Posts Tagged ‘gratitude’

The presence of resolutions

January 1, 2013

I actually found something useful on the Internet.

It was an article on Yahoo about nine daily habits that will make us happier. The article promised “immediate results” which (of course) caused my gullible alert meter to skyrocket. I’ve edited them a bit for personal use as New Year’s resolutions:

1. Start each day with expectation.

The article noted that life “lives up to (or down to) your expectations” and advises you to think “something wonderful is going to happen today” when you first get up in the morning. If you and your loved ones make it through the day alive, something wonderful has indeed happened so this one is a no-brainer. My personal edit to this one would be to look for the wonderful in my life and expect to find at least one if not many.

2. Take time to plan and prioritize.

Article advice is to “pick one thing that, if you get it done today, will move you closer to your highest goal and purpose in life. Then do that first.” My highest goal and purpose in life has nothing to do with achieving status or accumulating wealth. It is to become the best human being I can be. The real trick is to remember to be and do that in each moment even after some nutjob has just cut me off on the Washington beltway going 75 mph.

3. Give a gift to everyone you meet.

The article defines gift as a “smile, a word of thanks or encouragement, a gesture of politeness, even a friendly nod.” It also admonishes readers to “never pass beggars without leaving them something.” For those of you who claim that giving to the homeless just encourages them to remain homeless, here is my experience with that: most of the people who are homeless are not there out of choice. If they could cope with life better, they would. The awful truth is that they cannot for reasons too numerous to list here. You could not rescue them if you tried. I follow my conscience and do what helps me sleep at night.

4. Deflect partisan conversations.

The article advises to “bow out” of conversations about politics and religion but I look upon these conversations as opportunities to find out what is really going on inside the other person. I don’t have to engage in an argument, but I can bring out my inquisitive self and just keep asking questions like “why do you say that?” and “what makes you feel that way?”

5. Assume people have good intentions.

The article states an immutable truth: “Since you can’t read minds, you don’t really know the ‘why’ behind the ‘what’ that people do.” However, it implies that you should assume “good intentions” rather than “evil motives” with regards to “other people’s weird behaviors”. My feeling is that I have to use some judgment about those “weird behaviors” and get more information before I assume anything good or bad.

6. Eat high quality food slowly.

The article recommends that we “eat something really delicious, like a small chunk of fine cheese or an imported chocolate” once a day and to “focus . . . taste . . . savor it.” Why only once a day? Why is only fine cheese or imported chocolate “really delicious”? And, why only “high quality food”? Food (REAL food, people!) is more satisfying if eaten slowly and consciously.

7. Let go of your results.

The article tells us that worry is “the big enemy of happiness” and advises us to not focus on “events that are outside” of our control. Once we have done all that we can about any situation, we need to let go of the results. A good deed done does not necessarily translate into a good outcome.

8. Turn off “background” TV.

The article states that “the entire point of broadcast TV is to make you dissatisfied with your life so that you’ll buy more stuff.” I don’t know that this is true. I see plenty of things on television that make very happy that I have my life and not someone else’s life. That being said, I agree with turning off the noise for a little while each day. Embracing solitude and silence helps reduce stress.

9. End each day with gratitude.

The article recommends each day writing down at least one wonderful thing that happened such as “making a child laugh.” I can’t argue with keeping a gratitude journal but I encourage you to find at least three things each day to be grateful for. Make it your assignment each morning knowing that you can’t duplicate items from day to day.

And here is my personal habit that I am adding: live your life as a question. Quit seeking the answers and instead, live into the question you are asking. For more about that, see my article at Loyola’s Meaning Making blog.

Finally, this is my year of Living the Prayer. Praying has always seemed to me to be a very passive sort of activity, so I generally pulled it out only when I had no other choice (the prayer was usually preceded by terminology similar to “oh, crap!”). Something in my realization of what “eternal presence” signifies has caused me to sit up and take notice that while there are always beginnings and endings, there are also continuings (<=== is this a real word?).

Welcome to my continuings.

