Friday, April 29, 2022

Watermelon Gratitude

The power of stickers

Back In the old days, when watermelons had seeds, we used to sit on a picnic table in the back yard under the shade of a pecan tree on hot summer days and spit seeds while the cool, sticky watermelon juice ran down our chins.

Remembering those days (and looking at a watermelon sticker) made me think of gratitude given and gratitude received. We go through life, enjoying its sweetness, spitting out seeds of conversation: random thoughts, remembered stories, pontifications, advice, encouragement, and other ramblings. Most fall aside, quickly forgotten. Some, however, fall on just the right place and at just the right time and take hold, sprouting into something that produces sweet fruit for the future.

Recently, I received the gift of being thanked for something I said in the past … encouragement given that found fertile ground and changed a life.

This gift came from Bruce, a young man I met in the mailroom where I worked. He was friendly and helpful with a knack for fixing computer issues. However, he was stuck in his dead-end job with little opportunity to grow. Something I said to him gave him hope and confidence and, sometime after I had left the company, he went back to school, got a good job in computers, got married, had kids and thirty years later, found me and thanked me.

It felt good, however, I dismissed it. He had done all the work. I merely “spit some seeds.” 

Later though, I thought about Bruce and those seeds. The man Bruce became went on to be a hero to his family. I can imagine that because of his own transformation, he championed education, encouraged his children to follow their own dreams, probably affected their life choices and even their own children’s choices. I imagine him changing everything and everyone he touched, spitting his own seeds along the way, creating an ever expanding spiral of gratitude, hopes and dreams.

The paradox of gratitude

Years after I heard from Bruce and as I was researching gratitude for Gratitude Mojo, a transformation journey for a better life, I came across some research offered by neuroscientist Andrew Huberman on his podcast: The Huberman Lab. While many studies have proven the positive effects of gratitude practice, the study he talked about shocked me. 

The positive effects of being grateful, of giving thanks, are well known. However, the effects are even more powerful when we RECEIVE thanks.

Huberman discussed the findings and recommended a practice of reliving the feelings of receiving significant gratitude for just a brief moment about three times a week. Since few of us do something that prompts dramatic gratitude every two or three days, the biggest revelation related to how our brains react to stories almost as if they were actually happening. 

This has been well known for a long time and visualization has become a staple of professional sports. What Huberman suggests, though, is that one deep experience of receiving gratitude can be turned into a brief story that repeatedly gives us the positive effects of gratitude.

This finding was so amazing that we built “gratitude stories” into the Gratitude Mojo journey.  Since we are both experiencing this journey as we create it, I dug around until I remembered Bruce’s note to me and realized I had dismissed it as nice, but not really anything that I deserved to be thanked for. However, I followed the suggestions given by Huberman and crafted it into a brief story and began to relive it three times a week.

Slowly, I stopped thinking of it as something I did, and began to think about what Bruce did … change his life … and, in so doing, changing everything around him. It humbles me to think about how all of us go around spitting seeds not really understanding the power of our words and the possibilities they hold. What if we harnessed that power, those encouraging seeds which take hold and grow into mighty bean stalks?

Metaphorical Stickers

The foundation of Gratitude Mojo is self-exploratory journaling. Like all writing and art, the first barrier is the blank page. To help overcome that often daunting open space, the workbook is filled with inspiring quotes, tidbits of content, and engaging questions. We knew it also needed to be fun, but was floundering around a bit when a bag of stickers came our way.

I ordered the stickers thinking they would be like gold stars we could give ourselves and didn’t pay much attention to thousands of sticker offerings on amazon. I just picked one and when it arrived, the bag of 800 stickers shocked me. They were tiny, colorful metaphors … like a big box of crayons, only images. They began to infiltrate every page. This article was sparked by the image at the top of the page.

If you are interested in knowing more about Gratitude Mojo, please send an email to info@gratitudemojo.com. We are planning a June 1, 2022 release date.


Friday, January 28, 2022

Yesterday I went to the grocery store.


How many times have I made that trip to the store without stopping to think about what it took to make
 that simple event possible? If I unpack it, I find:

- Gratitude for my amazing physical health which is not to be taken for granted during this pandemic period. I can see, hear, and use all my other senses. I can walk to the car, drive 45 minutes to the store, shop for 30 minutes, carry all the groceries back home and put them away. Not everyone is so fortunate.


