Open yourself to gratitude

Open yourself to gratitude

We all know that Gratitude is something that we “should” practice in order to live a happier life. But, why? What happens in the body and mind when we practice gratitude and the act of being grateful?

I’ve realized a lot of “being grateful” comes from being without. It might sound like a cliché question, but do you truly know what you have until it’s gone? Once you miss something and realize its importance in your life, you become grateful for it. That feeling of gratitude helps to ground you,  especially when you are always moving on with your busy life.

A personal example of gratitude in my life is our first pregnancy. After 15 weeks of being pregnant, my husband and I found out we miscarried. I remember gratitude was not even a word in my vocabulary. I went to the extreme of not being grateful for a thing: focusing on only the negative. This, not surprisingly, made my life more negative than before. I was envious of all the women I saw just being happy. What I realized was that my focus was only on myself. Our miscarriage did not just happen to me, it happened to our family. The situation affected everyone. When I took a step back and became grateful for my life, and everything I have- my relationships with my husband, family, and friends- it helped to strengthen all of my positive emotions. My body and mind became more open to all that I have in my life to be grateful for. 

Something I learned after this was that both positivity and negativity feed off each other. In every situation, you choose the energy you put into the world. For example, once I started not being consumed with the negativity in my life, the storm blew away. After the storm, we were blessed with our rainbow baby, a boy we named Asher. Keeping in mind for every negative there is a positive, you just have to open your mind and be grateful for what you have. Don’t wait until you are without those precious things to recognize their importance to you. 

 Here are 3 ways to be more grateful and have gratitude in your everyday life:

  • Start with being present. 
  • Make the time to be grateful – This might sound like the easiest, but when and how much time do you actually take to do this? 
  • Be social about your joy and sharing those moments!
Grateful for the Gift

Grateful for the Gift

As I write this, the late evening sunlight is shining through purple-gray clouds.  It is the golden hour – that time before dark when everything is bathed in a soft yellow light.  Autumn in Ohio is in full bloom – bright oranges and reds and yellows, and I can hear the sound of the wind blowing through trees.

For me, it is easy to be grateful in the fall.  I love the cool air and crisp colors. I love cooking soups and stews and baking treats laced with cinnamon.  I am a pastor, and when I step outside and see the canvas that for me is God’s creation, I thank God. 

The first prayer my husband and I taught our sons was “Thank you, God.”  When my boys were toddlers this was our prayer before meals – and still is.  I will always remember their first prayers: “Thank you God for Daddy. Thank you, God, for the backhoe loader.  Thank you, God, for grapes.” We thank God before meals and at the end of the day after we read our books and sing our songs and before I pray a blessing over each boy, we say thank you to God for the day.

I try to teach my children to live gratefully, but I’m not always good at saying thank you myself.  While I was packing for my family’s move from Crestline to Mansfield last year I stumbled upon a box containing a few thank you notes I wrote after my wedding – 11 years ago. Somehow this stack had never been mailed, and I felt the guilt of the thing I should have done but never did. You know those thoughtful people who are always sending cards– thank yous and birthdays and thinking of you notes?  I am not one of them.  

I want to get better at thanking the people in my life.  I want them to know I am thankful for them. I want to be more grateful.  I have read about the research saying people who practice gratitude are happier.  So I try to be thankful but it’s easy to forget. My spiritual director advised me to begin each day with a list of things I’m grateful for.  Sometimes I remember, but most days the alarm clock goes off, and I immediately begin thinking of all that I need to do. Maybe my checklist could become a prayer of thanksgiving as I look ahead to the opportunities I will be given each and every day.

Practicing gratitude has helped me get through the most difficult seasons of my life.  When I’m frustrated with my job, I think of the things I have because of it: clothing and food and a home.  When I reach out to friends or colleagues, I feel grateful for the support they provide. When I face conflict I practice thanking God for the person with whom I’m in conflict.  This helps me to see them as a human being – a person with unique strengths and weaknesses; a person who I believe is, like every person in the world, created in the image of God.  Being grateful simply makes life better.

For me, gratitude is about saying thank you – and it’s also about seeing life as a gift.  My grateful response is to offer myself in service to the one who I believe is the giver, and also to the people around me: my family, my colleagues, my parishioners, and the people I encounter wherever I go.  

How does your perspective change when you begin to think of life as a gift?  How does that sense of giftedness color the people and the world around you?

When I forget that my life is a gift, I am called back by the simplest things: a sunrise, a yoga class, the sound of my children’s giggles.  So as autumn turns to winter and the colors change to brown and gray, I will remember the life that’s waiting beneath the frost. And I will keep saying thank you.

 

Looking at the Big Picture

Looking at the Big Picture

In the year-plus since our journey to Austin, I’ve been asked numerous times about the experience.  The questions drive at both the experience itself, as well as the post-Austin endeavor to write the Mansfield Rising plan and the post plan experience related to implementation.  Looking back, I easily point to three main takeaways I’ve had from this experience that have stayed with me and will continue to impact the work I do in downtown development.

