Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Daily Gift

In the spring of 2009, Samantha and I came as close as we have ever come to losing one of our four pets.  Julius, the big orange tabby who has always been more fluff than anything, began acting differently.  First, he stopped using the litter box, choosing instead to use an open suitcase, the sink, or the hamper; he even went so far one time to jump onto the bed while we were still in it, and proceed to pee on the blankets right in front of us.  We thought he was mad about getting a new dog - Chuy - back in January, and figured the phase would pass.  It didn’t and his behavior continued to change.

Then in May, there was a few days where Julius became lethargic, not eating and not moving from the desk chair in our home office.  He wouldn’t come out to greet us, harass the dog, or even come for treats.  Since it was time for their yearly check-up, we brought him to the vet.  She recognized that something was amiss and decided to take some blood for tests.  Afterwards, we brought him home and waited for a call telling us what was going on.  When the vet finally called, she told us Juilus was experiencing kidney failure and that we needed to bring him back in to talk over options.
Needless to say, we were a little in shock, and a lot upset.  Kidney failure is not common in four and a half year old cats, and it even took our vet by surprise. The sum of his ailments added up to two choices - either leave him at the vet for the weekend, or bring him home and say goodbye.  We decided to opt for medicine and the giant vet bill.
Julius ending up staying at the vet for ten days.  They placed him on IV fluids for hydration and to flush his body of the toxins his kidneys were no longer removing.  They added a feeding tube and performed a variety of tests and treatments.  Julius was still not eating, so the vet tried every kind of food to get him to eat - he couldn’t go home unless he was eating on his own.  She even boiled a chicken for him at her house and brought it up.  No deal.  Finally, she asked us to bring up some of his normal, cheap cat food from the house.  Guess what?  The stubborn orange fool ate.
At the end of his ten day vacation, Julius added some weight back on, was eating on his own, and acted a little more cat like.  The vet told us that she had done everything she could do, and the only thing left was to bring him home and wait and see what would happen.  Well, I am here to tell you that he is still here, fluff and all.

Julius is our special child.  We have to feed him a special cat food and can no longer give him the treats he loves.  On top of his food we have to sprinkle a powder which binds with and removes phosphates from his blood since his kidneys can not.  Every morning we have to give him two pills, Pepcid-AC for his acidic stomach, and one for blood pressure to give his sick kidneys a little more blood flow.  Julius has now become good friends with the pill-popper.  Finally, three times a week I give him subcutaneous fluid.  I hook a lactated ringer (the IV bags you see in the hospital with saline solution), up to a needle, and inject fluid underneath his skin.  This helps flush his system of all the toxins.  
We see every day that we get to spend with Julius as a gift.  While he can still be just as much of a pain in the butt as he was before, we cherish the chance we have to experience him.  Looking at Julius reminds me that this life, this world, this experience we share on this planet is the same - a gift.  
Look about yourself and see the things you have taken for granted.  I didn’t realize it until all of this occurred, but I took everything for granted.  I didn’t appreciate who or what was in my life; I assumed everything would continue the same with nothing altering.  I think too often we become blind to what is right in front of us, and we lose moments of life because of that blindness.  From now on, I choose to be better, I choose to be more aware of everything in my life.
Julius taught me a valuable lesson during his ordeal, one that I am reminded of every time I give him a pill, or sprinkle powder on his food, or slip the needle under his skin - do not take anything for granted.  Appreciate who and what you are, be thankful for everything you have around you, and look at life as a gift.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving Series #3: Giving Thanks

