Still I RiseYou may write me down in historyWith your bitter, twisted lies,You may trod me in the very dirtBut still, like dust, I’ll rise.Does my sassiness upset you?Why are you beset with gloom?’Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wellsPumping in my living room.Just like moons and like suns,With the certainty of tides,Just like hopes springing high,Still I’ll rise.Did you want to see me broken?Bowed head and lowered eyes?Shoulders falling down like teardrops,Weakened by my soulful cries?Does my haughtiness offend you?Don’t you take it awful hard’Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold minesDiggin’ in my own backyard.You may shoot me with your words,You may cut me with your eyes,You may kill me with your hatefulness,But still, like air, I’ll rise.Does my sexiness upset you?Does it come as a surpriseThat I dance like I’ve got diamondsAt the meeting of my thighs?Out of the huts of history’s shameI riseUp from a past that’s rooted in painI riseI’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.Leaving behind nights of terror and fearI riseInto a daybreak that’s wondrously clearI riseBringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,I am the dream and the hope of the slave.I riseI riseI rise.
I thank David Cates for permitting me to post this timely writing (original post March 30, 2020).
“It’s Time To Stop Avoiding Death: You can’t have the life you want without letting go of the life you have”
I’ve been stunned by how thoroughly a tiny virus, barely 0.0001″ across, has brought our human world screeching to a halt. In a few short months, on a global scale, it’s kicked over all the old bedrocks, nation by nation, and clearly revealed the dark, wriggly underworld hiding just out of sight.
That sense of unease we’ve had — about governments and politicians, scientists and institutions, economies built on hope and lies, nature gasping from our poisons, societies splintering into dry tinder — all that is laid bare. And in the deafening silence of shutdown, there’s nowhere else to look. The veil’s been lifted. The world’s turned upside down. The roots are rotten.
This is what we have become.
Some of us still sneak out to the streets; some pull the netflix covers over their eyes. But as the days wear on, in quarantine, we’re being forced to see our lives, our jobs, our relationships, and our selves without those layers of frantic busyness and protective gauze. Exposed. Naked, squinting at the sun, unsure who we are, uncertain what to do.
I’ve been meditating lately on the vast, hidden networks of nature: the mycelium, bacteria, microbiota and yes, the viruses. The original organisms from which complex lifeforms evolved, and likely, the ones who will take over again when humans disappear from this world, adapting to eat up our plastic pollution and radioactive waste, and more immediately, to compost our physical bodies as each of us dies.
Nature is a web, innumerable networks in constantly shifting yin/yang balance. Death is an essential element in that balance. Embracing death brings us back into harmony with the underlying game as it’s played in this world, at every scale, from insects to empires.
Resisting death puts us at odds with the whole natural order.
These past few years, I’ve been pulled down into an underworld initiation. I accompanied first my sister and then my mother through the final months of their lives, sitting with them as they took their last breaths. Death is ordinary, terrifying and beautiful all at once. It cracks our hearts open in a way that nothing else can.
So before this new virus appeared, I’d already made friends with the dark and wriggly worlds under those flipped-over rocks. My naked skin had goose-bumped in the cold shadows. I’d felt the grief pooling in my lungs, and seen the world strangely magnified through tears.
I may be a bit further along this path than some of you. But maybe not. For in the bright light of these revelation-times, many of us are showing our hidden battle scars and secret hurts, the ancestral wounds we carry, the loves we’ve lost — all the tiny deaths we’ve not yet mourned and celebrated.
Apocalypse: the uncovering. What happens when the Emperor has no clothes? What happens when I lose my job and social place? What happens when I’m locked in a house alone with my family? When we can’t get food or medicine? When one of us starts coughing? When my competent identity crumbles, and you see who I really am, underneath the facade?
I’ve been reluctant to speak these questions out loud.
Many people have reached out to me for soothing, for certainty, for reassurance that we’ll soon be back to normal. Uncharacteristically, I’ve been holding my tongue.
I don’t think we can go back to “normal”.