I spent two weeks in Russia in 1990. Stores were empty. Not just missing toilet paper and a few other staples empty. Empty-empty. Barren shelves empty. People spent hours standing in bread lines for a loaf of bread.


- Gratitude for financial stability. I am on Social Security, so while I’m not wealthy, I have a warm place to live and money to buy food and gas and the other necessities of life. However, I have to stop and thank the myriad of folks eighty years ago who decided a country is a community which should care for its weakest members. Also thanks to every clerk, every brainiac and computer jock who makes the system run, every mail delivery person and every bank person responsible for making those lovely numbers appear in my bank account every month. Every bite of food reminds me of how grateful I am.


- Gratitude for transportation. My car always starts thanks to an entire industry that makes and repairs engines, tires, bodies, brakes, and airbags, as well as another industry that conveniently dots gas stations along a paved highway that allows me to wind through the hills to the place where my groceries await. (While I hope to one day to replace gas pumps with charging stations, for me, that day still rests in the future.)


- Gratitude to farmers, farm workers, food processing workers, people who make packaging, truckers who deliver the goods, store cashiers and stockers, strong young people who push all those convenience carts back to the store, often wiping them down to help prevent the spread of a virus threatening so many of us.


- Gratitude to teachers who taught us to read and write and do basic math so the whole supply chain can contribute to the flow of plums from trees to a creatively  labeled bottle on the shelf in front of me that I can see is jelly.


- Gratitude to nurses and doctors, dentists and acupuncturists, janitors and virus researchers, accountants and receptionists who create a healthcare system that supports the health we need to drive to the store to buy our groceries.


- Gratitude to the electricians, pole workers, scientists and fix-it-folks, as well as the propane delivery drivers who fill my tank so I can refrigerate or cook the groceries I brought home.


I look around and realize I’ve barely begun and neglected so many. I still haven’t thanked the people who made the dishes I use, the chair I sit on, the blankets which keep me warm at night, the trees that give me oxygen to breathe, the bees that make the wax my candle is burning, or the sun which makes the food I will eat possible in the first place.


I could sit here until tomorrow thanking all the elements of my trip to the grocery store, but it’s time to make breakfast and I haven’t even mentioned salt and pepper, the chickens that lay the eggs, or the people who milked the cows and made the butter I just plopped into the skillet.


When I think of all the things that have to be in place and go right just for me to make a simple trip to the grocery store, all I can do is say, “Thank you!” 


In the 1300s, mystic theologian and philosopher Meister Eckhart said that would be enough.

Thursday, January 20, 2022

Weaving meaning into every strand of life

  


 
Common advice says we need to “walk our talk.”
 

    Of course that’s true, our actions need to reflect our beliefs and values, however, that does not mean it is easy, especially in our fast-paced, over-busy, information-flooded world. Most of us spend about half of our waking life focused on the beliefs, values, and purposes of others (employers and schools), moving rapidly through our daily requirements without slowing down to savor the meaning of our own precious lives. 


    “Who has time to slow down?” we wonder.


    The answer reverberates with more questions:

    “Who has enough life to not slow down long enough to live it?” 

    “Who am I really?” 

    “What is my life’s meaning?” 

    “Where am I going, and when I hit the rocky shores of trouble and loss, what will give me the strength to carry on?”


    I am 76. I have time to slow down … if I truly walked my talk, I would slow down and focus on the meaning of life … the meaning of my life.


    In mid-2021, I began a new project: more of a gathering than a construction. It started out simply enough … reprint my gratitude journal (Gratitude Miracles) as a letter-sized workbook. Then I went off-script and began to wander and wonder, harvesting nuggets of wisdom as I walked through my days.


    As I wandered, the journey became an onion peeler, gradually removing one layer after another, revealing an essence and a connection to the Universe that I had not previously experienced. One question began to surface … what is the meaning of life? Or, perhaps more truly, “What meaning does life hold?” I began to realize that life … whatever it is … holds the meaning I’ve given it. If I don’t give the world around me meaning, then I’m living in a meaningless Universe.


    At about this moment, another nugget of wisdom rolled onto my path. It looked like just another Facebook post but it shimmered as I picked it up. Sweet grass. Braided sweet grass. Simple. Little did I know sweetgrass was medicine. Kindness medicine. I felt a shifting in my heart … in my being. I wanted to begin again and bring meaning alive, immerse myself, until I saw the shining in every tree and wild turkey roaming through my oak-forest world.