The spirit of today’s holiday resides in our ability to gives thanks.  Many of us will find ourselves thankful for our families, our health, our station in life.  We will be thankful for the armed forces and the sacrifices they make for our safety; we will be thankful for our religions, and for the sacrifices associated with each of these.  We will thank the people around us for their love and caring, we will post generic status updates on facebook wishing everyone happy thanksgiving, or tweet our thanks in 140 characters or less.  Some of us will blog about it and some of us will simply offer thanks to an empty room.
The meaning of the holiday sometimes gets lost in what has recently become tradition.  We stare blankly at the TV, the floats of the Macy’s day parade dance across the screen, pushed along by marching bands and little known singers.  We find ourselves wrapped up in the meal, eager for our favorite stuffing dish or drooling in anticipation of our favorite pie.  We go back and forth with our favorite football rivals celebrating our victories and agonizing in our defeats.  We cherish post meal naps, leftover turkey sandwiches, egg nog, or the family trip to the movie theater.
While all of this distraction swirls around us, tugging and pulling our attention away from the central theme of the holiday, some of us drift away from the idea of being truly thankful.  Avoid the temptation of giving lip service only, proclaiming thanks without meaning.  Instead of only saying that you are thankful for something, actually mean it.  If you find yourself in a place in life that seems to not merit thanks, dive deeper; I am sure you can find some reason to be thankful.
There are many people who live lives that seem absent of elements deserving thanks.  The universe appears to have conspired against these people, driving all positive elements from their experiences.  No matter how low the world seems to have pushed you, there is always something to be thankful for.  
Find it.  Pick yourself up.  Focus on anything good.  It could be as simple as the oxygen in the air you just breathed.  Find some joy in the sun shining, in the color of the leaves, in the fact you are alive to experience at all.  Be thankful for anything, no matter it’s insignificance.  By finding thanks in it, you have just increased its value, and by feeling thanks, you have increased yours.
Finding one thing to be truly thankful for will allow you to expand your sphere of thanks.  Move it beyond the bounds of that one item, encompass your surroundings, find anything to be thankful for beyond yourself.  Eventually, your thanks will grow; you will find that as you allow it to expand outwardly, it will soak in, bringing the feeling of thanks to the center of your being.
As you travel through this Thanksgiving holiday, I encourage you to review what you are thankful for.  Do you skim the surface, or do you allow your thanks to delve deep?  Are you the kind of person whose every action is determined by a feeling of gratitude and graciousness or do you only play at being thankful.  This Thanksgiving, choose the first option.  Allow yourself the freedom to live thanks and not just give it.  Be the person whose actions reflect their words.  Enjoy the feeling of existing in a world in which thanks are necessary and not just optional.  
The excitement today brings should be a celebration of a year of thankfulness, not just one day to honor that towards which we are thankful.  Thanksgiving 2010 should be the canon which launches you into a full year of an attitude of gratitude, ensuring every experience between this Thanksgiving and next is received with a spirit of thanks.  Appreciate what the universe has to offer you; find something in every situation to be thankful for.
I am thankful for everything in my life, for every good and bad experience, for every good and poor choice I have made.  I am thankful for everyone who has ever participated in my experience, everyone under whose influence I have operated and everyone I have had the opportunity to influence.  I am thankful for my teachers and my students, those I have met and those I have not.  I am thankful for the plethora of lessons I still have left to learn and to teach.  I am thankful for family and friends, for food, and sports, and the Macy’s parade, and for dog and cat sitters.  I am thankful for love and happiness, for joy and tears.  I am thankful for everything the universe has chosen to offer me.
I am thankful that you have taken the time to read my blog today.  Be thankful for something, big or small, it does not matter.  Simply be thankful, the rest will follow.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Thanksgiving Series #2: Attitude of Gratitude

On my way to my normal writing haunt - the Starbucks at Market Street in The Woodlands - I passed a shop specializing in athletic clothing, specifically yoga apparel.  Their marketing machinery targeted Thanksgiving shoppers with the clever slogan “Attitude of Gratitude.”  There was nothing else attached to the statement, no branding, no clothing design, no advertising photographs of yogis clothed in trendy garb; it was simply a statement of intention designed to catch the eye of random shoppers.  While I have not patronized their shop, I have gratuitously stolen their message, and am thankful for their generosity.
I have addressed the idea of existing within in a place of mental expectancy on a previous blog.  Quickly summing up this idea, I encouraged people to go about their lives with the thought that what they needed would be provided to them.  Having an attitude of gratitude is the same idea taken one step further.  Having an attitude of gratitude is an affirmation: what you are expecting has already been delivered, and you are thankful in advance.
The subdued pessimist in me always bristles at this idea.  I know it sounds like dictating to the universe the terms by which we live; for some people this is a world-rocking concept, it was to me when I first encountered it.  I understand and empathize.  There are still times when I struggle with the idea of expectation and having an attitude of gratitude.  Battling the inner pessimist can really be a struggle.
The first kind of struggle stems from the idea that we are not good enough to receive blessings from the universe.  Our self confidence tells us not to expect anything at all; so we don’t.  We feel this way due to previous expectations not being met.  Instead of being patient and positive, we choose to swim in this pool of disappointment.  We move about our existence dressed in the garments of pessimism, wearing our history around our necks like a yoke.  Our only expectation is that things will continue as they always have and we will be granted nothing.  Ironically, people in this mental position are constantly being given exactly what they are asking for - disappointment.
The second kind of struggle is fear of expectation.  We don’t feel that we are significant enough to receive blessings.  Our fear that we fill too small a role in the fabric of the universe forces us into a weak position.  Fear tells us we can’t have desires, and if we do, they will be unfulfilled.  If we were ever to step out of the hole in which we exist, the weight of those above us would come crashing down, causing us more pain than the simple fear we already feel.
Overcoming both of these mental states is vital to having a healthy, positive life.  Carrying on an existence based on pessimism only leads to negativity; people in this place continue a seemingly unbreakable cycle of unfortunate events, populating their lives with people encountering the same struggles as they.  Surrounding yourself with negativity will only breed one thing - more negativity.  The cycle will continue.
Stepping beyond fears and past disappointments and adopting an attitude of gratitude can change your life for good.  Thank the universe for what you need or what you want.  If it doesn’t come tomorrow, don’t be disappointed, instead, revise your timeline.  Continue the attitude of expectancy and know it will occur.  
Christian friends of mine have disagreed with me regarding this particular concept - they have felt that the attitude of expectancy conflicted with the idea that God is the only being to disperse his blessings, and they are not available upon request.  I had similar reservations when I first attempted to order my life around this concept.  I don’t frequently quote scripture to support my thoughts, but I think one passage in particular supports it very well.  In Mathew 7:7-11, the New Testament tells us:
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
   “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”
Is this nothing more than an attitude of expectancy?  The scripture does not say “only those deserving will receive,” it states very clearly “everyone who asks receives.”  Why shouldn’t this be you?  Why shouldn’t you be allowed to live an existence that provides? Knowing that you are eligible to receive that which you ask, why should you not already be thankful?  
I think this Thanksgiving season is an excellent time to turn your world around.  Break the old cycle in which you are stuck and move in the direction your life should head.  Don’t be afraid to ask - if you are afraid, know that even so your wishes are constantly granted and the universe will continue to gift you with nothing.  Don’t allow yourself to be stuck in pessimism, expecting only disappointment when it comes to your desires - your wish will be granted every time.
Instead of these lackluster options, consider a positive existence.  Surround yourself with positive people.  Know that the universe will provide; be thankful for everything it gives you, before and after the fact.  Know that it’s gifts are limitless and available to everyone.  Take a step in the right direction and move forward with an Attitude of Gratitude.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Thanksgiving Series 1 of 3: Thank you Thank you