Forgetful as we human creatures are, I can’t unsee this revelation. On every level, from the meta and systemic to relational and personal, this is where we are now. In the midst of the sixth mass extinction, pounded by climate change, with 20,000 children dying of hunger every day.
Much of our generalized panic about this situation, I believe, is misplaced. We’re focused on personal human deaths, our own or our loved ones. But when I step back, relax my gaze and focus on the bigger pictures here, it’s clear what’s really dying.
Our old, “normal” world has been rotting on its deathbed for decades. That stench in my nostrils is not from a few thousand (or even, soon, a few million) human bodies.
The social order has already broken down, politics is lethal, and nature is drowning in poisons.
Underneath the rocks, below the foundations, the roots are rotten.
And everyone knows it.
Our avoidance of death hasn’t actually stopped our world from dying. It’s just left us delusional, little children with our eyes squeezed shut, fingers plugging our ears, tongues babbling nonononononono.
The coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 has burst that dam of denial. It’s an equal opportunity killer, impacting every nation, rich and poor alike. No more bullshit. No more hiding.
Death is everywhere.
As we quarantine in place, isolated in our homes, the truth couldn’t be any plainer.
We can’t survive alone.
We’ve got to come together.
We’re social creatures, relying on each other for food, healing, touch, kindness, understanding, information, and a thousand other services.
Without others, we’re doomed.
And, as this current situation makes abundantly clear — as the virus passes from person to person, from hand to mouth to lungs — we’re also doomed with others.
Doomed if we do, and doomed if we don’t.
That’s the basic fact of life we have forgotten in our modern, go-go-go, scrambling-for-survival world.
Life is short. Death is certain.
Here it comes.
I’ve been short and ruthless with my closest friends and students. “I’ve made my peace with Death. You won’t find peace with this virus until you do, too.”
Certainly, protect yourselves and others in the ways that you can. Don’t be foolish. No need to race toward death.
But also don’t be foolish, thinking you can beat death forever.
Let’s take this precious time-out-of-time (while the world is holding its shocked breath, the rocks are kicked over and the curtain’s pulled back on the Wizard of Oz ) — and look deeply into why we’re all so terribly frightened of dying.
So frightened of dying that we’re willing to hide in our houses, let doctors and nurses do our dirty work without protective gear, abandon our grandparents to die alone in nursing homes.
So frightened of dying that we hand our power over to despots, and sacrifice a world worth living in together.
This is a moment of truth.
This tiny “enemy” we’re trying to defeat is just another face of Death. (Not to worry, Death has millions more.)
The entire natural world, for billions of years, has been an intricate, ever-changing dance of life and death. That’s the game here on this planet. We’re all just borrowing material from other lifeforms to make our own bodies. They dance together for a number of years, and then decay and are recycled.
It’s a beautiful system, when I surrender to it.
So many cells and atoms and microbes come together to support my personal creation! So many beings give themselves to feed and nourish me each day!
When I stop and really feel that gift, I’m overwhelmed with love and gratitude.
But rather than live with humble gratitude, and die with grace, we humans get selfish. Personally, relationally, economically, politically. We want to grab and hoard and hold on forever.
And in doing so, we miss the point. We may gain a few years, but we lose our hearts and souls.
We can see that clearly in the selfish 0.1% who hoard more wealth than they can ever use. We see the results of our collective greed as it kills off entire species and trashes the living biosphere.
We see that greed and fear strangle our own lives and relationships. Mememememememememe…
We may have separate bodies, but we’re not designed to live (or die) alone.
For better or worse, we’re part of an intricate, unimaginable, mysterious whole.
And when we turn away from Death, we lose our connection to that whole.
When my mother died, and the muscles in her face let go, her individual “personality” vanished: the twinkle in her eyes was gone, the way she smiled, the tilt of her head. But in their place, the bones revealed themselves, and in that distinct marble sculpture (the slope of the forehead, the thrust of the jaw) I saw her mother, and her mother’s mother, and her mother’s mother’s mother.
She was clearly part of something bigger, a temporary form borrowed for a handful of years, one face of a lineage that stretches back for millennia.
