Monthly Archives: June 2015

Crazy, Cheesy Gratitude – Part 2

Rooted in Hope

Rooted in Hope

Last week I took you along with me on the coach ride from Hell. I described the small miracle that occurred when I chose gratitude over resistance and complaining. And I told you that choosing gratitude felt cheesy and Polly Anna-ish and fake. Why is that?

I’ve come up with four reasons why gratitude feels wrong and foreign. I’m sure there are more, so please bring ‘em on in the comments!

  1. Gratitude feels unfamiliar. Our brains are hard-wired for negativity – the “negativity bias.” The human nervous system, writes Neuropsychologist Rick Hanson, “scans for, reacts to, stores, and recalls negative information about oneself and one’s world. The brain is like Velcro for negative experiences and Teflon for positive ones. The natural result is a growing – and unfair – residue of emotional pain, pessimism, and numbing inhibition in implicit memory.” So it’s normal and natural to notice and focus on the negative. It’s how we kept ourselves safe in the age of the Pleistocene.
  1. Gratitude feels conspicuous. We live in a culture of criticism. Our media pays a lot of attention to disasters and threats, and not just conservative outlets like Fox News. Our local evening news is full of scary stuff. And liberal commentators like Jon Stewart and Larry Wilmore make their living skewering people they’ve decided are wrong. (I usually agree with them.) Gratitude stands out in a sea of negativity.
  1. Gratitude looks and sounds stupid, at least to me. I think in my family “smart” sounded like criticism and sarcasm and judgment. Keeping up a running commentary on what’s wrong and how we could do it better is what intelligence sounds like to me. I know this is nuts, yet it’s in there pretty deep. I’m working on it.
  1. Gratitude feels dangerous, if we believe that it’s our negativity and judgment and criticism that keep us safe. I wonder if we believe that if we drop the constant scoping for what’s wrong, we’ll find ourselves doing things we don’t want to do and going places we don’t want to go. “I’d better remember that I don’t like x or I’ll find myself doing x all the time!”

So there are a few reasons why I think gratitude sometimes feels cheesy and fake and dumb and hard. I’d love to hear yours in the comments. Next week, I’ll share reasons why I believe gratitude is a better choice than resistance and complaining, for our minds, bodies, and souls.

Crazy, Cheesy Gratitude – Part 1

Rooted in Hope Camino Journal 28 May 2015

Rooted in Hope

I was plenty miserable on the Camino, at times. I had big blisters on my heels, my body hurt, I was tired of sharing bedrooms and bathrooms with snoring strangers, I was cold at night, albergues and bars were sometimes dirty and smelly, and I was just over the whole damn thing. About half my waking hours were spent simply enduring.

But hands down the most miserable three hours I spent on my 2014 Camino was not on the Camino. This is the story of those three hours and what I learned from them.

Jed and I flew home from Spain through England. Getting from Santiago to Southampton, where our daughter lives, was an eight-stage journey: walk from hotel to Santiago bus stop, city bus to airport, RyanAir to Stanstead Airport north of London, van to Baker Street Underground, tube to Victoria Station, walk to Victoria Coach Station, National Express coach to Southampton University, walk to Becky’s flat.

This post, the first (and longest) of a four-part series, concerns stage 7: a National Express coach trip from Hell. We hit London rush hour on an 85-degree day (hot for London), and the coach’s heaters were running full blast for a three-hour drive that normally takes 75 minutes. The driver tried everything he knew to turn the heaters off. We were drenched in our own sweat, desperately keeping our flesh away from the blistering hot heaters at our feet. Our only alternative was to wait for a replacement coach, which would leave us on the side of a busy motorway in the heat waiting for a coach to be delivered through the same rush hour traffic that had slowed us to a crawl multiple times. We voted to continue.

