How Can I Ever Thank You?
'How can I ever thank you?' feels like a question from a bygone era. It's a question a friend asked me many years ago when I stepped in to care for her children when she was ill. It's a question I have asked many times during my life upon receiving help. This question is often uttered in an almost breathless manner, as if the speaker is overcome with gratitude and desperation to offer something in return, despite feeling there is nothing they could offer to repay such kindness. 'How can I ever thank you?' resonates deeply with me these days.
As the calendar turns to November, and my thoughts turn to Thanksgiving, I find myself feeling abundantly grateful - for my vital blessings of good health, plentiful and nutritious food, financial security, a place to call home, and the people in my life - as well as for the smaller things we often overlook - sunny days, beach walks, the deliciousness of coffee, the contagion of laughter, and so on. I find myself experiencing the same breathless sense of wonder at how I could possibly be worthy of these blessings and at what I could possibly offer in return. Gratitude has a way of making us to want to give more, not out of duty, rather because the joy it brings urges us to want to do more to create more joy for others and for ourselves.
Often when we face difficult times, gratitude can be elusive, because the things for which we are grateful are overshadowed by the things which bring challenge. Yet, expressing gratitude during difficult times is one of the best ways to bring us back to a place of peace and even joy. This may simply be because we are changing the focus of our attention to our blessings, as much as it is the fact that we are expressing gratitude. Whether we express gratitude to a person, to the cosmos or destiny, or to a God or greater being, we will feel the power of its presence, and our focus will again turn to all that is good in life. Gratitude is a powerful force.
JOY: What My Heart Taught Me was written over a period of years, and each passage was born of observations on how joy is the root of wellbeing, regardless of what life brings. It is a book that could have easily explored many more lessons leading to this conclusion; in fact, had I continued to write, it may never have been published. Gratitude is one topic that doesn't have its own chapter in the book - not because its significance wasn't apparent to me until after the book was published, but rather because its significance was so apparent in everything else that I never quite knew how to capture it on its own.
As Thanksgiving approaches, and as I have been experiencing gratitude as a healing and joy-creating element in my life almost more than ever recently, I felt compelled to address it specifically. Give Gratitude a try. Allow yourself to feel and express it for all things great and small in your life, and cherish the joy it will bring and the impact it will have on your own path. Gratitude, more than almost anything else, will lead you to joy .
How Can It Be?
'How Can It Be?' is the question I ask every year on the first day of school. How can it be that my babies are heading off to another first day of another year of school? How can it be that same babies are driving themselves today? How can it be that this is the final first day of school for one of my babies?
This day is bittersweet every year, as evidenced by my tears as my babies walk out the door. While I am happy about their becoming young ladies with bright futures, I am also saddened by their growing independence and imminent taking leave from our family home. I know most parents experience this same internal conflict about watching their children become the people we have always hoped they would become.
As I go through my day, it will brighten. I'll dry my tears. I'll allow the silence to bring peace and mindfulness. I'll tend to my work that has been awaiting my undivided attention. I'll take a long walk to awaken my physical and mental spirit. I'll pause to give gratitude. And as I begin to feel all is well again, it will be time for my babies to return home, and it will be so. My babies will share stories about their day, and we'll cherish our time together. Soon our thoughts will turn to tomorrow, when they will go off again, and we will all live our lives, as intended.
How can it be? It is as it should be. Be joyful.
Thankfully, the answer to this question - for today - is No. Thankfully.
Generally, if I'm having a bad day, and feeling a bit sorry for myself or my situation, I will ask myself the question, "Was anyone in my family diagnosed with cancer today?" To-date, the answer has been 'No.' That reply to my rhetorical question has always left me feeling not only less sorry for myself, but actually grateful for my own problems. The word 'cancer' instills a chilling fear in most of us, and rightly so, given that it literally consumes the being - physically, mentally, and emotionally - of its host and those who love them.
Life can present other problems that consume us, as well. Many suffer with physical ailments that are as debilitating as cancer. Many are plagued by a past that prevents them from moving forward. Many mourn the loss of a loved one. Many worry about getting by each day without sufficient economic resources. Many agonize about which way to turn when the right path is unclear. Each of us faces issues that can suck the life out of us - physically, mentally, and emotionally - in the same way cancer does.
As we struggle to find solutions to life's problems, we are often paralyzed by constant worry and focus on them, leaving us exhausted and lacking hope, which leaves us in a fragile state, unable to face and overcome them. While difficult to do, in the midst of these struggles, if we take time to consider what is good and well, no matter how trivial it may seem - the blue sky, the singing birds, the passerby who says 'Hello,' the food to eat, the bed to sleep in - and to be thankful for these things, our souls can again be filled with the ability to overcome adversity and move forward. Gratitude is a powerful force.
My dear friend was recently diagnosed with cancer. While she is not a member of my family, and therefore the answer to the question, "Was anyone in my family diagnosed with cancer today?" is still 'No,' given that she is my dear friend, the appropriate answer seems more like 'Sort of.' I have been counting my blessings, knowing that my issues are not as significant as are hers. Of the blessings I am counting, my family and friends are front and center. I know that to be true for my friend, as well. In addition to the tremendous medical treatment she will be receiving, it is the love she is feeling that is helping her overcome this most devastating of issues. Seeing the impact gratitude can have in the face of one of the most terrifying situations life can throw at a person, is further evidence that it works, in my opinion.
When life's problems, no matter how seemingly insurmountable, consume you, take a moment to be grateful for all that is good, so that your heart and soul may be filled with the power gratitude brings to overcome anything.
