Today I’m grateful for the unsung heroes of the music I dance, cry, relax and write to … the backup singers. I watched the movie “20 Feet from Stardom” on the plane from San Diego to NYC and it was moving to hear the stories of these (mostly) women (mostly) of color who lent their magic and invaluable gifts of their voices to create so much of the music I know and love. And yet I’ve never before thought of their contributions and certainly haven’t given them the credit for the songs I love.
It’s the people in the background who give so much of themselves that if all were right with the world would get the glory, acclaim and success — at least as much as the stars receive. As someone who has worked away, head down, hoping that producing good work, exceeding expectations, giving my all would be rewarded only to find that, usually, it is not, I should do my part to always seek out those behind the scenes, to thank them for their contributions, to acknowledge their efforts.
My gratitude journal today, then, is filled with gratitude for the beauty and joy that these back-up singers have brought to our lives, for the sound they have created, for their bravely using their gifts to bless us with music that touches our souls.
When he was just a toddler, my mother used to trick my little brother by handing him a glass of “milk” filled with buttermilk instead of the creamy sweet whole milk he was anticipating. He’d take the glass, smiling, looking forward to a delicious treat of slightly sweet, smooth, rich milk and then make the funniest face, twisted mouth and wide eyes, when the sour, tang of buttermilk touched his tongue instead. OK it was mean but it was funny. And don’t worry, he got me back plenty when he got a little older.
In addition to bringing back a memory that still makes me smile, I’m also grateful to buttermilk for the tang and depth it brings to my brown sugar buttermilk waffles (so delicious), and so many of the Southern dishes that were staples of my East Texas childhood.
Buttermilk reminds me of my grandmother, too. Not so much because of her cooking but because of all the work required of her to provide the basics for her family. There was no carton of buttermilk at a store to be picked up waiting for her. She (or my uncle) had to milk their cows, then she had to churn the milk, and only then would she have buttermilk and the other dairy necessities required to cook the meals over an old-fashioned stove in the heat of a Texas summer with no air conditioning other than a paper fan saved from some outdoor church event. But gratitude for my grandmother will be another post, for another day.
Today, it’s buttermilk. Tangy, tart, with the ability to add just the “je ne sais quo” to so many meals. To the soil that grew the grass that fed the cows that produced the milk, as well as the farmers, factory workers, truck drivers, grocery shelf stockers and cashiers required for me to access it. The sun that shone to grow the grass, the rain that watered the fields. All the little actions required to put 1-3/4 cup of buttermilk into my soon-to-be-eaten waffles this morning. Buttermilk, I salute you.
January 1, 2022. The first day of a new year — a fresh start — albeit amidst a pandemic that after two years and lots of vaccines is nonetheless surging to its highest peaks yet.
I feel the urge to start “A Year of” … something, and it feels as if to do so requires starting it on this, the first day of the new year.
A year of expressing gratitude — testing if indeed expressing gratitude is the surest path to joy — seems like a fine ambition/resolution to make.
And, if I express my gratitude here, on my blog, it can be a year of daily writing as well. Two birds and all that. So, short and sweet, today I am grateful for being born a human.
If you read Mark Nepo’s “The Book of Awakening,” you’ll know what I mean. In his entry for January 1, he writes of how blessed we are humans are that we are living out our lives as human beings and not as rocks or ants or grass or cows or any other living thing on this earth.
Some days, honestly, I think I would rather be a tree. A giant redwood overlooking the pounding Pacific surf, or an oak tree providing blessed shade in a summer’s heat. But for this life, I am me, and all that comes with that — including the responsibilities for living my life fully and passionately and boldly and in a way that makes the world just a little better for my having lived in this form on this earth at this time.
In this life, I am not a redwood tree. But I am a person with the opportunity to visit the trees, walk among them, embrace them, find peace among them, be grateful for them, and then leave the woods and walk along the beach and feel sand and salty air. And then buy an airline ticket and 9 hours later walk the cobblestone streets of Paris and then, who knows what adventure I can go on, all because I’ve been born a human at this time, in this place.
So today, I’m grateful to be alive in this form to fight the good fight, to write out whatever crazy thought comes to mind, to experiment with the relationship between gratitude and joy.
So welcome to my gratitude journal for 2022, I am thankful for visiting my site and grateful that you took the time to read this far. Thank you for being you, and for all that you bring to the world. And so it begins….
Brené Brown gave a talk a few night’s ago to discuss her new book, Atlas of the Heart. Her research and thoughts on Joy vs. Happiness were interesting to me, as it’s a distinction my husband is often asked about, since he started Made for Joy.
Brown defines Joy, based on her research, as “an intense feeling of deep spiritual connection, pleasure, and appreciation,” as contrasted with Happiness, where her data suggests is defined as “feeling pleasure often related to the immediate environment or current circumstances.” What struck me most was her belief that Joy is associated with connection — connection to others, to God, to nature, to the Universe — it’s more internal, she believes, whereas happiness is more external and circumstantial.
Always with the Gratitude …
And the clearest path to deeper and more frequent Joy is through Gratitude. I know that, yet do I have a daily Gratitude practice? No, I do not. Are my bookshelves lined with Gratitude Journals begun and abandoned? Yes, they are. My best efforts lasted only days before they were forgotten in the press of work or errands or cooking or reading or any of the dozens of items that appear on my daily “To Do” list. Just five minutes is all a Gratitude Practice requires, and yet it’s five minutes that I cannot seem to find. And yet, Brown’s findings that being grateful adds to and deepens our Joy makes complete sense.
