Day 2433 – Day 2436
I will be up in the wee hours of the morning to “attend” the funeral of the Duke of Edinburgh. The Queen is the monarch of my adopted country and the head of state of the country of my birth. But the royal family are – as Russel Brand called them – totems as well. The highs and lows of their lives have marked my own humble passages.
When I was young, I thought my mother was on the money. She was beautiful, dark haired, and regal like the Queen. The Queen was my Power-animal Mum and she wasn’t a totemic-grandma to me until later in life, when my own mother and grandmothers passed away. Being the youngest in an enormous Catholic family means that many of your relatives die when you are a child. But the Queen’s enduring presence is, in a way, a comfort to me, because I get to see what my mother might have looked like, and what she would have endured, had she lived.
When Diana and Charles married, my mother and I rose at some silly hour and watched their wedding from my mother’s home in Florida. Both of us were romantics but life proved to be disappointing to us both in that regard. Sadly, it proved to be disappointing for Diana, as well.
The death of Diana marked a period in my life where I was grappling with separating from family, too. Individuation and emancipation didn’t come with balloons, banners and a raise but with a healthy dose of punishment, too.
When I moved to London, it was on the Queen’s land at the Windsor Castle estate that I was initiated into a weekend intensive to launch my post graduate coursework. Coming home on a dreary day from classes, I rounded the corner to enter my student housing in London to find myself 50 feet from Her Majesty the Queen who was visiting a primary school on my street, as if reminding me of the importance of education and tradition.
When William married Kate, I “attended” their royal wedding in Hyde park where visitors were treated to big screen televisions, an official wedding programme/order of service and a live band in the park who played the hymns. We all stood and sang together and prayed together and cheered together. I attended the wedding with the man I came closest to marrying, but by then we both knew that we would never be married and were learning to live with the disappointment of the decision that was never really a decision but became the inevitable.
And in a few hours, I will awaken and “attend” the funeral of HRH The Duke of Edinburgh and rehearse the emotions and the protocols that I know will soon befall me, as I bid farewell, inevitably, to my own 90-year-old father.
As I ponder and work on my own altruism this month, I am in wonder at the devoted life of Service that Elizabeth II and HRH The Duke of Edinburgh have each given to the Commonwealth and to me, as my totem. Goodnight, Sir.
I am grateful to the royal family for being a symbol throughout my life for they have given me stability in a family that lacked it and an ideal on earth to which I could affirm my allegiance, when my own life lacked personal mentors and role models. They have been an emblem of home, no matter where I have roamed and I’m grateful for their constancy. People living in a republic will never know the blessings of having lived under the reign of the longest reigning monarch. Whatever may happen to the institution of the monarchy when Her Majesty the Queen passes away, she and her family have been a part of the great task of meaning-making in my life.
Send her victorious, happy and glorious, long to reign over us.
God Save the Queen!
For what are you most grateful, today?
Day 2384 – Day 2420
I think we all can agree that this pandemic has been difficult for many people. At the macro level, we’ve seen worse times. World War II comes to mind. On a micro level, I can’t recall a time when things have been worse, as a whole, for myself and those closest to me. For me, personally, being ill 18 months ago and watching my organs fail put so much of my life in sharp contrast and I was able to see things very clearly. Morphine helped. I remember feeling a heightened sense of awareness of every sensation and wondering if I had suddenly become “woke” from my brush with death. To an extent, yes, that happened, but it was at a sort of spiritual level, not at the level of heightened sensation. For that, I must thank the morphine. It may be a very addictive drug, but I will give it credit. For those who are facing death, the sense of wellbeing it provides is priceless.
The whole world could use some morphine right now.
But, this is not Ten Thousand Days of Bitching, as much as I sometimes would like to shift focus. I told my aunt that this has been a very difficult time – and it isn’t just a difficult time for me, but for a group of us who are bound together in a bit of misery right now. She texted me back and said that she hoped I would soon return to my happy and grateful self.
Oh no, I said. I’m always grateful. Otherwise, that sense of gratefulness would just be a kind of greed over good times, not true gratitude.
