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book photo

[photo by Comfreak]

Many Octobers ago, I said to myself, “This is as good a time as any.” I pulled out a 5×8 blank book that was stashed among my office supplies, and began “My Book of Blessings.” The first blessing I wrote was “For Christina’s suggestion that I record a daily blessing, Thank You.”

That blessing was written on October 13, 2004. Since then I have recorded four-thousand eight-hundred forty-eight blessings. My third blank book will be filled by the end of this year, and a fourth one is waiting patiently for me to initiate it.

If I had to evacuate my home in an emergency, my three Blessings Books are what I would grab just after my wallet and keys.

I have instructed my friends that, when I lie dying, I want to be read to from my Blessings Books. Just randomly, not in any particular order. I want to be reminded of how good – how blessed – my life has been. And, if I am able, I might want to elaborate on blessings that I remember especially fondly. Mostly, however, there are not connected stories, just a grateful noticing and remembering of something from each day.

These blessings are small, simple, usually just one a day – like,

(#814, 1/4/07) “Saw an owl in flight tonight by full moon. Thank You” and

(#1214, 2/8/08) “Planted a yellow primrose in the rain. Thank You” and

(#1764, 8/11/09) “Saw the Wild Horses sculptures above the Columbia River, again after 20 years. Thank You” and

(#2969, 10/16/12) “Carrot/ginger soup. Thank You” and

(#3130, 10/15/13) “Hundreds of orb webs strung between overhead power lines and illuminated by a fresh coat of fog. Thank You.”

Sometimes I can’t choose just one noticing, and so I record a string of wonderful things. Like

(#4315, 6/6/17) “Morning sun through red poppies, bunnies frolicking, a gourmand deer, spectacular Olympic Mountains, and meals with friends. Thank You.”

And sometimes I even acknowledge the blessing in painful things, like

(#3707, 12/5/15) “Totally exhausted from 16 hours of retreat facilitation work in one day. Nevertheless . . . Thank You” and

(#4566, 2/15/18) “Feeling my heart break over yet more gun violence. May my heartbreak be my prayer. Thank You.”

No blessing is too small to be recorded: (#4430, 9/30/17) “Brown basmati rice. Thank You.” And no blessing is too huge: (#4815, 10/22/18) “Leo died at about 2:00 this afternoon. I am grieving deeply. For his amazing life, Thank You.”

On Thanksgiving Day last week, after the feast, and after the leftovers were divided up and sent home with guests, and after the dishwasher was running, I pulled out my three Blessings Books, and thumbed through them for an hour or so. Then I held them in my hands, placed them over my heart, and whispered, “Oh yes, Thank You, so very much!”

Then I put them back on the shelf, so I’ll know right where they are . . . in case I ever have to evacuate my home in an emergency!

NOTE: POETRY PUBLISHED – “Peacock Journal,” a lovely online literary journal devoted to beauty, is publishing five of my poems in December at PeacockJournal.com . (Unsure yet about exactly which week. But the poems will be held in the journal’s archives over the next year) And stay tuned next month for a pre-publication notice of Mortal Beings, my first book of poetry, to be published by Finishing Line Press.

care photo

On her way out my front door my friend turned back and said, “Take care.”

I use that phrase all the time.

Sometimes it is a caution, meaning be careful, drive safely, don’t do anything foolish.

Sometimes it is a wish, may things go well for you.

Sometimes it means be good to yourself.

Often it’s a sign off, goodbye, tata, see ya later.

But this time, when my friend turned back and said, “Take care,” I heard the phrase in a new and powerful way.

It happened earlier this month. I had just returned from an unexpected three days in our local hospital. I had received blood transfusions, tests, and excellent nursing skills for what I was told was “life-threatening anemia,” a reprise of my longer hospital stay in March. (Cause so-far undetermined.)

My friend had stopped by the day I got home to assure herself that I was okay, to hear my story and keep me company for half an hour, and to leave prepared food for my supper.

And when she left, saying, “take care,” I heard it as a reminder to me to TAKE all the care I was being offered. This was not a time for me to be heroic or stoic, not a time to think I can do it all by myself. This was not a time to judge myself as being weak or whiney or unworthy.

This was a member of my circle of chosen friends, a part of my village, telling me, “We are here for you. Whatever you need, we will try to provide it. We are all grown-ups, and we will tell you if we can’t manage what you ask, but please ASK, and please be willing to RECEIVE. You’ll have your chance to reciprocate when you are well. So TAKE care.”

I am so very blessed, and so very grateful.

And to you, reading this, I offer the phrase, complete with its expanded meaning: whenever you are in need, reach out; and TAKE CARE.

care photo

 

 

 

[Please see a brief self-promotional save-the-date announcement at the end of this post]

 

[dropcapMedium]I[/dropcapMedium]n last month’s post I addressed a question that arose in a cancer support circle: How is it possible to sustain the feeling of every moment being precious when one is not “actively” dying?