You’ve probably heard that as humans we tend to have a genetic set point of happiness that momentary ups and downs quickly modulate back to as baseline. But Brown’s research leads her to believe that practicing gratitude can extract more from our best moments. Yes, the “newness” and excitement of that car, house, dress, shoe, spouse will fade, but if we take the time to appreciate it, the feelings of joy and happiness derived from it will be deeper, and perhaps longer-lasting.
Foreboding Joy (sounds scary!)
One other take-away on Joy that spoke to me, Brown calls “foreboding Joy.” Never heard of it, but definitely have experienced it. It’s when “you’re afraid to lean into good news, wonderful moments, and joy.” You are afraid that if you lean into it, fully experience and embrace it, you’ll only end up hurt more in the end. You wait for the other shoe to drop, as surely it will, and by protecting yourself from that assumed inevitability you also shield yourself from truly feeling deep joy. Truly experiencing Joy, Brown says, is an act of vulnerability. Her research found that everyone who showed a deep capacity for joy also practice gratitude. There’s that Gratitude word again. Pursuing me, relentlessly. Demanding that I pay attention if I want to truly live my fullest, my best life.
My Life Lesson
The lesson I got from reading Brown’s thoughts on Joy and Happiness? Be grateful for each joyful moment life brings me. Soak it in — smell, taste, touch, feel and embrace it fully. It’s not going to last forever, and surely some obstacle or challenge or depressing or sad or horrible thing also lies ahead, but at least by embracing the moments of joy that equally await I will have the resilience, strength and courage to take on whatever life may bring. The best way to do that?
Connect — with others, with Nature, with the Universe…
Practice Gratitude. Picking up one of my many gratitude journals and going for it again!
A little more than an hour’s winding, curvy drive from the San Diego Airport to the border town of Tecate, Mexico, we arrived at the Ranch on the last Saturday of March for the first-ever Gathering of Joy. The goal? To create connections and dive into discussions of how perspective, humility, humor, acceptance, forgiveness, gratitude, compassion and generosity can help us cultivate a life of Joy, no matter the circumstances. Happiness is a great feeling — who doesn’t want to feel happy? But it’s fleeting as well. This week was about not just being happy, or about how to remove all sorrow from your life, but about how you can have a deep abiding sense of Joy regardless of the circumstances. A happiness that lasts, and that shines from within.
The Ranch offered us a beautiful setting in which to learn, blessing us with everything from sacred Mount Kuchumaa to abundant wildflowers blooming along the winding paths, creating a sense of peace that created an ideal environment in which to connect, build relationships, and learn.
Magic was in the impromptu and unexpected moments sprinkled throughout the week, from being treated to an original Maya Fiennes song after hearing her story…
to sharing a delicious dinner in a six-acre organic garden under the stars, with surprise performances from Opera Ambulante, inspiration through poetic entertainment from Gill Sotu, and music from Jake Shimabukuro…
to being part of Damien’s once-in-a-lifetime experience courtesy of a man whose heart is at least as big as his incredible talent, at Jake’s Thursday night concert.
We made friends. We ate a lot of vegetables. We laughed and we cried. We hiked and meditated and listened and learned. We are eternally grateful to each of you for taking this week out of your busy lives to gather together to cultivate joy.
As Doug Abrams says in the close to the book our week was centered around:
“…we would be missing the main message of the Dalai Lama’s and the Archbishop’s teachings if we did not emphasize that the source of true joy, as evidenced all week long and in their lives, is in our relationships with other people. … Ultimately, joy is not something to learn, it is something to live. And our greatest joy is lived in deep, loving, and generous relationships with others.”
We’ll be premiering a video featuring some of the highlights of the week at a soon-to-be-, and you are all invited to attend. Details are forthcoming. If you are not able to make the meal, we’ll be adding the video to our website the next day, for all to enjoy. And, as our plans evolve over the next few months for our next Gathering event, we will be sure to share all of the details with you in hopes that we can continue learning to live our best lives, in relationship and with deep and profound JOY.
Since moving to California I’ve become more aware of my breath. I took up yoga, for example, where coordinating movement with breath is a core concept.
When I learned to scuba dive, breath was a matter of life or death. I did not want to run out of air down there, and I quickly learned that my anxiety about dying underwater in all the many ways that could occur was lessened if I instead focused on my breath.
Meditation is another practice I started after moving here, and again a prime way to calm the mind for meditation is to focus on your breath.
Acting as well. I took a voice class (meant to help with public speaking), and the first lesson and the first portion of each subsequent class we spent working on our breath, as without having good breath we cannot give voice to our thoughts or those of our characters. I can only project to the audience in the back of the room by focusing on deeply breathing. Singing too, of course.
If I am feeling down or anxious or worried, simply spending a few minutes to celebrate my ability to deeply breath helps remind me of how wonderful it is to have the seemingly simple pleasure of automatically taking in air.
Last time I was anxious and felt my stomach starting to get nervous, I forced myself to sit still for a few moments and relax and breathe, and it made all the difference.
When I gave birth to my first child, I used focusing on my breath, and on his passage to life, rather than an epidural to make my way through labor (though I went with the epidural for child #2).
I sometimes imagine what it will be like when I take my last breath, or if, ailing, dying, knowing the end is near I will finally value the miracle that is my ability to breath in fresh air, and wish I hadn’t taken it for granted every other minute of my life. Breath is one of those common miracles easily overlooked, but well worth honoring.