Here’s an excerpt from my journal: “It was awful. Three hours of hell. And what helped was choosing gratitude — for the trees, the clouds, the landscape, buses, planes, people, cities, creativity, cute English cars, motorways, the number 8 … that Becky would be warm on that coach this winter (because it would never cool off), the well-behaved people on the bus, that some air was occasionally moving, that we did occasionally make progress and did eventually arrive, the sun through the clouds … so much to be grateful for and it really, really helped. And it was a choice. And it felt cheesy and Polly Anna to make that choice. The cooler, hipper response would be anger and irritation and expressed frustration — to have chosen suffering, in other words… There was nothing I could have done about the situation, short of getting off the coach, except choose my thoughts. Traveling is like that. I give over so much control to other people and infrastructure and systems – all I can do when I’ve done all I can is to choose my thoughts. I chose gratitude. I’m glad I did.”

I am so proud of myself that I chose gratitude! It was a small miracle, really. I think because I’d spent the last six weeks on the Camino, with constant opportunities for self-reflection and self-knowledge, I recognized the choice point: gratitude and acceptance or complaining and resistance. I knew in a way I had never known before that choosing resistance and complaining would result in more misery than I could bear at that moment. In the words of a former therapist, “My cheese would fall off my cracker.

I wonder – why did choosing gratitude in that moment feel so cheesy and airy fairy and fake? How do we know when grateful acceptance is the appropriate response? Are there times when complaining is the right thing to do? Why is choosing gratitude over resistance the best choice for our bodies, hearts, and souls? And how do we go about implementing gratitude instead of complaining about a situation? I will be exploring these questions in the coming weeks.

Lessons Learned: “Re-Camino” Week 6

Camino Journal 12 June 2014 Santiago de Compostela

Camino Journal
12 June 2014
Santiago de Compostela

“It’s closing time. Time for you to go out to the places you will be from… Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end… I know who I want to take me home… Take me home.” –Semisonic, “Closing Time”

Jed and I walked into Santiago on June 11, 2014 – a little over a year ago. I’ve been intentionally revisiting journal entries and photos from our walk, a discipline I’ve come to see as “Lectio Camino.”  As this Lectio Camino draws to an end, I’m reflecting on what I learned from walking 500 miles across northern Spain, from southern France to Santiago de Compostela.

 

Here’s what I learned on the Way:

  1. Just say “no” to other people’s Caminos. Corollary: Walk my Camino.
  2. The big things (parenthood, marriage, vocation, big grief, big journeys, etc.) are never finished.
  3. I can do hard stuff. It’s much easier to do hard stuff when it’s what I want, however. See no. 1.
  4. There’s always enough.
  5. Hospitality and community are necessities.
  6. Spirituality and religion are heart-based, not head-based. Like swimming or riding a bike, we learn important things by doing, not by thinking.
  7. I am my body.
  8. I know so little about most things, so stay curious and stop needing to be right.
  9. Do, make, create, and stay present, rather than consuming and escaping.
  10. Practice gratitude. Gratitude is the way to accepting what cannot be changed.
  11. Take the first step, and trust that guidance for the next step will appear

Thank you for walking the Way with me, again.

¡Buen Camino!

Camino Journal 11 June 2014

Camino Journal
11 June 2014

Cultivating Curiosity: “Re-Camino” Week 5

“Give up caring about being right. It’s time. Major barrier to love. Probably the only real barrier.”

I wrote these words in my journal one year ago today, in Salceda, Galicia, Spain. Jed and I had completed Day 35 (of 37) of our 500-mile journey across northern Spain on the Camino de Santiago. I’ve been revisiting my journal and the many photos Jed took as we walked the Way of Saint James – my Lectio Camino. Here’s today’s Lectio Camino page:

Galician House and Deep Thoughts, 9 June 2014, Spain

Galician House and Deep Thoughts, 9 June 2014, Spain

Last night here in Bend, Wings facilitator Sherrie Frank shared her “Ten Steps to an Authentic Life.” Step Nine is to cultivate “child-like curiosity and openness.” This morning, as I was rereading my Camino journal from June 9, 2014, I noticed a congruence between being curious and not caring about being right.

Being curious is easy for me, as long as I’m curious about other people and processes outside myself. But staying curious about my own beliefs, and the beliefs of friends and family, is a lot harder for me. I love being right. I love knowing things. I enjoy the feeling of superiority and self-righteousness I get from believing that I’m right and I know how things work.

