Try gratitude

There’s nothing particularly prophetic about what I told a friend last year. I said, “I have a feeling that 2017 is going to be a year of huge changes.” But I was thinking about personal stuff like working or not working, and leaving or not leaving the islands. You know, big momentous changes brought on by shifting life situations. Well, they still may happen. Just not this year. Also, leaving the islands is a tough sell.

Looking back now, I think that on some level I was picking up on the strange seismic rumblings that barely moved the needle on the political Richter scale. A few lone voices (Michael Moore, for example) pointed it out. Trump would win the election. But the polls and the Dems misread the signs until it was too late. The volcano blasted us out of our complacency. Who could have predicted that outcome?

Maybe the disaffected who were looking to Trump to bring back their jobs and their American dream, and voted for him. Maybe the one percenters who only care about their wealth, status and power, and threw their considerable financial support his way. As long as they could have their hefty portfolios, the summer home in the Hamptons, their multi-million dollar pied-a-terre in Manhattan, their winter home in Palm Beach, and their offshore accounts in the Caymans, they would support Trump, who is one of their own. The rest of us be damned. That’s you and me and the disaffected. Because, with rare exceptions, they and die-hard conservatives think we deserve only what we can get by the sweat of our brows. No entitlements for us. They, on the other hand, are the epitome of the entitled.

While I admit to spiteful glee as I watch Trump and his inner circle implode, and as each attempt to pass an unbelievably cruel bill (repeal and replace the ACA) in Congress is stymied, another part of me (the adult) is aghast at what this craziness is doing to the country. Not to mention the egg we have on our face around the world. I think Russia thinks the US is a patsy. China doesn’t much care one way or the other. And the EU, well, you know what they think.

Whew! I just had to get that off my chest. Again.

It’s still turning out to be the kind of year I could not have predicted. A few weeks ago, two of my brothers, Royce (97) and Ron (84), passed away within days of each other. That was a seismic shock, somewhat softened by knowing that they both lived long lives and were well loved by their families. You can’t ask for more than that. They did have their share of troubles – mainly from failing mental and physical faculties over the last years of their lives. For the rest of us, even though tomorrow is not guaranteed, we keep on living as if it is. The fact is that even the very next second isn’t guaranteed. But that’s not to say we should live in a constant state of existential anxiety.

I came across a discourse on death by a Buddhist teacher, who said that life is ephemeral, and we should get used to it. She offered a guided breath meditation with the following instructions: “On the in breath, say to yourself, ‘This breath could be my last.’ On the out breath, say, ‘I am ready to let go.’”

Ten, maybe even five, years ago, I would have plugged my fingers in my ears and chanted loudly, “La la la la la la la.” Maybe it’s my advanced age, but I now find this meditation quite comforting. It beats the Buddhist monastic practice of sending you to the charnel grounds to spend the night with dead bodies and meditate on the impermanence of life.

But I also need a way to deal with the daily onslaught of bad news that has become our new normal, short of tuning out. One part of me gets angry and depressed, but another part of me feels that we need to stay engaged with our grassroots resistance. I’m glad to see it’s working. But how do we do that and still keep our equilibrium? American Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield offers a solution – a daily practice of gratitude. Gratitude, he says, is an affirmation of life that helps you to bear the difficult.

He says that we should be grateful for both life’s blessings and its difficulties. In a 2014 Huffpost interview, he said that as humans “we have the privilege of the lavender color at sunset, the taste of a tangerine in our mouth, and the almost unbearable beauty of life around us, along with its troubles. It keeps recreating itself. We can either be lost in a smaller state of consciousness — what in Buddhist psychology is called the ‘body of fear,’ which brings suffering to us and to others — or we can bring the quality of love and appreciation, which I would call gratitude, to life.” Gratitude, in the face of difficulties, can intensify our enjoyment of life.

So now, when my blood pressure is threatening to blow and I feel a rant coming on, I’m making an effort to take time out to think of the things I am grateful for.

I’m grateful for – finally – being able to balance on one foot without worrying about crashing to the floor when I do tai chi.

I’m grateful for finding gluten free pasta that actually tastes good. And yes, you scoffers, gluten intolerance is a thing.

I’m grateful that the Christmas cactus I nearly killed is bravely hanging on with a few hardy cuttings.

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’m grateful for Facebook. Without it, I would not be able to stay in touch with family and friends, even when it’s just photos of your latest meal or flowers or kids, or all your shares, quips, snarks, and rants.

And, who could not be grateful for these two little wunderkinds?

Wunderkinds

Hey, I feel better already!

And another thing. I’m going to quit whining. As the Pope is quoted as saying: “Christians who whine too much have more in common with pickled peppers than the joy of having a beautiful life.” That goes for the rest of us too.


I refuse to be

Defeated and depressed by

All your craziness.

Maya Leland 2014