Category Archives: Gratitude

It’s not about me, but there’s something for me here

There are days when I wish more people could say, “It’s not about me.”There are days when I wonder why people think life should only be about what they like.

I am guilty of it too. But I try to think: “It’s not about me, but there’s something for me here.”

I use it at the grocery store when I’m in a hurry and the person ahead of me is paying cash, counting out every nickel. Patience.

I use it in tense meetings. Conflict resolution lessons.

I use it at church every week.

I’m a member of a progressive, affirming congregation. The foundation of our group is that love and grace are available to all people, but beyond that we don’t dictate what anyone should believe. On any given week an atheist could be sitting down the row from a person who believes in the virgin birth. It’s fantastic!

Our conversations are authentic, and deep, and heartwarming,

And challenging. How to balance the content of a church service for people on such different places on a journey?

  • A service about an Old Testament story:
    • “Why do we even use the bible (small b) anymore? It’s thousands of years old, written by men in a patriarchal time. What does it have to do with me? “
    • “Thank goodness we’re finally talking about the Bible (capital B). It has timeless lessons, and it’s the foundation of our faith.”
  • Communion:
    • “It’s a sacred ritual for me. A reminder that I’m not alone and that I have purpose.”
    • “It’s meaningless to me. A little creepy if you want to know the truth.”
  • The cross:
    • “It’s barbaric. I would never wear one because it brands me as something I don’t want to be associated with.”
    • “It’s a symbol of connection with something greater than myself, the reaching and the grounding.”
  • The organ:
    • “The music resonating through the pipes moves me to the depths of my soul.”
    • “How can people endure that horrible screeching?”
  • A short sermon:
    • “It’s about time. No need to go on and on about things. Just get to the point. “
    • “The minister needs to delve more deeply into the topic.”
  • Children in church:
    • “Oh, the noise, noise noise!”
    • “It’s good to see so many children. They bring the place to life.”
  • The hymns:
    • “We need to sing more of the old, familiar hymns.”
    • “Enough of the blood and the sin songs. Let’s sing something new.”
  • The prayers
    • “Oh my God, the prayers are long. My mind drifts off.”
    • I need prayers. They are my time of centering. It’s when I connect with God, and when we connect with each other and the world.”

Every Sunday something happens that I would not choose to include if I were a member of a church of one. (And what fun would that be?) Every Sunday I have to remind myself that the thing I dislike is exactly the thing that someone there—maybe right beside me—is needing. Every Sunday I say to myself: “It’s not about me, but there’s something for me here.”

There always is. Something authentic, deep and heartwarming.

A pewter communion cup beside bread and a candle
The cup of hope and bread for the journey.

Devotion and transformation

“In every religious tradition there is a practice of devotion and a practice of transformation . . .
Devotion means trusting more in ourselves and in the path we follow. Transformation means to practice the things this path imposes on us.”

Thich Nhat Hanh in Living Buddha, Living Christ
city street with a large tree in the middle
Trusting in the path, and growing through what it brings us to do.

Gratitude for that which endures, on Thanksgiving

buddha-board

The Buddha Board my daughter gave me for my birthday reminds me of what endures, and what doesn’t.

A few weeks ago one of my favourite bloggers, Tuesdays with Laurie, celebrated a birthday by posting a list of 59 things for which she is grateful.

I thought of Laurie’s list on Canadian Thanksgiving Sunday when the minister at my church spoke to us about gratitude. In her reflection, our minister encouraged us to ponder mindfully where we focus our gratitude. Are we thankful more often for material things that perish at day’s end—life’s manna, if you will—and do we remember to express gratitude for those aspects of our life that endure?

Laurie’s gratitude list impressed me because so many of the items on her list are those intangible qualities that a person cannot hold in a hand, and yet they somehow endure: connection, creativity, healing, safety, peace, kindness, spontaneity, imagination, comfort with being alone, dreaming, curiosity, enjoyment of learning something new . . .. Other items on her list require some physical element to achieve them but still lead to something that endures: photography, mental acuity, travel, music and singing, laughter, glasses with which to see clearly . . ..

In the comment section of her post I wrote that I’m grateful to work in a place where I see children. Their uninhibited approach to life and their infinite creativity inspires me; they are physical beings who give me a gift that endures.

Uninhibited creativity

I love the uninhibited creativity of children.

I’m grateful for inspirational books that enlighten me and brighten my days.

three-questions

I’m grateful for the Famous Five who made my life as a woman so, so much easier and more fulfilling.

Famous Five monument, Parliament Hill, Ottawa, Canada

Famous Five monument, Parliament Hill, Ottawa, Canada

I’m grateful that my friend, Jennifer, gave me my two-word poem: Laughing Thinker.

postcard poem Arlene

And at this time of year, I’m grateful for baseball. The players, the teams, the stadiums may change, but the character development that comes from participation in sport endure.

Peanuts-Charlie-Brown-baseball-sun-600x127

Our Thanksgiving turkey leftovers and pumpkin pie are almost gone already. In a few weeks the baseball season will be in the past. When that happens, this Laughing Thinker, a woman who enjoys full benefits in our society, will be pondering wisdom she gleaned from inspirational books and learning life lessons from those fabulous children she sees at work every day.

Those are wonderful gifts that endure on Thanksgiving and all year round.

From war and hardship to pleasure cruising: Thoughts on Colonel By Day

Yesterday most Canadians celebrated a civic holiday. Not every Canadian (some provinces don’t have a long weekend in August) and not all for the same reason.