Here’s the thing, though. Being curious feels a lot better in my body than being right. Curiosity feels open. Curiosity feels free. Curiosity feels worshipful of the wonders and surprises around and within me. Most of all, practicing curiosity means I can access the resources that are present to me right now, right this minute, rather than living in my past. When I’m simply curious, I’m free to be who I am today, here and now.

(Important note: Cultivating curiosity does not mean staying silent when bullshit is afoot or cruelty is happening. It does mean we respond respectfully and humbly, I think.)

My husband will tell you that I’m still working on giving up my attachment to being right. I’m grateful for the reminder from Sherrie, and from the Camino, that being curious is a more peaceful, enjoyable way to live than being right. Curiosity is a cure for many mindsets that cause us suffering: attachment to outcome and fear of failure among them.

I wouldn’t claim that I’m right about this, though. I’ll stay curious and see what I find!

Camino Journal 4 June 2014

Camino Journal
4 June 2014

Camino Journal 5 June 2014

Camino Journal
5 June 2014

Camino Journal 6 June 2014

Camino Journal
6 June 2014

Camino Journal 7 June 2014

Camino Journal
7 June 2014

 

Loving from the Center: “Re-Camino” Week 4

Camino Journal drawing 28 May 2015

Camino Journal drawing 28 May 2015

Commitment, fierce focus, discipline, and love… These are the themes that are consistently popping up as I continue my daily “Lectio Camino” discipline.

(My husband and I walked 500 miles from southern France to Santiago de Compostela from May 6 to June 11, 2014. This route, known as the “Camino Francés,” one of many ways to Santiago, is the most common route for modern pilgrims. I am revisiting my journal and our photos one year later, “reading” them for what they have to say to me today. You can read Jed’s reflections here, and read more about the Camino here.)

Gretchen Rubin, in her latest book Better than Before, says this: “Research suggests that when we have conflicting goals, we don’t manage ourselves well. We become anxious and paralyzed, and we often end up doing nothing (p. 223).”

Duh? This seems obvious, doesn’t it? But when I read this a few days ago I felt like a pattern of mine became illuminated in a new way. To wit:

  • I want to make other people happy so they won’t be mad at me, but I also want to be myself and use my unique gifts.
  • I want to stay aloof and separate from life because that feels safe, but I also want to be fully committed because that’s where the juiciness is.
  • I want to get my work done, but I also want to take long walks, read books, and watch a little TV now and then.
  • I want to fully love myself and other people and Creation, but I also want to judge and criticize and feel superior to others, because that feels safe and familiar.

I don’t think I’m unique in experiencing these inner conflicts. (Can I get an “Amen!”?) What I realized while walking the Camino, and what I’m seeing with renewed clarity today, is how much this dividedness saps my energy and keeps me stuck.

Paul, in his letter to the Romans says this: “Love from the center of who you are; don’t fake it (Romans 12:9, The Message).”

I think Paul nails the solution to dividedness. Self-criticism, judgment, separateness, distractions, and managing others’ impressions of me are all born of fear and a lack of trust in my own goodness and strength. When I’m mean to myself and critical of others, it’s because I’m believing the lie that I’m not good enough and precious enough and loveable enough. (Can I get an “Amen!”?) When I’m afraid to show the real me, it’s because I don’t believe I’m strong enough to handle the disapproval of others.

Eliminating distractions, focusing on what’s really important to me, and committing to my heart-centered life is how I love. These habits are the polar opposite of selfish. Cultivating the habits of authenticity, fierce focus, consistent action, and loving from the center of who I am takes immense courage and persistence. Just like the Camino, it’s not for weenies.

But here’s the thing: we build our courage muscles by using them, not be sitting around waiting to feel courageous before doing hard things. We become courageous by doing what scares us. The Way is made by walking.

Camino Journal 31 May 2014

Camino Journal 31 May 2014

Camino Journal 5.31.14

Camino Journal page 31 May 2014

Camino Journal 2 June 2014

Camino Journal 2 June 2014

Camino Journal 1 June 2014 El Cruz de Ferro

Camino Journal 1 June 2014
El Cruz de Ferro