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.

Herbs can be Used for More than Cooking

Pictures downloaded from my camera 2. 128Many years ago a wonderful little book fell into my hands. A small paperback by Claire Loewenfeld and Phillippa Back, it was called Herbs, Health and Cookery. At the time I was home caring for my five children and eager to find things to do there to make good use of my limited leisure time. Always interested in health and healing, I was fascinated to learn that the simple herbs I used to flavor my cooking could be made into teas to help in healing physical ailments. Recently I was happy to acquire a hard bound copy from the internet to replace my ancient paperback.

I read avidly and experimented. Following my advice, someone studying for her bar exam tried Rosemary tea for brain stimulation and passed with flying colors. That encouraged me to continue learning and trying different herbs for the uses described in the book. It was wonderful too that all the herbs I needed could be purchased at the grocery store and used for food preparation as well. I went on to study herbs in a variety of books and eventually even to lecture on them. This book launched me into a whole new mini career.

It occurred to me there might be synchronicity between certain herbs and the stories involving them. In the days before most people could read or write, information was passed on orally. One way to get people to remember something was to put it into a song or disguise it in a tale or a myth. Garlic, for instance is an excellent blood cleanser. It has antiseptic and antibiotic qualities. Once upon a time people would wear a clove of it on a string to ward off germs. It was also said to be effective against blood sucking vampires. Interesting that it can heal the germs that “bite” and infect the body.

I am also a folk singer and one of my favorite songs has always been “Scarborough Fair.” This song goes back many hundreds of years. I began thinking that it too might be conveying information, so I tried combining dried Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme. Mixed in equal parts, the herbs proved to make a wonderful healing tea for a variety of ills, including flu and colds. One friend said she stopped taking aspirin for her aches and pains and drank this tea instead. Now, remembering this I have been making this tea for myself and it really does work well for my arthritis. Herbs are fun to explore, and common kitchen herbs can be effective healing agents as well as tasty flavorings.

There is a saying to the effect that the person who has Sage in her garden will live to a ripe old age. Thyme is an excellent herb to assist in immunity and oil of Thyme or Thymol is used in many mouthwashes. Rosemary is a brain stimulant and helps with circulation and Parsley has a number of benefits including vitamins, minerals, and action as a mild diuretic. We had a guest once who came down with a flu on a visit to us. Two days of Scarborough Fair and he was healed. I have relied on herbs for many years, and find their gentle effective healing properties to be perfect for me.

Hoop Skirts and Test Patterns

I find fashion to be endlessly entertaining. When you live as long as I have, you have seen many trends come and go.  For instance I’m always amused when I see people of every size walking round in tight clothing. Were she still alive my mother would be shocked and making comments. As I was growing up, at most clothing might be tight around the bust and waist, but not anywhere else. Too, as if pregnancy was not quite proper, one wore tent like garments as soon as there was a bulge. Ball gowns were bolstered with stays and wedding gowns were voluminous and relatively modest.

Recently I was looking at a pretty formal gown in a consignment store and it brought back memories of ones I used to wear back in the days when formal dances were a part of my life. I didn’t go to a school that featured proms, however there was an annual series of dances held by a woman who ran a dancing school for grade school boys and girls. These dances were an extension of her classes and held for high school age students in the area.

She had very strict rules for the young ladies who wanted to participate. Gowns had to be of a certain type, and nothing too bare or plunging was permitted. This starchy New England matron who ran the dances was also particular about our weight. My dear mother put me on a diet that summer so I would conform to the ideal held out for those who wished to attend. “I don’t want any wallflowers at my dances,” she was known to say.

The dress I was looking in the consignment store at was a strapless, full length gown. The skirt was fairly narrow. I smiled to myself, remembering the hoop skirt that went under one of my first full skirted formals. How difficult it was to sit down without the darn thing flying up in the air, taking my skirt with it, revealing my gartered stockings to the world. There were other uncomfortable petticoats, starched and stiff that came later. My mother would laugh and say sometimes one must suffer for beauty. Although she wore a girdle for years and tried to get me to wear one, I refused to.

