Typically, I’ve waited until either mid-year or the end of the year to share the new mindfulness practices I’ve taken up at the start of the new year, but I thought I’d share this one fresh out of the gate.
Inspired by an idea on the RandomActsOfKindness.org website, one of the new mindfulness exercises I’ve embarked upon for 2019 (as I like to enfold 2-3 new practices at the start of each year to help keep my practice fresh) is 52-Weeks of Thank You’s. I penned my third one this morning.
At first, I thought 52-Weeks of Thank You’s was synonymous with 52-Weeks of Gratitude but then as I thought more about it, I started wondering if maybe they were slightly different.
Saying: “I’m grateful for _____” is not the same as saying: “Thank you for ______.” There’s an energetic difference. One focuses on the self, as in: I am grateful for such and such, whereas the latter focuses on the other person, as in: Thank you for such and such.
As I was interested in focusing on the person I would be sending the note to, I decided to stick with calling it 52-Weeks of Thank You’s.
Prior to embarking upon this new practice, I wrote out the full list of names to send thank you’s to through the whole of 2019. Before I got into the swing of it, I had trouble coming up with who I would send thank you’s to. But once I got rolling and into the spirit of it, I wound up easily coming up with 52 names and then I ended with being disappointed that I had run out of weeks and had way more people to include. And not only did I include individual friends and family members but I also added a handful of organizations and local businesses. Another criteria I’ve set for myself is that each thank you note will be sent old school, via the U.S postal service. While sending email thank you’s would be far less time consuming and resource intensive, there’s something important that gets conveyed when someone takes the time to handwrite a card/letter/note and send it.
I made these labels to attach to each thank you note:
3 down – 49 to go! :)
Perched in our kitchen is this magnet board that Mike and I made when we did our renovation a couple of years ago. It was our creative solution for covering over the large electrical panel that resides front and center on that section of open wall space.
During the holiday season, it turns delightfully into a posting board of love, as it becomes decorated with the cards sent and given to us by our friends & family.
It used to be that my dis-ease with the waste of paper resources outweighed my enjoyment of receiving holidays cards – but thankfully the tides have shifted and I’ve come to understand the great importance of these paper forms of connection and care.
And this year it even prompted me to grow our magnet stash :)
The whole biological, extended & friend family gang at Jaden’s high school graduation, June 2nd 2018
FB post written on May 28th:
My stepson Jaden has 3 days of mandated schooling left, before he’s set to graduate from a system he’s spent the last 12-years ingesting as a tonic to both grow and be stunted by. We’re in the home stretch of the end of an era. For him and for me.
No more school functions to routinely attend. No more volunteering at the snack and beverage station in the back of the cafetorium at drama productions. No more daily preparations of breakfast or serving as his day-planner, reminding him of this and that before setting off in the morning. No more close monitoring of such things as is common for a youth in your charge when tending to their well-being is your full-time pleasure of an occupation.
What an exciting and devastating time this is, all at once.
FB post written on May 30th:
It seemed somehow appropriate that yesterday my soon-to-graduate-from-high-school stepson should have his car in need of an overnight stay at a tire place around the corner, deeming it necessary that I give him one last ride to school this morning. It was well-timed closure for me on the parental front.
I was stumped in the what-to-get-my-stepson-for-his-graduation-present department and landed on a collection of 11 gifts, each fashioned with a card I’d written a symbolic meaning for. My original intention was to leave it at that. But then I thought it would make for an appropriate gesture if his dad were to write the dad-response on the back of each card. So that’s what we did.
At our family graduation dinner on Wednesday night, Jaden opened each gift and then I read what I’d written, followed by Mike reading what he’d written. It’s worth mentioning that it’s commonly known in our nuclear family that I’m the nice one and Mike is the dark-hearted one (but dark-hearted in the most jovial sense of the word!).
To perhaps inspire others with creative gift-giving ideas, I thought I’d share with you a few of the gifts we got for him, along with the words we both wrote for each one. Here goes! (As is also commonplace in our family, let me apologize ahead of time for Mike’s sarcastic comedic whit.)
A few weeks ago, I got an email from my cousin Matt’s girlfriend, asking folks to write a little something up about/for Matt, to help celebrate his 40th birthday. She wanted to put together a surprise book for him, filled with personal sentiments from his friends and family.
When I first read her email ask, my first reactionary thought was: Gosh, I’d love to do this – especially since I can’t be there to help celebrate his birthday (he lives in Philly) – but I’ve got so many other projects and events and articles I’m working on. The dust of my running to-do list quickly settled, however, and this more heart-centered response soon followed: I love my cousin. This is important. This is more important than most of the other stuff I’m doing. How wonderful that she’s pulling this together. Of course I’ll write something!
