I am grateful to have had the opportunity yesterday to present at a local TEDx in San Francisco- http://www.tedxmission.org. The conference was part of a worldwide series of simultaneous TEDx events, focusing on the City 2.0, with presentations bringing forward innovative models and dreams for more thriving, regenerative cities! I shared about the Transformative Power of Gratitude, proposing that a shift in our culture to one of appreciation and gratitude could go a long way in transforming not only our personal lives and happiness but also our families and relationships, organizations, and wider communities and culture.
I was grateful to make connections through the conference with social innovators and local pioneers who are bringing forward amazing transformations both inner and outer through their work. I also left feeling extremely grateful for all of the people in my life who love me and have supported me to get to this point.
Here’s a picture of me singing a song of thanksgiving (shared with me by David Lertzman of Rediscovery, who was gifted the song in a dream.) In the back is an image of a poster version of the Thanksgiving Address of the Haudenosaunee people, which I shared while speaking about the origins of gratitude as a core practice and prayer of the First Nations people.
Video should be ready in a few weeks and I can post that then as well!
This post begins while sitting on a plane from Budapest to Munich. After one hour of sleep and 9 hrs in the Budapest airport, with multiple flight cancellations and delays (who knew that Hungarian Airlines shut down for good this week?), after finding out I likely wouldn’t make my flight to San Francisco from Munich and therefore will miss the course I’m supposed to teach tonight (might as well have gone to the Szechenyi baths today!), after arguing needlessly with the airline attendant about my luggage fitting into the compartment (it did, just fine), I was feeling totally exhausted and on the verge of tears (having already cried at the Air France counter once today). But finally in a seat, on a plane, going somewhere, I closed my eyes to rest.
And suddenly, in this moment of surrender, I felt a shot of warmth across my neck. After a grey week in Budapest, it was the sun, blazing through the clouds so close by. A heliophile, or sun worshipper, someone once called me. As that beloved friend touched my neck ever so gently, I was flooded with a rush of gratitude. And these words and reflections came forward..
Gratitude is a constant prayer. Whenever I drop into gratitude, my body relaxes, my mind stills, my heart opens wide, and my spirit remembers its connection with all things. I enter into the present and into the realm of awe, wonder, and possibility.
Gratitude can be seen as the simple act of offering thanks. However, in my experience it is more profound than just saying thank you or “thanks” in the ways that we commonly throw these words around in our culture. It is thankfulness combined with deep reverence. It is taking a moment to pause and look inwards, to find what it is that we authentically feel thankful for in that very moment. It is an act of connection, of reaching both in and out to interact with the world. It is experiencing that thankfulness in our very hearts, spirits, and bones. It is both extremely simple and deeply profound all at once.
Gratitude practice can be linked directly back to the First Peoples of this land, and what is known as the Thanksgiving Address. That beautiful Haudenosaunee address offers thanks to every aspect of creation- the birds, the trees, the water, the animals, and on. It is a reminder to see and be thankful for our relationships to all of the beauty of creation that surrounds us, at all times.
Gratitude is learning to appreciate each and every situation, even when it is challenging or not what we had hoped. It is finding the good in things, in the world, and in people. It is reframing. It is approaching the world with a “beginner’s mind” and an attitude of appreciation and learning. For example, I am really grateful that I got so sick last year, because it gave me an opportunity to rest and reflect that I might not have taken otherwise. I am really grateful for missing my flights this morning, because without that experience this outpouring of reflections on gratitude might not have come forward and this post would not have been written.
Gratitude has saved my life. There have been days when it was all I could do to get out of bed and put one foot in front of the other. Days in which I felt mired in hopelessness and a deep depression. But gratitude was the fuel that kept me going. As I trudged through the snow toward work, cold winds freezing the tears running down my face, wanting to do nothing more than to just lay down and give up, I would dig deep and remember- I am grateful for my legs, my powerful, healthy, strong legs. Legs that are moving me toward where I need to go, even as the rest of me is filled with grief. I am grateful for the great blessing of being able to walk on these two legs- a blessing that is not available for so many people in this world- for children of polio, the victims of land mines, the paralyzed, the ill. I am so grateful for my strong, healthy legs.
This mantra, and other similar repeated mantras (for my eyes that can see, my arms that can hold my beautiful children, my feet which hold me up, and so on) guided me like a beacon through those stormy days. Sometimes it was not easy to connect to that gratitude, when all felt dark. But there was always something to be grateful for, even if it is was as simple as my breath.
