Gratitude redux

Last night I was again reminded by something I was reading of how important gratitude is in achieving happiness (or at least equanimity), no matter how dire your straits. I can’t even count the number of people I’ve talked to who used this basic method to deal with severe depression or challenging circumstances, especially long-term. I was reading someone’s story about how he recovered from crack addiction and rebuilt his life, and the man basically said “platitudes saved my life” – meaning, I think, that even thought the idea of gratitude has become somewhat commercialized and appears in many self-help books, it is very powerful nonetheless. Sometimes these things have a reason for becoming so widespread – they work.

One woman said that when suffering from a major post-divorce depression, her best friend made her get up every morning and e-mail her 5 things she was appreciative of in her life – and she still does it, years later. It had the dual purpose of making her get out of bed, and helping her be happier. I realized I’d gotten out of the habit of reflecting on this every day. My way was to do it while lying in bed, just before going to sleep.

With that in mind, I’m going to try to do this more – feel free to join in. It doesn’t have to be 5 a day. I used to think of just one thing before I went to bed each night, and that was good enough. It can be something huge or tiny, anything at all. But since I haven’t done it in a while, I’ll do 5 to start.

Today,

1. I saw a new bird in my yard, in the cool of the morning (a Black-Headed Grosbeak). That’s always fun :) I suspected they were around, but wasn’t sure until now.

2. I am very happy that I am quickly kicking the relapse of a very bad summer cold I had almost all of July. It tried to make me sick again last week, and I am fighting it off successfully.

3. Because of 2, I get to go to a play and dinner with my Mom and her husband later today, and enjoy their beautiful (and cool!) house and garden.

4. A flyer magically appeared on my door to have my windows washed at a very reasonable price, which I really do need. Nice to have something sent your way that you don’t have time to look for or worry about otherwise.

5. I decided to try a low-carb high-protein diet, and so far have lost 5.5 pounds in 2 weeks – despite the second week including several days of restaurant meals on travel, getting a cold, and the night before weighing, enjoying a potluck of Indian food (which I organized before the diet). This approach is a lot easier to stick to in situations like these, I’m not hungry, and it’s working – yay!

A perfect summer day

All summer, the weather has been strange – cold start, then blazingly hot, followed by torrential rains in August, you name it. From cold to hot in an instant and back again. But today was perfect, as perfect as a summer day can be. I thought I’d capture it…

The cushions were all aired out from the rains after 2 days in the sun, and I brushed off all the patio furniture and put it all together – clean and dry. The temperature was perfect on my skin – so close to just right that there was no noticeable hot or cold. I climbed into my green garden hammock and snoozed, the cat climbing up and joining me there.

In the garden, tomatoes ripening on the vine and squash plants climbing all over, getting ready to set their fruit. In the background, the amazing deep cornflower blue hydrangeas, like none I’ve ever seen, and the honeysuckle arbor with visiting, twittering hummingbirds flitting overhead.

A dragonfly passes high above, the green trees all around. Wind ruffles the trees and sends a breeze to lull us in our hammock. The sky blue, with wispy clouds drifting across it. The sky and trees seeming crystalline and far away, unreal.

Taking out cold salmon, sour cream and dill sauce and cucumber salad and enjoying my dinner outside, savoring the ability to have dinner outdoors and enjoy the early evening. A good day… looking forward to many more in September!

A state of happiness

Recently, I’ve been noticing every now and then that I’m happy for no particular reason. Not just content, not just OK, but noticeably happy. It’s like a little voice that pops up several times a day and says, “Hey, life is good!”, a little warm feeling, while I’m doing something completely mundane.

This is a little strange since I have had almost no time for anything but work recently, while trying to finish up one career in order to start another (and really doing both). One would think I’d be feeling mainly tired and harried, but it isn’t so.

I’ve been pondering this and realizing how unique an experience this is for me. It’s consistent, day after day – like I’ve entered a new period of my life, something I’ve never quite felt before. Some people are prone to happiness, just naturally. Others are prone to depression. I think I’ve always been kind of in between, pretty neutral most of the time, just taking things as they come. But now this – what to make of it? (of course i have to think about everything!)

My environment is always a large contributor, so that’s one piece of the puzzle, if you can call being happy a puzzle :) I love this house, I love the neighborhood, I finally feel like I’m in a city that shares my values and offers me all kinds of new experiences. The house and garden are just right, and create a pleasant space for me to work, live, enjoy, and be. And sleep! So quiet and peaceful.

