufi path, one is stripped of everything and laid bare in the face of an excruciatingly sublime love.  Oh the spiritual path is not for the person who is piling on the bricks of the wall of their identity and fooling themselves that it is static or even that it is real.  Jesus called upon his disciples to give up everything they knew about themselves and to eschew whatever lives they had built, to turn their hearts towards him and follow wherever he would take them.

My spiritual life is the most important part of my life and yet, sometimes I feel I pay lip service to that idea because I’m caught up in carrying the things of this world.  But, I am tired.  The weight of all this experience is too much to carry anymore.   All the unmet needs from my childhood, all the dreams I’ve left by the roadside, all the aspirations and hopes that I still carry despite all the broken hearts, all the traumatic events of my life, and all the guilt for not doing more – all of it – got set down for a short while, today.

I sat on my sofa and looked at the clouds through the 12-foot window at the end of the room.  And when the light in the sky changed intensity, I sat and marveled at all the values that on other days, I would normally perceive as simply gray.  Watching the clouds, I remembered what it was like to do nothing.  I wondered what it would be like to finally “become” nothing and walk the planet, being nothing.

Whatever I’ve done or not done, been or become, I’ve done my best, and the outcome was never in my hands.  I was reminded that an aspect of my path is to grieve and let go of all the selves that have ever been, the self that I think I am and any selves that I would have ever hoped to be.  Thy will be done.

I’m grateful for the time I spent today doing nothing and watching the clouds.  I’m grateful for all the teachers who have tried to show me the way back Home.  From the day that we are born, we are all in this waiting room of death that we call life.  I am grateful for this deep experience of feeling “burdened” so that I could, in a single moment of watching clouds pass by, remember the waiting room for what it is.   I can set down all this stuff that I carry.  I can cast my attention skyward, turn my heart further toward Him, and yearn to die, as the Sufis say, before dying.

 

Photo: SV Klimkin

 

For what are you most grateful, today?

Gratitude, Gratitude Practice, Happiness, Joy, Making a Difference, Service, Ten Thousand Days, The Daily Practice

A Global Renaissance

January 22, 2020

Photo: Olm Vibes

Day 1979 – Day 1985

That title of my previous post, “YouTube Famous” was a nod to the Millennial generation, the first generation to grow up on social media, and to create and aspire to participate in the phenomenon of going viral.   I have no expectation that TTDOG’s YouTube channel will become YouTube famous and in fact, at a personal and selfish level, I’d be horrified and my skin begins to itch at the thought of it, because I am attached to this project.   I’ve known several famous people and fame is something that looks great on the outside but comes at a very high price.  I told a story and hoped that it would take the reader along a journey with me but maybe I didn’t signpost clearly enough the final destination. I truly do want the practice of Gratitude to go viral.  It is the only reason that I’ve continued to write about gratitude, and my gratitude practice, past the original 7 day Facebook challenge.

Like every human, I am wildly flawed and plagued by ego – both the self-aggrandizing and the self-deprecating sides of that ego coin.  My name may be associated with this project but being on camera, I pretty quickly realized that I needed to tell the story while taking the focus off of me, even as the storyteller.   Yes, I am the writer and it is my subjective story of a long-term practice of gratitude that I am telling but the protagonist of the story is Gratitude, not me.

If this story of Ten Thousand Days of Gratitude should happen to go viral, if I’ve done my job well, it is Gratitude that will spread like wildfire.  I will have succeeded in achieving one of my goals – these last 5 years – to be an instrument of what Robert Emmons calls a Global Renaissance of Gratitude.

My channel isn’t competing with all the other content providers making videos on gratitude.  It is competing with the channels glorifying luxury consumption, self-made star status, and the obsession with more that comes from a mindset of lack.

I am aware of the underlying Christian ethic in the West that says one should not be seen to be virtuous in public.  In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches that to guard against hypocrisy, one ought to be somewhat clandestine with our virtue.  Whether one is Christian or not, if one lives in a Western democracy, this is a prevailing cultural imperative and we use it to assume hypocritical intentions of anyone who sets out to inspire others to follow a virtuous path, no matter how humbly it is done.