And now as things have become more easeful, I am still reminded time and time again to continually offer up my gratitude. Everywhere I go, everything I do, every small flower that I pass offers an opportunity to experience profound gratitude.
The thing about gratitude is that the more you offer it, the more you find to be grateful for. You begin noticing things you are grateful for everywhere. From gratitude for the laughter of a child to a helpful person on the street to the sun and the moon and the stars, it begins to flow like a river that cannot be stopped. And that is when you really enter the Mystery- into a state of “wonder and amazement” that is fully present to the miracle of this great Creation.
Gratitude is revolutionary. It is evolutionary. It is a complete reframing of the world. It’s like putting on a whole new set of glasses. It is seeing the world through the eyes of beauty, wonder and appreciation. It is an act of radical relationship- of giving love and appreciation and the energy of creation BACK to the world. It’s our very best way of saying THANK YOU to one another, the earth, and to GOD.
Anyone can practice gratitude. I have introduced gratitude circles in academic halls where rationality is the highest value and within minutes I have experienced those same academics drop into radiant joy as they connect with their own hearts and with one another. I practice it with my children who are 3 and 6, and we go round and round and round sometimes for half an hour naming all of the things we are each thankful for. I use it in my friendships, my relationships, my work, and my prayers.
Yes, gratitude is a prayer, and the more I remember to practice it, the happier I am and the more grateful I feel to be alive.
One final thing about gratitude…it is possible to offer your gratitude not only for the things you might currently see and have and experience in the world, but ALSO for the things yet to come that you long for in your heart.The key to this practice is to offer gratitude for those things as if they really already ARE. To believe and have faith, that yes they are done. Now, this does not mean that you are attached to the outcome- because, after all, if something different comes to pass, surely you’ll find gratitude for that too. But just by offering the gratitude for the longings you hold in your heart, it acts like a prayer- you attract those things and create stronger possibilities for their manifestation.
Back to the present moment. “I am so grateful that the plane is waiting for me and that I will make my flight home,” I repeated over and over and over again, while running through the Munich airport just now, burdened down by luggage, hot and sweaty, my body screaming at me with exhaustion. I am so grateful I will make that flight. This one phase kept me going, as I wanted to crumple into a ball on the floor and give up for the day.
20 minutes and an endurance run later, here I sit, on beautiful Lufthansa airlines, cool, calm, and ready to depart. San Francisco, here I come. I am so very grateful.
Hello!! Welcome to my brand new and very first wordpress site! I am excited to be able to share and interact with you in this format.
To get things rolling, I have posted some earlier blogs that I have written. Please feel free to peruse them and add your feeback/comments. I will be posting new content here soon.
Looking forward to sharing my creativity and ideas with you!
“Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.” Thank you Gayatri Sethi for this reminder.
Beginning NOW…a 365 day gratitude practice. Committing to a year of expressing my gratitude, knowing and trusting that one year from today my life can and will be completely transformed by this practice.
Day 1/365. I am grateful for the practice of gratitude. For the ways that it has transformed my life already. For the power it holds to tap me deeply into my own centre, into appreciation for all life, into direct communion with Creation and into humility before the Creator. For its ability to lift me out of the depths and into the light. For the circles of gratitude I have sat in and the amplified collective power of giving-forth gratitude together. For the fact that no matter how difficult life seems, we can ALWAYS find something to be grateful for, even if it is as simple and profound as our very breath.
Gratitude is a prayer, a way to practice reciprocity and thankfulness for our very existence, a practice of humility, a sure generator of more joy. Looking forward to leaning into being more and more GRATEFUL, and to sharing it with all of you!
Last night at yin yoga, after an hour already of slow movement in a gently heated room, with live music filling the space, I found myself bent over in pigeon pose, hip and knee open to the side, body bent down over my leg, face pressing into the mat. It was a seemingly terribly awkward and uncomfortable position. I was on my right hip, which ever since 10 hrs of back labor with Mateo has never been quite the same. But as I moved slowly into the pose over 3-4 minutes, I suddenly found myself in this fascinating moment of surrender, suspended between the challenge of the posture and total relaxation.
The hip itself was hurting, but in that “this pain is good” sort of way, and as I breathed into it I actually felt my entire body let go even as the hip was screaming. It actually reminded me vividly of labor itself with Jalen, during which I moved fluidly between contraction and total relaxation, actually falling asleep between contractions as I breathed in and totally gave myself over to the process. It is an altered state of reality, this kind of total letting go, in this case amplified by the live music and energy flowing through the room. Despite the fact that my body was bent into a totally unnatural seeming position, for those moments I was totally surrendered, amorphous, one with the mat, one with the floor, one with the bodies surrounding me. I could hold the balance of the pain and the joy of the stretch all at once. All I needed to do was keep breathing.