Along with hoop skirts and starched petticoats, no one born today or even many born a while ago know what a test pattern is, nor has seen one. When my parents got our first TV, there were no programs before around 4 o’clock in the afternoon and after around midnight at night.  All that was on the screen otherwise was a black and white test pattern from the different TV stations.

There were no color TVs. Nor was there color programming! Movies were shown on Sunday afternoons and I remember before we got our TV, the joy of watching them at a friend’s home. In those days a comic book was ten cents, and I wasn’t permitted to buy one but I could read hers. Having lived a long life, I can recall much that no longer exists except in the museum of memory. It’s fun to visit there occasionally, though I’d never want to live there all the time.

Gathering Together We Celebrate

Spring is Sprung 19         On Easter after church, we usually went to dinner with my Great Aunt Alice in her big house next door to the cottage my parents rented from her. She would have a beautiful table with gleaning silver, fragile china and sparkling crystal goblets set in the large dining room she used for formal occasions. Once the soup course was done and dishes removed, people brought in to help, carried around platters of meat and dishes of vegetables. These would be followed by dessert and finally, finger bowls with a sprig of green lemon verbena floating in them. The silver candy dishes with chocolates I eagerly eyed all through the meal were finally passed around.

This weekend holds Easter, a Christian Holiday and Pesach or Passover, a Jewish one. Both are important in the tradition of family gatherings.  Both have an element of ritual that is central to the celebration. Carl Jung the eminent psychologist taught us about what he called the collective unconscious. Briefly stated this is a kind of universal memory that underlies all of human consciousness. It is not individual– what we remember for ourselves, but comprised of the memories encoded in symbols, of the whole human race.

The collective unconscious is like a vast rich sea in which each of us is a drop. We swim in it, and thus make our connection to the psychic history of humanity. The symbols and rituals of the holidays are present within it. These provide pathways that we honor with our traditions. For instance, eggs are a universal symbol of fertility. They are found in myths from all over the world. The use of eggs in Easter baskets goes back to Germany. It was brought to this country by settlers in Pennsylvania.

The gathering for the ritual recitation of the history of the Exodus at Passover is another important connection to the past. Known as a Seder, it recreates the connection to Jewish peoples of history. The Easter bunny, actually originally a hare is an ancient symbol associated with the Moon. Both Easter and Pesach are full moon based, rather than on a fixed date. Lilies grow from bulbs, symbolic of regeneration and rebirth.  Spring the season we celebrate Easter and Passover is when new growth, even before the sprouting of last year’s seeds, emerges from bulbs. We wear new clothes to symbolize this newness.

As we come together to celebrate, we are connecting to one another. As well we are expressing humanity’s roots. Our ancient religions and spiritual paths, even those lost to history live again in our minds and hearts. Yes, there are reasons we celebrate linked to historical events, and yes there are links within us to peoples and even to places in our distant past that we are part of through the symbols and rituals we incorporate. The chocolate rabbits, the marshmallow chicks, the flowers and feasts, even the lovely Easter hats are of greater significance to us than we might think, for our celebration is enhanced by these echoes from our shared human history.

Compassion and Patience Go Hand in Hand

Pictures of Italy '11 031          If you have ever walked with very young children, toddlers perhaps or even one just learning to walk, you have had to practice extremes of patience. How well I remember, as a mother of five, the small hand in mine as we went for a walk. I’d have one of my hands on the handle of the stroller to be ready when little legs tired, the other clutching the hand of the child. They all wanted to walk, of course, at least as soon and as far as they could. The snail’s pace we traveled was a wonderful test of patience. Especially if I were in a hurry.  Little children can be very insistent.

Patience and perfection don’t go together well. As a small child I wanted my hair ribbons to match my socks. It seems I have always been addicted to seeking perfection. There is a story by Edgar Allen Poe called, The Fruit at the Bottom of the Bowl. It tells of a man who was apprehended for his crime because he had worked so diligently to make sure he left no fingerprints at the scene. My insistence on having all my ducks in a row is frustrating to me as well as a bad habit. I am trying to eliminate it, and I could be doing better.