I feel like I’m moving toward the things that are important to me in life – making progress in re-orienting my career, growing a vegetable garden and composting, reducing my energy use and the space and other resources I take up in the world.

On top of that, I have somehow achieved peace with my emotions. Maybe this is the biggest thing in addition to the environment. I’m not sure I’ve ever been this happy with the way things are – and not needing or wanting them to be otherwise. I feel secure, able to handle whatever comes, and able to appreciate what life and love brings me. I have strong relationships, but I’m not so worried about where they’re going, nor needing them to be other than they are.

It seems like I’ve finally found my own place in the world – in more ways than one. A state of happiness – something new to experience and enjoy :)

Grateful for ginger tea

Lately, Joanna and others have been keeping the gratitude theme alive, which is continually good for all of us. Life can be difficult, and I’ve really been feeling it lately. For days, I’ve been having to work with migraines, as my schedule just does not allow time off this month. It’s tough. Sometimes I just feel like giving up, and wonder how this can really be possible to keep up for any length of time.

The smallest things can make a difference, and it seems like one small thing has been keeping me going – ginger tea. This sounds silly until you realize that ginger tea is a remedy used for nausea in most of Latin America. It works as well as any medication I’ve had for that, and tastes good too :)

It really doesn’t matter why your stomach is unsettled – I’ve used it for the flu, migraines, traveller’s you-know-what, and medication-related queasiness – oh, and sea-sickness too. It’s WAY better than most medications out there and much easier to get.

Here’s what you do – there are two good options. First is to buy and keep around some ginger tea. This works well as long as the first ingredient is actually ginger, it has no caffeine, and is not otherwise harsh. I use a Stash tea that has ginger and lemongrass, which smells wonderful.

The second option is to use fresh ginger, which is what most Latinos do. Just slice a thin slice, place it in the bottom of your cup, fill the cup with water, and microwave for 2 minutes. Easy! Or if you don’t have a microwave, use boiling water. You can leave the slice in while you drink it.

You can add a tad of honey for flavor (especially if you have a cold or flu), but skip the milk and sugar if you’re not feeling well. It won’t help and may make the tea harder to tolerate. I’ve taken ginger tea when nothing else would stay down – and when things aren’t quite that bad, it may make other medicine or food easier to tolerate.

Hope this idea helps someone else out there, I’ve sure been glad for it myself!

Good things in the midst of…

Argh! miss a single dose of migraine medicine, and I can’t catch a break :) So, living with a migraine since Friday. Still, there are lots of good things to be found, really the key to living in the world happily I think. Here’s my list for this weekend:

Finding the ability to get my work done Friday, and complete a scheduled mediation Saturday, so that I can still feel responsible and productive. Somehow, this goes a long way toward making it all OK.

A friend I spent the weekend with who shares this philosophy, with whom I greatly enjoyed the weekend in spite not being at my best. A weekend filled with comfort, good food, art, and conversation.

When I finally decided I should go to urgent care and get it taken care of, the excellent medical care I received there. A doctor who, in spite of how very busy they were with a wide variety of problems, spent a lot of time with me, checked my neurological status, carefully reviewed my medications, and made sure I wasn’t looking for narcotics. And checked in on me later even though they were in the midst of a genuine emergency.

The dream I had last night, in which a reiki master healed me. I could hear his voice, feel the energy flowing, smell the herbs burning, see the images. Between that and the medicine I received last night, being able to enjoy the sunny day today and write to all of you.

My purring cat, who despite her feisty nature and determined desire to walk all over me most nights, lay peacefully at my side and purred all night, allowing me to get a good night’s rest.

Life really is full of small pleasures. And now I hope to be all recovered for my trip to Phoenix tomorrow for a conflict resolution conference!

Life as an adventure, Part II

It all started to really come clear for me when I and some friends went up to Breitenbush for a few days – a wellness community in the mountains of Oregon with hot springs, their own geothermal and hydro energy, vegan food, yoga classes, etc :) This was a long-awaited trip, but difficult in some ways. None of us are great travellers – it was a long drive and right in the middle of a heat wave. It was 102 degrees in the mountains at 5pm when we arrived! It didn’t cool off until after 1am and in the meantime, Kelcey and I both had bad migraines from the heat. I was berating myself about what I had gotten myself into, and how I was ever going to get them home again (since the next day was supposed to be even hotter and they don’t drive much). I felt responsible, and that I had failed my friends (or my body had). Never mind that they weren’t in any better shape.

