It is good that many will today reflect on things – and persons – for which they are thankful.
Might I offer a suggestion, one I think particular relevant for those of us who are hypervigilant on the wrongs we think need to be addressed? That is that we find some time, every day, to stop and reflect on the blessings we do have. It may help us keep our sanity.
Yes, we need to remind ourselves and others of what still needs to be addressed. Perhaps we may be the ones who bring an important issue to the attention of the person who can do most to address it – Wendell Potter thanked nyceve for doing that for him.
But it is more than that. This is something I set before myself as a task, and I will, below the jump, attempt to explain why and to illustrate.
Feel free to continue reading if it suits you.
Those who have read me for a long time know that I am shy, socially awkward, and extremely prone to depression. Any of these could cause me to nurse wounds, to wonder about my value, about why I exist. Such a focus might well cause me to be a destructive force. Despite those weaknesses, a very insightful person once pointed out to me that for better or worse I have a fairly forceful personality that I can use either for positive or destructive purposes. I struggled with both parts of that idea for quite some time – how could I, who really could not consistently act properly in most circumstances, have such a powerful personality? How could would I do have that much of an effect?
I am completing the 15th year since I got my own classroom – Dec. 8, 1995 was the day I embarked officially on my current path, although I did not sign my contract until the following January 18th. As a teacher I am constantly reminded of the impact I have upon others, but then, my students are to some degree a captive audience.
What made a difference for me was to realize that they had a profound affect upon me. They provided me so many opportunities to make a difference, not so much by providing them with information, but because they presented opportunities for human connection. And for a shy, socially awkward and prone to depression aging product of the generation that produced the hippies, that was important.
I can come home from school and be depressed about what a poor job I did that day, of the opportunities missed. But then I am reminded about trust and love: I walk into the house and I am greeted by any or all of the five four-footed furry bundles – our felines. They may want food, or they may simply want some attention, at least briefly. They remind me I am alive.
And in that moment I again get outside of my own feelings and reconnect with the larger world. It includes cats, it includes students.
I can look at the mess and despair that I will ever get control of the paper flow (and if I do not despair, my neatnik wife might remind about the mess). But then I can step back and remember this – much of it comes through the mail, and I am fortunate to have a fixed address, a room over my head, a table on which the mail can accumulate. Small blessings, perhaps, but important ones.
Look at my title. Perhaps the second word will remind you of the work of Thich Nhat Hanh, whose work has certainly inspired many to follow an approach, even using mindfulness as the focus of meditation to convert their lives.
Such an approach is not unique to Buddhism. In Christianity we have both the rule of St. Benedict, in which he instructs us to give the same respects to the common garden implements as we would to sacred vessels of the altar, and Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection, with his practice of the presence of God, in even the most ordinary acts such as washing the dishes or taking out the garbage.
Perhaps that is too “religious” for you? Stop and think – you have dishes, you have water to wash them. You have a pail for your garbage, you have a chute in the hall of your apartment building or perhaps the local community will weekly haul away the detritus of your life, or at least you can move it to the town dump. It does not have to accumulate around you. Be thankful.
Perhaps there is someone whose words or actions or even very presence is a constant annoyance, or worse. Think of that person as a grain of sand, and yourself as an oyster, and imagine the pearls that become possible.
By no means am I suggesting that you give up righteous anger, a passionate desire to make the world a better place, the impulse to heal wounds and fix wrongs. Be thankful that you can still feel so passionately.
Small things accumulate. Remember, a single drop of water splashing upon a large boulder may seem to make no difference, but the accumulation of many such drops can carve out canyons. Be thankful for being one drop as a part of that stream.
I write these words sitting on a couch in my messy livingroom. One of our five felines is curled up next to me, purring. I could complain that he limits my freedom of motion, or I can be thankful that he is here to remind me of affection, of warmth. I can look at the pile of CDs on the floor and worry about the disorganization, or I can be thankful of the hours of pleasure I get from listening to them – even as I put them away some of the sounds encoded on their surface resound again in my memory.
As I write, the fan for the furnace comes on. We keep the thermostat low to save money, but I could still worry about the cost. Or instead I can be thankful that I have heat, that the mechanical systems of the house are in good working order.
I am writing these words for a blog post at a site at which I will encounter anger, frustration, and fear, but also joys, hope and community support. I could think of those whose words annoy me or anger me or even frighten me. Instead I can choose to remember those whose words have supported me, thanked me, comforted me. Here is a community that is an important part of my life, even though many whose words and thoughts I value I have never met – connecting with them makes me less isolated, and helps me to overcome both my shyness and my social awkwardness.
Mindfulness – it is not a pollyanish / rose-colored glasses perception of the world. It does not remove from us responsibility to make a difference where we can. It re-minds us of what is already before us, from what we are already benefiting.
Thankfulness – thanks for things small and large, challenging and pleasant.
Thanks for all the persons – and I use that construction deliberately – I encounter, each of whom can if I let her remind me of the range of my own strengths and weaknesses.
If I am caught in traffic, I can be mindful that I have a car, that I will get to my destination eventually, and I can use the time to catch my breath, to step back and unwind from my frenetic pace.
I am passionate. I am an extravert. I know I must be active to be myself. Those may seem like contradictions from being shy, socially awkward and prone to depression. I am thankful for my weaknesses, because they help me be receptive to the whole persons I encounter, strengths and weaknesses.
This is a personal meditation. It is the product of a deliberate choice to remember how blessed I am even at my worst moments. Saint Paul writes that we should hold fast that which is good. There is good to be found even in the worst situation. We can build on that which is good if only we recognize it and use it as the starting point from which to fix that which is not good. It keeps despair from overwhelming us, empowers us to keep trying to make a difference.
In the parable of the talents the words of encouragement are Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord. Being thankful, being mindful about the small things may be the one way we can eventually accomplish great things.
It is a cool and damp morning. Once my wife heads north to her family I will be alone. I could complain that I have too many tasks and they are keeping me from being with people I love – I cannot give up the 5 plus hours of travel time. Or I can be thankful that I have the opportunity to do some things that might make a difference for others.
The house is quiet, no music on. I can hear the ticking of an ancient Mount Vernon clock, which regularly loses a few minutes a day. When it chimes I can be annoyed that it is a few minutes off, or I can be grateful and thankful that this is a “wrong” that is easily within my power to address.
Ordinary blessings are entitled to at least ordinary thanks.
A few minutes at the start of the day – being thankful for yet another day, no matter how challenging it may day.
A few minutes at the peak of our most challenging times – we are still alive, we have the opportunity to step back and take a breath, and if they are in season even to smell the roses.
A few minutes at the end of the day, to reflect back not only on the challenges still left, and the mistakes we made, but on the blessings we received, merely by being alive. Ordinary blessings. Encounters with others. A smile from a stranger. The chance to vicariously experience someone else’s success or delight.
The opportunities for thankfulness are myriad. If we pay attention, we will be overwhelmed by how many.
Ordinary thanks for ordinary blessings. Each a tiny drop of water splashing against the rockiness of so much of our existences, of the world around us.
Many ordinary blessing, and an accumulation of thanks. An attitude of mindfulness begins to make a difference in our own lives, and through our interactions with others in what is reflected back to us.
Just a few not so random thoughts on a day devoted to Thanksgiving?