©2013 by Barbara L. Kass

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The presence of ashes

January 2, 2012

On New Year’s Eve, nearly all of my material belongings burned to ashes.

I am still wondering how I feel about that.

My 54-years of selected items were stored in a friend’s barn. He was storing them for free to help me regain my financial well-being after the housing market crashed and burned (metaphorically, no pun intended) back in 2008 and I had to sell a condo at a loss. I am living with a limited amount of space right now and have done quite well without those items for the past two years. There was nothing of great monetary value. The value was in their memories and my history: photos of my family, a butcher block a dying friend gave me, a dresser that was 60 years old, dishes from my defunct marriage (not at all teary over that), my granddaughter’s Dora the Explorer dollhouse, my oldest daughter’s Sylvanian families animal doll set, a painting of the ocean by one of my sisters.

Curiously, this incident occurred at the same time I was writing my prayer for the new year (see “The presence of prayer”). I don’t believe for an instant that God said “Hey! I know! Let’s send her the towering inferno!” I think the fire would have happened regardless of my writing. The larger message is that everything is temporary and transitory. All of those items were made from the dust and elements of the earth and now they are returned. Perhaps I no longer need them at all.

It was not the only fire in my life that day. We had set the oven to clean on New Year’s Eve and awoke to the sound of smoke alarms at about 2:30 a.m. The oil in the oven had caught fire. Fortunately, the fire was contained inside the oven and it is now pretty darn clean. Lesson learned: clean the oven more often.

Part of me feels relieved of the worry about my stuff or having to pay someone to move it for me. I did not lose everything. I have some specific special items here with me: my meditation table and items, my books, a few pictures of my daughters, my vacuum (don’t ask), some kitchen items, and my bed.

Fire is nature’s way of removing the old and the dead. It sets the stage for new life to begin. There are some seeds in nature that require fire so they can burst open. The cones of young jack pines require intense heat in order to split apart and free their seeds. An endangered songbird (the Kirtland’s warbler) will nest only in these pines and the pines only grow in recently burned forests. (Go to “PBS”.)

I am sorry for my friend who lost a huge part of his investment in his farm. He truly lost something hundreds of times more valuable than my stuff and was at danger of losing several more buildings on his property. I am grateful there were no horses or humans in that barn and only hope the mice escaped into the wilderness.

I am more keenly aware of not becoming too attached to material things because in an instant, they can all be gone. The same is true for the living beings I love. Yet, I vow to remain attached to my love for them because that is the way I know I will find them in the next iteration of my existence.

I am one of those people who wander around finding meaning in all of life’s incidents. It is what I do as a human. Otherwise, life is meaningless and empty. Okay – life is meaningless and empty to begin with. We are the ones who fill it up with meaning. The meaning I find here today is to be grateful for what I do have: my essential belongings, the memories of my former life, the people who are still around, and the gift of knowing what is important.

©2012 by Barbara L. Kass

The presence of Christmas

December 25, 2010

WARNING: not exactly written by Santa (or Jesus) . . . could have been written by a slightly reformed Scrooge.

Of all the holidays, Christmas packs the most emotional punch. It also has a huge economic wallop as well. It seems to be lacking in the original celebration department yet booming in the expectation market.

Christmas is great when one has a loving family, friends, and an ample bank account with the caveat that one wants to celebrate (some people don’t like to celebrate . . . their choice). If one those goes missing, the presence of the other two can still make Christmas festive. As long as one is willing to celebrate, it is still great absent any two. Minus all three, though, you gotta have a pretty special person who can still celebrate . . . for the same reasons. In America, I know that there are non-Christians who do not celebrate Christmas but they are happy for the day off from work or the boon in their economic status if they are retailers. There are others, though, who are friendless, homeless, and penniless. They are wondering where (or if) they belong in the festival. Looking closely at their stories, you might discover a physical, mental, or emotional illness, a series of bad decisions, and an unfortunate string of events. Any one of them could be me.

