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Posts Tagged ‘gratitude’


 

yoga exercise abstract

     Meditation, in all its various colors, has hit the mainstream.   It used to be just the hippies and alternative people who flocked to a room somewhere back in the 60s and 70s to learn transcendental meditation. I was one of them. My friend was one of the “alternatives” and invited me to a session that he was attending. Sounded interesting. I was given a mantra and taught how to relax my mind and silently repeat that mantra over and over again. When my mind wandered, gently bring it back to that nonsensical word and continue to silently and effortless repeat it. We were taught to practice that for 20 minutes twice a day. I did, and have been for years. Now it’s 30 minutes once a day about 5 times a week. During my college years I lapsed and had intermittent on/off periods during my high driving career years. But for a number of years now it’s been a regular practice, not “TM” but rather insight meditation has taken its place. That practice has made a major impact on my patience level, sense of peace and contentedness, clarity of thought and abiding sense of internal joy. Medical research now proves the physical and mental benefits of an ongoing meditation and mindfulness practice. Dozens of articles have been written about it and books extolling its benefits include its step-by-step process. But few have the emotional impact and first person case study that prominent neurosurgeon Dr. James R. Doty’s has in his memoir Into The Magic Shop: A Neurosurgeon’s Quest to Discover the Mysteries of the Brain and the Secrets of the Heart. Wow is the superlative that comes to mind.

     Dr. Doty is now a professor of Neurosurgery at Stanford University. But, as he tells it, it’s a fluke that he actually attended college at all, not to mention become a successful and prominent neurosurgeon. He doesn’t use the word fluke he calls it magic and weaves a compelling tale of being a young boy and meeting a woman in a magic shop who seduced him by promising the ultimate magic trick that would change his life. He was to spend his 12 weeks of summer vacation with her learning the trick. And if he practiced the trick, even at home, he could have anything he wants in life. That would be truly amazing since he came from a very poor family with a drunken father who couldn’t keep a job and bedridden, clinically depressed mother who had to continually pack up the family and move when they got evicted from apartment after apartment for not paying the rent.

     The trick, as Dr. Doty relays, was learning to meditate and then manifest his dreams. With regular practice and a deep, sincere desire for those goals to materialize along with visualization and the trust that they would – his life could change. Would change. This book tells that story of how his dreams came to pass. Along the way he shares the step-by-step process that this woman, Ruth, taught him. His abiding hope is that others will learn the way too.

It’s a profound read that is hard to put down.

 

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oh christmas tree, oh christmas treeThrough the front door there’s a great view of a decked out Christmas tree basking in  white lights, covered with snow and dripping with big sparkly white round ornaments.  A white Christmas is definitely being celebrated in this house.  But the mood is somewhat blue.

My hospice patient and her caregiver husband live here.  They’re both seniors and have spent most of their lives together –  working their family business and traveling in the RV in which they expected a multitude of road trips during their retirement years.

NEW MEXICO 2006 RECREATIONAL VEHICLE plate

Image by woody1778a via Flickr

Four years ago husband sold the RV; wife could no longer negotiate the steps to assume her role as navigator in chief.  That act signified an admission of his wife’s fatal disease and the death of dreams that had been years in the planning.  That was also the last year she spoke; she hasn’t uttered a word since.  Not because she was disappointed, but because her Alzheimer’s had advanced enough to rob her of voice.  Now husband spends his days taking care of her.

Decorating the Christmas tree is something they always did together.  In fact, she bought this very tree and the ornaments.  It came adorned with white lights and snow. This year they decorated together again.  He set it up, he added the balls, covered the tree base, wrapped the presents and carefully arranged them at the bottom.  Wife slumped in her chair, sucked her lower lip, wrung her hands and nodded off.  That’s this year’s Christmas, at least until his children join them in a couple of weeks.

Husband cherishes wife.  She’s the love of his life and when she was diagnosed 8 years ago he promised he’d care for her until the end of her days.  He meant it, despite the sacrifice it entails.

Being housebound is one of those sacrifices, except for my weekly visits to socialize with him and sit with her during the couple of hours he goes where he wants.  His spirits are high, he laughs easily, he loves big.  He embodies the true spirit of giving.  And when he allows himself to think of how things were supposed to be, the twinkle in his eye grows dimmer.

He inspires me.  He fills me with admiration.  What inspires you this season?

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It’s Thanksgiving and we’re visiting my father-in-law and the rest of the clan on his side of the family.  The yearly tradition brings between 16 – 20 of us together to catch up on the year’s events and see how old the kids are getting – now that many of them are starting to have children of their own.

My father-in-law spends the day beaming as he visits each of us.  He loves watching his brood grow and he takes his place at the head of the assorted tables cobbled together to make one long dining space that stretches from dining room to living room.