***


The post offered words from Anishinabe Elder Wally Chartrand and began by telling about a common plant, abundant and free, more than a plant, a wisdom teacher. Here it is, with some of the lessons I took away ...


“Sweetgrass - a kindness medicine - has a sweet gentle aroma when we light it.”


The message can’t be rushed or crowded; must be repeated, savored, honored for the wisdom it holds, the beckoning it brings. Sweetgrass. Kindness medicine. How slowly it ripens.


    “We use 21 strands of sweetgrass to make a braid. The first seven strands represent those seven generations behind us - our parents, grandparents, and so on back for seven generations. Who we are and what we are is because of them. They’ve brushed and made the trails we have been walking up until now. The old people tell us that it takes longer for us to heal today and the reason is because the old trails our ancestors used to use to find us have been destroyed. They’ve built dams which have destroyed the old trails. They’ve built towns and cities where the old trails used to be. So now our ancestors are having a harder time trying to find us to help us heal.”


“Who we are and what we are is because of them.” 


I, who knows little of my own seven generations, 

am like a hairless infant alone in a wilderness, 

exposed to the elements. Who am I? 

resounds into the distance.


    "The next seven strands represent the seven sacred teachings: love, respect, honesty, courage, wisdom, truth, and humility. The old people tell us how simple, powerful and beautiful the teachings are. Love - a very simple teaching. Respect - a powerful teaching. Humility - a beautiful teaching. When we truly understand the teaching of humility - that I am not any better than anyone else and you are not any better than me, and that at the end of the day we are all simply human beings - this is what makes this teaching powerful and beautiful."


“Humility: At the end of the day we are all simply human beings.” 


This unlearned lesson is tearing us all apart, 

filling my own spirit with a need to be special, 

a yearning to be recognized.


    "The only thing wrong with the teachings is that we don’t walk them everyday. Love is only a four-letter word. It’s when we walk that love, when we show it, when we live it, that’s what makes these teachings powerful and beautiful. One other thing we are reminded is that how can we love someone else if we don’t first love ourselves. How can we respect another if we don’t first respect ourselves. They tell us that the teachings need to first start from within ourselves."


“… the teachings need to first start from within ourselves.” 


My journal project is an attempt to teach myself wisdom 

and how to walk it. While I sometimes wish I could have 

come to this point earlier in my life, I know that 

I wasn’t ready. Now, I’m at a turning point 

where I might be ready. But, ready for what?


    "The last seven strands are for the seven generations in front of us: our children, our grandchildren, and those children yet to be born. Why are they important? Everything we do to Mother Earth will one day affect them. Right now the earth gives us everything and anything we can possibly want to have the life we have, but if we don’t look after her, what’s going to be left when it’s their turn? The circle that’s around me today, is that the same circle I want to pass on to them? Especially if my circle involves alcohol abuse, drug abuse, family violence, lying, stealing or cheating. Sometime it’s up to us to break the cycle, and hopefully replace it with something better."


“Sometime it’s up to us to break the cycle, and hopefully replace it with something better.” 


Am I breaking the cycle? 

I chose to not have children; however, 

that does not remove my responsibility 

to the next seven generations. 

What can I do? What will I do?


    "When my son was born I made him a promise that we wouldn’t cut his hair till he was seven years old. We cut it eight years ago (he’s 15 today) but when he was four years old he already knew this teaching, because every morning as I’d get him ready for daycare, I’d braid his hair. I’d ask him, "Misko what does your braid represent?”


"Sweetgrass," he’d say.


"What does sweetgrass represent, my boy?" I’d ask.


"Kindness," he’d say.


"And what does each of your braids represent, my boy?”


"My mind, my body and my spirit," was his reply.


"Okay, what are you going to do at daycare today, my boy?" I’d ask.


"Dad, I’m going to be kind to my mind, my body and my spirit," he’d say.


"Awesome my boy!!! What’s going to happen if you do that today?" I’d ask.


"He’d say, "Dad! I’m going to be STRONG !!!!”


