Archives for posts with tag: gratitude

Sometimes I walk into the chaos of my life and I think, “Who is in charge here?”

I look to my left and to my right. Nothing. Nobody. Silence. Just me.

But in the stillness there is clarity.

I can handle loneliness because truly, I am never alone.

I can handle responsibility because truly, I am very competent.

But confusion gives me no direction at all except to spin in a circle.

So today, I am grateful for clarity. I believe that with it, I can move mountains, or at the very least keep my feet solidly beneath me and traveling forward.

 

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My teen had a somewhat tumultuous weekend. The ups, the downs, and the in-betweens. Usually, during low times, she clams up, goes to her room, and doesn’t share what’s bothering her. Later, she may share but not until it’s resolved.

My child, like a lot of teens, has had trouble finding a niche. However, she’s had trouble for some years and the trouble she has now is more than typical. She is sensitive, emotional, and outgoing. She is passionate about her friends and loves belonging to groups whether it is band, her circle of friends at school, or members of her choir. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of stability in her connections.

Yesterday, she told me that she felt sad. She didn’t tell me why but she was also asking me a lot of questions, which gave me hints into what might be bothering her. Talking to my kid is like talking to a butterfly as she flits in and out of the conversation as well as in and out of the room. I am no mind reader but I am a pretty good guesser. Nonetheless, a lot of the things I say to her are not taken well. We’d had a couple of good talks over the weekend and I thought I’d take a chance. Also, I decided to discuss things generally, instead of personally, something I know as a professional works better with teens, but I often forget to do as a mother.

I asked her to sit down on the couch beside me and this is what I said, “It is really hard in life to find a group in which you feel you belong. Sometimes, you discover a group and it seems perfect and wonderful. As time goes by, you form relationships and there are conflicts. People can try to exclude you. Then you can feel like you don’t belong anymore. This is really hard.” She nodded her head in recognition. I continued. “You will always belong in this family. No matter what.” She smiled, reached for my hand, and squeezed it. “Thanks, Mom.”

I said the right thing at the right time and place to help ease my child’s pain. It is the bittersweet spot of parenting in which I rarely find myself. I am grateful for this.

Today is the first day of the rest of my life. Today I am exactly 49 1/2 years old. Today is a new day. Three years ago today, at about 10:00 am, I was told that I had an approximately 1 centimeter tumor, invasive ductal carcinoma, in my right breast. I was about as surprised as I could be. I had only a limited idea of how my life would change. Today is today. I am spending it in rural Washington, on the beach. Yesterday was a wonderful day, much better than I expected. Today, I may be in the mood to write, I may not. (I wrote this post yesterday.) I am hoping that today is a good day. I try to be grateful for each day. I mostly succeed.

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The view from the rental house in La Conner, WA. Can you believe this?

Deception Pass Anacortes, WA

Deception Pass
Anacortes, WA

Old warehouse in La Conner. The exterior was dilapidated. What a surprise to see this beautiful ceiling. Also, we probably should not have been in this building.

Old warehouse in La Conner. The exterior was dilapidated. What a surprise to see this beautiful ceiling. Also, we probably should not have been in this building.

I look at poppies all of the time and very closely. This one held a whole new universe.

I look at poppies all of the time and very closely. This one held a whole new universe.

My best food photo from tonight's dinner. In all, I made salmon, salad, oysters, and these clams.

My best food photo from tonight’s dinner. In all, I made salmon, salad, oysters, and these clams.

As I’ve mentioned, I’ve been having a particularly hard time with parenting challenges. I am also working a lot, back to full time hours for the next few months. I am taking off for a number of trips this summer as well as time to entertain out-of-town guests. When I don’t work, I don’t get paid. So on the weeks that I am working, I am putting in extra hours. I am also working extra because for reasons I cannot yet determine, after 12 years of private practice, I am having a particularly hard time collecting balances from the families with whom I work. If I don’t get paid, I don’t get paid.

I may have mentioned about a thousand times that I am not currently popular with my teenaged daughter. I can tell myself over and over  and even from a point of authority as a child/adolescent psychologist, that to a certain extent, this is normative of mother/teen daughter relationships. But I can also tell you, normative or not, it is a source of great pain in my life.  A mama is built to be happy when her girl is happy. Mine is not only frequently unhappy, but often unhappy with me. I have forged a way in my life to be happy, nonetheless, but I have to tell you, it requires a LOT of effort.