Happiness, on the other hand is something that is fleeting and is dependent on circumstances. There is a lot we can do to boost our happiness and much research has gone into the science of happiness – both at the macro level of society and at the micro level of the individual.
But in February, I led my followers on YouTube in a focus on Joy. Having taken the time to contemplate Joy more deeply, I had a few insights about the difference between Joy and Happiness.
I would love to be known for my happy self but I’d feel it was a true life-achievement if I were known for my Joyful self.
Joy, it seems to me, is a bit different from the feeling of happiness. Joy, as I defined it, is a feeling of peace, contentment, vitality and an enjoyment of life, on its own terms, independent of circumstances. Joy is at the centre of just about every major spiritual tradition, even if it is not apparent on the surface.
Dig deeper and joy is at the heart of the work and rewards of a spiritual life. I’m so grateful that I’ve always had a strong spiritual call. It makes Joy accessible even in the darkest times.
When I first started this work on gratitude, I had a chat with Professor Lord Layard whose work on Happiness was ground breaking and he is one of the editors of the UN World Happiness Report.
I remember vividly one piece of advice he gave me. He challenged me to consider how to encourage gratefulness in those who were not people of faith. To whom, he asked me, are they grateful?
And so, I made it a point to speak to the secular majority, and to always focus on how any person could practice gratitude and the many other practices that arose as I observed myself in that first year of gratitude.
Over the years, of course, new practices emerged as being part and parcel of the practice of a life of gratefulness. (Purpose, Meaning, Mindfulness, Authenticity, Empathy, Love).
Joy arose so quickly, as an additional practice to couple with gratitude – it was part of the original Facebook challenge that I set myself in those first 3 weeks. But it wasn’t until I sat down and really did a deep dive on Joy this past month that I realized that what I was offering at TTDOG was a spiritual path for the non-believers in a God concept.
Essentially, these practices are spiritual practices and engaging in these practices is spiritual discipline. At the heart of that, there must be faith – in something.
For those of us who have a faith in the Divine Quantum (and who I consider fortunate to have that), faith is easy to define. But for those willing to do the work of Ten Thousand Days of Gratitude, without a God concept, the repository of that faith is a little different but it is there.
Perhaps it is a faith in the innate goodness of humankind. Perhaps we might replace the word faith with a more palatable word ‘belief’ and it becomes a belief in statistical evidence for the science of happiness or a belief in the neuroplasticity of the brain.
Whatever it is, there is some belief, some faith, some hope, that leads someone to decide to embark on a course of practices to improve their well-being or the well-being of the society in which they live.
And so, in the midst of Joy, I found another crucial component of a walk of Ten Thousand Days of Gratitude, and that is Faith. Faith in something greater than ourselves enriches all of our practices whether that something is some God concept, science or one another.
And so, we will be adding a new practice and a new focus on finding and strengthening our faith. Perhaps, to avoid all negative associations we will call it belief, or something even more benign. Watch this space.
For what are you most grateful, today?
Day 2299 – Happy December, everyone!
Positive psychologists have found that those who benefit from altruism are more inclined to pay forward that gift and become a source of gratitude to others. It therefore is no surprise that we should find that the season of Thanksgiving leads to the process of giving our thanks into the world. We are surely all familiar with the Random Acts of Kindness movement that follows on from the season of gratitude. Giving Back is a way of “doing thanks,” in the words of professor Elizabeth Bartlett, or giving our thanks into the world.
I’ve created free downloadable calendar for December 2020 with some daily suggestions for ways to give back into the world. These are suggestions that have taken our current pandemic into account and, while some involve a financial outlay, many do not. I hope that they will inspire you, this season of giving.
I’d like to challenge you to join me this December in a giving back challenge. Sign up for my email list for more information on how we can be a counterpoint to a culture of consumerism and to make one gesture – small or large – each day this month, that becomes both an act of service on our parts, and a source of gratitude for others.
If you have some favourite small acts of kindness, I hope you’ll leave a comment and share it with others.