"You see that’s the second teaching that comes with this medicine. It’s through our kindness that we are most strong. Anybody can raise their fist at anyone else. Anyone can use their words to hurt or put someone down. But when we have someone in our face trying to hurt us with their actions or words, and we still love, respect and show that person kindness... that takes a lot of strength!!!!"


***


So I wonder:


How am I,

        in this universal daycare,

        going to learn how to be kind

        to my mind, body and spirit?


        How am I,

        one woman, small and frail,

        going to break the cycle,

        to find peace in the chaos?

    

        How am I,

        braided with my own skills and talents,

        going to share what I learn

        and be strong in the face of challenge?

                

                    -- Joyce Wycoff

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Layered Heart of Emotions: Naming and Claiming Our Feelings

by Joyce Wycoff and Lynne Snead

"Emotion is the chief source of all becoming-conscious. 
There can be no transforming of darkness into light 
and of apathy into movement 
without emotion." 
— Carl Jung

Elementary science class told us there are 206 bones in our bodies, 26 of which are in our feet. That information was generally accompanied by a basic overview of the various body parts, organs, and systems. However, little was said about emotions, and it wasn’t until 2017 that researchers identified 27 different emotions and clumped them into six basic types: 
Happiness
Sadness
Fear
Disgust
Anger
Surprise

Hundreds, if not thousands, of charts and wheels have been created in an attempt to clarify an apparently endless number of more nuanced descriptions of emotions. 

One might ask “Why?”

The work of Candace Pert, the scientist who discovered the opioid receptor and the idea that the molecules of emotions are our subconscious body, was a wake-up call to the importance of emotions and understanding their effect on our well-being. Since then, a lot of research has confirmed the power of naming our emotions. The ability to name our feelings makes us more aware of them, reduces their intensity, and gives us more power to handle them and the behaviors they stimulate.

Michael Miller states, 
“Naming emotions seems to bridge the gap between thoughts and feelings. 
The step from “I am this…” to “I am feeling this…”, or even, 
“Michael is feeling this…” means that we are not that emotion exclusively.”

As we approached the section of Gratitude Mojo journal devoted to emotions, we were looking for simple ways to “name and claim” our emotions. Joyce repurposed a bracelet to help her learn more about her emotional territory, however, it didn’t make sense to include a bracelet with every journal, especially since it seems like this territory varies for everyone. Plus the bracelet didn’t offer a way to reflect intensity of feelings nor our ability to express them and choose appropriate behaviors.

The longer we looked at the complicated wheels and charts related to feelings, the more we wanted something different, more useful, more engaging. One day as Joyce was writing in her journal, she gazed out the window at the cold, blustery and rainy day. Against that wintery backdrop, a stained glass heart stood out, bright and beautiful. 

As she was pulled deeper and deeper into its layers, a metaphor emerged, each bright layer representing variations of comfort and vulnerability. Clearly, expression of some emotions is easier than others; some are closer to the surface, others much deeper in our core, seldom revealed and sometimes hidden even from ourselves. Exploring those layers of expression, could bring us greater understanding of those lesser understood layers of ourselves.

Most of us are comfortable expressing happiness but less willing to express feelings of insecurity. We may easily express irritation while withholding the hurt feelings that come when we feel unseen or unheard. Expressing some fears, such as the fear of spiders or heights, is common and often a source of amusement, others such as the fear of abandonment or the fear of intimacy are generally much more difficult to explore and express.

The stained glass Layered Heart offers a simple metaphoric guide to exploring your own emotional territory, a never-ending journey revealing some of the infinite and wondrous layers of your own being. An overview of the layers with a few suggestions are offered below and in the Gratitude Mojo journal there is an accompanying section to further help you develop your feelings and a gratitude for all they do to make us who we are. 

Also included below is a feelings chart to help you find names for some of your feelings.


Outer layer: The aqua and purple triangles are what you easily show to the world. A combination of light and dark, you could look at these as the feelings that are close to the surface, both positive and negative. Typically this layer includes, happiness, surprise, satisfaction… irritation, worry, moodiness.
What emotions would you associate with this layer?


Outer layer 2nd: The red dots and yellow-green oblongs layer is another dual layer that reminds us that emotions are both positive and negative. Typical emotions in this slightly reserved layer might include: joy, gratitude, contentment … disappointed, blue, anxious.
What emotions would you associate with this layer?


