A Deeper Gratitude

This morning, I stumbled upon an NPR interview with Brother David Steindl-Rast. I wonder how in all my years, I just found him today. Like many I admire, he has a religious practice but also a spiritual practice. He is a mystic, a philosopher, a psychologist, a scholar and a teacher. He studies, connects and see the value in other religious and spiritual traditions. He practices mindfulness. He had published many books and articles. I read and listen to other teachers in his circle. He has a ted talk! And yet, I just found his teachings today.

Many of his talks focus on gratefulness. Like many, I have been keeping a gratitude journal for years. I have paper journals, notebooks and several apps for my iphone. Sometimes I am dedicated and do daily journaling, sometimes months will go by with nothing. During easy times, gratitude is a brilliant sun warming myself and those around me. During rough times, gratitude has helped me find stars of hopefulness in the wide expanse of challenges.

But what if the stars of hope seem to be light years away? There are times when expressing gratitude at those moments feel false.

I have discovered that those are the moments when I have practiced gratitude in a superficial way. In our most challenging times, a quick look for gratitude may leave us feeling empty because we are looking for a happy moment outside of the pain, disappointment or grief.

But what if we seek to discover gratitude within the challenge? In that case we are looking for something different. We can find authentic gratitude through deep silence. Out of the silence will arise our insight to the opportunities inherent in challenging times.

Mindfulness is one process that will help you clear a contemplative space for deep exploration. In the interview, Steindl-Rast suggested visualizing the problems floating down one by one to the bottom of a lake. Once you gain some distance from the concerns, you clear a space to contemplate. This visualization makes me remember the peace of floating while holding your breath, your eyes and ears in a different world.

Now you wait.

Look for opportunities. Look for surprises. You will be able to touch the pain and still find the gratitude in the opportunities that will arise. This gratitude will feel authentic.

Sometimes the real gratitude will come quickly. Sometimes slowly.

Today we are faced with a devastating pandemic. Some have resources to weather the social isolation well; others do not. Some people have contracted the disease. Some have lost loved ones. Others are experiencing hunger and financial ruin. The pause of our economic engine hurts many. The earth is taking a deep breath.

Everything has been churned up.

The future is uncertain, but we know that we will be changed by the experience. We will have much to mourn from the impact of coronavirus. We can and should reach out to help each other.

We can look for the surprising outcomes and we can be grateful for the opportunities that will surely arise.

Be well.

Click to find more about Brother David Steindal-Rast.

Did you see it?

Pop!

I look up to see a bright explosion and a falling line. 

I walk toward the sound and talk to neighbors and strangers.

What if someone had been walking? We say.

When will the firefighters arrive?

How frightened the people in the house must be!

Shouldn’t the power shut off automatically?

Wise looks and nods follow.

The air fills with acrid electric smoke. The line rattles and sizzles and squirms, warning humans to keep their distance.

Fire fighters gather. They watch and wait.

Police divert traffic.

Blue, red and yellow lights flicker from their vehicles.

Us bystanders huddle in the cold rain, take photos and ask questions.

The flames grow larger.

The power company comes and goes.

Somewhere a hand trips a circuit. The life force drains from the line.

The work to repair and restore can begin.

The flame that drew us close releases us. We say goodbye and go about our day.

Just a little bit more connected.

Micro-Retreat

Months of stressful multitasking has left my mind and body depleted. It took extraordinary planning to carve out a few precious hours. Could a short break have a notable effect on my spirit?

After a parent teacher meeting, I take the slow way home, a road that winds through woods and fields.  I let my heart lead me, took the some time off from work, took my last look at emails and social media, and disabled most phone alerts.

Why did I have so many alerts set for things that don’t matter? Isn’t there enough urgency in the world without manufacturing more?

After creating some distance from the demands of my life, I head to the ocean, armed with everything I needed: good coffee, sunglasses, a pad of paper and a pen.

I set out on more winding roads. April foliage looks bare but the start of life is all around. You can smell it in the air.

As I turned a corner, the ocean came into the view. The waves were slate with a soft baby blue skimming the surface. A mist rose blurring the boundary between liquid and gas, softening the rocky edge of a pine topped island. Oh to live on a spot of land surrounded  by the beating ocean.

Each turn of my wheel, I feel more and more giddy. I called to myself to keep this real. Is it possible that the ocean means this much to me?

Perhaps it can. Perhaps the code of the waters are embedded in my DNA.

 

On the edge of the beach, I notice a gray haired woman with a white cane. If I lose my sight, I will still come to the ocean. When I open the car door, a rush of cold sea air greets me. I take a deep breath and taste kelp. The woman’s face turns to the sound of my car door closing. I walk up and greet her. Her face radiates with the love of the ocean. She cannot see that mine does as well. I talk about the sounds, and smells and cold air. I want to share my joy in with her in the ways she knows the shore.

I sit on the sand and close my eyes and the sound of the waves become more complex. The sun is warm on my face. The air cold.

Yes. Even without sight I would love this place.

I open my eyes. The churning of the sea makes me feel stable. Blues and greens mixing with white. The rhythm matches my breath. I catch a glimpse of larger waves through the rocks. I want to get closer. I take my shoes off and walk along the beach.

I climb the steps that take me to the tops of the headlands and walk high above the sea. I am reminded of Mendocino though the scale of the Atlantic cliffs are much smaller.

I see a sign and wonder is this a trail marker or a warning.

The sounds of the waves deepen. I walk to the end of the point and sit cautiously on the edge.

I can feel my hour winding down. Slowly, like one rises from a massage, I prepare to rejoin the busy world.

I walk along the path listening to the birds signing in the barren branches.

In the car, I turn back only the most essential alerts.

And I answer my own question. A well planned hour can have a notable effect on my spirit.

via Daily Prompt: Notable

Imagine

With a little imagination, we can do anything.

No more spoon fed ideas!

Puréed politics is as unpalatable as over-cooked carrots spun through the food processor.

Talking heads in 1950s suits telling us what to think is so retro (and not in a good way like that mid-century modern you’ve been eying).

If your words are sharp, short and fire rapidly, think for a moment: have you heard this before, in exactly this way. If you have you know you have been memified.

Let everyone know, our brains are not empty waiting to be filled with their memes that crowd out original thought. Imagination needs the space that the memes take up. So throw them away like moldy cheese.

We have been playing it too safe. Think of your worst ideas.

The worse the better.

For brilliance rises not in the safety of acceptable ideas that carry no risk. Brilliance bursts into life from outrageous ill conceived unconventional thoughtS.

Failed ideas are the food of the precious few.

You cannot fail if you open a void

and imagine.

The sketch

By now, most of us have seen the sketch that went viral. In spite of its simplicity (or because of it) a thief was caught. I get it. A few lines and a couple of dots captured the visual essence of a man.

Less is more in the detective business.

Saturday over breakfast, my son and I decided to throw our towel into the forensic artist business.

I offer the following sketch to my lovely neighbors in case their dog should go out galavanting and get lost on their way home.

You would surely recognize their dog at a glance if posted on any poster.

Please understand I have complete faith in the careful puppy parenting of our neighbors. I anticipate that this image will never be needed for anything greater than my own portfolio.

I also present my talented son’s forensic sketch.

He is seeking a long lost friend from kindergarten.

The image is a good likeness though perhaps less effective than my own.

I do not mean to throw my son under the bus but if a position for a forensic artist becomes available, I am the better candidate for the job. Our family would be better served by an income spent on food than an income spent on the latest and greatest hockey sticks.