Being Thankful

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. It’s a great tradition without religious overtones, with no obligations for presents. It’s just about family, friends, good food, and most importantly, about taking time to be thankful.

But you have to remember to be thankful. And not just for the luxuries or even the normal parts of your life… but just be thankful you are alive.

Anthony Robbins says, “For me, appreciation and gratitude are two of the most spiritual emotions, actively expressing through thoughts and actions.”

Here’s a story that Thich Naht Hanh likes to tell. It’s from his book “No Death, No Fear” (which I highly recommend to anyone who is facing or has gone through a loss).

Appreciating Earth

Suppose two astronauts go to the moon. When they arrive, they have an accident and find out that they have only enough oxygen for two days. There is no hope of someone coming from Earth in time to rescue them. They have only two days to live. If you asked them at that moment, “What is your deepest wish?” they would answer, “To be back home walking on the beautiful planet Earth.” That would be enough for them; they would not want anything else. They would not want to be the head of a large corporation, a big celebrity or president of the United States. They would not want anything except to be back on Earth — to be walking on Earth, enjoying every step, listening to the sounds of nature and holding the hand of their beloved while contemplating the moon.


We should live every day like people who have just been rescued from the moon. We are on Earth now, and we need to enjoy walking on this precious beautiful planet. The Zen master Lin Chi said, “The miracle is not to walk on water but to walk on the Earth.” I cherish that teaching. I enjoy just walking, even in busy places like airports and railway stations. In walking like that, with each step caressing our Mother Earth, we can inspire other people to do the same. We can enjoy every minute of our lives.

As Joni Mitchell said, “…you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.”

In light of these teachings, today on Thanksgiving Day, or any day, or every day, I invite you to try this exercise for deepening your appreciation of things:

  • List out things you are thankful for. You could think up this list, or write it down. I recommend writing it down at least once. Set aside some time and really think about all the things you are thankful for. Your family, your friends, your job, your home … the fact that you can see and hear and taste and smell and touch, the sunrise, the sunset…anything and everything.
    Even if you just do this part, you will deepen your appreciation for the things in your life. But if you’re adventurous, continue on.
  • With each item (or maybe the top 5 or 10) close your eyes and imagine this item. Hold it in your mind and lovingly appreciate it. Really feel the joy of having it a part of your life.
  • Now, with the same item, imagine it gone. Perhaps the person died, or moved away; perhaps you became blind, or maybe you lose your job. Dwell for some moments in the feeling that the thing that you were just cherishing is now gone forever. Capture the feelings of loss.
  • Now, again with the same item, imagine you still have it: it’s back! Again, spend a moment cherishing that this item is in your life: really appreciate it. After the feelings of relief, you may feel that your appreciation for this item has deepened after imagining it was gone. Or you may see it in a totally different perspective.

The ultimate goal, of course, is to treat everything in your life this way. To cherish each person, each item, each moment. To be thankful for each and every thing. Don’t wait until they’re gone.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Getting Un-Stuck

Seth Godin wrote in his blog about getting stuck at a “local max” because applying more energy after that point appears to actually decrease the effectiveness of what you’re doing, whether that’s your career, a project, or your relationship. What Seth points out is that people often mistake those lows as indicators of problems, and then retreat, when in fact people should push through and they’ll find that their efforts pay off and they arrive at the “big max.”

It really is true that those who struggle through adversity are often better off after the adversity. They’ve pushed beyond the local max, through the lows, and on to greater heights.

After all I’ve been through in the last year and a half, I can say from my own experience that the lower you go, the more woken up you get. And today, as my wife is on journey toward the end of her life, it doesn’t get much lower. But I’m not bitter, it’s a learning experience. It solidifies all I’ve learned from her in the last 14 years, and makes me take a hard look at the things I didn’t do the way I’d wanted to. And because of the adversity, I really learn it!

One of my favorite quotes: “Only after disaster can we be ressurected. It’s only after you have lost everything, that you’re free to do anything.” (Tyler Durden, in Fight Club)

What does all this mean? It means that when you’re going through troubles, that there is always another side. And if Seth’s right, it’s better than the one you left. It also means that there’s no easy way: if you want something worthwhile, you should expect to have problems as you pursue your goal. You might even say that if you’re not experiencing problems, then you’re not trying hard enough.

All I can say is that I expect a really big “big max” for all that I’m going through. 🙂

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Children’s books on Death

A few years ago, my wife and I came across two books that talked about death and dying in just the way we’d like it to be presented to our kids. We read them to them back then, but realized that we should probably keep these books on hand. The kids have aging grandparents, and we thought they’d be comforting as everyone encounters death one day. So we bought both of them and tucked them away for that eventuality.

Yesterday we pulled them off the shelf, as we learned that my wife’s cancer has become terminal.

And the books were, indeed, comforting, and gave the kids a way of thinking about death and dying.