Here’s what I wrote and sent her to include in the book:
I’ve been investing intentional practice around the fact that my stepson is growing older and will soon be “out there,” left to his own devices, since even before he entered high school, so as not to not experience what I’ve heard so many parents of senior-year students speak to, in terms of being caught off guard and full of sorrow that their kids were all grown up and moving out. It seemed to me a rather implausible reality that a parent should feel so suddenly disjointed at the prospect of their child reaching a certain young-adult maturity level, as though they somehow didn’t see it coming all the years of their youth and moving out to start a life of their own wasn’t part of the deal.
But now I sorta get it.
Despite all my efforts to look deeply into the nature of impermanence and work to develop my practice in the art of letting go, just the other day I suddenly realized that my husband and I’s time with my 18-year old stepson is incredibly short. I did the math. Given how our residential schedule is lined out in our parenting plan – a schedule we’ve up-held diligently since he was at the tail end of first grade – we have a total of three remaining weeks with him until he graduates from high school, at which point he will be choosing to live full time with his mom and stepdad.
Just this morning I came across a lovely quote from Jack Kornfield on twitter, which states: To let go does not mean to get rid of. To let go means to let be. When we let be with compassion, things come and go on their own.
Traveling without some form of mindful awareness often leads to a not-so-great time – without mindfulness, that is, an ability to remain grounded in the present moment, it becomes super easy to get swept up in feelings of impatience, frustration, and separation. And it becomes commonplace to consider every unplanned thing that happens as an obstruction factor to our contentment. Traveling can be described many ways but unpredictable is perhaps the most apt adjective.
I’ve found the practice of mindfulness to be a great travel companion, as it helps me to stay in touch with both the small and larger picture embodied in whatever present moment I find myself in, whether it’s standing in a security line at the airport or weathering a delayed flight or experiencing an especially kick-happy dude sitting behind me on the plane.
As I’m currently visiting family in southern Arizona, along with my husband and stepson, I’m also tuning into how the practice of mindfulness supports and nourishes me when I’m away from home and my regular schedule and routine. A couple of the things I’m finding to be particularly important for me while we’re visiting family are: maintaining my early wake-up time and doing sitting meditation before everyone gets up in the morning and continuing my gratitude practice at every meal.
Waking up at my regular 5:00am enables me to enjoy some personal time and stillness before a full day of activity and human interaction begins, which offers me a strong foundation of ease and spaciousness. Here in AZ, much like at home, I enjoy slow cups of tea, read, write, and, as an added bonus here, sit outside and enjoy watching as the morning sky alights over the mountains. We’re off nestled in the hills not far from the Mexican border, with no neighbors close-by, and the only sounds I hear right now, as I sit outside and type, are my clacking keys and the twittering of birds. Having time to myself in the morning is a vital component to my daily spiritual health and wellness, whether at home or off and about.
I don’t have the luxury of not sitting in meditation everyday – that’s how crucial it is to my state of wellness. Daily sitting meditation practice gives me the energy I need to greet a fresh new day – and thank goodness for that :)
Last night marked the fourth and final installment of a series I put together at our local mindfulness center entitled: Mindful Community Conversations. Once a month since September we’ve focused on a different topic, each featuring a different speaker. My vision was to help create and hold space within our mindfulness practice, in order to shed light on certain topics that are often very challenging and difficult to talk about and address. The topics I chose were: Chronic Pain & Illness, Depression & Addiction, Dealing with Difficult Emotions, and Grief & Loss. Our format started with 10 minutes of silent sitting meditation, followed by a 20-30 minute talk from the speaker and ended with an open sharing circle. As the facilitator for each evening, I prompted our sharing time by inviting folks to offer their name and a little bit about what motivated them to attend the particular evening’s topic. I found that the openness, intention, and strong mindfulness practice of each of the speakers allowed for a very powerful opportunity for community sharing and healing to take place. I continue to be moved and inspired by the coming together of sacredly held circles of people.
Our topic last night was on Grief and Loss. Our speaker was my sangha friend Greg, who’s one of our five ordained members of Thich Nhat Hanh’s Order of Interbeing here in town. He’s also a hospice chaplain, so his depth of practice and experience with death and dying is vast. I greatly enjoyed his talk and the sharing that followed, from those who attended. I know that all of the words spoken last night will continue to slowly filter in and through me, and benefit my outlook and perspective in a myriad of unforeseen ways.