The rest was compost and ash, returned to the earth, gifts now available for other creatures to create their own turn in this world.
I want to be that let-go, that surrendered to everything: life, death, love, fear, all the beauty in this unfathomable mystery.
I want to enjoy my time in the sun, and then enjoy my time in the dark dreaming night. I want to remember my place in the whole.
All the best things in my life were unpredictable surprises. They came when I surrendered and let life take me somewhere new. New love, new work, new place in the world, sometimes even a new sense of self.
The trick, I believe, is not holding on to what life has already given me.
When my time comes, early or late, ugly or beautiful, I want to surrender again, and let death take me somewhere unfathomably new.
I wish the same grace for you: to turn toward apocalypse, curious, open, not knowing who you are, loving all that you’ve been given, maybe scared, maybe not… ready to let go of the old familiar world, and begin to assemble, from the strange scraps and compost and imaginal cells all around and inside you, something humble and connected and new.
Reach out to others. Share your heart, your joys and fears. Give your gifts. Connect to something bigger than yourself, human and more-than-human too.
Embrace the unknown. Be willing to die. A new world can’t come until we finally let go of this one.
We can let a tiny virus do the heavy lifting for us. We can wait for the next virus, and the next.
Or we can push through this birth canal together.
A few days before my mother died, when she was getting frustrated and frightened and losing her anchors to reality, I told her, “You’re doing such a great job, Mom! You’ve never tried to die before, and this is all new to you. I think you’re doing this perfectly.”
She smiled the most glorious little-girl smile, and content with herself, finally stopped fussing with the blankets and let go.
And as she died, she showed me that death is not the enemy here.
Death is a doorway to love.
In the same way that birth blows hearts open and changes lives forever, so does death.
Don’t turn away.
Don’t turn away from all that’s dying.
Face it, feel it, mourn it, grieve it.
Let it blow your heart open.
This is the doorway to a new world.
Here, in your lost and scared and grieving heart.
This is the opening.
We’ve never done this before.
But now the lights are on, and we can see where to begin.
Follow David Cates https://medium.com/@kauaidavid
A poem by Mary Oliver
A blue preacher flew
toward the swamp,
in slow motion.
On the leafy banks,
an old Chinese poet,
hunched in the white gown of his wings,
was the kind of dark silk
that has silver lines
shot through it
when it is touched by the wind
or is splashed upward,
in a small, quick flower,
by the life beneath it.
made his difficult landing,
his skirts up around his knees.
The poet’s eyes
flared, just as a poet’s eyes
are said to do
when the poet is awakened
from the forest of meditation.
It was summer.
It was only a few moment’s past the sun’s rising,
which meant that the whole long sweet day
lay before them.
They greeted each other,
rumpling their gowns for an instant,
and then smoothing them.
They entered the water,
and instantly two more herons–
equally as beautiful–
joined them and stood just beneath them
in the black, polished water
where they fished, all day.
The other day I sat outside with my binoculars for a long time. I peered out at the other side of the pond and noticed a few mallards gliding along the water. For some reason they are not coming as often to “my” side – perhaps word is out that a person is regularly checking them out. I don’t know. But as I was watching these ducks, I noticed movement from my peripheral vision, so I turned slightly to see what it was. A great blue heron was inching its way to the pond on its spindly legs. I was so excited! I’ve seen one before, a few times here, when I first moved to this place, but that was years ago.
As I watched, it stealthily tip-toed this way and that, peering into the water, hoping for something to eat. Very patient, waiting. Then it walked behind some cattails and I couldn’t see it anymore but sensed its presence. Just like it did, I watched and waited.
And it paid off! Within five minutes, to my amazement, it emerged from the water with a large fish in its mouth and after a few awkward tries, gobbled it up. I was awestruck. This I had never seen before. I couldn’t believe my luck that I was able to be a witness to the private, scared world that this heron lived in.
With all the stress around COVID-19 we all need something to calm us down, give us focus and feed our spirits. A friend of mine, who loves to sew, is happily making masks and handing them out. Another is going through boxes of old family photos and letters and archiving them.