Each season, I come to grips with the insanity of Christmas. I have spent Christmas all by myself and felt very at home doing so. I have spent Christmas caught up in the anxiety of giving far too much of my resources just to see them discounted as not being good enough for the recipients. I let go of the expectation any necessary miracles. I got tired of the drama. I have even been just fine without putting up a Christmas tree.

I am very selective about what parts of Christmas I celebrate. I celebrate the presence of my loved ones. I might honor the gift of their presence with the gift of my own. I might hand them something significant to both of us. Most of all, I am letting go of the requirement that others make this day special for me. The gifts I give are not really gifts if I expect others to respond in kind. At that point, the gift becomes a bribe.

I am into self-giving. I make sure I give to myself first, to others next. I am unexpectedly, other-worldly, shamelessly selfish in the gifts I give to me. The first gift I give to myself is that of gratitude. For everything I imagine that I lack, I name two gifts in my life that I am grateful for. Before too long, the abundance of what I have in my life overshadows and tumbles over any imagined lack.

I am not sure anyone would want to bank my gratitude and try to buy groceries with it, but I know this: ever since I started giving myself the gift of gratitude, there is not an empty space to be found in my cabinets and refrigerator.

I am full.

Happy Christmas.

©2010 by Barbara L. Kass

Walking gratitude

June 2, 2010

Gratitude is a tough walk to take at 3:00 a.m.

At 3:00 a.m., the ghosts of past decisions come to visit. Each and every one of those decisions brought me to this space in my life. I look at the coming day and realize that not everything that is going on in my life is the way I like it, but I am happier than I have ever been.

That I set it all in motion becomes acutely clear – so sharp in my vision that I have to sometimes look away. I am not ready to see all of me just yet.

I am willing to see that I make all of the choices and decisions to be working and living where I am. Every day, I choose this path for many different reasons, and some of those decisions are made unconsciously. As my unconscious self slowly wakes up, I am meeting the self I am who desires peace and happiness.

At 3:00 a.m., I am not quite sure where I will find peace and happiness. All of my lessons in being powerless have taught me that peace and happiness are not “out there” even if I perceive others in the world as having more than their fair share. Still others have so much pain and sorrow, I feel guilty for having any joy.

It is easier to talk gratitude than to walk gratitude. My unconscious self who gave up peace and happiness in favor of guilt and inadequacy knows all the reasons, and I do not need to resolve all of those issues before I walk this path of gratitude presence. The wisdom of my eternal presence reminds me that this walk I am taking, this time of waking up, is happening within me. Within me is the path to peace and happiness – within my thoughts, within my feelings, within my actions, within my responses. Who I am becoming is reflected for others to see and perceive however they choose.

It is time to be the word and today the word is gratitude.

©2010 Barbara L. Kass

Places of gratitude

June 1, 2010

In my quest for the perfect life, I often find myself trapped in motion to fix all that is wrong with me, others, and the world at large. I believe the only beings safe from my efforts are wild animals and plants. Anything growing within my household, however, is fair game for fixing . . . including the Magic cat and philodendrons.

Whatever I focus on tends to grow, including people and places that need fixing. The little litany trailing through my head is “Well, THAT is just wrong.” Just as I saw that I am powerless over everything outside of me, so I see that nearly everything occurring in the world (with the exception of those lions, tigers, and bears), is just flat out WRONG.

It is exhausting keeping up with everything that needs fixing. All it takes is one view of the headlines and I want to reabsorb myself into a cocoon somewhere and become a hermit.

So, I thought to myself (there’s a surprise, right?), and I said, “Self, if looking at being powerless and finding all the wrong stuff seems to make it multiply, why don’t you look for what is right in your world and find what you can be grateful for? Maybe that will multiply, too!”

What got me started was the gratitude journal I am keeping for my graduate class at Loyola. Each day, I have to find at least five things to be grateful for. It is much easier for me to find what I am grateful for than what I am powerless over, yet my life is an incredible mixture of both: sunshine, tennis, people who play tennis with me, running, rain, wildflowers, the French Open, friends, my home, walking, my job, my writing, responses to my writing, food, and on and on.

Let’s see what I can grow from here.

©2010 by Barbara L. Kass