For him it’s bittersweet.  It’s the one time of year we all come to visit and feast together.  And in years past he would catch the eye of his wife seated at the far end of the table and blow her a kiss.  This is the second year that chair will be empty.

Dean was married to Susie for 63 years before she died, leaving him alone and unprepared to continue life without her.  For some reason he was blindsided by her passing, even though his kids had been expecting it for years.  He assumed she’d  come home from the most recent hospitalization just like every other time.  This time, though, she didn’t.

He’s been grieving for more than two years now, still heartbroken over losing his one great love. He tells us he talks to her every night to tell her of the day’s events.  He says he apologizes to her for not doing enough for her all those years they were together.

Myrtle Beach, SC Spring Break 2007

Image via Wikipedia

That confession astounds me.  I can’t imagine him doing anything more for that incredibly fortunate woman.  He created and maintained a beautiful garden in their backyard so she could see it through her kitchen window.  Bought a condo in Myrtle Beach to winter there because she loved being near the ocean.  Bought the house she loved in Pennsylvania because she loved it.  To me, their marriage was what fairy tales are made of, built on love and mutual respect.  And now – he bemoans what he thinks he didn’t do.

What he didn’t do is say goodbye to his wife of 63 years.  For him, she suddenly died.  While she was living he never said…

Thank you for a wonderful life together.  Thank you for our four wonderful, productive, achieved kids.  Thank you for working and supporting our household while I was earning a Ph.D in metallurgy.  Thank you for moving where my jobs took me.  And thank you for your never-ending support, friendship and love over the years.

Had he realized she was on a dying path for the last three years of her life, perhaps he might have taken the time to say to her then what he says to her every night now.

The lesson my father-in-law is teaching?  Don’t ever wait to say thanks to the people you love.  And tell them that you love them.  Today, tomorrow and future tomorrows.

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This weekend finds us tending family fires, both the cozy and the more crackling kind.  After all there are few families who resemble the Waltons, all warm and fuzzy with never any cross words between them.  My family is more like the Bickersons, actually, we all have much to say and if it gets a bit heated at times, ah well, that’s life.  Yet beneath the prickly surface we are bound to each other deeply and unconditionally.

My husband and I don’t see our respective families often; we live hundreds of miles from them, and have since we left our homes for college.  On Thanksgiving we all make the effort to reunite – first with his family then with mine.  It’s the one holiday that is sacrosanct and I love the tradition.  Parents, brothers, sisters, spouses, nieces, nephews, and now their spouses and children, all pilgrimage to a family house to squeeze around a growing assortment of tables and feast the day away.

Thanksgiving isn’t one of those hallmark card holidays, you know the ones whose only purpose is to lighten our wallets.  Hey, it’s very good these days to boost the economy, but in our family Valentine’s Day, Mothers’ & Fathers’ Days pass us by without fanfare.  Thanksgiving is different.  It offers a genuine opportunity to take inventory of our lives and devote a day, or even a weekend, to reflect on our personal good fortunes.

I’m among those who hold an optimistic perspective about life and tend to view the proverbial cup as half full.  The way I see it – each individual is on this planet for a finite period and what happens after that is up to personal interpretation.  I’ve been around long enough to know that a few problems will give way to better days and there will be gorgeous sunrises and sunsets that bookend each one regardless of the content between.

Research shows that an attitude of appreciation helps boost the immune system, which keeps all kinds of nasty stress causing ailments at bay.  And while money may help lower stress, studies also find it is not the panacea some people like to think.  Generally speaking, altruistic acts foster personal well-being.  As His Holiness the Dalai Lama says,

If you want others to be happy, practice compassion.  If you want to be happy, practice compassion.

I spend time as a hospice companion and it’s a great teacher for the practice of “count your blessings.”  Offering friendship to people facing the end of life is proving to be a priceless gift to myself where I’m privileged to witness profound, yet simple examples of genuine appreciation.

One patient’s caregiver is grateful for each morning he’s able to maneuver his wife’s increasingly rigid limbs to dress her for the day.

Another patient eagerly waits for my visits so I can read the day’s news events because her eyes no longer cooperate with her habit of voracious reading.

And although taking care of her mother until that final breath keeps this caregiver virtually housebound, she is filled with gratitude for the opportunity to share such an intimate journey with her hero.

IMAGINE BEING THANKFUL FOR SUCH HARDSHIPS IN LIFE.  

The late Steve Jobs said,

Remembering that you are going to die is the best way to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose.  

To me that means live your dreams, have no regrets and be thankful for the opportunity – all the opportunities, in fact.

I move that each day be designated personal thanks day.  All those in favor …?

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