So, for those out there with kids, I highly recommend these two books:

“Badger’s Parting Gifts” (Susan Varley)

“Grandad’s Prayers of the Earth” (Douglas Wood)

Looking back, I wish we hadn’t kept them tucked away, but had read them every once in a while. Death is really just a part of life, and doesn’t need to be shunned.

Quotations

I’ve loaded up my quotation database with 72 quotes that inspire me in some way. And there’s a random quote at the top of the main page, which will show you one of the quotes in the list.

Perhaps I can set up a page that lists them all, but I also like the idea of the serendipity of one quote coming up for you randomly.

Do you have any quotes to add?

An Early Riser, me?

I’d always been a night person before, usually going to bed at 10:00PM or later and preferring to sleep as late as possible (6:45AM or so), and much later on the weekends. What I realized, though, after some introspection was that the late evening wasn’t really the time when I was at my best. Sure, sometimes I could really get the groove on and get some excellent work done. But a lot of my nocturnal activities were not worthwhile. For example, blogs are interesting and I hope you’ll read mine from time to time, but when I’d look back at an evening of blog reading, I’d feel like I wasted the time.

I have two kids and a busy household, so I had a hard time finding time to do things for my personal development. I exercised only haphazardly and rarely even picked up the guitar I’d been trying to learn how to play for years. So I had some incentive to find a way to work these things into my life.

I read Steve Pavlina’s, “How to Become an Early Riser” and, quite profoundly, it changed my life. (Also see his additional post on the subject, How to Become an Early Riser, Part II)

After reading Steve’s article, I decided I wanted to get up at 5:00AM. It seemed impossible, but it was worth a try. The two key things that made the change possible for me were:
1. Set a fixed time to wake up, but vary the time I go to bed. That time should be when I’m tired enough to go to sleep in less than 15 minutes
2. Get up at the same time every day (I’ll talk about “Every Day” in a subsequent post.)

The fixed time to get up helped a lot. It meant no negotiations. I get up at 5AM, no matter what. I don’t have to think about what day it is, or what the day will be like, or what the night before was like. As soon as the alarm goes off, I get up. Immediately! It’s important to have the discipline to just get up and not hit snooze or bargain with yourself. Sure, my mind tried to do that in the beginning, but after only a few days of ignoring that voice that said “just a little more sleep”, now there isn’t even a pause when the alarm goes off. Often I wake up about 5 minutes before the alarm goes off (which I’m sure my wife, who sleeps later, prefers). If the alarm does go off and I’m groggy, I do some deep breathing and that wakes me up quickly. (I’ll talk about breath exercises in a subsequent post.)

And what time to I go to bed? “It depends.” Really, it’s different every day. I go to bed when I’m tired. Not so tired that I’m falling over, but tired enough that whatever I might be doing won’t be worthwhile. Now that I’ve been doing this for many months, I can just tell when I’m tired enough to go to sleep.

Sometimes that’s 9:00PM, sometimes that’s 11:30 PM. It has been as late as 1:30AM, and as early as 8:00PM. Generally, though, I go to bed between 9:30 and 10:30 each night. So that means that I’m getting around 7 hours of sleep on an average night, when I used to be an 8 hour plus, person. And it also means that since I go to bed (on average) at the same time I used to, that I’ve added almost 2 hours to my waking day. I use that time for some of the worthwhile things I’d previously never been able to get to.

My morning schedule goes something like:
5:05-5:25: Exercise: The Peaceful Warrior Workout and other exercises
5:25-5:55: Meditate, zazen style
5:55-6:00 make tea, green
6:00-6:40 practice guitar, classical

The schedule is not really this rigid: sometimes I’ll meditate for longer and shorten my guitar practice, or I’ll exercise longer and adjust the other things accordingly. The key, for me, is that I do each of them every day. I’ll write about the activities in subsequent posts.

Has it been worthwhile for me to turn my sleeping schedule upside-down like this? For me, very much so. An extra hour and forty minutes every day, filled with worthwhile things has made big changes in my life. Maybe it would for you too?

Hello and Welcome

I’ve done a lot of work on personal development for a long time, but in the last year or so it has become much more of a focus. So, I’ve decided to start this blog to share what I’ve learned, and, I hope, to give you some ideas to help you make improvements in your own lives.

I’ve called this blog “Worthwhile living” because when I think of personal development, I don’t think of it as just doing more, or acting in any certain way, but instead I want to be able to enjoy what I’m doing and to look back and be pleased with what I’ve done. What it boils down to for me is that I want each moment of my life to be worthwhile.

I’m going to write about things like :

  • Productivity — how to make sure you’re doing the right things
  • Mindfulness — being fully present, here and now
  • Nutrition — eating right to increase and maintain health
  • Exercise — taking care of your body so that it will serve you better, now and in the future
  • Learning — how to learn, an often overlooked skill
  • Tools — I’ll recommend some books that have helped me, and some other things I think worthwhile

I hope you enjoy the blog, and I look forward to your comments.