Gratitude isn’t just for November

Meditation teachers, religious leaders, gurus, people of faith and just really wise people from all over the world and varying cultures tout the practice of gratitude. From remembering those less fortunate in your prayers and meditations, to the act of giving back to your community and the world at large, to keeping a personal gratitude journal, there are so many ways to remember how blessed you are.

A few years ago there was this social media trend to celebrate Thanksgiving by posting a thing you were grateful for every day in November. I remember thinking at the same time, “Great idea!” and, “Why not every day?” November is just one month out of the year.

I think it’s funny (both ironic funny and sorta haha-funny) that as Americans, we have this day of thanks right before the biggest shopping day of the year. It’s almost like we want to get it out of the way, our one-day Lent so we can go ahead and get to the spending and self-centeredness of the holidays.

Sure, so many of us are focused on buying gifts for others and filling the stockings for the kids. Many people find this a spectacular time to give back to their communities and donate to charity.

At the same time, I know that I am required to fill out a Wish List to facilitate the purchase of gifts for me. All of this focus on what I want really does make me think of all of the things that I already have: a house, a loving relationship, and wonderful family to be around during the holidays. All of the other things can be procured later or lived without.

And sure, I want another pair of Toms and that perfect salad storage set, and all of the books, but does that stuff really matter?

So, in the middle of all of your shopping and running and airport travel and feeling stressed, maybe take a moment and put a little gratitude out into the universe. Share a little love (and patience) with the person in front of you in line instead of sighing loudly. Smile at your server in the restaurant instead of snapping at her when the order takes longer than usual. Be grateful that you’re the one sitting down with your family, rather than up serving others.

How do you share your gratitude?

Going Underground

A few weekends ago there was a freeze warning here in Nashville. It was a little early in the season, but I bought some bulbs way back in August, so I figured it was about time I dug some trenches and put those puppies in the ground. 

Planting bulbs in the fall is a strange experience because you are getting ready for an event that is months away. It’s only October, and with two months left in the year, that means there’s at least 3 months before any of those plants start to make their way above the ground. 

But to plan my garden, I have to envision what those potential flowers are going to become–12 inch bushes or 16 inch spikes or towering 30-inch pillars. Where will each of these go? Where will they look best and get the right amount of light?  

Turns out this planning went out the window after a while, because I had so many bulbs. If you’ve ever spent some time on your knees putting bulbs into the ground, you know it’s not a job to extend. 

As I was digging, placing, covering, placing , and covering some more, I began to think how much the act of gardening is like my meditation practice. There’s the immediate effect of, “gosh, this feels good” when the action is complete. I feel accomplished and happy for checking a job off my list. And of course there are the immediate physical benefits of both actions. 

The best part of both is the surprise. Just when you can’t handle winter any longer, daffodils begin to sprout. Those cool late spring rains bring the tulips up and remind you that summer is nearly here, the sun is almost out. 

Same thing with meditation. When you feel like life is dark, the practice can give you insight. When you might otherwise fly off the handle in anger, the practice brings distance and peace. It surprises you with changes when you least expect. 

How do you plant your garden(in your yard or in your mind!)? Leave tips in the comments!

Self-Serving for the Sake of Sanity

The joys of home ownership include gutters and neighbors and broken lawnmowers and reorganizing cupboards and quiet times alone. Life is beginning to settle down around our place, but that means that real life is also creeping back in. The real world always comes knocking eventually, right?

Because there is a real world out there that includes work and friends and stress, I have struggled to return to a routine. I know I write about this a lot, but I believe that a self-serving routine is one of the most important pieces of happiness.

Please don’t misunderstand my meaning of the term “self-serving.” I don’t mean selfish. I don’t mean ignoring family or work responsibilities for fun activities. This sort of self-serving is not healthy and doesn’t generally lead to real contentment.

By self-serving, I mean ensuring that your oxygen mask is in place before you help others. This can take the form of taking reflective moments for yourself before you try to deal with other people when they want to load their problems on you. Feeding your need for physical movement, or for flexing your creative muscle. These impulses, if ignored for too long, can result in mental fatigue.

