Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Focus on Gratitude

by Dotti

Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world. —Sarah Ban Breathnach in Simple Abundance: A Day Book of Comfort and Joy

During a town hall in New Hampshire last week, a candidate for president was asked a very thought provoking question and in her response, she shared that to maintain equilibrium in her life, she practices the “discipline of gratitude”.

Wow. Think about that – the discipline of gratitude. Actually, I have been thinking about it, a lot, since I read that phrase. We write frequently here about the practice of gratitude. And this is nothing new for me. As a small child, my father used to often remind me to “be grateful for small blessings.” Of course, I didn’t understand the wisdom of that lesson for many years to come.

But now I get it. So I strive each day to practice gratitude. At the conclusion of my day, I list at least five things I am particularly grateful for that day. By intent, they are usually small things that would otherwise go unnoticed and I try hard not to be trivial and trite about it. But – the discipline of gratitude introduces a whole new dimension. Forgive me, Emeril, but it kicks it up a notch. So I have a couple of challenges for you.

Knowing I needed a better understanding of this concept, I googled it. Well! Imagine my surprise when I turned up a veritable treasure trove of articles about this topic. Some were spiritual, some were less so, but all were relevant and very thought provoking. So, go ahead, Google discipline of gratitude if you wish, and read for yourselves what it’s about.

We all know that there is beauty and goodness all around us. As photographers, we are more attuned to noticing this than many who are not photographers so we may come to the practice of gratitude naturally. And how did we begin? By noticing the small wonders everywhere to be found so we could shoot pictures. Through this very act, we make ourselves present, right here, right now. (Being present. Where have we heard that before?) We practice gratitude.

Does it seem to you that the words "thank you" are becoming less common in our daily life? Although I do believe those in our FOL community are prolific with our “thank you’s”, I’m sure we’re still guilty of forgetting to thank our spouse/partner/friend/child when they do something unexpected for us, particularly if it’s a small thing. First challenge: find unusual opportunities today to say “thank you” – to the mailman, the checkout clerk, your family and friends, particularly when they do some small, almost unnoticeable act of kindness. This is a good step to practicing not just gratitude but the discipline of gratitude. It will also help us pay attention, to be present.

Why not just the practice of gratitude? Why is the discipline of gratitude necessary? Discipline implies daily practice. On good days, when it’s sunny, when all is right in our world, it’s easy to be grateful. But what happens when life’s storm clouds gather, as they will? If our practice of gratitude is a casual thing, we may forget to find something to be grateful for. However, if we have disciplined ourselves to practice gratitude daily, we will find that we must continue this discipline, thereby finding comfort and strength in the dark days. In a sense, the discipline we’ve expended on our gratitude practice in the good times will help open our hearts to the goodness that still exists around us in the not-so-good times.

And, finally, others too numerous to cite, have found that those who practice the discipline of gratitude find more happiness and contentment in our lives. And this, after all, is what we all strive for. It helps us focus on the positive aspects of the modern, fast-paced world we live in, where so much seems to be distressing and negative.

As you finish reading this post, I’m going to pose a simple challenge for you. Close your eyes. Right now. And list five things you’re grateful for so far today. Say the list out loud, it will be more powerful. And then join with me to practice this discipline of gratitude every day.

Be intent upon the perfection of the present day. – William Law

And finally, an announcement: Tomorrow, Cathy Hubmann will join us as a colleague here at Focusing on Life. I think many of you know her through her own blog, Gramma’s Little Corner and as a frequent commenter here. She has been a faithful member of this community since Day 1 and we’re delighted to welcome her to our ranks. Please be sure to visit tomorrow and give her a warm FOL welcome.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Finding Solace in the Sky

by Kelly

This past Thursday, my dad was admitted to the hospital for pneumonia.  In the wee hours of Friday morning he was having so much trouble breathing that he had to be taken to the ICU where he was intubated and put on a ventilator. I got the call Friday morning, then immediately went to pick up my mom to head to the hospital.  I took this photo of the sunrise with my iPhone while sitting at a stop light.

My dad steadily improved and by Saturday afternoon he was able to get off the ventilator.  And I am happy to report that yesterday was moved out of ICU and was able to be taken off oxygen.  Hopefully he will get to come home in a few days...meanwhile our family is incredibly relieved and grateful....grateful for the skilled doctors, nurses, and techs, grateful for the thoughts and prayers of friends and family.

