Remembering to be Thankful

Laura Dove A         While at Thanksgiving we are reminded to be grateful, that is surely not the only time to do so. it is vital to remember to be thankful frequently each and every day of our lives. For some time now I have begun and ended each day with this little prayer: “Thank you for this day and for all my days.” As often as possible each and every day I remind myself to acknowledge my gratitude for any good experience and even those that might not have been so good, because of the knowledge gained.

Recently we were saddened to hear of a friend who died suddenly and unexpectedly just as she was starting a new life with her spouse. Within the past few weeks we have heard news of other friends who are ill or whose lives have been disturbed or changed for the worse. Each time I hear such things, while I say a prayer for those affected, I am also reminded to be grateful for my relatively tranquil, happy life. In this present moment I have so much to be thankful for. When I survey my daily life, even with all its ups and downs, I am reminded to express that gratitude.

My late newspaper editor used to say, “Health is wealth.” How right he was. What are a few aches and pains compared to long term, probably painful illness or worse, an approaching end to life? What’s a broken washer compared to the loss of a parent or of a dear friend? It is so easy to take one’s blessings for granted, to think of them as ordinary or just a part of life. There is an old saying, “I complained because I had no shoes until I saw a man who had no feet.” While I am thankful for what I have, I am also grateful for what I do not have to endure.

There is such joy to be had in a tasty breakfast of a Sunday morning shared with one’s partner. Were this scene to end suddenly and abruptly I would deeply regret having lost even a moment of our time together through inattention . There is no way to know ahead when one’s end will come, when all of a sudden there will be no more time. I have read of a Native American tradition to greet each day with the phrase, “This is a good day to die.” Some might think this is a morbid attitude. To me it says, “Pay attention, live fully in this and every moment.”

Quite simply, though we don’t like to think about it, we begin to die the day we are born. With the increase in medical knowledge the life span of human beings has been greatly extended, still one day life will end for us all. One of the benefits of mindfulness meditation is that when it is practiced, it becomes easier to pay attention. I am grateful for this practice and to the teacher that taught it to me. It behooves us all to remember that every moment we have whether uncomfortable or comfortable, sad or happy, sour or sweet is a precious gift to treasure and to be thankful for.

Judge Me Not

Dead Branches and reflections 2Someone once said, “Point a finger at someone else and you will be pointing four at yourself.” That is what we do when we judge someone else. However this is exquisitely easy to do. In fact, most of us do it all the time. For instance, how many of us who need to lose a few pounds look at an overweight person and say silently, “How could he or she get so out of shape?” I know I used to be guilty of that. Now my thought is, “Oh that poor person, how difficult it must be for him or her.”

In the Bible in Mathew 7 during the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, “Judge not that ye be not judged.” And he goes on to say (I have paraphrased it) that before we do that we need to look into our own selves to see how guilty we may be of what we are criticizing. It’s been my experience that those things that annoy me most are often those things that I may be guilty of myself.

If I am paying attention, I can take the opportunity this gives me to look at my annoyance as a reminder of my own issues rather than feeling superior about someone else’s faults. Like most if not all of us I have been there and done that and perhaps even realized afterward that I too am guilty of the same. It is easier to see the faults of others than to turn the searchlight on our own.

Rather than look critically at another, there is another road I can take and that is observing without actually making a judgment. This has to be done carefully, with a sense of compassionate detachment. For instance, if I see someone behaving in a way that appears to me to be rude, I can view the potential rudeness simply as how this person is acting, or I can see the person in a critical light. If I did these things, I would consider them to be rude. However, perhaps the person in question simply doesn’t know any better.

This kind of behavior frequently happens with children, especially the very young. I remember one of my daughters at three looking at her grandmother and saying. “Why are you so fat?” The poor woman was somewhat taken aback but took it in good spirit. She sputtered a bit then smiled and changed he subject. Young children can be tactless. Later they may learn that this behavior is not viewed kindly. I know even as an adult I have been guilty of it. Remembering this, when I am with someone whose actions seem to be inappropriate I work to see their  behavior as a result of ignorance.

Learning as I go I hope to be as nonjudgmental as I can. Having grown up with prejudices inherited from my rather judgmental mother and father, in order to do better I observe myself in action as I am able, and I do not judge myself. Life is a wonderful teacher. As I move through each day I find numerous opportunities to enhance my knowledge as well as to refine my responses. It’s a kind of game I play. If I do not judge myself I will be less judgmental of others. Despite what they might have said or done, when I don’t judge them I can see them more clearly and with kinder eyes.

 

Clearing the past helps manifest the future

          It’s helpful to begin the new year with a clean slate. However in order to do that, it is important to deal with any situations or setups that are connected with or derived from the past. If I don’t clean up what I need to from the past, I will have created a big mess that impedes my progress in the year to come. I learned this the hard way one year when I accumulated a huge pile of items that needed to be filed because I had never found the time to do it conveniently. Thus I had an inconvenient task to deal with. This year I have been dilatory about filing new poems where they were meant to go. When I have done this a little at a time organizing them is much easier.