For me, right now, it’s nature that gets my attention and supports my well-being. When anxiety rears its ugly head and wants to take over, I step outside and listen to a neighboring quail, watch turkey vultures overhead or I lie directly on the earth and look up at the oak tree next to me and watch a tiny wren land, its tail twitching. I take in the smell of freshly mown grass. I watch pollen float through the air, a lizard doing “push-ups” in the shade.
It’s all simple stuff, but it helps. It really does.
What are you doing to nourish your spirit during these uncertain times?
Five minutes after writing the above, a young buck appeared in the yard, no more than ten feet away from me. We were both a little startled, but stayed still, watching each other. He then turned and walked slowly through the tall grass, then leapt into the woods below, leaving me to rest in the stillness of his wake.
Remember: There are beautiful surprises everywhere. Slow down. Pay attention. Listen. Watch.
The Summer Day by Mary Oliver
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?
I am up and out at 8am on my deck again, listening and watching. I hear what must be a mourning dove cooing. A sound so gentle emitting from the trees, underneath the squawking of jays, the caw of crows, the joyous singing of the red-winged blackbirds. Two ducks come out of the cattails, dark in the shadows of the morning light, and head for the edge of the pond where I can longer see them. Are they nesting there? Is this their time to nest? So much is going on outside. So much to observe and contemplate. What are the wrens singing about? Are they telling each other something important, are they broadcasting sheer happiness? What happened to the wood duck that was there the other day? Do mallards and wood ducks get along?
Is there a way I can watch and listen to nature that will guide me during these uncertain times? Even though I live in the country, I can get caught in distraction and restlessness.
This coronavirus hovering about can lead me to feel anxious and fenced in, sometimes overwhelmed. Again and again, nature encourages me to live in the moment. It also awakens me to a childlike curiosity that feeds my spirit.
My meditation group, now no longer able to gather physically, is still sitting at the same time, once a week. This week, we are invited to envision a better future. What is coronavirus teaching us? How well are we listening? What needs to change, within and without? There’s no doubt that, by sequestering ourselves, we bring more peace to the planet. The air over large cities all over the world is clearing up. Animals are coming out of hiding, understanding we humans are pulling back, taking a break.
Coronavirus is forcing us to look within and ask questions. Are we living a life we can be proud of? Are we listening to Mother Nature and what she is telling us? Can we help others who are suffering more than us? Can we befriend our neighbors at this time, even the ones who differ greatly from us? Can we create a warmer, cooperative, more functional society? A society that is all-inclusive, or are our differences too fundamental? Is it too late to change?
After I ponder these questions, I come back to the sound of the mourning dove’s soft cooing, as other birds carry on, fluttering about and hopping from tree to tree. Her voice is consistent and calm beneath the chaos and activity, her feathers, I imagine, soft and unruffled.
After Reading Peterson’s Guide by Linda Pastan
I used to call them
Morning Doves, those birds
with breasts the rosy color
of dawn who coo us awake
as if to say love . . .
love . . . in the morning.
But when the book said
Mourning Doves instead
I noticed their ash-gray feathers,
on the underside
When the Dark Angel comes
let him fold us in wings
as soft as these birds’,
though the speckled egg
hidden deep in his nest
This morning, early, I step out on the back deck with a cup of tea and binoculars. Simon greets me with a soft “meow”. I sit down on the planks cross legged and he pads over to me and curls up in my lap and begins to purr. We both look out at the view and listen to the birds, his ears greatly attuned to nuances of sound, move this way and that.
Ironically, since “shelter in place”, I’ve been spending more time outdoors than usual. It’s been in the upper 60s and lower 70s lately and spring here is gorgeous. There is so much news about COVID-19 that can lead to anxiety for me, but when I go outside onto the deck and listen and watch, I calm down, I heal. I open myself up to the present moment and my worries begin to slough off.
Red-winged blackbirds flash among the cattails, singing out. A duck calls from across the pond. Another glides across the water silently. The hills, further out, show patches of green meadow. Clouds move momentarily across the sun.
