This summer, I began a 150 day happiness challenge on Facebook. Every day I would post something that made me happy. It felt important I do this because I was overwhelmed with fear and anger from my husband’s cancer. Suddenly, I was the caregiver for two medically fragile people, my husband and my daughter, and the emotional toll made getting out of bed difficult. So I started looking for things to make me happy.
Quickly, the exercise felt phony. Very little made me happy. Writing about the joy I found in my morning coffee was silly, and how many times could I write about my garden? Happiness? What was that? I was happy just to get through the day.
Then I realized that I was actually writing down things I was grateful for. Having that morning cup of coffee helped ease me out of bed, and I was grateful for that. Watching my garden grow filled me with gratitude because I could feed my family while supporting wild bees. Gratitude was the best I could do. Happiness was like chasing a mirage.
What is gratitude? To me, it is an awareness of the gifts I have in my life. The simple things, like a warm bed, health insurance and the internet. I am grateful my husband’s cancer seems to be gone and I am grateful my daughter is thriving in her new school. I am grateful for her teachers. Grateful my car is running and I can afford new tires for winter. These things don’t make me happy; they make me grateful for my life.
As the weeks went by and I forced myself to post a gratitude, an interesting shift in my awareness occurred. The more I focused on gratitude, the more I felt happiness. Where did this happiness come from? Circumstances hadn’t changed. My husband still struggled to recover and my daughter still had bad days, but she also had good ones. There were days I wanted to cry from the weight of the emotional load I constantly carried, but on that same day I’d smile watching the dog chase leaves across the back yard.
I am not in denial; things are bad. Frightening. Cancer lurks and my daughter could decline any time. Money is tight and I still don’t have job. The future is one big scary unknown and the odds aren’t in our favor.
In searching for any small, random thing I felt grateful for, I uncovered a rich source of joy. Happiness fluctuates. But gratitude is constant. WhenI feel happiness has vanished and I’m left alone fighting my battles, gratitude holds me up. I am grateful for my strong, weary body. I am grateful for love. I am grateful it rained today.
Or is there really any difference between gratitude and happiness? Can you feel one without the other?
The Radical Housewife: Redefining Family Values for the 21st Century, written by Shannon Drury and edited by me, has won the 2015 USA Best Books Award in the Women’s Issues category.
So proud of my author, and my press, Medusa’s Muse. Bravo team!
New Orleans music legend Allen Toussaint died last night in Madrid of a heart attack. He was 77. He died after performing the music he loved so much.
Below is a link to the last song he played.
‘Brickyard Blues’, Madrid, 9 Nov La última canción de Allen Toussaint The last song of Allen Toussaint pic.twitter.com/EI2YIufVDa
— El Mundo Madrid (@ElMundo_Madrid) November 10, 2015
Dan Poynter, the Godfather of Independent Publishing, passed away this week. He was one of the pioneers of independent publishing, self publishing a book on parachuting in 1973. Since then, he has written numerous books and taught thousands of people how to self-publish their own work. His “Self Publishing Manual” was the first book I bought when I started Medusa’s Muse Press.
I met him 10 years ago at a publishing conference and heard him speak. He was dynamic and positive. With hard work and dedication, anyone can tell their story, he said. Anyone can publish a book. Never give up!
Thank you Dan. You were an inspiration and I will never forget you.
I am sitting on my knees in a small room with several other women, silently breathing. Incense makes me want to sneeze, but it is also soothing. I close my eyes and concentrate on my breath. Pushing out my abdomen, I fill my lungs full, then push the air out until my lungs are desperate for air. Breathing in, I feel the warmth of oxygen. Like waves on the shore, air flows in and out of my body, reminding me I am alive.
I haven’t felt alive in a long time. That is why I came to practice zazen with Rev. Zenju Earthlyn Manuel. I heard her speak on a podcast over a year ago and there was something about her voice that made me look for her. She is an ordained Zen Buddhist Priest who teaches and lives in Oakland, California. We’d met one other time for a conversation and the advice she gave back then helped my life and practice. So when I heard she was doing a one day retreat, I had to go.
But when I was there, sitting quietly and breathing, I wondered why I’d driven so far. What was I hoping to learn spending an entire day meditating? My daughter was sick with a bad cold and I felt guilty leaving her, even though my husband is perfectly capable of caring for her. Plus, her caregiver was there. They didn’t need me. I could let go and … what?
After an hour, I was racked with fiery pain. Three years ago I’d been seriously injured and have dealt with neck and shoulder pain ever sense. I’ve learned to manage it, mostly by ignoring it. or “managing it”. I push myself too hard and regret it later. But the bills must be paid and my child must be cared for and that means I must shove my pain aside and get on with life. But through sitting and breathing, I reconnected to my very tired, very overstressed body, and felt the incredible pain I cary with me everywhere.
I wanted to cry. The pain stayed for what felt like hours, but was probably 30 minutes. Later I talked to Zenju about what had happened and she reminded me that part of meditation is listening to the body. If I’m in pain while sitting, stop. Forcing myself to sit with that pain doesn’t help at all. A strong will isn’t what the body needs. The body needs to be listened to and honored.
This is why I had come. Between my daughter’s care and my husband’s illness, I had been run to exhaustion. I shut down my body and ignored my needs just to cope. Survival mode was normality. Survival at the expense of my body had made me sick.
I returned to zazen and thankfully the pain wasn’t as strong. Instead of exhaustion, I felt strength. A wave of peace replaced fear. Despite my attempts to negate my body, she was still powerful. I promised to take better care of her. At least check in with her more often, and thank her for how much she does.
And thank you Zenju Earthlyn Manuel for your guidance and wisdom.
Today is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Arthur Miller, playwright and activist. He fought against the Anti-communist witch hunts of the 1950’s by refusing to testify against his fellow artists and continued to fight injustice throughout his life. His play, “The Crucible” was inspired by his battle with Congress and his conviction of obstructing justice in 1957, a conviction overturned the following year.
Arthur Miller is one of the greatest American artists of all time. His plays revealed the inner life of ordinary people hunting the American dream. “Death of a Salesman” does this beautifully. If you haven’t read this play, do so.
Or listen to a live recording. What better way to celebrate the birthday of a genius writer than by celebrating his greatest work?