The symptoms of mental fatigue I recognize in myself when I go too long without serving myself are a shorter fuse, an increased irritability, and a decreased ability to combat irrational thoughts. When I see myself acting in these ways, I like the person I present to the world a little less, and my overall contentment decreases.

So, to keep myself happy, and in turn present a better self to the world (it sounds trite, but appearances matter, right?), I do what I can to get 8 hours of sleep a night. I know, it’s a lot and God knows what will happen if I end up having children, but I have compulsively cried many fewer times when I sleep well. In addition, I try to journal or write every day. This feeds my creative needs. I got a fitbit a while ago, and it makes me more aware of my overall movement.

Most of all, I am trying to forgive myself when I can’t make all of the things happen. It’s important to try to stay on top of responsibilities, but it’s also good for one’s mental health to practice routine forgiveness. This is the most self-serving practice of all, and the most important. Sometimes it’s the most difficult to learn, too.

What are your self-serving activities? Share in the comments! I’d love to try some new ones!

Catching Up, Checking In

It’s been 75 days since my last post, and I’m feeling it.

The summer is gone, I’m in a new house (eeee!), I have hardly written or kept a routine for the intervening 2.5 months. That being said, excuse this post for being scattered.

Last weekend I went on a second writer retreat with my writing group. As was expected, we got very little writing done, but much talking and fun was had by all. More importantly, we got to re-establish where we were going as a group.

When you write (or do anything) as an individual, you can set your own pace. I get to write or ignore my characters as much as I want to, and the only person whose feelings I have to worry about are my own. If I put off writing a blog post, it’s not like my followers are going to rise up against me. You may be disappointed that I’m not here to brighten your day, but I can handle that kind of disappointment. I don’t kid myself into believing that I’m really all that important.

But, when you work on a group project, you have to deal with egos and schedules, with points of view and disagreements. You have to be flexible. When people don’t act in the way you want them to, maybe you can have some empathy, try to understand why they are acting (or reacting) in the ways they are.

This past weekend with my writing group helped me remember that sometimes it’s important to step back and remember why you came together as a group in the first place. Conflict doesn’t have to break us, and it is unavoidable, but it doesn’t have to break our relationships. It can make us stronger. Our group came together because we wanted to write and be more creative, but we also wanted to support one another. These were the original goals for our group, and when we left our little cabin on Sunday morning, we hoped that these goals would help to bring us together again.

I don’t really have any deep meaning, I just wanted to share a little something. Hope you’re having a wonderful day, and go outside!

“Open your eyes to all the love around you” (Dove chocolate wrapper wisdom for your Monday).

The Constant Questions & My New(ish) Answer

There are so many times during the day that I take stock of things.  I often ask myself, “am I happy with this? Does this make me feel good? How did that go? Why did I say that?” Perhaps this is part of my anxious nature, and maybe some of it is just a human need to test the balance of the world around me and myself in it.

What I like to remind myself to stay conscious of is my internal monologue as I answer those questions. Not just, “Why did I say that?” but also, “it’s ok that you did.”

This is part of my learning to love myself a little bit more each day. A new acceptance of self that has been troublesome in the past. I championed the individuals around me, while I beat myself down for the smallest inconsistencies. My new mantra is, “It’s ok.”

So, I’m short with the guy behind the counter: it’s ok.

I don’t get up in time to meditate this morning: it’s ok.

I let myself eat cheese or meat or have one too many beers: it’s ok.

Because, after all, life is short. Worrying about whether I came off as mean to that guy behind the counter isn’t worth my time. I want to be a good person, by my level of goodness doesn’t entirely depend on my tone of voice with the guy behind the counter at the store. I want to be a person of good habits, but sometimes my sleep and a longer morning cuddle session is more important for my mental state than a morning meditation. C’est la vie! And sticking to a diet, OMG. Get over that one quick. If I had a nickel…

It’s ok, it’s ok, it’s ok. Don’t try harder later, just accept that today is good. It’s not revolutionary advice. Lots of other people have said it. But ya know what? It’s ok.