A Student of Gratitude

I’ve been reading the The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown.

I’m a fan of her study on vulnerability (and have in fact written a blog post about aspects of that research). In returning to her work, I’ve found elements and nuances that I’d either previously missed.

In her discussion on gratitude, for example, she notes that joy and happiness are two different experiences (‘Happiness is tied to circumstance and joyfulness is tied to spirit and gratitude’), and that joy’s opposite isn’t sadness but fear.

She then parses that fear and puts a label to an emotion that I’ve lived with but hadn’t been able to properly explain: scarcity.

I don’t consider myself ungrateful, per se, but I fully acknowledge that I worry and fret that the elements that make my ordinary, day-to-day life joyful will be removed. I do fear that pointing out to the Universe that I love my family, my job, music, writing, art, spirituality, will somehow ensure that those things will be taken from me.

Perhaps scarcity is more acute for those of us who grew up in broken homes where economic security and emotional security were fleeting and yet also somehow intertwined, the one working for, with and against the other.

So, I’m afraid to be grateful, and it’s time to change that.

On Advice of Council

I used to be better about taking time out for purely aesthetic experiences.

Granted there are legitimate obstacles to doing that these days: I have two young sons, a more than full time day job, a home and family which are certainly blessings but they bring with them more responsibilities and tasks in a given day than I once had.

Days, as you all well know, have a tendency to flow one to the other in a rush if we don’t pay attention.

Still and all, I should like to be better about taking time out to listen to music, take in a film (do they still make films; not movies, like the kind that I take my kids to, but actual films?), read some poetry or spiritual texts and contemplate.

It’s not fair to compare my life now to when I was in college, or to those rough years immediately afterward when I was apprenticing my writing (and being absolutely broke in the process). And yet I do miss giving over entire hours if not days to creative, artistic and aesthetic experiences. I miss that primal hunger.

The world being what it is, chasing beauty while we can is essential.

Head In Space

I meditate. It’s odd to admit this publicly, a mix of vulnerability and confession follows. Perhaps because admitting to a meditation practice raises the question about why.

Surely there must be something wrong with me if I’m practicing meditation. A deficiency I’m making up for.

And, well, I suppose there is. Among my faults, I’m quick to anger and I live with a pervasive anxiety and at this mid-point of my life, meditation is a means for keeping myself centered. My life is enhanced, and the lives of those around me are improved, if I work on these more off-the-cuff reactions and maybe not always emote and respond from them without the intervention of conscious thought. 

For the past two months, I’ve been using the Headspace app.

Until I started with the app, I had worked through a regular meditation practice cobbled together mostly from my reading on the topic (Thich Nhat Hanh, Pema Chodron). This worked well enough; I had managed a workable daily practice, even if it is at times difficult to focus during my sessions.

What I’ve appreciated most about Headspace is the guided sessions, an aspect I was initially not keen on but have come to value. The gentle reminders to reign in my thoughts and to increase that gap between me and the thoughts themselves is essential work for me.

You can sign up for a free 30-day trial of Headspace, which I recommend. Following the initial 30-day trial, should you decide to continue, you can select several learning tracks, including Sports, Health, Relationships, and Performance. (I have been working my way through the Anxiety track in the Health section and found the sessions both effective and easy to practice in my life beyond the meditation pillow.)

Whether you’re drawn to meditation based on its more spiritual overtones or because of the scientific research that supports a practice (or both), Headspace provides you with one more useful tool to help you better understand yourself.

Not Too Soon

We often delay beginning our creative or spiritual work with the false belief that we must be ‘ready.’

It’s a protective measure, meant to preserve our egos and ward off detectable inadequacies.

I’ve of course been guilty of this same delaying strategy in my own professional life, in my creative life, in what amounts to my spiritual practice. I’ve dallied and delayed, and I’ve put off action by waiting for whatever skills I’m trying to flex to be primed, as if I’d just gone through a Rocky-like training montage out of sight of everyone in order to unveil to a surprised and unsuspecting world just how awesome I am.

Life is made in the doing, in the trying, in the failing and re-trying. We cannot be ready for this. There is certainly prepared, educated, practiced, but ready is something else. Ready is only accomplished in the doing of the thing in real time and with real consequences. Ready is open to the moment, to the nexus of performing work and to being yourself, to struggling and being vulnerable. Ready is being open to failing.

Waiting to be ready, as tantalizing an option at that is, only delays progress. Ready sounds like it’s about the future, but it’s really about the now. And as we all know, now is all we’ve got.

This One You Feed podcast addresses, among several other ideas, the fallacy of being ready in an interview with Srini Rao. Check it out here.

Words of Loss

Kathryn Schulz has a beautiful and devastating piece in The New Yorker about loss; the misplacing of essential, everyday objects, and the displacing, disappearing, of the essential people in our lives.

Two weeks ago I traveled alongside an elderly couple who were flying home to Seattle because their forty-year-old son had died the day before. The couple had lost another son years ago: the boy was three when he drowned in their pool. Somehow the couple had survived this devastating loss, had had more children, had had another son who in their words was a ‘blessing and a comfort’ after the loss of the first. Now that second son was dead, too.

Last weekend, near our house, a two-year-old boy wandered outside at night. When the mother awoke at 6AM the next morning and found the toddler gone, she called 911. Like many neighbors, as well as the police, we searched for him. Police found the boy several hours later, exhausted and suffering from hypothermia, in a bramble of blackberries a block from his apartment.

Perhaps it’s the national mood, perhaps it’s my own, but this feels like a season of loss. A season of misplacing, a season of losing that which is closest to us. Life changes on us quickly.