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Gratitude

Gratitude, Intimacy, Love, Ten Thousand Days

A Valentine’s Day Love Letter

February 14, 2020

Photo: Annie Spratt

Day 1994 – Day 2008

When I was younger, I used to feel like the limp leftover lettuce leaf at the back of the crisper drawer if I was single when Valentine’s Day rolled around.  As I grew up and matured, I transformed my sadness and diminished self-worth that inevitably resulted from the cultural imperative to be in a couple.  I celebrate the sacredness of love in all its forms and offer a middle-finger salute to advertisers and businesses that turn the most sacred act – loving – into an opportunity to sell their regular wares at radically inflated prices.  During the years when I was in a loving relationship, I refused to succumb to the commodification of love (and thankfully, I choose men who express their love regularly, who are self-possessed and who refuse to be bullied into herd mentality).  During those years when I have been single, I still celebrate whole-heartedly.

This year, I am single.  I will have an early dinner with family and then I will be out with some dear friends from the paddling community, who will be gathering to celebrate the visit of a fellow paddler from out of town.  I’m not the least bit sad that I am single.  I recently developed a rather annoying crush on someone.  It is annoying because he’s kind of a dork to me.   Maybe he’s a dork to everyone, but he’s not behaving like a suitor.  I’m a kind person, by nature.   There comes a point when you just have to go against your nature, in order to validate the right messages to your own psyche.  I’m not going to be unkind, but I’m not going to make an effort anymore, unless he does.

I’m grateful for the reminder that I can still get hooked by a man who pushes all the right buttons on my childhood wounds, and that I’m aware of it, and am able to make different choices.  Repetition compulsion is a good phrase because it encapsulates that misguided wish to have a do-over on all the childhood wounds, with the hope that if the outcome could somehow be different as an adult, it would fill the childhood hole.  And, the term compulsion conveys the almost irresistible pull of these dorks when they come along and treat us poorly.  Almost irresistible.  Almost.  I’ve done too much work on myself in this lifetime, and seen how precious this short life is, to spend any more time on unrequited love.  The best way to heal those old wounds, I think, is to give myself what I should have been given from those unavailable and inconsistent caregivers who gifted me with an insecure attachment style.   And so, I’m never grateful to anyone for treating me with indifference or disdain, but I am grateful for the opportunity to face this old nugget, again.

Romantic pain isn’t what you want on Valentine’s Day but I think back to this time 3 years ago, and I was absolutely shattered by a horrendous and sudden breakup.  This is nothing compared to that pain and I’m certainly grateful I’m well beyond that grief.  On the positive side, I’m so grateful for wonderful memories of quirky Valentine’s Days in college, loads of Palentine’s events wherever I’ve roamed, and lovely romantic getaways throughout Europe.

I haven’t really begun the exploration of love and gratitude, but I’m a day late on my self-imposed schedule for posting, and so it might be worth thinking a little bit about love today.  I am reminded of the Sufi Sheikh Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee who talks of the two faces of love.  There is the masculine face that quests and declares: “I love you.”  And, there is the feminine face of love, hidden behind the veil, longing and waiting.  He is, of course, talking of the deep mystery of Agape love but the same applies to all sorts of love, including the romantic love of Eros that we celebrate today.  It applies to all forms of love because real love is the meeting of two souls in Oneness.

He speaks of the way in which our modern society has glorified the masculine and killed off the feminine spirit.  And in my life, I can see this.  Even someone who is inherently feminine, like me, has always approached love as a quest.  But it is not my role to quest, no matter what childhood wounds might tell me.  It is my job to be the feminine force of receptivity.  That feminine face of love has been all but lost in modern society, and the vulnerability that accompanies it, is almost unbearable.  Almost.

When that vulnerability of it becomes too strong, it helps me to remember that the ancient Greeks recognized at least 6 manifestations of love: Agape, Philia, Storge, Philautia, Xenia, and of course, Eros.  Even Eros, when matured, draws the person toward beauty – embodied or not – and not simply toward human attraction. Looking at or making art, watching a sunset or photographing the beauty around us, reading or writing poetry or listening to and making music can all be ways to express and experience the soul’s need for Eros in one’s life.  I’ve been doing all of these things, and doubling down on them recently, because I recognized that my life has become arid where my practice of watching the sunset on the Thames used to be.  And, I need to fill my well with love – even Erotic love – so that my longing can be bittersweet, without being all consuming.