This morning, I was feeling overwhelmed with my workload. This is an extremely busy week. Part of that business is related to our going away for the long weekend to a house on the beach. I am very much looking forward to it. I thought to myself, “I’m too busy to walk today.” Then I thought, “I’ll just take a 30 minute long walk. That was my original walking goal, anyway.”

I put on my walking clothes and ventured out into a foggy Seattle morning. I included the local coffee shop, Bird on a Wire, in my walk, I do this when I need an extra boost. The people that work there are always so nice to me and the coffee is a special treat. Angel was the barista today. He is in his mid-twenties and he lives up to his name. Angel customarily introduces people to each other in the coffee shop. He has brought John and me a glass of water when he thought the coffee line was really long and we might need a little refreshment. Angel is also really funny and he actually took his nephew, whom he frequently babysits, to see my daughter’s choir performance!

This morning, I saw that Angel was taking extra care with my latte. He added extra art.

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As he handed the coffee to me, he explained, “You are the butterfly and your husband and daughter are the hearts. You are apart from them but looking on to make sure they are well.” Then he laughed. He had made up a little story.

I said, “Angel, I think you know my family better than you realize. My daughter prefers her dad. I know this may change.”

Angel looked sincerely sad for me. I know he likes John and me a lot. We like him, too.

Little moments can mean a lot. Little kindnesses can go a long way when I stop to notice them.

I’m glad that I noticed today because I really needed it.

Thank you, Angel.

P.S. I ended up walking 4 1/2 miles.

This is another poem I read in the woods while visiting Bloedel Reserve earlier this month. It is a good reflection for me today.

The Art of Being

The fern in the rain breathes the silver message.
Stay, lie low. Play your dark reeds
and relearn the beauty of absorption.
There is nothing beyond the rotten log
covered with leaves and needles.
Forget the light emerging with its golden wick.
Raise your face to the water-laden frond.
A thousand blossoms will fall into your arms.
-Ann Coray (2011)

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It’s spring.

I have wonderful family and friends.

I am thankful.

DSC04736Salmonberry blossom at Fauntleroy Creek, Seattle.

 

DSC04835Peony. Seattle Chinese Garden.

DSC04998 (1)Dogwood from the neighborhood.

 

DSC05025Bloedel Reserve, Bainbridge Island, WA

DSC05044Skunk cabbage looking glamorous.
Bloedel Reserve, Bainbridge Island, WA

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DSC04444 (1)Neighborhood cherry blossoms.

DSC05031Pileated woodpecker at the Bloedel Reserve.
She flew from this tree to her nest, located in a hollow in a nearby tree.

As I mentioned in my last post, my psychologist gave me much to think about when she linked the amount of work I spend on happiness to the fact that I have much to be happy about, which means taking inventory of it all through mindfulness would naturally take a good deal of time. The image that came to my mind was “counting my happy money.” I don’t know why it came to me, maybe because it is like the sayings, “an embarrassment of riches”, “count your blessings”, and “pay it forward”. In any event, I find it kind of amusing and so it has stuck in my mind.

Last week, I focused as well as I could on counting my happy money. Looking at each gold bar in my Fort Knox of things for which I am grateful. I am no stranger to Positive Psychology and know that expressing gratitude is linked to increased happiness.

Even so, I was taken aback about how calming it was to use gratitude and appreciation at the times I was feeling unhappy. When I wrote the post about appreciating my husband even though I was mad at him, he was actually sitting next to me. I knew I was mad at him for the wrong reason. I was taking some parenting stress out on him. But I was still upset. By writing,  felt a gradual re-centering, a misting of calm, that cooled me off, pulled me back into my orbit around reality.

What a soothing exercise. I have used that strategy in the past at a time I was extremely distraught. I just started writing a list of positives, the resources I had that would help the situation. That a very constructive coping strategy, which helped me avoid panic. But using gratitude and appreciation last week, when I was not so stressed, actually made me feel happy and calm.

I am so very thankful to have had the Pay it Forward opportunity. What a gift.

John and I. 9/17/14 by Miguel Cornelio of Momentous Image.

