Tag Archives: gratitude

Attitudes of Gratitude

22 Nov

This morning, I tried hard NOT to flail my arms out in African dance class as I had surgery last month and don’t care to rip stitches out prematurely. But how can one not feel joy when you hear a drum beat? Drums are akin to our hearts. They are the pulse of life itself – lub dub, lub dub. Years ago when music therapists and myself would bring drums into groups at the Hebrew Home for the Aged, even acute stage Alzheimer’s patients would tap a hand or a foot, despite being practically comatose and near death’s door.

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I have the privilege of taking African dance with a magnificent teacher. I studied African dance fairly extensively in college, so it’s part of my blood. However, the reason I love my teacher is because she understands dance as a form of worship. She practically radiates something higher than herself.

Dance is a way to express joy and praise; a way to mourn and rage.

I dance so I don’t forget I have a body that is often far superior to my mind. The body has its own knowledge and its own divinity. As Whitman wrote, “I sing the body electric!” and as Hafiz waxed eloquent:

Every child has known God, Not the God of names, Not the God of don’ts, Not the God who ever does anything weird, But the God who only knows four words and keeps repeating them, saying: “Come dance with Me.” Come dance.

This is the week of giving thanks. Dance reminds me of the vitality inherent in gratitude. Often, thanks is pretty basic: I slept well last night. This coffee tastes terrific. Friends make me smile. Strangers can be kind. Let me give you a hug. The dog wagged his tail. I’m doing what I love. It rained in LA. Sunday is football. People still care.

Amen.

 

 

Content to be Content

21 Oct

I have 15,000 things to do today but the sun streams in through the windows, bouncing off the hardwood floor, and I am content to sit here. I am content to be content.

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Autumn is a time of sweet reflection. The heat breaks. The days are shorter and darkness drops in earlier inviting in cozy and rest. As a young girl, I loved being huddled under the covers in the bliss of childhood slumber. My mom would have to rouse me for school in the morning and I’d slightly protest, wanting to stay in the cave of oblivion that we only really get when young, cared for fully, and unencumbered by the pressures of the adult world.

In her recent memoir, “M Train,” Patti Smith writes, “The transformation of the heart is a wondrous thing, no matter how you land there,” she writes. “Oh, to be reborn within the pages of a book.” Although I read voraciously year round, I associate books with Autumn and Winter and the start of a school year. I also think of holiday foods, the crisp in the air, and cherished television specials and films. It is a time of reunion with loved ones, past and present. The smell of a turkey and fragrant pines, reminding us of people no longer alive and memories yet to make with new players on the stage.

Our lives move in seasons – seasons of darkness and depth and seasons filled with the lightness of being. It is the light and the dark that provides perception, depth, and contour. That makes our lives a living, breathing piece of art in the process of becoming.

Harvest. Pumpkins. Leaves and fading sun. Lessons stored and drawn upon like a squirrel’s cache of nuts for Winter.

This is not a season to be glossed over and rushed through. It is time to sip the hot mulled cider, to put one’s feet up and to rest after a considerable amount of work and exertion. It is time to prosper and be content.

 

Best Birthday Gift Ever

19 May

I awoke this morning to Winter Wonderland. It is snowing in May in Colorado.

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I wanted snow all year. I thought I was going to spend time on the East Coast during winter but it didn’t happen.

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So what do you know. God answers our prayers in other ways. My birthday is later this week and look what the Big Man Upstairs delivered. Quite the delightful surprise! I realize God always gives us what we need when we need it most. It isn’t always on our time table.

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He knows best. Not I.

Grateful for Granny

27 Nov

I saw my 94 year old grandmother yesterday and today will have Thanksgiving dinner with her at my aunt and uncle’s house, although we are doing things a day early. At 44, I reflect back on the many blessings of having been close with my grandparents, particularly when I was young. Here are some thoughts:

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My parents wisely made sure that I spent time with their parents despite the geographical distance between California and Wisconsin. From the time I was five years old, they put me on an airplane to spend an entire summer month with my grandparents and extended family. Likewise, many Thanksgivings and Christmases were also spent with this lovely company.

For someone with divorced parents this was a rare treat, as I was able to witness marriages still in tact. I was also enamored by the fact that my grandfathers went to work while my grandmothers stayed at home. To me this was a thrilling arrangement that meant children didn’t have to go to daycare and delicious dinners of pot roast or pork chops would be served every night instead of just on weekends. It triggered my deepest fantasies that until this time had only been fostered by watching shows such as “Leave It to Beaver” and “I Love Lucy.” I remember being seduced by the smell of bacon and coffee wafting down the hall lulling me gently awake on my first morning with my grandparents. These were not smells I identified in my own home on weekday mornings. For one thing, neither my father nor mother drank coffee. They both preferred Coke and Diet-Coke instead. And there simply was no time to cook breakfast in the morning before my mom went to work and I went to school. Eggs and bacon were something I tended to get for dinner instead. For breakfast, my mother often gave me a Twinkie or Ding Dong because Hostess Treats didn’t require any cooking. Later when I got older, I made myself oatmeal, which I liked very much because it was hot, creamy and supposedly “Old Fashioned.”

