The Gift

When a pair of Underoos was unwrapped at my friend’s 10th birthday celebration, she stormed away from the partygoers, red-faced and humiliated, leaving the gift-giver in shock and embarrassment.  The poor misguided giver thought her friend would enjoy wearing the fun new fashion, and had purchased it with the best of intentions.  She would have expected gratitude and hoped for joy from the recipient.  Instead, she was met with a reaction that was devastatingly hurtful.

We’re taught that it’s the thought that counts, not the actual gift.  Thus, we should muster our manners, no matter the offering, and express appreciation.  But what if we don’t recognize that we’re being gifted?  What if we think that a gift is an insult or a punishment as my young friend did?

During a difficult time, I dreamt that I was sitting with God who asked me, “So, did you like it?”

“Did I like what?” I wondered and saw God’s face fall with disappointment.

“Life,” he replied.

“Oh,” I croaked.  That was a gift?”

As images of my life flashed before me, I recognized the many times that I had failed to be thankful – namely for things that were deemed negative or worthless – illnesses and injuries, losses and unmet desires, struggles and failures – all of them cataloged and placed on a shelf below the experiences that I valued. 

Upon closer examination, I saw how each of these experiences contained other gifts within them, layers of potential stacked inside like a set of MatryoshkaI nesting dolls.  Immediately contrite, I began to understand that I had cheated myself by failing to uncover the hidden treasures. 

In every instance, bar none, there was a gem nestled into the chaos – kindness offered, love unearthed, clarity exposed, potential awakened…So many opportunities to receive and to rise up.  So many chances to bring forth a better me.  I hadn’t recognized it in the moment, having shut my eyes tightly like a frightened toddler covering her face to ward off the boogie man.

An acquaintance had lost an obvious amount of weight in a short amount of time and I wondered if he was ill.  He explained that he was going through a divorce and was quick to point out that he couldn’t be anything but grateful.  “After all, my marriage brought me many blessings over many years.  It was a success while it lasted.”  Divorce wasn’t his plan, but he intended to focus on what the relationship had given him instead of what it was now taking.

Being a good receiver is equally as important as being a good giver.  But applying gratitude in the midst of personal challenges feels inaccurate, as if we’re welcoming an enemy into our home.  What kind of lunatic says ‘thank you’ when they get a cancer diagnosis or when a loved one dies?

Perhaps it’s unrealistic to expect gratitude to arise in the moment.  But if history is a good predictor of the future, we might be able to acknowledge that Life has a plan beyond our immediate understanding.  And that the plan often brings us more than we knew to ask for.

This past year was my most challenging one yet, filled with curveballs that never could have been predicted.  Each one required me to dig deep for faith and fortitude and to summon skills that had as yet been under-appreciated.

Who knew how useful it would be to possess organizational prowess during a crisis – a gift that had been woven into my childhood by my mother.  How could I have known that I needed a catastrophe of epic proportions in order to activate a self-confidence, self-advocacy, and self-love bigger than what was previously possible?

Life doesn’t stick to a wish list when it bestows gifts.  It gives freely, constantly, and wisely.  If we endeavor to live fully, we must embrace all that it offers and avoid the temptation to curse the very things that were chosen for us with love and good intention. Only when we accept the full experience will we find the joy that we seek in this, the biggest gift of all, called Life.

Feedback or Criticism? Your Choice.

I’ve been told that yoga is the gateway to self-realization. Me-thinks this is a ridiculously tall order for a stretching and breathing routine. And yet, I can’t deny that magical things (not always glorious) happen when I practice.

Enter Yoga Bitch – a tyrant of an instructor in a Barbie doll body. I purposely avoid her classes because of her uber-corrective style of teaching. I prefer a more subtle approach – the kind that favors ‘come as you are and do your best.’ But here she was, filled to the brim with critique and ready to release it with fervor.

Her perpetual corrections to each student amounted to a barrage of noise in my head that threatened to fracture my composure and release the hateful thoughts swirling around in my head. As my annoyance escalated, I tried desperately to force benevolence. But so convinced was I of my rightness and the teacher’s wrongness, that I couldn’t concentrate.

‘This is a test.’ I thought. ‘FOCUS!’

The harder I fought to block her out, the greater my anxiety.

Yoga Bitch broke protocol and began circling the room like a shark which further deteriorated my resolve. I feared for her safety as I imagined an unrestrained Hulk emerging from within me. Then the unthinkable happened – she TOUCHED a fellow yogi!

A quick disclaimer followed – she wouldn’t touch a student unless she had known them for a long time and had his or her permission. Note to self: don’t become too friendly with yoga instructor.

Assuming that my fellow yogi felt as agitated as I did for him, I glued my attention in his direction, expecting and maybe even hoping that he would lash out at her and send her scrambling back to the front of the room where she belonged. Instead, he softly and sincerely said, “Thank you.”