Today, dinner with my family will fulfill my soul’s calling for Storge and Philia while my date with friends further provides more Philia love as well as Xenia.  My personal spiritual practice is centred on Agape and I am painting and photographing much more than I used to, and that just leaves Philautia – the love of self.

A deep experience of Philautia is another aspect of love that gets short shrift in our drive for romance.  I recently heard someone on YouTube suggest that one cure for depression is to get out dating or get into a relationship.  I’m not at all sure about that.  Maybe it depends on the cause of the depression and whether it is really depression or just a bit of loneliness and sadness.  (Edit: I’m not saying not to date or to love someone who is depressed. I am saying that dating or looking for love outside oneself is not a cure for depression)  I think that looking outside of oneself for hits of feel-good hormones like dopamine and oxytocin is a weak strategy for what is essentially a sickness of the soul that can only be cured with deep processing.  If we look outside ourselves for validation of our worthiness to be loved, who are we, when we are rejected?  If we love others only so that they will fill us up, then what is the quality of our love? And, how fragile is our sense of self?

In our times, dating without a solid sense of self-love is a common remedy for hard soul work and the progress toward self-actualization.  Ultimately, it leads to unfulfilling relationships and a terribly transactional approach to love and life.  Nothing ever gets healed, it just gets avoided.

Today, I make a joyful promise to myself that I am done with the quest that reveals itself in the pursuit of the unavailable man and his unattainable love which will never heal me.  I do myself and the “runner” a service by stopping this game and standing still.  I am, with no small amount of fear, surrendering to the forgotten call of the feminine soul which travels with me through time and space, and I am giving in to the mystery of the oneness of the collective unconsciousness.  I am resurrecting the Divine Feminine in my life.

I am longing for you; I am waiting for you.

Photo: Billy Williams

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, Ten Thousand Days

88 Things We Love About You

February 1, 2019

Photo: Joshua Anderson Slate

Day 1620 – Day 1630

Recently I was meeting with a fellow storyteller and I mentioned to him that I was documenting this journey of Ten Thousand Days of Gratitude.  He asked if I was writing a post every day.  As readers know, I did that for the first year, but after that milestone, I started to experiment with other ways of showing gratitude.  Daily gratitude practice is great for building a habit of being grateful, practicing joy, experiencing oneness and of looking for ways to be of service.  But to find purpose in our practices and to make meaning out of our lives, through the lens of these practices, research has shown that gratitude is more impactful with reflection and the cultivation of reverent depth of feeling.  It is hard, in our busy lives, to find the time to exercise daily, let alone to sit in reverent reflection on gratitude.  And so, we have moved to a more weekly (ish) personal essay.  Readers may have noticed that we’ve also taken away the formal ticking of the boxes of gratitude, joy, oneness, service, purpose and meaning (etc), although the thread is still present in the narrative.

For me, it helps to focus my gratitude practice on these practices, and it helps me to make meaning of a week or two of my life, when I consider these practices and how they’ve played (or not) a part of my life.  I have found that my experience of gratitude, joy, oneness and my drive to be of service has deepened with this more reflective approach.

Yet, there are many ways to practice gratitude, and in the first year, we experimented with some of those forms – letter writing, saying a heartfelt thank you for deeds done and expressing heartfelt appreciation directly to individuals that have been important in our lives.  Since we moved to this new website, we’ve featured individuals who are making a difference in the world as a way of showing appreciation for their efforts, on behalf of all of us.

But there are still so many ways we can express gratitude.

Last month, my father achieved 88 years on this planet.  Before you try to calculate how old that makes me, let me just say that there is a wide age gap between my eldest sibling and myself.  I was an unexpected baby, I’m told, and I am the youngest of my entire generation.  Many of my second cousins are closer to my age than my first cousins are.  But, let’s not let my vanity about my age detract from the story….