Keep the big picture mindset in focus.

In my day to day work at DMI, we balance long term plans with short term needs on a regular basis. We are always thinking long term about goal projects, midterm about milestone marks and short term tasks to get there.  However, the reality is that with a small staff and budget, short term is where we live day to day. Events, marketing, and new business projects have immediate needs that can’t wait. As a result, the short term problems demand more of my attention than is ideal.  

In Austin, with those short term demands miles away, I was able to learn a great deal from big-picture thinkers who work and live globally all the time!  SXSW is packed full of big-picture people who are working globally on intelligent solutions to complex problems. Networking with people with that global mindset was one of the most impactful opportunities.  When we talk about complex issues like housing, equity, and diversity, Austin gave me a great opportunity to see the bigger picture and discuss projects and problems from a global point of view. Rahm Emanuel said, “if you can’t solve a problem, make it bigger.”  This resonated with me. While problems can live in the short term, real opportunity exists in a bigger picture perspective. In the real world here in Mansfield, there is always trash that needs to be picked up, but balancing that with creating solutions for the bigger picture has changed my mindset and reminded me not to miss out on opportunities to find global solutions to local needs. 

Creating and maintaining relationships drive progress.

The team that went to Austin had one thing in common, our love for our community and desire to make it better.  We are a mixed bag of community members with scattered experiences, goals, and perspectives. Many of us had worked together over the years on a variety of projects, but we hadn’t worked together this close and on such a broad spectrum of projects.  It seems like a side note to the actual plan and implementation, but a critical part of the work we did was to build trust and common experiences to cultivate a stronger sense of community within our team. Learning and exploring concepts and ideas together helps us understand the depth of the projects we’re working on, and writing and vetting them through the planning process allows us to listen to each other and understand the variety of perspectives that make the ideas stronger. As we move forward with the project, our collective buy-in helps us accomplish goals that might not have ordinarily had as much broad-based support.  This relationship-building among community members is a critical part of our community revitalization story as we move forward. We don’t all agree; we won’t ever all agree, but what is most important is listening and building better projects because of the diversity of perspectives that we bring to the table. 

It’s going to take as long as it takes; you might as well enjoy it.  

The pace of community development can be excruciatingly slow.  The project development process can often feel like a rush compared to the time-stands-still process of full implementation.  I get it, we all want these ideas that seem the easiest and most logical to happen right away. I do too. When dealing with community and economic development, though, that just isn’t always the case.  There are so many factors involved, not to mention personalities, that time can feel like it’s standing still, meanwhile, we are just wanting it to be completed! I feel that way all the time, especially with complex problems with little to no funding, but money doesn’t solve the problems, either. 

When I was in Austin, I was able to meet people from all over the world who were looking at the same exact issues we are looking at in Mansfield.  These aren’t Mansfield problems or Ohio problems or rust belt problems — these are community problems, and that’s ok. In fact, looking at our community from that global standpoint, our problems, while unique, weren’t as trying as they seem to be close up.  In one of my favorite sessions, we learned about how a community used interpretive dance to sell an important funding issue to their city council. I could feel my blood pressure spike just thinking about it. Who has time to learn an interpretive dance?! I mean, it sounds insane, but it worked! In the rush to get things accomplished, drawing the quickest and shortest line between the two points seems the most efficient, but in reality, when dealing with people, it just doesn’t always work that way.  Sometimes looking at an opportunity and finding your way through it with other humans while tossing in some joy and celebration can have the most impact.  

I don’t know if these are the top three things I was supposed to learn during the SXSW process, but they are for sure the most impactful to me in my daily life and at Downtown Mansfield, Inc.  SO… Who is up for some interpretive dance at City Council?! 

 

Every Child is Potentially the Light of the World.

Every Child is Potentially the Light of the World.

“Every child is potentially the light of the world—and at the same time it’s darkness; wherefore must the question of education be accounted as of primary most importance.” Bahai writings

The keywords in the above quote are; potential light, darkness, and education. Throughout history, education has been a fundamental factor in the advancement of civilization. At times this education has brought mankind light and at others darkness. Education has given man the ability to place manned rovers on Mars and acquire new medical knowledge. Advancements in communication have made the world flat. At the same time, mankind has created a world laden with moral dangers: selfishness born of materialism, children alienated from their parents, and a society in decline.  These conditions are not confined to race, class, nation, or income status. 

