The right to be grateful

For several years, my renewed path to mindfulness included my focus on gratitude. As I became a parent, it became even clearer that the comfortable life in which I was raised was what I wanted for my children. I wanted them to not be spoiled, but free from worry about being in a safe neighborhood, free from concern about whether we would be able to pay the utility bill, or have enough money for the basic meals AND snacks. While today’s teens assume a cell phone and computer is a basic right, I wanted my family to be able to go to the doctor whenever there was a need. Being fully insured, fully fed, and fully entertained was our goal. Being fully educated was the underlying theme at every family discussion. At least it was for me. Having all these things meant my family was on their way to success, and I was grateful to be able to provide this for them as it was provided for me. So there was little doubt that when I became an empty nester, my attention should be directed in showing gratitude and being thankful for the grace I’d received.

Many of my enlightened friends were also at this point in their lives. We considered it a test of our faith or moral character. Acknowledging the ability to live free from most worries allowed us to be humble. To celebrate our personal freedom of no longer being the maniacal mother of teenage tyrants, but now living the life of respectful humility. We’d made it. If our children were still around to tell the tale and visit us on an occasional weekend, it was all good. However, my meditation on the benefits of being grateful took me down a thoughtful turn I had not expected. Was being grateful enough?

The basis of gratitude implies that you exist within a world that provides. That you are seen. That your voice is heard. And that you have succeeded. However, after much thought, I have concluded that the richness of one’s comfort is not earned by hard work. It seems, in part, that the privilege of being grateful is due to being born into circumstances that grant you the right to have. For all of my life, I have looked to my parents as they worked and struggled and then as my spouse and I worked and struggled to provide for our family. Little had I realized that my privilege did not just come from my hard work, but that my ancestors were able to own their home. That my parents shopped freely without fear and provided me things many others did not have. When my children had scrapes with the law, I could rescue them without further recourse as I was not second guessed as a bad mother or worse, judged as less than human. Gratitude had become my evidence of privilege.

I cannot begin to share with you how this troubles me. Being grateful, recognizing that I could have lived without but did not, was part of my midlife commitment to peace. Learning that this peace came at a price that I did not pay is overwhelming to me. How do I reconcile the future I want to provide my children, with addressing these inequities so that all mothers can be grateful and provide for theirs?

I do not have the answers to this, but like a pebble in my shoe, each step I take on this journey is a painful lesson that peace often comes at a cost. How expensive it is will be determined by how we share our ability to be grateful with others.

The fragrance of yesterday’s flowers

This spring and all the rain has made our community extremely green. In the cool mornings working from home, I have made breathing in the scent from my herbs and flowers I have planted a part of my ritual of mindful meditation. While we have all read or heard about how smell can evoke memories that have been associated with particular scents, I find that my mornings often transport me to places unexplored. Unexplored, yet ready for me to uncover the promise of tomorrow. Somehow, the growing life that fills my garden not only takes me back but holds me in a space that is quiet and new and purposeful. I have found a connection between the past, present, and the future in these gifts from my garden.

My maternal family has always loved roses. I’ve learned that our body chemistry and our ability to smell differs from person to person. However, despite the color or fragrance, the scent of roses evokes my past in a way that is more powerful than I could have imagined. I am reminded of the football-sized roses of all colors that lined my grandmother’s drive in the country where dirt roads were commonplace. I think back to my childhood where we knew we were close to my Grammy and Granddad because we saw the drive and even smelled the richness of the blooms as the tires from our car crunched over the gravel and dirt circular path. My mother continued this appreciation as her driveway in the city was also lined with roses, carrying on the sensory tradition of the anticipation of being home. While my roses do not yet grow in abundance, the fragrance of my Mr. Lincolns takes me back to a past that was simple and filled with home.