Note: I have personally found gratitude to be a tremendous healer, and practice expressing my gratitude daily. Recently, a reader posted a comment regarding the importance of expressing gratitude in response to one of my posts. I felt the need to write about this important daily practice immediately. I hope you find it as effective as we do. Please accept my gratitude for your interest.
Is Joy Enough?
'Is Joy Enough?' is what I kept asking myself this past week, as the stress of my days left me feeling exhausted, delusional, worried, and searching for which way to turn. Having written JOY: What My Heart Taught Me over a number of years, during which time I experienced stress in its various forms, I know that JOY is the answer. I had simply forgotten how in the middle of extreme stress, JOY can seem elusive.
Today, August 5, 2017, marks the 5th anniversary of a mass shooting by a white supremacist that killed six worshippers and wounded six others in a Sikh Temple. It remains one of the worst hate crimes committed in our country's history. As is always true after something so unthinkable occurs, people were left asking 'Why?' Singh Kaleka, whose father was killed in the shooting, contacted Arno Michaelis, former white supremacist, to begin a dialogue in an effort to answer the question, 'Why?' Sheepishly, Michaelis agreed to meet, feeling the ideology he had once espoused and propagated in society was to blame.
In expressing why someone would do something so hurtful, Michaelis cites internalized hate. Often the hate is born out of life experience that leaves one feeling alone, hurt, scared, with nowhere to turn, which then leads to a harboring of ill toward others, and is fed, because it is the only thing over which the person has control in his/her life.
Michaelis's transformation from living a life of hate to one of love was born out of the love shown him by people he encountered in his everyday life, despite the fact that he hated them and treated them in a hurtful way. Over time, he came to see that their way was better, and little by little, his heart was opened to love, and he, too, experienced the joy in living. Michaelis has written a book, My Life After Hate, in which he chronicles in graphic detail the distressed life he led prior to allowing the love in his heart to lead him to a life of joy.
Today, Michaelis and Kaleka, through the organization they co-founded, Serve 2 Unite, work to help others experiencing trauma, hurt, and pain, knowing that those states can lead a person to a life filled with hate, as it did for Michaelis, and for the Sikh Temple shooter. Michaelis understands that hurt people hurt others, and seeks to use his personal story of transformation and reformation, in the same way Kaleka heals through helping others, to promote love and joy as the way of life.
While my stress this week did not cause me to feel hate, it did bring about more negativity toward those whom I felt may have been part of the cause of my stress. While I was able to bring my stress under control in a short period of time, I understood that it may not have been possible without the people and life situation with which I am blessed. Listening to the stories of the Sikh Temple shooting, and particularly the story of Michaelis and Kaleka, left me deeply moved, and deeply committed to continue to summon joy in my heart, particularly during times of distress and stress, to let love rule.
Is JOY enough? Yes.
Is Freedom Free?
Today America celebrates its independence as a nation, and all Americans celebrate their freedom to live as they choose. The words independence and freedom, by definition, allow us as individuals and citizens of America to choose how to live. How freeing! But is freedom always free?
"It has been said by some physicians, that life is a forced state. The same may be said of freedom. It requires efforts, it presupposes mental and moral qualities of a high order to be generally diffused in the society where it exists." [John C. Calhoun, speech, U.S. House of Representatives, Jan. 31, 1816] What is he saying? After all, doesn't freedom imply laissez faire, or carte blanche to do whatever we want? Does our society expect something more from us? Should we expect more from ourselves? Is John Calhoun correct in his assertion that while we are free to choose our path, making choices that are morally and mentally sound may be key to our freedom as individuals and as a people?
What then will serve as our compass, to ensure we will be free? John Calhoun's words may contain the answer, as he says freedom "presupposes mental and moral qualities," which suggests we look not only to our minds, but also to our hearts. When we let our hearts be our guides, we will generally make choices reflecting love, which will lead us to a moral, and therefore, free place for all.
Freedom is an awesome gift - use it lovingly and joy will follow. Happy Independence Day!
What Is There To Do?
'What is there to do?' is the question children often ask their parents as the long summer days go from being a get-out-of-jail-free card from the tedious school days to the what-is-there-to-do days of late August. Being the official first day of summer, as well as the actual longest day of the year, it seemed appropriate to ponder 'What is there to do?'
If you're like me, you likely have an endless to-do list. It seems that no matter how much time and energy I put into getting through it, the list is quite literally never-ending. Some things, of course, are easy and quick to take care of, and it feels good to cross them off as tasks are completed. Other things take more time, or require the help of someone else, or demand more of our thought regarding the best long-term solution to achieve the best result, often making the list feel overwhelming.
Upon awaking today, knowing it is the longest day of the year, my first thought was to spend a few of those extra minutes resting in bed, which I did. It's important to use some of our time for ourselves. I then was determined to use this longest day to its fullest. I arose and began with yoga sun salutations, as I do most mornings. This practice prepares my body, mind, and soul to face each day with joy. I then tended the dust bunnies of my life - tidying the remnants of my daughters' movie watching last evening, doing a load of laundry, preparing my grocery list, checking on my schedule for the day. Knowing my dust bunnies are in their place frees me to mindfully approach the more important aspects of my life, like my writing, children, husband, house guest, friends and family, dog, home.
Tonight, I will host my annual Summer Solstice Yoga. My friends and I will gather in my garden and practice yoga, accompanied by harp music, to celebrate this, the longest day of the year. After our practice, we will eat, drink, and be merry, the perfect way to enjoy the day until the end. As you embark on this longest day of the year, may the time it offers allow you to easily answer the question, 'What is there to do?' and to find joy in doing that which you love, as well as tending to the dust bunnies of your life. Namaste.
author of "JOY"