At an early age, children are asked,” What are you going to be when you grow up?” We send them off to school to find the answer. In school, they study various branches of knowledge in order to choose a profession based on demand and earning potential. In the end, the future is one of studying to work, working to earn, and earning to spend.  It’s a materialistic treadmill. The result is a society aimed at earning more and more money. Despite all the success and material gains, most people are still not happy and we are raising a generation of people who are living for themselves. This reminds me of the lyrics from the Broadway play Bye Bye Birdie, “Kids! I don’t know what’s wrong with these kids today! Why can’t they be like we were, perfect in every way, what’s the matter with kids today?”

Ask a child today what do you want to be when you grow up and they still don’t know, and now, many don’t care. What caused these young people to disconnect? When did the light of education dim in so many eyes? The methods for educating children are well established as evidenced in our technological and scientific advancements. But these advancements have come at a cost. Somewhere along our journey, we lost our children. As mankind enters a new age of maturity, we must develop a new purpose for educating our children. The tree of educational knowledge must add branches that evolve the inner and outer child as well as develop useful skills that benefit mankind.

I don’t think anything is wrong with today’s kids. Their true essence is there, often hidden inside. Through good counsel and education that essence can be brought to light. A quote by Alexander den Heijer may shed some light, “When a flower doesn’t bloom you fix the environment in which it grows, not the flower.” Instead of focusing on “fixing” the child, let’s focus on adapting the environment to ensure the child’s success. As the child gains inner and outer success and perfection, his light begins to shine.

Our primary and most urgent responsibility is the education of our children.  And, their teachings don’t only come from books. In early childhood a firm foundation must be laid; a foundation focused on refining character, learning virtues, and developing good behavior. Knowledge achieved through traditional book learning is praiseworthy when coupled with ethical conduct and virtuous character. These traits must be taught and practiced every day at school.  Fortunately, mindfulness, wellness, meditation, yoga, and art classes are appearing in school systems all over the world. 

The evolution of mankind is in full display in every child’s face you see. As each child’s inner light shines, it will surely brighten the world. As Neil Diamond sang,” Turn on your heart light. Let it shine wherever you go. Let it make a happy glow for all the world to see.”  It is truly our responsibility, as those that have come before them, to cultivate and support these additional branches of education. If we do not equip them with the social and emotional skills they need to conquer a rapidly changing environment, then their failures will be ours. Let us plant the seeds that will one day grow into a canopy of success in the hands of today’s youth. 

 

 

 

   

 

Showing Up: The Courage to Live a Vital Life

Showing Up: The Courage to Live a Vital Life

When this topic was given to me a few months ago, I thought writing about a vital life would be very easy. After all, as a medical professional, when we talk about vitals we are speaking of blood pressure and a pulse. Having a blood pressure and a pulse doesn’t necessarily mean you’re living a vital life. 

I think the first thing I realized is that people probably define joy and vitality differently. So, let me try to explain what it truly means to me. 

When I was growing up, my father went to work every day to provide for my mother and me. Mom kept the house, made dinner, washed clothes, and never worked outside the home. So maybe it wouldn’t come as a surprise that my father felt I would do the same. I would marry a good man who would provide while I manage the home, hearth, and kids. My father felt strongly that I didn’t need higher education. 

I did marry well and we had two beautiful children. All was going according to my father’s plan until I realized that something was missing. I felt that I hadn’t yet completed “me”. While I loved being a wife and mother, I felt that I wasn’t living up to my full potential. There had to be more. I didn’t know how to think outside of the box. I was doing what others expected of me and nothing more. I needed to change that. I set out on a path of self‐discovery. That path of self‐discovery was attained through education. I went on to complete my Bachelor’s degree where I learned of my interest and skills in Biology. To build upon those skills, I entered into podiatric medical school. At the age of 42, I graduated as a Doctor of Podiatric Medicine. Those short sentences don’t begin to sum up the journey. It was not always easy. It was incredibly hard for me to step out of my comfort zone, remove the blinders, learn about myself, and focus on attaining my full potential. I had my husband and children in my corner the whole entire time. 

My education has provided a venue to touch the lives of others. Every day I know I have the ability to make a difference in someone’s life. It’s more than just the medical knowledge to deal with their podiatric issue. It’s knowing that I can make a patient smile who just lost his wife of 50 years. It’s listening to my patient’s stories and laughing along with them. It’s leaving a little bit of me with them. That brings me joy. 

We ALL make a difference in someone’s life. In every encounter we have, we leave something of ourselves with someone else. We need to make the choice to make it a positive and joyful encounter. 

A path to a joyful and vital life begins with learning about yourself and removing the blinders imposed by others. Through this mindful self‐discovery, you can begin to make a positive impact. I think that joy is personal. Joy lingers in your heart. We spark joy when we give of ourselves whether it be in our careers or in our family life. 

Life is dynamic. Be sure to show up! Along the way, we can choose to just be observers or participants. Sometimes we need to step out of our comfort zone and try new things whether it be professionally or personally. We may fail but there will also be great successes. That’s what is meant by vitality! 

Live your best, vital life and be mindful of the joyous moments along the way! 

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