During the course of the weekend, I spent a considerable amount of time at the hospital.  A lot of time was spent sitting and talking with my mom, waiting on doctor's orders, waiting on test results, watching my dad's monitor, observing the activity on the rest of the floor of the ICU.

Friday afternoon, my mom had gone home for a couple of hours to get grab a few things for staying at the hospital.  I was sitting in the chair in my dad's room listening to the gentle drone of the ventilator and the alternating fill and release of the circulation cuffs around my dad's calves.  For all of the frenzy in the ICU, it was a relatively quiet and peaceful moment.

My thoughts turned to my photography...for a half a second I entertained the idea of taking a photo.  But I just couldn't bring myself to do it.  It was too hard.  It hurt too much.

It was the same story on Saturday.  That afternoon though, my mom had urged me to go outside and get some fresh air.  It was a beautiful day - warm and sunny.  A bright blue sky and the promise of spring in the dormant buds on the tree branches.  Another quick snap with my iPhone.

For two days I didn't pick up my big camera.

Understandably, this might not seem like a big deal to you.  But considering that I have taken a photo every single day for the past three years, it seemed odd that I wasn't able to show up to my photography.   For all of my big talk around here about being mindful and learning to see things differently, when push came to shove, I couldn't do it.

Maybe a stronger photographer could have found a way to tell this story - the hospital, the tubes, the wires - better with photos, but quite franky,  I really don't care.  I didn't need to see - I didn't need mindfulness....I was there.  I saw, I was present.  What I needed was comfort.  What I needed was hope.

I don't share a lot here about my personal beliefs, but I am both a religious and highly spiritual person.  And when I need hope, I turn to my faith.  When I need hope, I often look to the sky.

Looking to the sky puts my present circumstances into a little perspective.  It reminds me that there is a much bigger picture outside of my very limited line of sight.  The rising sun gives me hope.  The setting sun encourages trust.

I am so happy to share that my dad is finally out of the ICU and in now on the road to recovery.  I'm sure as time goes on, there will be more time to reflect on the events of this past weekend and their impact of my photography.  But I'm ok with that too.

Once again, I would like to express my family's profound gratitude to all of you for your thoughts and prayers.  They have been a great source of comfort and strength to all of us.

Love, Kelly

Monday, February 8, 2016

"How can you not remember that?

by Terri

This photo was taken on my mother’s 89th birthday. She and my sister (on the right) drove down from the mountains to have a birthday lunch with me and a family friend and we had a wonderful time. My mother is lucky to have her health and mental faculties for the most part but I’m going to say something politically incorrect here: Sometimes she can drive me crazy. I love you Mom but I’ve heard the story about (fill in the blank) so many times I can tell it myself — in my sleep. Eventually it just happens, and out of my well-meaning mouth tumbles things that I really don’t mean but they … just … slip … out.
Maybe you, like me, have caught yourself saying some of these:

1. “How can you not remember that!?” That lengthy discussion you had last week with your mom might as well never have happened. Seniors often lose short-term memory before long-term and forget all kinds of things we think are monumentally important, like where they put their glasses or the keys or what weekend you’re coming to visit. Patience is the key so I just tell her again.

2. “I just showed you how to use the DVR yesterday.” Oh, my gosh, am I ever guilty of this one! Learning new technology is tough for any adult, but gadgets with lots of buttons and options pose a special challenge for someone whose cognition or eyesight is failing. My mom does fine with written directions, so that’s what I do because showing her doesn’t seem to stick.
3. “What does that have to do with what we're talking about?” One minute we’re discussing summer vegetables and the next she's talking about a problem with her hot water heater. What happened? Instead of getting frustrated with her, I gently lead her back to the conversation we were having or I say nothing and just listen.
4. “You already told me that.” And you don’t ever repeat yourself? We all say things more than once — but because elderly parents seem to do it all the time, we lose our patience with them. Instead, I say: “I think you might have mentioned that.”

When I really think about it, it’s the fact that she is definitely growing older that I find hard to accept and that makes me more critical than necessary. But, instead of focusing on the things that have changed, I’m trying to focus on how grateful I am to still have my mother with me. A lot of people have parents in ill or failing health or have lost them all together so I am so lucky. And before I know it, this list will come in handy for my kids! 

© Focusing On Life