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