My father celebrated his 88th birthday.  We often do great things on milestone birthdays but we forget those years that aren’t a 5 year or 10 year marker.  At this age, reaching the next milestone is far from guaranteed.  To me, 88 seemed auspicious.  Double digits, and all that.  And, it turns out that in Chinese tradition, the number 8 is auspicious, and as it is a double 8, it is particularly so.

My father doesn’t see his grandchildren or his children as much as he would like.  They are all grown and live at a distance.  The time of wonder and play and the tender cuddles he had with children and grandchildren, as children, are gone.  As adults, we just don’t spend time with our parents and grandparents like we used to.

I try to see my father once a week.  A large part of the reason I re-located across the world was to spend some time with him while we still had time.  But breakfast in a crowded restaurant is not conducive to heartfelt conversations or expressions of gratitude and love.

My dad is not really one for soppy conversations as it is.  But, the fact that he doesn’t like to talk about ‘feelings’ does not mean that he doesn’t have them wrapped up within a very sentimental and romantic heart.  As his generation of men do, he hides his feelings behind humour or practical displays of caring.    My family, in general, was not raised to be adept at expressing emotion with one another.  This changed, for me, when my mother was sick, and, as it turns out, dying.  I was a young woman of 18 or 20 and definitely not adept at communication.  But, even then, I knew – or sensed – that love is better expressed now, rather than face regret over words that were left unspoken.

I’m pretty good at saying I love you.  My friends have simply learned to accept my expressions of love, even if they aren’t comfortable with saying the words, themselves.  Surviving the events of 9/11, in New York, reinforced for me that words of love, appreciation, or remorse should not go unspoken.  Life is both too short and too long to hold on to things that should be expressed.

Before the holidays, I had spent some time looking for thoughtful gifts that I could make for friends and family.  Most seemed to revolve around mason jars.  YouTube loves mason jars.  Hipsters love mason jars.  Who doesn’t love a mason jar?

And so, the idea of creating “88 Things We Love About You,” was born.

I arranged for my father’s wife, children and grandchildren to each write a certain number of things that they loved, admired or appreciated about him on different coloured post-it notes.  At Christmas, I gathered them up and put them into that mason jar, and my niece put one of her hand-made bows on the jar.  A week later, on his birthday, he received the jar containing 88+ Things We Love About You.

He read a half a dozen on his birthday and it made him so happy.  When his children and his grandchildren can’t be around, he can open up the jar, pull out some of the papers and feel the love and appreciation that we feel for him, but sometimes are embarrassed to, or forget to express.

Photo: Kelly Sikkema

 

It cost nothing to make, but I think it is one of the best gifts he has ever received from us.  I know it is one of the two best gifts I have ever given him.  And, with 88+ sentiments of love and gratitude, it is a gift that will keep giving him joy, for months to come.

I like to think that whenever he feels a bit tired or unwell, he will reach into his jar, and pull out an expression of love.  I know that when he read a few on his birthday, his face lit up with smiles, and he planned to read a new one each night, as he was drifting off to sleep.  Like he read stories to us as we were children, so too, can we send him off to sleep with happy thoughts on his mind.

I’m so grateful that we could pull off that magic for him.  And I’m grateful that we’ve all had the opportunity to leave no words of appreciation unspoken, which we could later regret.

Life is short but one of the saddest things we can experience is to reach our final years and feel we’ve made no impact on the world or that we’ve wasted our lives.  Recent economic research indicates A U-Bend in life and this can hit us around 50 years old.  We either grow old and bitter or we accept and appreciate the life we have lived.  I think a jar full of appreciation is one great way to see the meaning and the purpose that our sacrifices and efforts have created in the lives of those we love.

I don’t mind if you take the idea and run with it.  In fact, I hope that you will.  The more love and appreciation we can spread to those in our lives, the happier our world will be.

Photo: Dakota Corbin. Muralist: Unidentified, but please comment with artist name if known

 

For what are you most grateful this week?

 

Art, Articles, Community, Compassion, Gratitude, Oneness, Service

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?