Gratitude

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When you wake up, do you dragged down by all the things you don’t want to do today, or do you feel excited to be awake and alive? When you get sick, do you feel miserable all day, or do you feel grateful that you don’t get sick that often?

I know it’s hard to let go of feeling bad. There are such juicy pay-offs! When I feel bad I can complain to people, and get their sympathy. I don’t have to work too hard because I need to take care of myself. I can bond with people over things we don’t like, but I don’t have to stretch my comfort zone to try to change anything. Change, even change I want and try to make happen, is difficult and uncomfortable. It’s just so easy to stay feeling stuck, sick, bored, sad, frustrated, angry, apathetic, unmotivated.

If something hurts, it’s hard to ignore it. Pain, discomfort, and trouble breathing are all very insistent on getting attention. I feel justified in letting my illness or injury run the show. It’s too much work to make my intentions larger than my circumstances. I’ll just wait til my circumstances improve to do anything too difficult.

And – welcome to victim-hood. Where nothing changes. Where no goals are met. Where everything is a little bit grey and boring.

It’s fascinating to realize that the only thing needed to change the picture – the only thing – is a change in perspective. Yes, I can’t breathe well right now. But how wonderful that I haven’t been sick in so long! I had health for a long time and I will again. Yes there are things I don’t like to do planned for the day. Just think how happy I’ll be when I get through them! I hate having them hanging over my head. Plus, each dreary phone call gets me closer to actual paying clients, or whatever goal I have for the day. (New school? Nursing home? Lawyer? Getting info and making calls helps in every case.) Then I can end the day feeling proud of myself.

I’m not saying that genuine depression can be lifted by thinking happy thoughts. My brain doesn’t make the right neuro-transmitters, and so I use store-bought ones. I was unable to think happy thoughts until I had the right brain chemistry. So I want to be clear that I’m not saying that if you are on the floor crying it’s all your fault and that you have to be different than who you are for things to get better. There is no fault, no blame. You are enough, just as you are. You are perfectly you, and no one can tell you you’re doing it wrong.

Once you have the capacity for joy, love, excitement, hope, and gratitude restored to you, then you can practice exercising those muscles. The negativity will always try to lead. It’s a survival mechanism. There’s nothing wrong with you for having all the negative thoughts. But how wonderful to think that if you’re miserable from all your negative thoughts, you can have a different experience if you change your thoughts!

Changing thoughts often takes practice. Try finding three things to be grateful for, right now. Can you breathe? Awesome! Do you have a place to sleep? Epic! How about hot running water? Fantastic! How are your eyes? your feet? your liver? All working? Sweet!

Now, let’s try the next level – find three things you’ve done well today. This can be very hard for people who are used to beating themselves up for all the things they did wrong. Did you make it to work? Awesome! Did you say something kind to someone? Epic! Are you clean and dressed? Fantastic! Have you fed yourself? Fed someone else? Had enough water? Sweet!

Now – can you see yourself as the hero, not the victim? Can you see the power you have? Can you take your power back from your circumstances, your health, your boss, your employees, your spouse? You have the power to choose how you face the day. Are you grateful the sun came up, or are you grumpy that the sky is grey? Can you smile when you hear birds sing, or do you curse that they woke you up too early?

I want to say this is both an instant fix, and it isn’t. On the one hand, I can choose what to focus on and that can make an immediate difference. On the other hand, in order for my focus to change generally to the positive requires diligent practice. I need to keep gratitude lists, lists of things I do well, lists of positive adjectives about myself, lists of people to call if I lose my positivity. I need to rewrite these lists often. I need to get exercise and eat well. When I do all these things, I find myself drawn more and more to see things in a positive light. And when I don’t, it’s easier to switch. (I still take anti-depressants though. That won’t change any time soon.)

I guess I’m sharing all of this because I feel like my life is getting more spacious, my possibilities are increasing, my power is growing, my heart is expanding, and my joy is overflowing with these changes that I’ve been making in my life. I want you to have this too. My mission in life is to help get every voice heard, and part of that is making space for the voices to speak up. And, part of it is helping the voices feel like they deserve to be heard. You deserve to be heard. You deserve to take up space. I hope I can help support you on your own journey to possibility and joy.

Practice Makes Perfect

My Dad is a professional musician, and he has always had issues with the saying “Practice makes perfect.” He prefers to say “Perfect practice makes perfect.” After all, you can learn a mistake really, really well if you practice it a lot.

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There’s a lot of pressure on a person though, if they have to have perfect practice. After all, the reason you’re practicing is that you’re NOT perfect yet. In fact, perfect is practically impossible to achieve.

So the question becomes – are you keeping yourself small because you’re afraid you’ll make a mistake?

I don’t know about you, but I hate making mistakes. I hate feeling stupid, embarrassed, flawed, and unreliable. I hate feeling like the other person is looking down on me, or dismisses me, or is going to actively campaign against me with a private twitter war or terrible reviews on Yelp. (Not sure I have that much power, but my fears are strong.)

What I’ve come to realize recently is – I hate playing small even more. I have a big message for the world. I want to get every voice heard, empower everyone to speak up, make every meeting a safe space to show up. Playing small doesn’t serve my future clients, doesn’t tell people it’s safe to be themselves, and doesn’t let me be myself.

If I want to take up more space and be more visible, I have to expect that I will make mistakes. I have to learn to live through the wash of heat that floods my body, making me feel uncomfortable and like I’m in front of the firing squad. It’s not actually life or death. And this, as with any other skill, takes practice.