In reading the Seven Valleys by Baha’u’llah, which describes the seven levels through which a wayfarer passes in pursuit of the Divine, I was initially surprised that the “Valley of Love” was only the second valley. How could it be? Isn’t love the highest level of connection? I mean, “In this city the heaven of ecstasy is upraised and the world-illuming sun of yearning shineth, and the fire of love is ablaze.” But in fact, “the steed of that valley is pain,” for in that valley the seeker is still driven by passion and his own desire, and tormented by his own longing for the Beloved.
Finally, if the seeker makes his way through the valleys of Search, Love, Knowledge, Unity, Contentment, and Wonderment, he reaches total peace in the “Valley of True Poverty and Absolute Nothingness.” Baha’u’llah writes, “This station is the dying from self and the living in God, the being poor in self and rich in the Desired One. For when the true lover and devoted friend reacheth to the presence of the Beloved, the sparkling beauty of the Loved One and the fire of the lover’s heart will kindle a blaze and burn away all veils and wrappings. Yea, all he hath, from heart to skin, will be set aflame, so that nothing will remain save the Friend.” Total surrender. In Buddhist terms, this is Emptiness. For others, it might be Enlightenment. The giving over of one’s self so fully that we realize we are in fact one with it All…there is no room left for our own unique desires and longings…we just ARE. everything and nothing, all at once.
So as I lay there last night, literally melting into the floor, I wondered to myself…in what areas of my life could I give myself over to total surrender? How could I take this “off the mat and into the world”? To completely allow the mystery to fill my being and to be in such an open state that I move from that place? It calls to mind this short prayer, again from the Baha’i Writings:
“O God, Make me a Hollow Reed from which the pith of self hath been blown, that I may become a clear channel through which They love may flow unto others.”
What would it mean to you to surrender today, and every day? Is that a scary idea? What about all of our ideas and plans and desires and intentions??? How do we achieve what we are working for if we fully surrender?? How to hold it all in the balance?
I am interested to hear your thoughts on this, beautiful people….
*love and blessings*
If in last week’s note I was walking on sunshine, today I felt more like I was sludging through the mud, or to be exact, through very cold, wet snow and slippery ice, upon which I literally fell directly on my *@#$)(*.
As I sludged and slid, I was reminded of two of my favorite scenes from the movie “500 Days of Summer.” In the first, Tom has just fallen in love with Summer, and after he first spends the night with her we see him skipping down the street bathed in a golden glow. Everyone is smiling at him, the birds are singing, people are breaking out into a coordinated musical acts- the world is a beautiful place.
Flash to the same scene, several months later, but this time it’s the day after Tom and Summer have broken up. The streets are grey. The music is gloomy. Everyone is frowning, bumping into him. The world is dismal.
I always thought that this scene sequence was brilliant, because what’s different here, of course, is Tom.
Wait a minute, it’s not the WORLD’s fault??? No fair! Wouldn’t that make it easier, so we can just wake up another day in another situation and everything will be fine? But indeed, if I look back at my two days, many of the circumstances were largely the same. Pack dawdling children into 18 layers of snowpants, snowboots, snowjackets, hats, mittens, neckguards. Rush first child to school while carrying very heavy second puffball. Return home and try to stuff second child into carseat that barely buckles because of all the layers. You get the idea. One day this all feels manageable, easy, even joyful. And another it is the most frustrating experience of your life. As put beautifully by Anais Nin, ”We don’t see things as they are. We see them as we are.”
So if it’s all about me, what to do on those grey days?
First reflection: Realize that it’s perfectly okay to not always be sunny! It’s important to honor our natural cycles – our darkness as well as our light, and to know that we need both in full depth in order to be whole human beings. Kahlil Gibran writes, “Your joy is your sorrow unmasked. And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears. And how else could it be?
