General spirituality

Gratitude: A list

Gratitude is a spiritual practice found in many traditions. Nonetheless, it’s all too easy to focus on what we don’t have, or what’s going wrong. We often fail to take note of all that is going right in our life, and even more, we fail to be grateful for the good things in life. So, here’s a (very) partial list of things I’m grateful for this morning:

  • My body: it basically works, no chronic pain or debilitating illness. Were my body not to function as it does, everything else in life would seem harder.
  • When and Where I live: Ovid (43 B.C. – 18 A.D.) once said, “Let other’s praise ancient times, I’m glad I was born in these.” We are less subject to hunger, the vagaries of the environment and disease than any people in the history of the world. I live in a house which is adequately heated in the winter, and can be cooled with fans or air conditioner in the summer. Not having food means needing to go to the grocery store, not needing to go hungry.
  • Being married to my best friend.
  • The Internet: Admittedly, a mixed blessing, but I am able to write this blog, and distribute it myself without any outside review process, without the costs which have traditionally been involved. Furthermore, when I wanted to check the wording for the Ovid quote, above, I just wiki-ed it. It has never been easier to learn or to share ideas than now.
  • Coffee: The flavor, the aroma, the warm morning goodness of it.

Obviously, this isn’t an exhaustive list (thank God there’s so much more!). Which makes the question of when to stop writing somewhat arbitrary, so, arbitrarily, I stop here, and invite you to think on some of your own reasons for gratitude (both great and small), and, if you are so moved, to share them in the comments.

General spirituality

Who’s Lucky?

When I was a child (somewhere between five and ten years of age), I remember thinking how amazingly lucky I was to have been born in the United States. After all, it wasn’t like everyone got to live in what I now think of as “the first world.” I could have been born in Africa, or the Soviet Union, or China, or any of those other places I saw on the news where it looked like people had very tough lives. Instead, I was born in the United States of America, where life was easy and  food was plentiful.

As I matured, that sense of gratitude has only deepened. At some point in my studies of history (and I’ve studied a lot of history between an undergraduate degree in classics and my rabbinic training) I realized that what we think of as barely acceptable housing conditions in this country represent far greater comfort than was available even to royalty in past ages. In the winter, we are adequately warm most of the time (even those of us who keep the thermostat at 65 degrees). But if you look at the stone castles found in various places across Europe (which we often visit in the summertime) and imagine what they must have been like in the winter, the misery of life in those conditions becomes evident relatively quickly.

To be alive, here and now, is one of the greatest strokes of luck anyone could ask for. And yet, there are moments when I feel like I can’t catch a break. When, after 1.75 years of chronic un-/underemployment, I feel like it has to be my turn at some point. When it feels like the world is conspiring against me, and, to quote the song, “if I didn’t have bad luck, I wouldn’t have any luck at all.”

When I’m feeling like that, I remind myself of how fortunate I truly am. And then, I admit that regardless of how fortunate I may be in the larger picture, it still feels hard to live life in some moments.

General spirituality

Thanksgiving List: 2009

As Thanksgiving comes around, I try to spend a little time actually thinking about what I am thankful for (radical as that idea may seem). So, here is the list I’m coming up with this year:

  • A great life partner, Eva.
  • Health.
  • Health Insurance (at least for now).
  • Food.
  • Shelter.
  • Living in a great city (Portland, Oregon).
  • Multiple sources of meaning in my life.
  • The ability to discover, or rediscover, skills.
  • The ability to hope for a better future.
  • The ability to live satisfied in the moment.
  • Great Portland food carts.
  • A large and strong community.
  • Being able to use my voice for good.
  • Having reached another Thanksgiving.

On Gratitude

In the last 24 hours, I’ve twice had someone express gratitude to me in a meaningful way. Both times were really influential in my mood, so I thought I would share them.

As I was walking out of the grocery store yesterday with a couple of items in my reusable shopping bag, I noticed a woman struggling to lift a bag of dog food out of her shopping cart and into her car. I asked if she’d like a hand, and she responded that, no, she had it in hand and it was all gravity from here (as she let it fall into her hatchback). I thought nothing more of the encounter and proceeded to walk home. A block later, she pulled up beside me and said, “thank you. I just wanted to let you know that you made my day.” Such a little thing I did (actually, offered to do, since she did all the work), and it made her day. And in turn, she made mine by helping me to see the difference I had made in her day.

Today, as I sat at the frontdesk at CubeSpace, someone with whom I worked on barcamp came in for a meeting and handed me a gift bag as a thank you for all the work I’d done on barcamp. First, I want to be clear, it’s wonderful to be thanked for that work, and a gift, any token, really does convey that powerfully. Secondly, I opened the bag…and it contained yarn. Not just any yarn, but Yarnia yarn. It’s a beautiful mix she made of greens and maroons, bamboo, hemp and rayon fibers. It’s a wonderful meaningful expression of gratitude  because she got me something that is near and dear to my heart. It’s not just a token…it’s a token for me, which adds to the sense of gratitude.

So now, I am sitting here being grateful that I live in such a lovely place, with such wonderful people, who expres their gratitude.