John and me. 9/17/14 by Miguel Cornelio of Momentous Image.

I had big plans for my blog today. It’s Pay it Forward Friday to honor our friend Karen Sutherland’s late husband, Hugh. Today is his birthday. I committed to honoring Pay it Forward Friday with several posts this week about acts of kindness and gratitude.

Karen writes lovingly about her husband and their relationship. What better way could I honor she and her husband than to devote todays post to my appreciation for my husband, John and our marriage.

Then it happened about 20 minutes ago. John acted in a way and said things that really pissed me off. Nothing horrible was said. It was just a disagreement. But it was a disagreement with interrupting. Between my daughter who interrupts constantly and my husband who interrupts frequently, this has been a hot button for me for many years. Actually, interruptions are not bad per se but the ones that change the subject or serve to confuse communication happen far too frequently.

But you know what? I’m going to appreciate my husband, anyway.

John, thank you for being my best friend for the past 27 years. You are a wonderful companion, have curiosity about the world, are compassionate, and are damned funny. I had long thought that any romantic, passionate relationship that I had would need a basis in friendship to last. And so far, I am right about that!

Thank you for being a wonderful father. I still remember your absolute and unbridled joy at becoming a dad. You have one of the closest relationships I’ve ever seen a father have with his teen daughter. There are times that I envy that but mostly I’m just happy for the two of you.

Thank you for being excellent at your job and for your financial contributions to our family. You work more hours than I do and make more money. You carry the health insurance for the family.

I have such gratitude to you for being so good to my extended family. They love you a great deal but I also know that there are a lot of them!

Thank you for supporting my career aspirations and education. I remember when people would say to me, “Your husband is so nice to LET you get a Ph.D.” They were right about the “nice” part but for the wrong reasons. Thank you for not acting as if I needed your permission to be a highly educated woman.

Thank you for supporting my friendships and my life outside of our family. Thanks for being such an eager host for our many social gatherings. Despite your natural introversion, you have a demeanor that puts others at ease, you are a wonderful conversationalist, and help people have a great time.

Thank you for your forgiveness, time and time again for the times I have hurt you, often unintentionally but more often than I would like to admit, I have hurt you purposely. I have acted selfishly out of fear, lashed out in times of stressed, and stayed distant at times I felt most vulnerable and hurt. You have loved me through all of this. You have always been open to working on our marriage for the health and happiness of the both of us as well as maintaining a strong foundation for our daughter.

Thank you for taking a chance on me. I know that when we met and even when we were getting married, your frame of reference was one in which people didn’t stay married for more than a few years.

Thank you for letting me expose our relationship, bumps and all, in my writing. It shows trust in the strength of our relationship as well as your kindness in hoping that sharing our lives may help others.

I had a psychotherapy appointment today. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the work I put into being a happy person. I told Rebecca that at times, I wonder if I make life too complicated since I work so hard at happiness. But I also told her that I realized that I have the CAPACITY for happiness and that is a big deal. Yes, I work hard but I know how to be a generally happy person.

She made a really interesting observation, a profound one I think. “Elizabeth, you have a lot of happiness in your life. Because you have so much, being mindful of all of it from the smallest flowers to the love in your marriage, is a lot of work.”

I said, “Oh it’s like happy money! I have to work hard because I have so much to count.”

Finally, Karen I am so sorry that you lost Hugh. I am so sorry for your cancers and your suffering. I so appreciate you. I know that in your sadness and suffering, you are growing stronger. You are a very kind and resilient person with much loving wisdom that you have shared with us. I consider not only your friendship a gift but also your relationship with your dear husband. Your love for him has always been incredibly apparent and incredibly strong. But the reality of the difficulties of living even with a soul mate, have always come through in your writing. I have felt encouraged and validated by the real, loving picture you have drawn, bumps and all.