We have become so cynical that an outward expression of thanks is considered suspect and the whole practice of forming a habit and an attitude of gratitude is considered cliché.  To be cliché means it is overdone, and the art of genuinely living gratefully is, sadly, forgotten in our modern world.  We fill the air with empty words of thanks, to maintain an appearance of politeness, while sneering at those actively forming a practice to honour the sacredness of gratefulness, expressing profound appreciation to others, and acting upon that thankfulness to increase the good in the world.  I’m afraid our happiness and wellbeing indices tell a story of a culture that is tragically lacking in gratitude, despite our social etiquette.

Public practice of a virtue is condemned, yet on television, in the news, on social media, and in our gossip, we make it a guilty pleasure to be spectators of the public practice of vice.  That, to me, is hypocrisy.

The demographic that reads a written blog like this is somewhat different to the younger demographic that watches YouTube.  There is yet a different demographic that consumes podcasts.  Whether TTDOG gains a large following or not, I will put TTDOG on each of these platforms to increase the chance that this story will inspire others to practice gratitude.  Emotion is contagious and in a world with the airwaves filled with bad news, I’d like to counteract that and spread the complex emotion of gratitude, with all the associated positive emotions and behaviours that attach to it.

I’m a servant to a social movement of Gratitude and a volunteer employee of the TTDOG brand.  Doing this work comes at the sacrifice of earning more money in my professional gig and at the cost of my own creative work.  I have been transformed and healed through the steadfast daily practice of gratitude and the cultivation of an attitude of grateful living.  I could not, in good conscience, not do this work.

I believe in the great potential of gratitude to change the world.  I have experienced in my own life what Robert Emmons calls the ARC model of gratitude – the ability of gratitude to Amplify, Rescue and Connect each of us.  Gratitude amplifies the good in the lives of ourself and others by changing our predisposition to one that expects and recognizes the goodness in the world, it rescues us from a world built on doom and gloom, transforming a natural negativity bias, that robs us of our happiness, into a bias towards benevolence and the capacity for joy, and it connects us to others with our desire to pass on the great good we have experienced, though reciprocity.

I am dedicated to do my part to further a social movement of gratitude.  Speaking of the teachings of Brother David Steindl-Rast, Emmons eloquently says, in The Little Book of Gratitude:

 

The spark that can ignite a trend towards global gratitude is the zeal of men and women
who discover that grateful living makes life meaningful and fulfilling.”

 

Photo: Faris Mohammed

For what are you most grateful, today?

 

 

Gratitude, Gratitude Practice, Ten Thousand Days

YouTube Famous

January 15, 2020

Photo: Jon Tyson

Day 1971 – Day 1978

I’ve been v-logging on YouTube for less than a fortnight and it’s exhausting.  Unless you are already a filmmaker with a great eye for set design, an ear for sound and an eye for lighting, unless you have natural flamboyance and great skills in public speaking and unless you studied marketing in college, there is bound to be a very steep learning curve, indeed.

Let’s face it, friends.  YouTube is saturated with gratitude videos.  Thinking of trying to position the channel to stand out in that crowd is giving me a headache.  If I had started this journey in order to write a book or become YouTube famous, I would have chosen a much less saturated niche.  But, I didn’t start this to be famous, to prove anything to anyone, or even to spread the word about gratitude.  I started this to bring positivity into what felt like a broken life.

I was burned out from a job where facilitating redundancies and outsourcing suddenly became an unexpected and key part of my job description.  When I finally left that job, the emotional toll and the physical toll of the stress and unsustainable workloads meant that if someone coughed in the next room, I would get pneumonia.  Throughout the final months at the job, I tried to maintain my humanity and to give support to the hundreds of lives that were being radically changed, even though my job was to help with the plan to put them out of work.