Outer layer 3rd: The mottled, crystal layer is buried a bit deeper but still contains a mix of positive and negative, although positive emotions are easier to express since they are more socially acceptable. Typical feelings here might include: pride, tenderness, satisfied … mad, frightened, regretful.
What emotions would you associate with this layer?


Inner layer 2nd: The turquoise layer deeper in your core is where negative emotions are being held down and there is fear of expressing positive emotions except to trusted others. Typical feelings here might include: love, excitement, elation … anger, grief, shock.
What emotions would you associate with this layer?


Inner core: The red core of your heart is vulnerable. It holds the emotions only revealed when you feel safe. Typical emotions here are shame, abandonment, rejection, betrayal, hopelessness, fear of being visible.
What emotions would you associate with this layer?

Emotions chart from Happier Human 


We hope this process helps you explore the deeper emotions of your self and would love to hear your feedback in the comments section.

For more about how to get the Gratitude Mojo journal, email info@gratitudemojo.com.

Special thanks to Rodney Meador who created the stained glass heart and welcomed me on my first day at the Morro Bay Gallery and asked if I would trade art with him. I did so gladly and it became one of my treasures that made the cut in every downsizing that followed. Little did I know it would become a key that unlocked a mystery many years later. Thank you, Rodney!

Thursday, December 9, 2021

DIYW: Gratitude Practice for Photographers


“Everything is a gift.”

— David Steindl-Rast

There aren’t many things in life which everyone agrees on anymore … “gratitude is good” seems to be one of the few left. Over the past two decades, numerous studies have shown that expressing gratitude makes us happier, healthier, more likely to succeed, and more resilient. If there were such a thing as a panacea, gratitude might be it.

However, all of these studies were based on doing something to express gratitude … whether it was writing a note to someone who helped you, writing in a journal (even once a week), or saying thanks at the dinner table. Practicing gratitude is the key to unlocking dopamine and serotonin, the “feel good” hormones that produce positive effects.

In order to make gratitude a regular practice, it’s important to integrate it into your life in a way that makes it enjoyable. No one needs another chore to make us feel bad or guilty about not doing it. So, how can you DIYW (Do It Your Way for those of us over a certain age)?

Link it to something you already enjoy.

I’m a photographer and love looking at past photos or having a reason to go out and shoot something new and interesting. Here’s one way I’ve linked photography to my gratitude practice.

Take or find a photo of an interesting scene then find all the things you can be grateful for in that scene. Try to find 3–5 for each scene.


Sparks Marina, Reno, Nevada

My gratitudes:

  • I am grateful to have had this beautiful place to walk when I was in Reno … who even knew that Reno had a Marina? … and for the incredible day and light that made this photo possible.
  • I’m grateful for reflections that turn ordinary scenes into works of art.
  • I am grateful for color that makes my heart leap as nature displays itself as a master colorist.
  • I am grateful for my fellow walkers enjoying the beauty of the day.


Arkansas ice storm 2009

I wasn’t particularly grateful when I took this photo as it destroyed so many beautiful trees and shut power down for ten days. However, when I looked at it later, I was grateful the beauty and the memory.

My gratitudes:

  • I am grateful for the frozen beauty of the morning glistening against the passing ice storm.
  • I am grateful for trees hardy enough to withstand Nature’s icy fingers.
  • I am grateful that I had time to enjoy the beauty of the Bradford pear trees which lined our driveway before they were lost to this ferocious ice storm.
  • I am grateful to have a warm place to sleep even when the weather is treacherous.
  • I am grateful that I had family who took us in when our power went out for ten days.
Maggi on Thanksgiving at Costco

This is Maggi, my dancing inspiration spirit guide. In search of indulgence with a non-vegan pie after a long day of trying to be “good,” we headed off to a mostly empty Costco where she terrorized the few shoppers in the store and cackled all the way. It’s an especially sweet memory since she died a few months later.

My gratitudes:

  • I’m so grateful we got to spend Thanksgiving together.
  • I am grateful that Maggi was part of my life.
  • I am grateful for friends who always make me laugh.
  • I am grateful for friends who expand my Universe and add to my wisdom.
  • I am grateful for Maggi who taught me how to meet death, still laughing all the way.

Click here.

As I’ve put these together, I’ve decided to create a personal photo book to be called My Gratitudes, Volume 1. If you decide to try this, please leave a comment below.