Thank you?! Cue the scratching record sound. I could hardly believe my ears. Did he mean that sarcastically like, ‘Thank you sir, I’ll have another?’

I froze in my posture, stunned, while my brain flipped over, showing me the other side of the coin.

Tails: She’s so critical and annoying.
Heads: She’s trying to help. Say thank you.
Tails: But it’s not helpful. I don’t want to say thank you.
Heads: Don’t be childish. It’s for your benefit. Just make a different choice and you will find peace.

The ability to reframe my perspective so completely and with such speed came as a sort of shock. One second I was raging and the next I was mollified, simply by choosing a new thought.

I’ve been known to preach that everything in life is a gift for which we can be grateful – even criticism. Hadn’t I just told my 12 year old as much when she complained that her English teacher’s review of an essay was unfair? It’s so easy to hold onto pride and so difficult to swallow it in the name of self-improvement.

Later that day I tried my gratitude trick on other difficult situations. “Thank you,” I replied to the boss who micromanages my work. “I won’t make that mistake again.”

Choosing this response, albeit with an experimental amount of sincerity, changed me. There was no resentment or anger or impatience for this person or the situation. And it changed the woman’s response to me. In the absence of defensiveness, both sides were free to be kind. My appreciation for her ‘help’ generated an in-kind donation of gratitude for all my ‘hard work and commitment to growth.’ Go figure.

I’ve read that a good yoga teacher will show you the way toward yourself. She cannot bring you there. You must find your own way. And should you run into your shadow along the way, you’ll know that you’re on the right path.

I’m not going to lie and say that I suddenly love being critiqued. But I do have a more mature appreciation for it and a sense of gratitude to those who are brave enough to dole it out. Which simply means that my beloved yoga studio, and the world, are (for now) safe from the defensive beast that is me.

Good Morning, Monday

keep-calm-and-love-mondayGood morning, Tiredness.  Hello Bad Mood.  Greetings, Schedule That Makes Me Cringe.  I’ve barely opened my eyes and there you are waiting for me.  How did you get in again?  Did I leave the door open?  I’ve got to remember to lock it when I go to bed.

You creatures are like a cold draft blowing through the cracks of my house.  I shiver and shudder at the feel of you and roll over to pretend it’s still dream time.  But you don’t leave.  You get increasingly loud, demanding that I rise and start the week.

Listen up.  I want you to wait outside the door.  You can’t be gathering at the foot of my bed like this.  I’m likely to trip over you and hurt myself.  I need some space in the dark of the early morning.  If you’d step aside, I might be able to peel myself off the pillow and proceed with my morning.  Making this body move is hard enough without you getting in the way.  Shoo.  Away with you.  I want to get off on the right foot.

I close my eyes tight and wish like a child for the demons to be gone when I open them again.  Someone save me.

Oh, hello Gratitude – my knight in shining armor.  Slay my dragons and whisk me away.

“You are not paralyzed.  You have the ability to move on your own.”  Grateful.

“You have a job and a home and food to eat.”  Grateful.

“You are fortunate to have lived another day.  It is a gift.”  Grateful.

Thus, Gratitude pulls me up and leads me out of the nightmare of Monday.  It splashes water in my face and opens my eyes to what’s really happening.  A day.  That’s all.  Not a nightmare.  Not a curse.  Just a day.  Seize it.

Oh, the tricks I have to play to ward off negativity.  It blows through the cracks in my soul like the cold winter wind.  Perhaps if I caulk the spaces with enough gratitude,  I can insulate myself against the pain of it’s bite.  It’s all I can hope for.  Monday mornings, like the New England winter, aren’t going away anytime soon.

Uncommon Gratitude

It’s easy to be grateful for sunshine and babies and love.  It’s common to be thankful for family and abundance and safety.

But can I be thankful …

  • For a husband who rarely agrees with me?  Yes, because he challenges me to either compromise or to re-affirm my priorities.
  • That I don’t have everything I want, and sometimes not even what I need?  Yes, the limits and scarcity keep me humble and motivated instead of smug and self-righteous.
  • That my body is ‘only human’ – subject to illness and injury?  Yes, the body’s signals force me to respect my limits.
  • That I’m no longer youthful?  Yes, because I get to watch people fall in like with me for my other assets without the distraction of a stunning demeanor.
  • For people that test my patience?  Yes, they challenge me to elevate my game.
  • For my children, my little mirrors, who often reflect the worst in me?  Yes, they present me with countless opportunities see what I otherwise hide from my own awareness.
  • For ‘bad’ things that happen in the world and to the world?  Yes, these things give ‘good’ people a chance to shine.