We don’t know how COVID-19 will affect us ultimately in our communities, our state, our country, the world. We don’t know how long it will linger. But, we do know this present moment, which is all we have, and lately, it’s nature that reminds me of this, and for that I am so grateful.
Mornings at Blackwater by Mary Oliver
“For years, every morning, I drank
from Blackwater Pond.
It was flavored with oak leaves and also, no doubt,
the feet of ducks.
And always it assuaged me
from the dry bowl of the very far past.
What I want to say is
that the past is the past,
and the present is what your life is,
and you are capable
of choosing what that will be,
So come to the pond,
or the river of your imagination,
or the harbor of your longing,
and put your lips to the world.
Copyright: Oliver, Mary. (2017). Devotions: The selected poems of Mary Oliver. New York: Penguin Press.
We have a choice.
Epidemics, like earthquakes, tornadoes and floods, are part of the cycle of life on planet Earth.
How will we respond?
With greed, hatred, fear and ignorance? This only brings more suffering.
Or with generosity, clarity, steadiness and love?
This is the time for love.
Time for Bodhisattvas. In Buddhist teachings, the Bodhisattva is someone who vows to
alleviate suffering and brings blessings in every circumstance. A Bodhisattva chooses to
live with dignity and courage and radiates compassion for all, no matter where they find
This is not a metaphor. As Bodhisattvas we are now asked to hold a certain measure of
the tragedy of the world and respond with love.
The Bodhisattva path is in front of us. The beautiful thing is, we can see Bodhisattvas all
around. We see them singing from their balconies to those shut inside. We see them in
young neighbors caring for the elders nearby, in our brave healthcare workers and the
unheralded ones who stock the shelves of our grocery stores.
As a father, if she called me, I would fly to the ends of the earth to help and protect my
daughter. Now she and her firefighter/paramedic husband and my toddler grandson
await the virus. His urban fire department, like many hospitals and first responders,
does not have masks. Eighty percent of their work is emergency medical calls and they
all expect to get the virus. They will not be tested, because the department can’t afford to
lose the help of too many of their firefighters.
What can I do? What can we do?
In this moment we can sit quietly, take a deep breath, and acknowledge our fear and
apprehension, our uncertainty and helplessness… and hold all these feelings with a
compassionate heart. We can say to our feelings and uncertainty, “Thank you for trying
to protect me,” and “I am OK for now.” We can put our fears in the lap of Buddha, Mother
Mary, Quan Yin, place them in the hearts of the generations of brave physicians and
scientists who tended the world in former epidemics.
When we do, we can feel ourselves part of something greater, of generations of survivors
in the vast web of history and life, “being carried” as the Ojibwa elders say, “by great
winds across the sky.”
This is a time of mystery and uncertainty. Take a breath. The veils of separation are
parting and the reality of interconnection is apparent to everyone on earth. We have
needed this pause, perhaps even needed our isolation to see how much we need one
Now it is time to add our part.
The Bodhisattva deliberately turns toward suffering to serve and help those around in
whatever way they can.
This is the test we have been waiting for.
We know how to do this.
Time to renew your vow.
Sit quietly again and ask your heart: what is my best intention, my most noble aspiration
for this difficult time?
Your heart will answer.
Let this vow become your North Star. Whenever you feel lost, remember and it will
remind you what matters.
It is time to be the medicine, the uplifting music, the lamp in the darkness.
Burst out with love. Be a carrier of hope.
If there is a funeral, send them off with a song.
Trust your dignity and goodness.
Where others hoard…..help.
Where others deceive……stand up for truth.
Where others are overwhelmed or uncaring…..be kind and respectful.
When you worry about your parents, your children, your beloveds, let your heart open
to share in everyone’s care for their parents, their children and their loved ones. This is
the great heart of compassion. The Bodhisattva directs compassion toward everyone—
those who are suffering and vulnerable and those who are causing suffering. We are in
It is time to reimagine a new world, to envision sharing our common humanity, to
envision how we can live in the deepest most beautiful way possible. Coming through
this difficulty, what we intend and nurture, we can do.