          The Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah begins with a thorough cleansing and refurbishing of the entire home, most especially the kitchen. This is a symbolic way of wiping the slate clean for new beginnings. I now know the value of this. Being thorough  with this process, however does take time. Though I have accomplished some of my cleaning up, much remains to be done. For instance, I have yet to go through and scrub down my refrigerator. While I have every intention of tackling this task soon, unfortunately I haven’t found the right time just as yet.

          Still, nothing in there has developed an odor to alert me to an inedible substance that must be discarded. As far as I can tell I have kept up with my leftovers, and there is nothing lurking in its back for me to dispose of. Sadly, my refrigerator does not hold as much as I wish it did. Whenever I do a big shopping I usually have to reshuffle whatever is on the shelves in order to fit in the new items, and that tends to keep things current. I need to do this especially when adding to my freezer which needs to hold things like shrimp on sale as well as an assortment of the good frozen organic vegetables we like so much.  

          I have gone over my desk, organized it and thrown out the various lists, notes and other accumulated paper that were not current. I also threw away a bunch of pens that no longer wrote and put away the ones that did. In addition I purged my wallet of coupons that were not valid because they were past the expiry date. We still have some Christmas gifts that we have not yet managed to connect with their recipients; however I am confident that this will happen in good time. There are still drawers to tidy, and my filing cabinet to go through.

          I can think of more and more if I try. There are writing projects on my computer I haven’t looked at in some time. I could discard them or continue to consider them. There are old poems I could look at and decide whether to keep, revise or eliminate. Yet where do I stop? I might go on cleaning and clearing until summer if I kept at it. At some point I must decide what is enough and what will be too much. Soon I need to stop and decide it’s time to move forward. The space garnered by elimination will help me and that’s a good reason to do so.

Keys to Patience

20180828_145205There is a joke I remember hearing some time ago to the effect that when a minister repeatedly prayed to God for patience, God sent him an incompetent secretary. He ought to have known better. Patience training is best experienced when I am in situations requiring patience. How else can I learn? There is no other way I know of.

Motherhood is good for learning to be patient. Certainly patience is needed when caring for small children. They take their time, as they need to do. I still vividly recall my walks with toddlers when they were small. Once they refused to stay in the stroller, I had to move at their pace because there was no way they could walk faster than their short legs could carry them.

Those days are long over. Now it is my turn. I need to walk more slowly because no matter how much I would like them to, my legs simply do not move with the speed they used to. I remember how fast I used to walk at one time. I was even proud of it. When did I begin to slow down? Age creeps up on us when we are not expecting it.

There are lots of books on what to expect when you are expecting a child or when one is born and you need to cope. Someone needs to write a book on what to expect as you age. Perhaps it could be titled Aging for Dummies. There is much more to aging than physically slowing down. While I work at being patient with myself in various situations, it is not easy.

Of course we all age differently. Still, it might be useful to know more about what can happen to the body not to mention the mind. Most of my relatives aged well. That is to say they were vigorous and active while they lived. However, I have passed the age they were they left this life, and I do not remember them ever mentioning how they felt as age advanced upon them.

Because at the time I wasn’t thinking about aging, It did not occur to me to ask them. When we are young or even middle aged, the country of old age is a foreign place. How it feels and how it causes us to act are mysteries we cannot plumb without experiencing aging for ourselves. Still it might be nice to have some guidance. Patience is a high priority.

At least I can contribute things I have learned that may help. Depending on how much patience I have time passes either quickly or slowly. So rather than focus on how I dislike waiting, if I observe my surroundings, it is easier to be patient. I also recognize that the more patience I have with myself the easier it is to be patient with others. One of the secrets to achieving patience is distraction. Another is respect. That respect is usually linked with compassion, something that seems to have come with age and as I have worked for it. When I respect my limitations or those of another, patience comes easy. Above all else what really matters is one simple thing: practice, and aging gives me plenty of that.

Benefits and Liabilities of Aging

Sunfloer bowed downWhen I was little my grandmother used to take me with her to visit her friends. Among them were two sisters who had never married but lived together in a pretty home with a nice porch. They used to give me cookies and cambric tea–milk, sugar and a wisp of tea in a delicate china cup. My own mother was physically strong and after my father passed on lived alone and drove herself between Florida and Maine even in her eighties.

These and many elders of my early years presented an image of healthy, hearty behavior. My grandmother used to do fancy dives into the swimming pool of the beach club she occasionally took me to. My great aunt played golf and tennis and had silver cups to show for it. I had teachers with white hair who were wise and good natured. My life has brought me many examples of vital elders who carried on their lives energetically.

Just recently I attended a small reunion for my high school classmates. I was impressed with their fortitude and vigor. As we visited together I enjoyed renewing my acquaintance with theses women with whom in our teens I had shared time, space, and teachers. It was quite special to be with my contemporaries. I found that even after all these years we still had much in common besides our age and the school we had attended.

The life paths we had taken had varied widely, yet we all shared a dedication to improving the world and being of help when needed. Born when we were, we had grown up with different mores and rules of behavior than those of today. As a result we have had to make many adjustments. When people do not grow with the changes that accumulate around them, they become bitter and crabby. It seemed to me that none of us had.