Take tidying–it’s endless if I let it be. There is another favorite story of mine: A nice couple attracted the attention of P.T.Barnum, so the story goes, and he gifted them with a brand new sofa. Sadly, the rest of their living room furniture looked shabby by comparison, so they scrimped and saved and bought new. Then they had to paint the living room, and so it went until everything in their home was new except—you guessed it the no longer new, now shabby sofa. Tidying becomes an endless process because whatever isn’t tidied shows up more vividly and urges me to continue.

So then I feel compelled to do so. The trick is to know when to stop, call it a day, and resume later. However my fear is that I won’t get back to the work at hand because other things will crop up that demand my attention. Trying to be patient with what needs doing is an important focus for me. The chief hindrance? Without wishing to, I have slowed down. I just cannot move as fast as I once did. Part of this is because being somewhat clumsy I am trying to be careful not to make mistakes, and part is because age and arthritis have affected my agility.

Patience with myself is my task now, and it’s not easy. I once had a elderly counseling client who constantly lamented that he could not move the way he wanted to. He wanted to have a young body again. I can understand his frustration. Now I am in the same boat, What I have learned, sometimes the hard way, is that the secret to having patience is to have compassion. Over the years I have taught myself to feel compassion for others who struggle. Now I need to apply it to myself. When I view my struggles with compassion, it is easier to be patient. I have realized that being kind to myself is as important as being kind to others. I am patiently working on it.

Want an autographed copy of my new book Up To My Neck In Lemons? Send me a check for $15 Postage included, to P.O. Box 171, North Grafton, MA 01536,  and learn about lemons–actual, poetical and metaphorical. Make your life’s lemons into lemonade and enjoy my book a sip or so at a time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

A Smile is the Best Cosmetic

Tasha full f ace My young daughter asked if she could draw a portrait of me. I sat in the living room, smiling as she drew studiously, being very careful in her five year old way, to get everything just right. Suddenly she ran over, peered at my face and then went back to her drawing. Her pencil went dot, dot, dot on the paper as she put in her final touches. Proudly she showed me the portrait. To my dismay, the dots were a representation of a recent break-out around my lips.

Sadly, I realized at the time, I was becoming allergic to lipstick. This began for me when I was twenty five with the break out of the skin around my mouth. When I stopped using lipstick my skin cleared up. Then eye makeup began to make my eyes itch. Any lotion I put on my face created more breakout. I realized that my days using any form of makeup were over, and so they have been ever since.

The history of cosmetics is long and varied. As far back as 10, 000 B.C. in Egypt Women and sometimes men have used cosmetics. In the days of Queen Elizabeth fashionably inclined women painted their faces with lead to look fashionably pale as well as to cover up any blemishes. This was extremely dangerous to their health. Believe it or not, according to Wikepedia red lipstick,  was popular way back in 13th century Italy.

At times in history, women of the peasant class were forbidden to wear makeup; at other times it was thought to be sinful and thereby frowned upon or even forbidden. Earlier in the last century and even before, makeup was thought to be used only by “fallen women.”  The used of cosmetics has waxed and waned through the years, yet it seems one way or another always to have been part of human society. The high school I attended strictly forbade us to wear lipstick in class. Every morning the older girls would wipe it of in the coat room before they went in to study.

Although at first I felt a bit out of place among my friends, let alone women in general, I soon got used to the freedom it gave me not to have to spend time putting  on makeup. Now when I see the price of cosmetics in stores I rejoice to think how much money I have saved by not having to buy any. I use only hot water on my face. For occasional dry skin I have a lotion made from herbs and vegetables that helps keep it to keep from getting too dry.

It is also possible to create natural cosmetics from foods and herbs. I knew a woman who used beet juice to make her cheeks rosy. They did look quite bright. However, it is also true that good health, exercise that enhances the circulation, and a good night’s sleep go a long way toward nourishing the skin. Yet the best of all cosmetics is a smile. It strengthens the muscles of the face makes every face glow with youthful energy and is free to all.