Because there is no specific occasion for a holiday in August (other than it’s really great to have a long weekend in the summer) provinces and municipalities have creative licence. In British Columbia, it is British Columbia Day. (Okay, maybe not so creative.) In Alberta it’s Heritage Day. (Better, if a little vague.) In Toronto it’s Simcoe Day. (For John Graves Simcoe, first Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada.) Here in Ottawa we designate the weekend as Bytown Days and Monday specifically as Colonel By Day.

The locks on the Rideau Canal.

The locks on the Rideau Canal.

Ottawa’s original name was Bytown, in honour of Lieutenant Colonel John By. Colonel By, a military engineer, was the first city planner, and he laid out plans for the area that has become our downtown core. He oversaw the construction of the first bridge across the Ottawa River, a vital link between the provinces of Ontario and Québec. Most famously, he engineered and supervised the building of the Rideau Canal and the lock system that connects the Ottawa River to the Rideau River. (Here in Ottawa, Rideau is pronounced REE-deau, with the emphasis on the first syllable. Pronounce it Ri-DEAU and we’ll know you’re not from here.)

Canadians first had the notion that a navigable trade route other than the St. Lawrence River might be a good idea after the war of 1812, when American/Canadian relations were a little more fraught. At the time, the unquestioned need to maintain water transportation avenues that could be protected from American attack made the prospect of carving through 125 miles of bush and swamp and rock seem not only possible but imperative.

For six years, thousands of Irish and French Canadian labourers and skilled stonemasons endured hellish working and living conditions with high incidents of accidents, disease and death to build the canal and the lock system. Malaria, of all things, was a major threat. They did it because they needed the work to survive, and they believed that their labours would ensure the survival of future generations.

These days we are at peace with the United States. These days our supplies travel by airplane or highway or train. These days, the trade route that Colonel By envisioned, that water transportation link that people lost their lives over, is a place for pleasure only. In the summer yachts fill the locks and cruise the canal.

Pleasure craft on the Rideau Canal.

Pleasure craft on the Rideau Canal.

In the winter skaters laugh as they glide way between Beavertail stands.

Rideau Canal Skateway

Rideau Canal Skateway

I wonder, what would Colonel By think of how we use his creation today? I walk beside the canal and the locks on my lunch breaks in downtown Ottawa. As I stroll in peaceful, malaria-free Ottawa,  I imagine Colonel By surveying his city from his vantage point on the great cliff at Major’s Hill Park where his house used to stand. I envision his stiff British bearing as he peers down to watch us walk and bike and boat in the same area where men suffered and died.

I wonder if Colonel By, a man who lived in harsh times, would despair at how we luxuriously and thoughtlessly take his engineering marvel for granted. Perhaps he would scowl over our carefree abandon. Or maybe he wouldn’t. Maybe he would commend us all for shaping our city into one of safety and freedom. Maybe he would give us a rousing Hurrah! for creating a vibrant, economically progressive, multicultural and compassionate city to honour his name.

____________

Read more Rideau Canal history here: http://www.rideau-info.com/canal/history/hist-canal.html

2 secrets to lasting relationships: Kindness and generosity

shared-joyEver wonder why some relationships stick and others peel away? Scientific research might have some insights into this.

An article by Emily Esfahani Smith published in The Atlantic and Business Insider outlined the research of John Gottman and Robert Levenson at “The Love Lab” at the University of Washington. Gottman and Levenson watched newlyweds interact with each other and then checked in with them six years later to see where the relationships ended up.

Gottman and Levenson divided the pairs into two groups: masters and disasters. After six years, the masters still maintained stable relationships but the disasters were separated, divorced or struggling.

When observing the two groups, Gottman and Levenson noted the physiological responses. The disaster couples’ hearts beat quickly and their sweat glands activated, but the masters stayed calm. They affectionately behaved kindly to one another, even in disagreement.

The physiological reactions can be explained by the kind of “scanning” couples choose. Partners either scan their environment and their partner seeking things to appreciate and say thank you for, or they can scan looking for partners’ mistakes. Disaster couples’ bodies reacted in a way that prepared them “to attack or be attacked.”

Wanting to know more, Gottman invited 130 couples to a retreat to watch them interact. Esfahani Smith writes:

Throughout the day, partners would make requests for connection, what Gottman calls “bids.” For example, say that the husband is a bird enthusiast and notices a goldfinch fly across the yard. He might say to his wife, “Look at that beautiful bird outside!” He’s not just commenting on the bird here: he’s requesting a response from his wife—a sign of interest or support—hoping they’ll connect, however momentarily, over the bird.

The wife now has a choice. She can respond by either “turning toward” or “turning away” from her husband . . ..

Turning toward or turning away from partners affects the relationship. Disaster couples turn toward only 33 percent of the time. Masters show the kindness of turning toward 87 percent of the time.

Generosity comes into play around “shared joy.” Master couples actively celebrated the joyful news of partners. Disaster couples either ignored it or diminished it. Apparently it is just as important to be present for our partners when things are going right.

What frequency is your scanner set to? 

_______________

Read more: http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/06/happily-ever-after/372573/#ixzz3KNfwGsWO

Re-growth after pruning: A matter of faith

prunedWhen my husband and I strolled through St. James’ Park during our recent vacation to London, England, we passed this tree. Its harshly pruned branches made a sorry silhouette against the dusky skies of London.

We slowed our steps and looked up at the denuded tree. “Maybe it will come back,” my husband said, sardonically.

Then we looked more closely. One determined twig of new growth sprouted from the side of an upper branch. This tree, that to our eyes appeared cruelly pruned past the point of rejuvenation, prevailed.

new-growth

We continued our walk feeling a little lighter.

Even when life prunes us down to bare essentials, new growth and rebirth is possible. It’s a matter of faith.