But we went out after dark and walked the labyrinth, and when I reached the center I prayed to the elemental gods for it to cool off, just a bit. I talked things over with Maureen all night, and sometime late, some part of me just let go. I said, “maybe I’ll just get some rest now and see how it is in the morning.” And in the morning… it was still hot, but just a little bit cooler. And I sat in the shade, and read tarot cards, and dipped in a warm tub then a cold tub, and cooled off. And ate some of the best vegan food I have ever had in my life, and listened to the wooden flute playing somewhere in the forest, and relaxed. And then we went out very late at night and sat in the hot springs, though it was still really too warm.

And then we drove home, and all was well. And Maureen said… “It’s all part of the journey.” Or I did, I can’t remember. Until now, that phrase hasn’t had much meaning for me, seeming like one of those new age things that people say. But if you look at life, it’s so full of difficulties with little moments of grace woven in, and joys with little elements of sadness intertwined, that each moment is a new discovery – and both the good and the bad are equal parts of the journey, each to be experienced on its own, and each only temporary. The next moment may be better, or worse – and there’s only one way to find out…

So, the adventure of life, like walking a trail. The days with migraines are like slogging up a steep trail in the heat of midday, exhausted and wondering why you are doing this and when the misery will end. Then even in the midst of this with aching feet and back – a gorgeous vista, glimpsed around a corner, or a rare bird flitting across one’s path. Like the flocks of orange butterflies at Breitenbush feeding on the sulfur springs. Accomplishments – reaching the summit of a trail – only to find there’s more to do and hills still to climb. The downward part of the trail into a lush, cool valley with springs and streams – the nap in my hammock with a cool breeze and my cat curled up at my side. Days of walking, picking out the plants along the trail and interesting geology along the way – being engaged in one’s life and work and having everything go relatively smoothly. Putting up the tent, rolling out the sleeping bag, packing up in the morning, all the little chores of life that are done, over and over and over again, but bring some measure of satisfaction in doing them well.

These are my philosophies now – living even more in the moment. Sometimes you just have to start up that trail, not knowing if you have the strength to finish, and see what the journey brings. Even if the worst happens there are new experiences to savor and memories you couldn’t have had any other way – and often, it works out great, and you would have sure missed those things if you hadn’t tried at all. And absolutely no point in worrying about how things will go or what will come next, because at least now, for a while, it seems utterly unpredictable.

Fundamental goodness

Now and then I make it my business to try to find the good in things – or people – that I usually don’t agree with or appreciate. Like searching for good news in the doom and gloom media… or noticing the one area in which I can really appreciate President Bush’s ideas (his views on immigration reform).

The world is complex, and the more we objectify “the other”, the more we get ourselves into situations like partisan bickering, or in its ultimate expression, sectarian wars. But people, and even institutions, don’t really fit our rigid views of them, and we forget this at our peril.

So… this week it’s Christian fundamentalists. Not a group I usually have much in common with, being the agnostic liberal that I am. But here are some things I’ve seen in the news lately that I find heartening and truly in line with the Christian values I was taught as a child:

Foster care – Lately, there’s been a movement among fundamentalists to adopt and/or foster more children. All I can say is Hallelujah. There are so many kids in this world that need parents, it has always struck me as odd and even a little selfish to bring more into the world without taking care of the ones we have. Especially for those who don’t believe in birth control, there is a collective responsibility on all of our parts to take care of these children. I worry that the world has too many children to be sustainable (all the more reason to adopt!), which leads directly into the second topic…

Environment – There is an increasingly strong contingent of fundamentalists who believe that protecting and preserving the earth is man’s God-given responsibility. I couldn’t agree more – it doesn’t matter to me if you believe God created the Earth in seven days or if it was formed over millenia after the Big Bang. It IS our responsibility to care for the Earth, as well as the plant, animal, and human populations that live on it, and all that wish to do so are welcome in my heart.

And lastly, a bit of humor, seen on a church sign in my neighborhood:

“What did Noah do with all the woodpeckers??”