All of these people and situations belie their purpose.  I can barely fathom what they’re about at times.  But their existence forces me to look outside my own parameters or else suffocate in my self-made misery.

This Thanksgiving, I remind myself of these overlooked blessings in honor of Mom who reminded me before every birthday party that we are to say ‘thank you’ even if we don’t like the gift.

Thank You For This

With my 43rd birthday in sight, I feel like I’m approaching a finish line.  As I gaze at the month ahead of me, the home stretch, I realize that I am no more immune to death now than I was when I first experienced my premonitions of death at age 42.  I am acutely aware that if Heaven wants me, it can grab me off the race track of life whether I’m thirty years from the ‘finish line’ or thirty days.  There are no rules, no fair and square, where death is concerned.

Read more please……http://wp.me/p1tP7y-2s

Moving Mountains

The curtain rises on a gorgeous, warm, blue-sky summer day.  Mother Nature is playing her role with expertise and generosity.  And so am I.  This day, I play the role of victim.

The list of grievances is long –  going to work, a general lack of vitality, the chore list……There seems no end to the tiresome slights against my happiness.  Employing my fail-safe tool, gratitude, I expect to feel better any minute now.  But the negative thoughts hold me hostage.

When friend calls late in the day, I am all but depleted of energy from dragging my sorry butt through my sorry day.  Friend asks me for help.   A situation has arisen with her parents and I am ‘exactly the person who can help.’  I am honored to try, glad to be needed, and apparently effective in lending perspective.  Instantly, I feel lighter.  Helping others does that to people.

It’s said that you can’t give without receiving.  Intrigued and eager to play with this theory a little more, I set off on a mission.  Like Superman changing into his leotard (yes, it’s a leotard) I transform myself from Deb Dunham to Super Giver.  I hand out compliments, silent blessings, hugs, courtesies – anything I can to everyone I encounter.  It quickly becomes a fun game.

And the give/get theory turns out to be true!  In exchange for my gifts, I receive countless smiles, thank yous, and not surprisingly, a pervasive rise in energy.  I am smitten with the ability to change someone’s day for the better while simultaneously elevating my own.

It occurs to me how infrequently we utilize the tools at our disposal – like service, gratitude, positive thinking, faith, love….We are well equipped to change ourselves, and therefore, the world, for the better.  I’m convinced that a concentrated focus on any or all of these can move mountains.  Like the mountains of hatred and competitiveness and resentment for example.

Mother Teresa said, “We can’t do big things.  We can only do little things with big love.”  Ironically, she was a little person who accomplished big things by giving big love in little ways.  The best part is that we don’t have to set out to move mountains.  In fact, we don’t have to try to change anything.  We just have to give little bits over and over and eventually, a mountain will move.  And we will move with it.

Joy, Where Are You?

Joy, where are you?  You were right here a minute ago.  I turned to talk to the Complaint Family and when I looked back, you were gone.  I know your hiding places.  We’ve played this game before.  I’ll find you eventually.

Ah, there you are.  Why are you hiding?  You look scared.  Yes, the Complaint Family is loud, I agree.  They brought so many relatives to visit this time – Stress and Depression and Frustration.  Oh and Jealousy – haven’t seen her in a while.

They always seem to visit when I’m tired.  How can I turn them away when they show up at my doorstep?  No, I don’t love when they visit either, but they’re old friends.     Well, that’s true, you’ve known me for longer.  Yes, Joy, you were my first and only friend for a long time.  But I had to grow up and meet others.

Now, don’t do that.  No fair bringing up the teenage years when I abandoned you, Joy.  I didn’t know better.  I excluded you and I’m sorry for that.  I know you were hurt when I chose Depression as my new best friend.  It hurt me, too, to be without you.  I’m so glad you didn’t give up on me.

I’m still not perfect you know.  I get caught up with Stress sometimes, and Responsibility – they’re hard to handle.  Yes, you could help me deal with them.  Your presence would quiet them.  I should try to remember that.

Look, I promise I will pay more attention to you.  Now, will you come out from that hiding spot?  Come and give me a hug.  I love you, Joy.  I need you. What’s that?  On one condition?  You want me to invite Gratitude to live with us?  Sure, why not?  I like Gratitude.  She’s a good friend to you.  I notice that when Gratitude stays with us you seem strong.  And when she’s here, the Complaint Family doesn’t come around.  I think that’s a splendid idea, Joy.  We’ll invite Gratitude to live with us.

. . . . .

And so it was.  Gratitude moved in.  Joy grew stronger.  And we all lived happily ever after.  Sure, we’ve had visitors occasionally.  But the Complaint Family stopped coming around as much.  And when they did, they weren’t invited to stay.

…..

For more on my journey with gratitude go to http://www.yearofthankyous.com

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