In the end, remember who you are is timeless awareness, the consciousness that was
born into your body. You were born a child of the spirit, and even now you can turn
toward the awareness, and become the loving awareness that witnesses yourself reading
and feeling and reflecting.
When a baby is born our first response is love.
When a dear one dies, the hand we hold is a gesture of love.
Timeless love and awareness are who you are.
The world awaits your compassionate heart.
Let’s join in this great task together.
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day – blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
~ Wendell Berry
I am all over the place lately, leaping from fear to peace. I am reflecting what is happening all over the globe: Chaos and fear, yet a slowing down of activities. Sometimes I obsess about all kinds of things: Will I get this illness? Will I die a horrible death? Do I have enough tp? What if one of my caregivers gets sick and spreads the virus to others? What if I am left with no caregivers? How do I clean properly? Did I wipe down the doorknobs after someone left? What if I forgot? Anxiety loves this kind of stuff. It thrives on it.
And then, suddenly I am peaceful and feel wide open and content. Calm. And more connected to nature. The trees around my house seem more vibrant than ever. I watch the ducks in the pond happily waddling about, and I breathe more deeply. The red-winged blackbirds sing their delight at being alive and dive in and out of the cattails. Sometimes I go outside and sit on the earth and cry. I don’t know what I’m crying about, but tears run down my face. I sob. It feels good to do so. And I feel supported by the earth when I do.
Yesterday, while I was out there, Simon, our cat, came and sat with me and then curled up in my lap. We both surveyed the pond, the meadow, the hills. And I thought: If all humankind died, the earth would heal and that thought gave me peace. I love my friends, family and community, and sometimes am able to love all humankind, but, as my mother used to say, “We are the most destructive species on the planet.” She was right and it’s a hard fact to sit with.
Sometimes, I open my heart to not knowing. Not knowing if certain people I know and love will survive. Not knowing if local businesses will survive. Not knowing how long the virus will survive. And these thoughts take me to the big “I Don’t Know” – the mysteries of The Universe. And this thought leads to Freedom.
“Remind yourself that it’s up to you whether you actually experience gratitude and the preciousness of your life. The fleetingness and the rareness of it, or whether you become more resentful, and harsh and embittered and feel more and more cheated. It’s up to you how the law of karma all works out.” ~ Pema Chodron
It is not easy to feel thankful when we are chronically ill; in fact, sometimes we feel cheated out of life when we have yet another bout of pain, or have to go through the red tape required to get the financial assistance we may need, or start on yet another medication with possible side effects. We may find ourselves comparing our capabilities to others’ and coming up short. We are affected by a society which tells us acquiring more possessions will make us happy, along with a flurry of activities, a driving ambition, and worldly achievements. The inner spiritual life is not spoken of; seemingly left to hermits, gurus, and other spiritual masters we have heard about. Keeping this in mind, it’s not surprising that we find ourselves complaining and wanting our lives to be different than what they are.
Therefore, in order to manifest gratitude, we must cultivate it by practicing it regularly. Like any other discipline, be it exercise or meditation, in order to get the best results, just by doing it once in a while, isn’t going to get it. With regular gratitude practice, we develop a greater appreciation for our lives, despite the struggle in them.
There are several ways I know to practice gratitude. The following is a short, yet powerful practice:
Before settling in for the night, think of three things you are grateful for. I found that no matter how hard it has been for me that day, I could always come up with three things. They can be as basic but as needed as the breath that moves through your body, or the roof over your head. This practice can wake you up to what you do have and what is working in your life.
Another practice I recommend to activate gratitude, is to make a list of things you are grateful for. Perhaps you could put this list on your fridge or your mirror – some place where you are most apt to see it, in order to remind yourself. Some items on my list are my partner of 25 years, my caregivers, and that I live in the country. When you really begin to think about it, a lot comes to mind. It can shake us up doing this practice, because it puts us in touch with all the little things we take for granted.
Another practice is to start a gratitude journal. Recently, for a week, I did just that. Before, I made lists, but I thought I’d take it a step further and see what would happen with journaling. I wasn’t sure it would bring me anything different. But it did. It allowed me to go deeper into the feeling of gratitude by going into the fine details instead of skimming the surface.