Second, instead of pushing the grey away, remember that it’s an invitation to deeper knowing and Truth. So keep this in mind next time you feel the urge to mask the grey by visiting the tanning booth for some simulated sun (or starbucks for an oat fudge bar, as my favorite soulshaper likes to say ;-)), or the mall, or the tv, or other comforting fall-backs. What if instead we took this as an opportunity to ask what might be obscuring the sun from reaching you brightly today? One technique for doing this is take a few minutes to breathe deep and go within, and use your own inner trust, knowing and curiosity to ask, “What is beneath the grey that is wanting to come up to the surface?” In my experience, I have found it amazing how I can try and try to push a feeling or mood away with no result, but when I tune in and really feel into what is at the root it instantly lifts. “Truth is the gateway to the present moment.” (Jeff Brown)
Third, when the feeling continues to persist, as I know sometimes it just does, it’s an opportunity to up the self-care and to to pause and allow for the processes of healing and purification to occur, just as they do for the earth on shady and rainy days. Sometimes these things just take time. So what can you do today, or on any grey day, to nurture your body and spirit? Perhaps cozy up, take a bath, talk to a good friend, be gentle with yourself and others – anything that is naturally nurturing to you and that will create a supportive environment for your healing.
And finally, one surefire way to lift your mood when all else seems dim is to expand your attention from yourself and your own dark patch to others that need some light. Step out of the shade of your own shadow and you might find your connection to the light is all around. As said in the Baha’i Writings, “The more we search for ourselves, the less likely we are to find ourselves; and the more we search for God, and to serve our fellow-men, the more profoundly will we become acquainted with ourselves, and the more inwardly assured. This is one of the great spiritual laws of life.” And by Rabindranath Tagore: “I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy.” I certainly found this to be true today, as in the middle of my muddy day I saw a mom on the playground who looked like she was having a hard time. I really wanted to get back to my own stuff, but instead I invited her for tea, and it turned out that she really needed the support. And through our conversation I felt my own spirit and sense of self lift back to its normal place of truth and light.
With the last suggestion, I’m certainly not saying that we should mask our own inner problems and avoid the deep work by acting outwardly…the processes described in #2 for clearing from within are crucial. But it is ALSO true that as we arise to serve, our spirits become aligned with the divine and we become conduits for that greater Light to shine through and within us. Change yourself, change the world. Change the world, change yourself. I think these both are true.
I have a new hat. I love my new hat. It is warm and cozy. It is spun in winding, spiraling circles of beautiful shades of purples and blues and a flash of turquoise at the tip. It’s a fun hat, and when I wear it I can’t help but smile and feel cheerier as I move through the normal day’s activities, be it rushing to get the kids to school or stopping for a coffee or just driving around in my car. In my hat, I feel like an elven fairy, outwardly navigating the streets of suburbia but secretly wandering the woods of Lothlorian.
My hat makes other people smile too. Maybe they just like my hat. It is always easier to talk to new people when you have a fun accessory (people with dogs and babies will agree – and yes, I am using the word “accessory” to refer to my children, tongue in cheek of course). But with my new hat on, all of a sudden my neighbour who never looks up when I come outside is waving to me. I am making new friends on the playground as I drop Jalen off at school. Everyone is talking to me. It’s a whole new world.
Maybe it’s just the cool hat. So first lesson of the day, is dare to be different. Dare to wear and do things that stand out. Express your own unique spirit in every way, including the way that you adorn your physical temples, be it your bodies, your homes, or other spaces. Life is just much more interesting that way. When my mom used to drive around in her 100% purple convertible (purple exterior, purple interior, purple leather), I can tell you that she made a lot of friends. In fact, we had a lot of crazy colors and objects in our home growing up, and it always made for fun conversation.
Or maybe, the hat gives me secret superpowers. A friend of mine in my cultural production workshop (@Sara Mohammad) is a mask-maker. She made an interesting point the other day in class – usually therapy work talks about taking OFF the masks that we wear – unarmoring and showing our vulnerability by de-masking. However, she talked about how using masks can be empowering, such as for women who have suffered abuse, and can help them to take on a persona with a little extra strength to tell their story or to confront their abusers. I thought this was amazing – and as I reflected on it, it brought me back again to the superhero theme. Bruce Wayne wasn’t Batman without his costume and Batmobile. Jalen and Mateo definitely feel more powerful as they parade around in their capes (dishtowels tied around the neck) and superhero gloves (dishwashing gloves) and shields (pot lids) and swords (spoons). So maybe my hat has magic powers. Superfriendliness at 8 a.m. in the schoolyard before I’ve had my morning coffee. Superwarmth in the face of biting Canadian cold. Supercheer to face the day.
But I actually think the first piece, the fact that I’m happier in the hat, makes a even bigger difference. It feels like ME. So I feel like ME. And that’s a good way to feel. Whenever we are truly standing in our most authentic selves, be it through the words we speak, the actions we do, the energy we put out into the world, the choices we makes, or even in the silly hats we wear, we are at our most powerful. And those are superpowers we all can access, in our own unique way.