This morning, in the darkness of the hour of 5:00am so common and crucial to much of my writing, I wrote this:
To love is to know one day
you’ll grieve the loss of those you’ve extended yourself to,
and it won’t be pretty.
It’ll be devastating.
It’ll be devastating in ways impossible to comprehend until it happens.
And holes will manifest in the open field of your heart.
Holes that will remain as part of your landscape,
like the scars of a deforested hillside ravaged by wildfire.
you’ll be able to find yourself in the emerging
from those dark places,
amid everything that has been lost,
and you will take back up
the tending of your field.
On Wednesday I found out that a sangha friend, three years younger than I am, passed away. I was emailed his obituary from our local Dharma Teacher. His name was Scott, and while he hadn’t recently been sitting with our Monday night meditation group, Be Here Now, he had been part of our sangha for the past couple of years or so and sat with us on and off during that period. I saw him just a couple of weeks ago walking by McCormick Park as I was driving by on Orange Street. He was walking alongside someone, talking and smiling. I remember thinking at the time, “I’m so glad to see him! He looks good…happy.”
Scott was bipolar, and often fluctuated back and forth between having a reliable place to stay and being homeless. His obituary listed no cause of death. Our assumption is he committed suicide. My heart swelled with sadness when I read of his passing.
While Scott was part of our mindfulness community, and has been to my house for sangha potlucks and gatherings, I didn’t know much about the conventional aspects of his life: where he was born, where he went to school, where he grew up, how many brothers and sisters he had, and the like. This isn’t unusual, for me, in relation to other casual sangha friends. Part of what I love about my sangha community is how connected I feel to people based on simply sharing our meditation practice together, sharing silence, and sharing mindful intention. While I may not know people’s last names or where they were born and raised, I feel an inherent closeness to them as a fellow sangha member.
Reading Scott’s obituary gave me a lot of the conventional information I hadn’t known, or really even thought about before. And it put me in touch with wanting to write my own obituary, which is nothing new in the world of writing-prompt ideas, for those who enjoy the art of the written word. So, here goes:
Ode to Our Kitchen
You were there for us from the start, with calm assurance that we could do it, when we first gazed upon you as wide-eyed first time home buyers, 13 years ago, almost to the day. You held loyal through all those tender years as we tirelessly trained our son to eat his vegetables and eggs and oatmeal and anything not fried or covered in cheese as he threw fits and was forced to sit at the table until he finished his meal. P.S In recognition for your service it stands worth mentioning that all the effort was well applied, as he now eats anything with the grace and ease that makes a parent proud.
Yesterday I spent 4-hours emptying your cupboards and stained, sticky shelves – I rolled the soft bristles of my long-handled broom over your forever un-cleanable, pock-marked linoleum floor, for what likely will be the very last time. And last night, in an excited it’s-about-time fashion, even though the sky was darkening and the grass was falling into shadow calling us to slumber, we tore off some of your cabinetry and doors and tossed them heave ho and hurrah out the back door with a fevering pitch of satisfaction, as though the decades you spent clinging to those un-insulated, cracked plaster walls meant nothing.
Tomorrow work begins and we’ll set to rip every scrap of you apart: from your scared fiberboard ceiling to whatever lies in wait underneath layers of wood, wire, and the glazey build-up of meals and memories waxed along the surface.
While captured in pictures I imagine I’ll soon forget your face, so richly providing but unfavorably gross and dilapidated you were. I bid you farewell, old friend, with thanks for your shelter and bounty over all these splendid years as you stood watch over our family and friends, inviting us all in with equal repose, teaching us how to gather deliciously together.
During my recent retreat stay at Deer Park Monastery I had a thought about how I’d like to start a family circle time at home with my husband Mike and teenage stepson Jaden. This wasn’t a new idea, but in the past I never followed through with anything. This time, however, I spoke with Mike about it and wrote the idea down in my day planner, which is what needs to happen if ever I am to remember and take action about something.
Since we have shared custody and Jaden is with us for what works out to be 1/3 of the time (one week on and two weeks off), our family circle will wind up taking place once every three weeks. Our very first family circle was last night and went splendidly!
Mike and I decided we’d dedicate an hour to this circle on Sunday nights and our format would include: 5 minutes of sitting meditation, a check-in round, flower watering, open sharing, and a closing circle. Mike was our facilitator and during the check-in round prompted us to share about how we were feeling, both in general and specifically about the creation of our new family circle time. I was really glad to hear when Jaden shared that he was really looking forward to our newly created family circle time and said he thought it was a really good idea.