When I was in high school, my humanities teachers, now know to me as Helen and Bob, took a group of us on week long trip to New York City, with a one day stop in Boston.  Bob and Helen worked with us for months ahead of time making sure we would know how to use the subways and get around because we were on our own for significant parts of each day. By day, we visited museums and scoped out architecture. We had a journal for each day with tons of questions corresponding to different paintings, buildings, and exhibits. I remember spending about 10 minutes staring at a series of Frank Stella paintings at the Museum of Modern Art before realizing that I was on the wrong floor of the museum and none of the questions in my book were matching up to the exhibit. I remember my excitement with visiting my first Frank Lloyd Wright building, the Guggenheim Museum. There was a large collection of later Picassos on exhibit. One of my friends was totally disgusted. I was so taken with the colors and the abstract forms that I did not notice that most of paintings were of female genitalia. Come on, like Picasso was the first horny artist. The man was a genius and I got to see his original paintings, some from the Blue Period and some from the Lady Bits Period.

We also went to a lot of Broadway shows. We saw Noises Off (meh), Cats (T.S. Elliot and cats dancing on the balcony; awesome), and the very fun Little Shop of Horrors. We skipped Oh, Calcutta, the all nude musical that was playing at the Edison Hotel, where we were staying. I remember I worked long and hard to charm the cranky and rude man who worked at the front desk. He yelled at us every time we asked him politely to get money out of the safe, to which only he had access. By day three he was smiling every time he saw me and calling me, “Darling.”

Oh yeah. I almost forgot. We saw a very famous play. We saw the Death of a Salesman. Dustin Hoffman played Willie Lowman. He was so amazing. I still remember the uproar caused by his not being nominated for a Tony Award that year. He was invited to present at the awards and received a standing ovation. Although my memory of this event seemed so clear, I was recently reminded that John Malkovich played Willie Lowman’s son, Biff, in that production. He was already famous by that time. His voice was as distinctive as it is now. It was amazing.

The whole trip was an amazing experience and I almost didn’t go. My parents told me that it was too expensive.  A few days after telling my teachers that I would not be able to go on the trip, Bob took me aside and told me that there had been an anonymous donation for my airfare. That allowed me to go. I remember that it was about $300 and that we flew on Continental Airlines.

For many years, I have suspected that Bob and Helen paid for my airfare out of their own pockets. Maybe I’m wrong about that. But even still, the trip would not have been possible without these two dedicated teachers, giving so much of their time not to mention giving up their spring break every year, to teach kids from Renton, WA about the arts and the big world outside of us.

I have kept in touch with Helen over the years. She reads this blog and sometimes sends me a personal email with her thoughts about a particular post. She retired right after my cancer diagnosis. She is extremely beloved by many former students. There’s even a fan club on Facebook for her!

Helen got pretty ill last summer and last I heard, she was getting stronger each day. Maybe she’s even reading this post along with the rest of you who are reading this right now. Helen, I have enormous gratitude for what you did for me in my teens. You are smart and an outlier. A passionate person who enjoyed her career. You were and are a role model to me about living a life of meaning, humor, and service. Thank you for all that you have done for THOUSANDS of students. Not every teacher gets fan page on social media. And not every teacher agrees to meet with former students, still in their teens who miss their teacher and want to talk to her about books.

I have filled my blog with posts of gratitude and appreciation this week, with an eye on paying-it-forward.  I have had the privilege of an exemplary education and you were among the very best of my teachers during my 25 years of schooling. Your dedication to the welfare and education of youth, helped inspire mine.

Thank you and I wish you the very best in your health and healing.

My daughter attended a mindfulness retreat on the Washington coast last summer through Inward Bound Mindfulness Education (iBme). It is a national organization but some of the instructors live in Seattle. My daughter had a tremendous experience there. She felt completely accepted as a person. As she put it, “I liked everybody and everybody liked me!”

That’s a powerful experience for anybody but especially for a teen. The instructors for the retreat are volunteers. Two of them continue having teen mindfulness meetings every month in Seattle. That is also free.

I thought about sending them a note of gratitude but there are so many of them on their website, testimonials from grateful families. Then I thought about their whole volunteer set up and how tremendously talented they must be for so many teens to have such a wonderful experience.

So I set up a small but meaningful donation to repeat every month to help keep this group going.

Check out the group at the link above. They have teen and adult retreats. I would love to go to one of the adult retreats one day. Right now they are all on the East Coast, which would mean taking off an additional two days for travel time.

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George Lakoff

George Lakoff has retired as Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley. He is now Director of the Center for the Neural Mind & Society (cnms.berkeley.edu).

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