How To Live

I’ve been thinking about the systems people put in place as guides to life. Some of it is religion. Some of it is aphorisms or sayings to keep in mind – do unto others as you want them to do unto you, for example.

So, what do I live by? I was born Jewish, and I still feel a part of the Jewish community. And, there are a damn lot of rules about how to be Jewish. I don’t follow a fraction of them. In the end, though, what are all those rules about? How to be fair. How to be kind. How to be healthy. How to be grateful. (I feel a need to put an aside here, because from experience someone will come up with a rule that doesn’t meet these guidelines and tell me that I’m wrong. So, just know I’m being somewhat general here.)

I actually feel a lot of affinity for the Wiccan motto: First, do no harm, then, do what you will. Doing no harm is difficult! Almost everything harms something. Eating a carrot harms the carrot. But if the focus is more on whether eating the carrot harms the earth, then growing food and eating it can still be done with care and reverence. And it shows us how much we are all connected, that all of our choices have consequences. Is using that plastic bottle harming the ocean? Maybe we should find out.

I like that the next thing is – do what you will. There are so many people telling us to do what they want us to do. I love that freedom to explore what it is we feel called to do inside – as long as it causes no harm. We can’t give in to the impulse to kill, hit, or destroy, but we can build a block tower just so we can knock it down because we want to experience that destruction. I think so many of us are not giving our gifts to the world because we are afraid to show our true colors. What if all of our differences and gifts and preferences were admired and supported? What if everyone was called to do what mattered most to them?

I think there is one piece that is missing. I don’t want it to be a law, since it’s sure to backfire. But I think a reminder to find gratitude and joy and love in everything around us is important. When I focus on things I’m grateful for, I see more of them. When I focus on things I’m resentful about, I see more of those. I know which way I feel better, and can be of more service in the world! In fact, I only want to be of service when I revel in the gratitude and joy and compassion and connection. When I feel resentful, badly treated, or not respected I don’t want to be of service. I want people to serve me! It takes a pretty big mind shift to inhabit the world of abundance and happiness rather than pettiness and greed. I know if someone told me I had to make that shift, it would push me further into the world of resentment. But I think it’s very important as part of a world view.

And so, my simple (yet complex) structure to serve as a guide to life:

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It’s Turning 2017 (I really think so)

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So, it’s a new year. A lot of people take the new year as a chance to start anew. I feel decidedly mixed about this.

On the one hand, I love the sense of possibility that comes from new planners, blank books, and the feeling of turning over a new leaf. I imagine how organized, or creative, or both, I’ll be after I purchase a new book to write or draw in. (I can’t count the number of blank books I’ve purchased and either only wrote in the first few pages, because I couldn’t maintain the discipline I envisioned, or never wrote in at all, because I didn’t want to ruin the feeling of possibility.)

On the other hand, it’s just another day in winter. (Or summer, in the other hemisphere.) There’s nothing inherently new about January 1 as compared to December 31. Nothing will change if we don’t try to change, nothing will grow if we don’t plant the seeds.

A lot of people make resolutions at the new year to be different, to make changes, to be more organized or athletic or creative or somehow better. I feel mixed about this too. On the one hand, change won’t come if we don’t put intention and effort behind it. On the other hand, I personally hate the feeling that there’s something wrong with me that needs to be changed.

My best changes have come from following the things that make me feel good – aligned, alive, joyous and free. Not necessarily feel good as in it tastes good or feels soft on my skin, but feel good as in stronger, more myself, more content. Which means I’ve lost some weight. But if I went into the new year saying I am wrong for being the weight I am and I need to lose some weight in order to be acceptable, I would resist like a kid resists brushing teeth. No way are you putting that thing in my mouth lady!

Still, I can’t say the tendency to spend winter in contemplation of the past and planning the future is bad. We all need those fallow seasons where we are not actively planting or harvesting, where we let new ideas marinate til they are soft and ready to apply. Reviewing the year may be artificial, as opposed to reviewing the project that comes to a close, but it’s still better than not looking at it at all. It’s hard to learn from experience if we never look at the experience we have.

So I wish you all a very happy new year, and hope this season gives you greater understanding of the past and hope for the future.

Ode to Thanks

It is the day before Thanksgiving, and I wish to write about gratitude.

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I am grateful for so many things: hot running water; a rainbow during my morning walk; rain in parched California. I am grateful for finding my people, even if I wasn’t born into their family. I am grateful that other people like to cook. I’m grateful for understanding and acceptance of other people’s inner workings, even mine, even my son’s. I’m grateful for persimmon trees standing leafless and full of fruit. I’m grateful for heat on a cold morning, and for coolness on a hot afternoon. I’m grateful for indoor plumbing. I’m grateful for play as a way to connect people. I’m grateful for people I can just be with, so I don’t always have to do. I’m grateful for people who encourage me to do things I might not do on my own.

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Most of all – I’m grateful that the more I look for things I’m grateful for, the less I want to complain about my life. I have at times found connection and understanding through sharing complaints, and I’m so glad that the connection and understanding were there during those times. And – I’m glad that today I see more to be grateful for than I see to complain about. I see joy and love and hope where once it was all anxiety and loneliness and despair.

If your life is full of anxiety and loneliness and despair, if on this holiday of giving thanks and declaring gratitude you do not feel thankful or grateful, I’d like to offer hope. I have not always seen light. Many years were very dark. It is possible for things to get better. Please, when you reach the end of your rope, reach out for help. Let someone know. We are all in this life together, and there are plenty of people who will lend you a hand if they know you need it.

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Thank you. Gracias. Merci. Todah. Sheh sheh.

You fill my heart.