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I loved old-fashioned things. In both of my grandparents’ homes I would gaze longingly at the china displayed in hutches and sterling silver tea sets displayed on fashionable tea carts. I would help polish the silver to keep it from rusting and as I rubbed the cream into the silver with a cloth, I would eventually see my own reflection looking back at me. I loved that extra sets of sheets and linen were kept in hall closets and I would spend hours playing in the attics and basements of each respected house pretending I was Nancy Drew. Likewise, the architecture in Wisconsin was so different from that in Southern California that I would stare out the window as we drove along Lake Mendota to the University where my Grandpa Porter worked at UW Madison as a biochemist and fantasize about which houses I wanted to live in when I grew up. I loved the Tudor style homes best. I told myself I would eventually live in Madison and would be a writer and professor there.

Those summers in Wisconsin were incredibly idyllic. My dad’s parents both grew up on farms so they kept a huge vegetable garden out on an actual farm. After dinner we’d often go work in the garden. Well, they would work while I ran through the cornfields, sang songs and did lots of cartwheels. Then we’d clean up afterwards and go to A & W for a soft cone.

There was always activity going on in my grandma’s kitchen. She made her own jam, Ketchup and applesauce and froze and canned the surplus produce, which in addition to vegetables included raspberries, cherries, peaches and apricots. I would often take jars of things down to the cellar after we labeled what was in it and put a date on it. Sometimes Grandma would name something after me like what came to be known as “Lise’s cherry jam”.

The Poetry of Pausing

29 Oct

This evening while talking with a colleague before our dinner arrived, I suddenly felt flooded with exhaustion. Jet lag and the demands of my current schedule had caught up with me. As our waiter set down our plates and stepped away, I turned to my companion and asked, “Do you mind if I say grace?” I never want to impose my religious beliefs on anyone but in that moment I just needed to pause and center. “Of course not,” she replied. So I closed my eyes and for a minute said, “Thank you.” As soon as I did I felt peace start to flow through my cells again.

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We live in a world that operates at an ever increasing pace. If we’re not careful, we can feel like we’re running a race every minute of the day.

Something about honing in on gratitude helps moderate imbalance. How could I have not stopped and expressed thanks for the beautiful meal we were served? How could I not have acknowledged the blessing when others are starving and here was bounty?

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Religion has become such a point of contention amongst people that we as a society no longer really say grace. But one doesn’t have to be of a particular religion to realize that some have abundance where others have none.

I had momentarily forgotten the poetry of pausing. The peace that passes beyond understanding. And how much saying, “Thank you,” out loud brings me back to matters of primary importance. May I never get so caught up in my own ridiculousness that I lose clarity of vision and forget to express my gratitude.

I Dwell In Possibility…

16 Jul

The other day a dear friend was showing me the upstairs rooms in her new home. As we discussed her plans for decorating the guest room we both noticed the stuffed animals on the closet floor. The room had initially been intended as a nursery. It took only a thirty second glance at those furry friends for me to feel the pain of her infertility. We moved on to view her husband’s music room.

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How many of us have put away the toys of our beloved dreams or not even begun collecting them? I know I have never set aside baby paraphernalia, nor have I purchased a house in which there could be a guest room. Do we have a right to our dreams or is it too painful to petition the Lord and the Universe with our prayers? What role do we play in manifesting our destiny and what baggage gets in the way from our creating it? Is the world our oyster or does shit just happen?

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I think of all the women in the bible who so desperately wanted a child – Sarah, Rachel, Hannah… And how they waited on the Lord. But what if that process turns into a production of “Waiting for Godot?” What happens when there is no resolution? There is no silver lining?

God is not Santa Claus. If even Jesus petitions the Lord, asking for his cup to be removed, we must conclude that life isn’t about our will and what we want. But how are we to know what is His will for us and does not the Lord want our lives also to be filled with blessings?

The other day a woman asked me, “Do you want to have a baby?” I looked at her and felt the rationalizations spinning in my head. “I’m forty-four, I’m single, I’m celibate, I don’t want to raise a child alone if I were to adopt, the cost of living in San Diego is very high, children irrevocably change one’s life, how would I do it with no one to help me? I think children need a mom and a dad….”