This spring, in particular, has been wonderfully fresh and I have planted mint and rosemary (ah! that rosemary!) and catered to my few growing flowers. Working the soil in the morning sun, I converse with myself about the need to wear a hat. At times, I must spend time recovering from my worshipful seat on the ground. I will occasionally stop and listen to the birds. Sometimes, I will smell the earth and my trusty canine companions and the evidence of a day at play. These moments, these scents, spur my imagination of the world to come. Retirement is too far away, but the peaceful repose of my midlife gives me hope for growth. Just like my herbs. Just like my roses. While my garden keeps me grounded in the moment, the fragrance of yesterday’s flowers allows me the gratitude of what was and excitement of what is to come.

My cup runneth over…

It was on my weekend getaway a few months ago, traveling by myself, that I took the time to understand the value of a moment. You may be thinking, “What’s a moment in the big scheme of things? Why is just a minute so important?” These days, in the time of sheltering in place, I find myself revisiting the value of time spent alone with little to do.

It had been clear that my life was taking a turn down the path of “living like I was dying”. Packing every moment with items on my bucket list: enjoying my favorite foods, seeing my favorite people more regularly, and even searching for adventures in the great unknown. As I approached midlife, I struggled with feelings that I wanted my life to count – and that I wanted to live with no regrets. It had become easy to get caught up in the planning instead of the actual living my life in these moments. It was when I finally had my “Aha” moment just recently that I took a step back from this breakneck pace and TYPE A goals (as the planner I am) to understand how my living in the moment was the perfect example of quantity over quality. My goal of paying attention had evolved into make each moment count. Little did I realize that the lesson I had to learn was that making each moment count was about finding the little joys in the moment, not making the moment “explode” with life. Somehow, I had lost the ability to see and appreciate the little things, not for what they were in connection to the big picture of my crazy days, but appreciate them for the bits of undiscovered joy they were. Reminding myself that my midlife goal was to incorporate mindfulness into all that I do, I reexamined my routine and in the process, made some improvements to my tiny world.

As a holiday gift, I received a subscription to a monthly box with samples of tea. The purpose: to provide a taste of something you might consider for future purchase. This is not a new concept – but as my mood for tea varies greatly, I took the plunge, completed the enrollment and waited for my first box. It was unclear what kind of tea I’d be receiving – white, green, black, oolong, matcha, or other flavorful combinations. I had answered questions about how I drank my tea, how I normally prepared my tea, when I drank my tea, and I even provided details about my preference on flavors. This monthly box was soon to become a pleasant surprise in an otherwise busy schedule. But what arrived at my doorstep was much more than just a box. It was truly an adventure in mindfulness.

I opened my first box to find colorful packets with foreign names and flavors. There was a description card for the teas, as well as instructions for how to make the best cup. Making a good cup of tea required attention; something I had not ever made time for in the past. The phrase, “a watched pot never boils” took on new meaning for me as I adapted my busy life to the art of making tea. By the arrival of the second box, I had carved out time for my tea. It became an adventure as I unwrapped the packets and packages of loose leaves. I became an explorer as I discovered new tastes of what I had transformed from a dry packet of leaves to a hot, sweet beverage to savor. I was taking time to enjoy the quiet moments with a full cup.

It was upon receiving my third monthly box that I realized how I had been brought to the peak of mindfulness as I had filled the kettle with water and waited for it to boil. Standing at the stove, I focused on preparing my cup and laying ready my spoon, honey, and my teacozy. Hearing the burbling sounds of the kettle, I’d taken hold of the handle as the water was boiling away, feeling the rumbling energy of the water as it was brought to the perfect temperature. As I poured the water into the teapot, I savored the wafting scent of my creation. My cup of tea had mindfully brought me to a place I had long since forgotten.

Since this time, I have learned that I must work at being mindful. I’ve decided that for me, clarity and peace of mind comes with the goal of looking for something and finding nothing. Not a task for my list, not a project to be completed, but being open to the joy of drinking a full cup of tea and what it took for me to find it.