I know that air traffic controllers have the most stressful jobs in the world, but I think teams that are tasked with managing people out of their jobs must be pretty high up there.  I hated what I did, but I did my job as well as I could and while I didn’t much like myself for being a part of it, I had, at my own initiative, been covertly spreading hope and kindness with a career lunch and learn series, using principles that I had learned in my own privately funded coaching sessions.  Nonetheless, the whole thing had taken a toll on me.  I left my job, not certain what was next.

My friend sent out a 7-day challenge for a version of the 3-things gratitude journal on Facebook.  It sounded positive and I was holding on to anything that would lift me out of the tar pit into which I had fallen.  And that’s how I began writing publicly on gratitude.  It is a rather ignoble and mediocre start, and I’m not sure it makes me a poster-person for gratitude, but I can certainly speak to the healing power of this simple practice.  My gratitude for the life changing power of the practice was what drove me to continue to write about it and to make a long-term commitment to documenting my journey.

While there is the writer’s ego involved in wanting to write about it, I do feel that there is value, for others, in documenting this journey.  If it falls flat, okay.  But, I feel compelled to at least give it my best effort.  I’m not an athlete who is breaking records for outstanding physical prowess.  I’m not even doing something that takes outstanding spiritual strength.  My ancestors were martyred by the Cossacks for standing up for their beliefs.  That takes spiritual strength.  I’m just doing something that takes a little effort, done consistently, over a long period.

How do I position TTDOG to be distinctive?  What is TTDOG’s unique selling point?  These questions have plagued me all my life.  Give me a product or another person and I’d probably be able to answer that question but when it comes to oneself, or something closely associated with oneself, it’s much tougher to answer.  All I know, for sure, is that I would love TTDOG to inspire others to take up and be faithful to this practice, because I know that it leads to improved wellbeing.  On the way to doing this, I draw a hard line at authenticity.  If, to be YouTube famous or break the blogosphere, I compromise on my authenticity, then documenting my journey of Ten Thousand Days seems pointless.  I’m not selling authenticity, but, if promoting these practices creates choices that compromise my authenticity, I’m not doing it.

The idea of “fame” has never sat comfortably with me, and I recognize that being so closely associated with TTDOG, this may be a concept that needs challenging, lest it unconsciously put the brakes on any efforts, before they have a chance to start.   I value my privacy and already, I’ve stretched beyond my comfort zone.  Vlogging threatens to make me snap, under the strain of stretching.  Rather than turn my camera towards my home, which is my sanctuary, I turn the camera to the wall, with a minimal bit of decoration.  This leaves the burden on me to be visually appealing and captivate with my storytelling.  No pressure there, then.

Right now, in this early learning phase, I’m simply filming a daily gratitude journal.  I think I can stretch this to the end of January with this format, but beyond that, I think a new video format will be needed, to engage viewers.   I can tell stories – sometimes successfully and sometimes not – but I’ve not been an improvisational on-camera storyteller before.  I might flop, and I think the value proposition of Ten Thousand Days of Gratitude deserves better than that.  To create content for this blog, a YouTube channel, and perhaps a podcast that would be complimentary without becoming repetitive is a challenge.

I need some time to strategize and I’m wide open to receiving advice.

I’m grateful for the support of family and friends who have been cheerleading my leap to diversify the outlets for Ten Thousand Days of Gratitude.  My niece encouraged me to reach out to creators that were successful, and far ahead of me.  Sure, some of them might not give me the time of day, but some of them will.  After all, she said, you never know what’s going to explode on YouTube.

Looking at the hate that circulates on the internet, and the cat-plays-a-piano videos that go viral, I said to her that I would be surprised if these videos on gratitude or my gratitude journals exploded.  And then a thought dawned on me, and I was grateful, once again, for the revelation.  None of this is about me.  It isn’t really even about my personal journey.

What if GRATITUDE went viral?

Photo: Park Troopers

 

What a glorious world that would be.  (Feel free to click and then hit subscribe)

 

For what are you most grateful, today?

 

 

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?

 

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.