No doubt we all had our share of aches, pains and limitations. At our age some of that is to be expected. However I didn’t hear anyone complain about their health even though one of us used a walker and another had both vision and auditory issues of a serious nature. One of the blessings of age can be the ability to deal creatively with one’s limitations. Patience can come more easily when one has lived a long time.

The benefits of accumulated years are a kind of grace that can make up for the increasing changes that as we age limit activities, not to mention movement. Speaking for myself, I would say that patience tops the list of these benefits—not only patience with others but also patience with myself. In addition, being able to wait out a difficulty, the knowledge that time helps heal as well as facilitate, and the ability to listen to and soothe those who live with greater immediacy and impatience are some of the benefits I cherish as I grow on in years.

The Preciousness of Remembering

When I was a child Little Tasha 4and death or even disaster was to be spoken of, someone would say, “Not in front of the children.” The subject would be changed or I would be told to go off and play so the adults could continue their discussion. Yet because we had animals, death and change were part of my life. I witnessed the drowning of baby ducks and the demise of baby chicks. It was hard when a dog got into my pet rabbits’ pen and maimed them. My aunt’s gardener had to–as I was told, “put them out of their suffering.” Death was no stranger to my childhood. I am neither uncomfortable with it nor afraid of it.

Still, it does have an effect. The recent passing of a dear friend has brought a sense of immediacy to my relationships, and prompted a renewed sense of attention to my way of thinking about life. She and I used to speak each morning except Sundays. More than once I said to Stephen, “One day the phone will not ring at 9:30 every day.” Then indeed that day did come. While I miss my friend, I know she is in a much more comfortable and happy place than she has been for some time. Though I do miss her calls I also rejoice for her.

I am happy to have pleasant memories of our time together. That is the saving grace of partings. It is also a reminder to focus when I am with a dear one and to be present in order to have something to remember. More and more as I get older I have come to realize that endings come whether we want them to or not. We have no way of knowing whether or not any given conversation, meeting or interaction with another may be our last. I do not say this because I have a morbid fear of endings but rather as a reminder that any time we spend with another may be significant.

When we are children we have no understanding of how it is that things change or perhaps end. That ignorance may even be important to children’s comfort and sense of security. Most adults grow accustomed to change and learn to flow with it. It may be an aspect of maturity in human beings to be able to do that. In my life there have been many changes I could never have anticipated. Being able to adapt to them has been crucial to my happiness. Developing a sense of detachment to an anticipated condition of permanence has been not only valuable but also essential.

When I was a child, I could buy an ice cream cone for a nickel. Now even the smallest one costs 50 times that. The decor in my parents’ living room changed once in my memory. Today many people redecorate frequently. Then divorce was rare, people stayed at the same job for most of their lives, I could go on and on about how it used to be. My point is that change is more than ever a constant in most lives. For our comfort it is important to be able to deal with all forms of change, whether of décor or of circumstances. When I make the time to focus my attention and to appreciate what is happening, whether with a relationship or an experience, I have much less regret when it ends.

Perspective Makes All the Difference

Cherry Blossoms on a rainy dayAt the time I was born my mother was newly come to the US, a bride of less than a year. Except for my father, she was very much alone in a big city, and I was her only companion for quite a while. I have often thought that my persistently positive perspective on life may have had its roots in my trying to cheer her up when she was sad and missing her family and friends back in her home country. Over the years since I have come to understand the power of a positive perspective on a potentially negative situation or experience.

This has become essential to my work. When I tell people I am a writer, they often ask me what I write. If I say I write essays, it sounds as though I am writing from a scholarly point of view. If I say I do inspirational writing, it sounds as though I am coming from a religious perspective. In truth, what I am doing in my columns is to simply present a different or alternative point of view from that which some might take about any given situation or experience. I write to be helpful, but it is self help I write about. Helping others to help themselves is my intention and my goal.

There is little we can do about circumstances. Daily life presents us with issues and difficulties we must deal with. The school of experience is our ever-present teacher, one we cannot escape no matter what we do. I’ve often felt that maturity or adulthood truly begins when we’re willing to learn from this teacher rather than moan, groan and feel as though we are victims of fate, circumstance or those who might perpetrate it. It is a lot easier to complain than it is to “bite the bullet” and admit there might be something to learn from any given situation.

I believe the expression “bite the bullet” comes from battlefield medicine when in the days gone by the surgeon had to amputate or otherwise operate without anesthesia. After whiskey was poured liberally into the patient, a bullet was put between his jaws to bite down on as a way to keep from crying out. Whether this is actually true or not it makes a good metaphor. When our focus is put not on complaint or disappointment but on what can be gained from whatever is happening to us, coping becomes easier and wisdom more accessible.

In my own life right now I am dealing with a change in lifestyle and a need to take better care of myself. I have learned that much of what I used to take for granted, I no longer can. Exercise is not an option it is a necessity. I need to do additional work on my body to restore it to better working order. I could complain, or even bemoan my fate. Instead I rejoice that I now have a good way to lose weight, that I can become stronger and healthier with effort and that it is good and helpful to be made to do that. Therefore I bless these circumstances and state firmly that I am exceedingly grateful for them.