Instead of just saying “I am grateful for the rain”, I wrote: “This morning I am grateful for the rain, the way it soothes the ground, saturating it, smells of the earth rising up, greeting it, embracing it. The sound of it surging out of gutters.
I am grateful for the nor’easters I experienced when young, the way the clouds would gather and grow dark, grow purple and move across the Vineyard Sound, changing the color of the water rapidly, as white caps raced to the shore.
Then the clouds would move towards our house, lightning zig-zagging, thunder roaring, electricity in the air popping and fizzling, the surrounding leaves from tree branches turning inside out.
Then the rain would pound our roof, which seemed barely to protect us, our home uninsulated, magnifying the sound. Nature stopping us in our tracks, taking over, silencing us with its power”.
I am grateful for the rain.
We can come to gratitude in other ways, as well. Ironically, living with chronic illness can lead us to appreciate the ways our bodies are working well. For example, one day after picking some berries, I noticed a small thorn had embedded itself in my finger. It began to become sore and inflamed. I started to wonder if it was infected and considered making an appointment to see a doctor. But then, after a few days, it began to heal, and the redness and soreness subsided. I felt grateful to my body that in this small way, it was working well and taking care of itself; something I would’ve easily taken for granted if I was able-bodied.
Small occurrences like the above take place in our bodies daily, without our recognition of them and stopping in wonder. By practicing gratitude, we begin to see all kinds of things in our life that we can give thanks to: The caring attitude of a pharmacist, the trees growing in our backyard, the shoes on our feet.
Feeling grateful allows us to feel complete and satisfied. We are no longer searching for something or someone to fulfill our ongoing needs, but feel the grace that comes from the acknowledgement of our appreciation. We feel restored and even empowered by the inward calm that is a by-product of this practice. Giving thanks is a way of blessing our own lives.
Gratitude and generosity go hand-in-hand. As we begin to experience abundance we attain from gratitude, it feels natural to give back. On our gratitude list is surely our support system. Can we do something special for them? Perhaps we can’t afford a gift, but can we craft them a poem, create a collage? Sharing our sincere words of thanks can allow them to feel acknowledged and appreciated, and may be the biggest gift of all. Another unusual way we have to give to people that help us out that we may not notice at first, is to allow others to give. Many is the time I’ve had to ask for help when feeling seizury or recovering from a seizure. It has always been difficult to do when expressing that to my caregivers. I’ve often been told that it made them feel good to give in this way and they ended up enjoying the quiet and reflective time that came from it.
Also, with all that we know in coping with our illness, can we share our insights and knowledge gained by experience to others who are in a similar place? A kind word here, a thoughtful suggestion there? We can share our stories with others who are new to chronic illness, which can lead them to feel understood and lessen their loneliness?
We can also, of course, listen to their stories. Simply bearing witness with an open heart can allow others to feel heard, which can lighten their load. I once spoke with a woman surviving breast cancer, who had been through tremendous hardship. I asked her how she was doing, and she told me in great detail what her experience had been with surgery, chemotherapy and other medications and the side effects she had to endure. Her story was difficult to listen to and yet, having practiced sitting with my own difficult and weighty emotions made it easier not to run from hers.
Another way to help is to call others we know who are struggling with difficult symptoms and check in with them when we are feeling a bit better. We know from experience how uplifting that can be for us during more acute times of our illness, so if we have a little energy one day, this is certainly something we can do to contribute to others’ well-being.
Giving back in these simple yet profound ways gives us the opportunity to see we have something to offer our community, which increases our self-esteem, gladdens our heart and adds to our sense of purpose in the world.
What are you grateful for?
Sufi Master Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan advised his students about the pain we all have and carry with us and share through life.
Not directly-quoted, as there are many versions from various sources:
Overcome any bitterness…
because you were not up to the
magnitude of the pain
entrusted to you.
Like the mother of the world who carries the pain of the world in her heart,
you are sharing in the totality of this pain
and are called upon to meet it
in compassion and joy
instead of self-pity.