Pondering the last part of the question last month, the part about about “actively” dying, sparked many great reply comments; and the conversation is continuing among thoughtful circles of folks, which pleases me immensely! Those comments and conversations will be added to this month’s comments, all to become fodder for the third of three posts derived from that original, juicy question.

For now, back to the first part of that question: How DO we “sustain the feeling of every moment being precious”? How do we make every moment precious? Regardless of our state of health. Regardless of our life expectancy.

 

These are three of my ways:
nurturing the earworm of gratitude,
following curiosity, and
practicing presence.

 

Gratitude
An “earworm,” is one of those annoying songs that shows up in your head and just won’t leave until you deliberately replace it with another song that you like better (for now). I think of gratitude as a single sacred earworm — or “word worm,” perhaps — that reiterates a hundred times a day: “Thank you.” Sometimes it says a delighted “Oh, thank you” or a prayerful “Dear Holy One, thank You” or a joyful “How can I possibly say ‘thank you’ enough for all of this?’” Maybe a “thank you” comes when you realize that that place in your shoulder hasn’t ached for the last two hours. Or that the toilet, yet again, reliably flushes. Thank you!

So many moments for gratitude: the small birds excitedly flocking in to a freshly-filled feeder; the fragrance of oregano in a simmering pasta sauce, or of lilac in a hidden-away garden; the close call at an intersection that didn’t become an accident; the colors and abundance at a farmers’ market. All precious moments. Let your earworm sing its gratitude! Every day. All day long.

 

Curiosity
Remember, back in the dark ages, when we had to look up stuff in the Encyclopedia Britannica, hoping that the current annual, filled with last year’s developments, would give us the almost-up-to-date info we needed? Then in 1994 the EB went digital and online, and in 2012 it ceased hardcopy publication altogether. Now we have Wikipedia, updated minute-by-minute; and Google, so ubiquitous that the brand name has become a lower-case verb.

These days, any time I find myself thinking, “I wonder [what, who, where] . . .,” I revel in the fact that it takes only a few keystrokes until the answer is right there on my computer screen. And from time to time I dive into one of those digital rabbit holes that a simple search often presents. I try not to spend too long there, but once in a while curiosity says that I’ve gotta follow that white rabbit who is perpetually “late.” I am not yet late (in the deceased sense), so I go ahead and follow my curiosity and often end up with a dozen more reasons to say “Wow, thank you!”

Even better than googling is the feeding of curiosity with first-hand experience, taking time to magnify the five senses and enjoy them. Follow the trail of a snail, or the flight of a heron to its nest. Watch your skin heal from a blister – notice the dying of cells, and their replacement. Be fascinated by the way that morning sun makes ground fog seem to be a living thing. Listen for the harmony of sounds as water flows over stones in a creek bed – hear that deep bass note? It’s always been there, but you had not noticed before; now you can smile “thank you” for the secret that the creek has revealed to you.

Be curious about people, too. Ask them unexpected questions about themselves: “What are you passionate about?” “Tell me about your favorite place in the world.” Then take the time to really listen to their answers as if this were the most important thing in your whole day. It possibly is!

 

Presence
My third way of sustaining the preciousness of every moment is really a part of the previous two, but it’s sort of gratitude and curiosity on steroids. Presence is being as fully open as possible to every detail of every moment, bringing your curiosity, your attention, and your gratitude to each moment with as little judgment or fear as possible.

I believe that’s the whole point of incarnation, after all — to surround the invisible spark of divinity, the soul, with the amazing complexity of mortal flesh for the length of a lifetime. The soul wants to experience every detail of a life, to be fully present within it, however long that life may be.

It helps to take advantage of some wonderful guides who understand and embody presence. Read Mary Oliver’s poetry, or the new anthology titled Poetry of Presence, or the brief meditative essays in Mark Nepo’s The Book of Awakening, or the glorious Love Poems from God, sacred poetry of twelve mystics, translated by Daniel Ladinsky.

 

Do I hear someone saying that all this practicing of gratitude and curiosity and presence takes time? Yes, indeed it does. And isn’t that the essence of life: time? Precious time, that begins ticking at conception, and, at some unpredictable point, stops. Yet, as a very wise friend of mine once told me, we have all the time we need in the time we have. We have been given the gift of time, in a body equipped with miraculous senses, directed by a mind that is curious, and enriched by a soul that is grateful for the chance to be embodied and fully present.

So, however much more of it we may have, it is enough.

Here’s to life: L’chaim! champagne photo

 

 

 

[A brief self-promotional save-the-date announcement: I have been invited to be a presenter at the 2018 Search For Meaning Book Festival at Seattle University on February 24. There will be many presenters, hundreds of books, and an expected 1000 registrants from around the country. It’s a fabulous day of community comprising a melange of spiritual perspectives, all on a lovely welcoming campus; I’d be going even if I weren’t among the presenters! Check out the information at searchformeaning@seattleu.edu   Tickets go on sale in mid-January.]