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“Do you want to have a child?” She asked me again. “That’s the question. Not how you would do it or if you will do it. Simply, do you want to have a baby?”

It’s a possibility too scary to even consider. People who are married make plans for this. People who fall accidentally pregnant jump on Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride and figure it out. But does a single person have a right to this lifestyle? Or do you say, “Sing yea barren woman…” and tell yourself that you bear fruit in other ways.

What does it mean to look to the future and think about buying a house on one’s own and possibly adopting a child? This sure isn’t how the childhood fairy tale played out but does that mean there is no happy ending?

Emily Dickinson once wrote:

I dwell in Possibility,
A fairer house than Prose,
More numerous of windows,
Superior for doors.

With chambers, as the cedars,
Impregnable of eye,
And for an everlasting roof,
The gables of the sky.

Of visitors – the fairest –
For occupation – this:
The spreading wide my eager hands
To gather Paradise.

Do we dwell in possibility and can we gather Paradise? Is it safe to reach up one’s hand towards the sky?

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Managing Abundance

18 May

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Years ago in the Psychology 100 class I taught, the assigned text book had a chapter on stress. In it, they discussed how making choices can be stressful. They then gave examples about how we can have a choice between two bad things, a choice between a good thing and a bad thing and a choice between two good things. All are stress inducing but of course choosing between two good things would be the better problem to have. For instance, do I choose between banana cream pie or pumpkin? A vacation in Hawaii or Europe? Obviously, these are more pleasant choices to contemplate than which type of cancer treatment to have…

Lately I’ve been inundated with positive choices mostly related to vocation but choices nonetheless. Yet like a kid who has eaten too much candy, I am feeling a little sick on all the stimulating activity. So how do we make choices when our cup runneth over? And how do we come to terms with an abundant life when so much of the world lacks?

Years ago I read an article about an American visiting a country somewhere in Africa. Out to dinner with a native, the two decided to have ice cream for dessert. There was one choice of flavor on the menu. The American shared that in the US there is an ice cream shop that has 31 flavors. “That is too many choices,” the African said.

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We have an incredible amount of choice in this country. It is obscene and yet a privilege I don’t take for granted. Where some in the world are starving for a bowl of porridge, we have hundreds of varieties of cereal.

When you talk with immigrants one of the things they always say is how lucky we are in America to make our own way. We can at least partially decide what we want to do and can aspire to have dreams for ourselves. When some of these dreams actually materialize, it can be a little daunting and demands a certain degree of responsibility for true abundance centers on far more than money or goods.

The other day when I was trying to make some decisions regarding my time and work schedule, a friend asked, “What is your priority?” Such a simple yet profound question that needs constant asking. Another friend said, “I don’t think God ever wants us to be so busy that we don’t have time for him.” So, I cancelled something I very much wanted to do tomorrow because right now I simply don’t have time. And it’s a reminder to me to make time for what’s important and for the actual Creator.

A Bunch of Crap

5 Mar

So I’ve come to the conclusion that there is no good time for a colonoscopy. Not sandwiched in-between two out of town teaching trips, or while fighting a miserable cold, or while trying to figure out if your cat has cancer. Let’s face it. Having to have a colonoscopy is a bunch of crap piled onto one’s schedule.

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Let me put it this way. I do not fast. Not for religion purposes or dieting or cleanses. It’s not my thing. I have a ridiculously high metabolism and it simply doesn’t work for me. I get dizzy. I grow faint. Years ago I thought I’d be a good exchange student and fast with my Indonesian host family during the Islamic holiday of Ramadan and learned the hard way. Fasting makes me sick. So when the doctor told me I had to have a colonoscopy at the ripe old age of 43 and that I would have to drink liquid all day and basically poop out any remaining calories within me, I was not a happy camper.

The big preparation day began on Sunday. Blowing snot out of one orifice and heavens knows what out the other was not my idea of a good time. By mid-day, my head was pounding. I looked longingly at the food in the kitchen pantry; lounged on my bed reading a friend’s novel and dozed off to sleep every few hours. By this morning, my head felt like it was going to explode and I think I started hearing things.

I thought they were making a mountain out of a mole hill. I am as healthy as a horse. But cancer runs in my family. You know the drill. And indeed they found a polyp. So I guess it was a good thing I had this little inconvenient procedure. It wasn’t a bunch of crap after all. Perhaps it saved my life.

There is no ideal time to develop cancer or to die. To get sick or to lose a pet. To get stuck in snow or have a plane delayed. All we have is the present. And we better well embrace it.

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Tonight I lie in bed in my bathrobe happy to eat again and to have my headache abate (I am still not allowed to have alcohol or aspirin). But tomorrow, begins a new day. I can’t wait for coffee with cream and to feel good. This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad!