Tiny Gratitudes

  • Sunflowers painted on the ceiling of an ultrasound exam room
  • Getting to an appointment 10 minutes early so I can sit in the car and stop rushing
  • Living in a place where the trees are taller than the buildings
  • Mentholated cough drops: bits of eucalyptus trees born thousands of miles away, soothing my throat and my lungs
  • A tiny white pill that keeps me from breaking into tears every 15 minutes
  • Miracle cures that ease cold symptoms, even if they do need to be taken again and again again
  • The rain washing down the windshield of the car, softening edges and smearing lights
  • The Fort Point Post Office, open 24/7/365, even at 7pm on the Sunday before Christmas
  • Working in an industry where skills matter as much as connections

March 7 Haiku: Rising Sap, First Warm Day of Spring

hug the trees awake
feel the sap rising within
outside, no jacket

February 16 Haiku: Garden Corridor Near Copley at Dartmouth Street

clouds obscure the sun
al fresco lunch in winter
dirty snow, green grass

Gratitude — and why do you hate Jesus?

I go in and out of the habit of posting gratitude lists on this blog. I usually include the word “gratitude practice” in the title of these posts, but I wonder if perhaps that sounds pretentious. People refer to a yoga practice, or a meditation practice. I think it’s important remind myself that order to retain certain skills I must practice them constantly. It’s one thing to know in theory how to align the parts of the body in order to achieve a particular asana (yoga pose). It’s another thing to experience the sensation of that alignment — and all the individual variations of mind and body over the course of days as I practice it again and again. Likewise with meditation practice. Likewise with physical exercise. I can’t keep being able to run a mile in 10 or 15 or 6 minutes unless I continue to do it every day.

And gratitude is the same thing. It’s a practice. It has benefits in the same way that aerobic exercise has benefits. If you practice gratitude yourself, perhaps you’d like to articulate those benefits in the comments below. For me, one of the major reasons I practice gratitude is so that I will refrain from behaviours that are harmful to myself or other people.

Someone — a woman I’d never met in person, but interacted with on the internet fairly regularly for a few months — once characterized my comments as “preachy.” I suppose the reason her words cut me so deeply were because I know that I often talk about spiritual matters and spiritual practice. But if you met me in person, you’d know that I do so because I’m a very earthy person. I sit with my legs open more than a ladylike lady-girl should. I wear a size 20. I like things like sex and food and digging in the dirt. And I have other tendencies that have gotten me into a lot of trouble in my life. So if I focus on spiritual practice in my posts on this blog, or on Facebook, or on GooglePlus, it’s because spiritual practice is something I need to remind myself about constantly.

Which brings me around to Jesus. In theory, Jesus and his teachings are quite wonderful. But whenever I hear or read someone describe themselves as a Christian, or as someone who trusts in Jesus, I can’t help but have a certain knee-jerk reaction to same. I don’t hate Jesus (despite what the title of this post might imply), but I have had many unpleasant interactions with many of his followers — including the Catholics who first taught me about things like God and souls and whatnot. Because of certain accidents of birth, I’ve also found myself at odds with the teachings of conservative, Evangelical Christians. When it comes to the culture wars threatening to tear this country in two, it’s pretty clear what side of the divide I belong on. In the 20-plus years since my Confirmation ceremony, I’ve come to terms with this negative-Jesus-association. But on some level, I think that words like “Jesus” and “the Lord” will always evoke a visceral response in me quite different than the one that might be intended by Good Christians(TM).

I went through a brief period of atheism in my early teens, but soon after I was introduced to the notion of a God of my own understanding. It was an incredibly freeing notion, and after much soul-searching I realized that almost none of the things the Catholic Church had to say about God had much to do with my own understanding of the Divine. The God of my understanding today is infinitely vast, infinitely complex and unknowable. In spite of God’s, vastness, I have a relationship with it. And I have directly experienced God’s infinite love for me, personally. I believe that God cares about me and my own well-being. And I don’t care if that belief is true or correct in some objective sense, because my spiritual beliefs and practice are fundamentally pragmatic.

I do and believe what I do because it makes me a better person in the world. It makes me more useful to my fellow human beings. And that is one of the reasons why I practice gratitude. Because a grateful heart is a generous heart. When I pay attention to the things I do have — gifts that were given to me regardless of whether or not I earned them — I’m more likely to find room in my heart to be of service to others. Sometimes being of service just means showing up to work on time and doing my job, or listening to someone who needs to talk. But it’s always easier to do these things when I feel replete. Feeling and being useful is something I’ve been focusing on lately, when I pray to the God/dess of my own understanding.

Weekly gratitude practice: strawberries, kleenex, cold air, cold baths, sweet smells, someone else does it

  1. First CSA delivery. Are the strawberries sweeter because I know where they’re from? Or are they just sweeter?
  2. Hugs and kleenex.
  3. Free air conditioning.
  4. Cold baths and LUSH products.
  5. The health care and home health aid industries — imperfect is still better than absent.

Weekly gratitude practice: if it’s not one thing it’s your mother

I started this post last week but never finished it. Which pretty much describes my mental state for the past seven days or so. Posting it now, almost in time for this week’s. Sigh. Time to stop trying to play catch-up with my past imperfections.
  1. Doing things differently. Mom is very sick right now, and she’s a two-hour drive away from me. In the past, I would have charged down there and tried to save the world, exhausting myself in the process, crashing, and actually not contributing much to her health or well-being. This time, I listened to some feedback from trusted friends and gave love and support through the miracle of telephony. I was also able to help with some practical matters, like finding a pharmacy that she can reach by bus. Her health has deteriorated to the point where it’s not necessarily a good idea for her to leave home without assistance, but — miracle of miracles! — there’s a little something called the Home Health Aid industry that was created to remedy exactly the situation she and I are both in. I would much rather be down there in person enjoying her company — or even being annoyed by it, because, really, if it’s not one thing it’s your mother — but I’m especially grateful for my ability to listen to suggestions and to break out of old patterns of behavior that have outlived their usefulness.
  2. Mom herself is a pretty wonderful gift. Like most folks, I have a complicated relationship with my Mom, but overall our relationship is a source of strength and support for both of us. When I was a fresh-faced little babydyke with a tiny hickey on my neck from Yoolia Lanina, the Russian vixen from the Bronx with the Sinead-O’Connor haircut, my Mom turned to me and said, “I love you and support you just as you are, and I will no matter who you bring home.” I spent the next 15 years or so bringing home folks with an assortment of gender expressions, skin tones, and native languages, and she never reneged on that promise. When I was suffering so badly from my chronic illness that I couldn’t safely care for myself in my one-bedroom apartment, she took a few weeks off of work to stay with me and be my Mom. And when I called her bright and early on Wednesday and discussed the situation with her, she was chipper and positive and grateful in spite of the debilitating physical symptoms she’s been suffering from. I love that woman to no end, and I want her to be well and healthy and a part of my life for as long as possible.
  3. Telephony. It allows me to do so much with my life.
  4. A steady job. Having lived without one, it makes me especially grateful to have one now.
  5. Decent health insurance coverage. Ditto above.

Weekly gratitude practice: office space, windows/kitty, space, Friday, not a teenager

  1. My fingertips have been cold from the chill for the past three days (my tiny cube is directly under a vent), but I’m still grateful that I have an employer that pays for my office space. When I was self-employed, I looked into renting a timeshared space in Harvard Square, and it was NOT CHEAP.
  2. Earlier this week, I was very happy to be able to work from home. Specifically, I was happy to have windows, and a kitty to look at while I worked. Kitties are very helpful for reminding you when it is quitting time, because it coincides with feed-the-kitty time.
  3. I’m making space in my life for new things. I’ve always been a crazy overachiever, loading my plate with more than I could possibly enjoy. Less things, more space between them, more enjoyment.
  4. It’s Friday. Hallelujah and thank you Jesus, it’s Friday.
  5. I am so very, very grateful that I am 20 years removed from the slings and arrows of adolescence. No desire whatsoever to go back. I’ll take a few grey hairs and a few wrinkles in exchange for that, any day of the week.