Welcome to the blog.  I am going to do something new over the next few posts - I am going to serialize!  Amazing, huh.  Appropriately enough, as we are all eagerly awaiting the upcoming vacation, I will be talking about thanks.  Today, however, I will be taking a convoluted approach and addressing how we receive thanks, leaving the giving to next time. 
A few years ago, I was an NPR fiend.  I tuned in on my morning drive to school and again when I was on my way home.  The radio was dissatisfying at the time - I hated the commercials, and still do (thanks Pandora app) - and I found solace in the informative voices on syndicated NPR brought to me by KUHF.  I loved All Things Considered and Morning Edition; the Writer’s Almanac with Garrison Keilor inspired me, and Engines of Ingenuity tickled the grey matter.
One afternoon, as I was exiting I-45 for I-10 on the long trek to Cypress, the anchors did  a “letters” piece.  One of the letters called our attention to a previous interview.  At the end of the interview, when the host was thanking the interviewee (whose name was apparently not important enough for me to remember), the interviewee replied with “you’re welcome.”  This struck a particularly potent nerve with the letter writer, who commented on the fact that most people respond with a “thank you” of their own instead of the expected “you’re welcome.”
I have noticed myself doing the exact same thing.  When someone offers their thanks, I don’t accept it, turning the thanks right back around, sending it scurrying back.  I had a particularly awkward encounter with this recently and it got me thinking.  Why do we do this?  What drives us to not accept the thanks of others and instead offer thanks of our own?
In reference to myself, I feel that it is a combination of things.  First, and the better of my  reasons, is that I genuinely feel thanks for something the other person has done.  Their thanks and my thanks are equal.  Lately, when I truly feel this way, I have striven to say you’re welcome first.  I feel that this completes their thank you instead of leaving it open ended.  I acknowledge their thanks, and then offer my own.
The second reason, which I constantly combat, is my ego.  The ego feels that it’s job is to place us above others, to make sure we are always seen in the best light, to present the strongest front, to never look weak.  Why would thanks ever be in conflict with any of this?  Ego doesn’t want to appear part of any group - it prefers to appear above the group, in charge, dominating.  It distorts the concept of “in it, but not of it” to “not in it, but above it.”  By accepting thanks, our ego senses that we have built a connection with the other, placing us on par with them.
Ego also deters the use of “you’re welcome” to set up some sort of debt.  By helping someone, and repaying their thanks through “you’re welcome,” we absolve any debt they might feel towards us.  If we leave the thank you hanging, the transaction is not complete, leaving the door open to further transactions with ourselves as the beneficiary.
Sometimes the ego sees doing something for someone else as being weak.  The ego exists only to serve itself, and doing something that would curry thanks implies concern for others.  Ego is not interested in others except for how they may serve it.
The third reason I’ve come across for not saying you’re welcome has to do with our reasons for completing whatever action generated the thanks in the first place.  Perhaps we did it grudgingly.  Maybe we felt compelled to do it out of guilt or some other negative emotion.  We don’t feel obliged to complete the thank you transaction with a you’re welcome because we don’t feel good about it.  I would argue that this reason has nothing to do with the other person, but solely with yourself.  You made a conscious choice to do something thankable - accept it.
Another defensive tactic I notice myself using is deflection.  I will respond with phrases like: no problem, don’t mention it, it was nothing, etc.  We want to make the other person feel like whatever we did was not an inconvenience; it wasn’t a deal.  In a way, this soils the thank you, lessening it’s value.  Obviously, our actions were significant enough to generate thankful feeling in another human; this makes it significant.  By deflecting the thanks, we cheapen our action and what it means to the other person.
What is the solution?  Choose you’re welcome.  When someone offers thanks for even the most minute action, allow yourself to respond from a place of humility.  Allow the human connection and participate in the emotion.  Recognize that the other person is in fact genuine and truly feels thankful and allow them to do so - say “you’re welcome.”
Here, let’s pretend we are in one of my bands and we have done something outside of the expectation.  When this happens, we always practice the expectation again.  So, just like in church, this is call and response.
Me: Thank you.
You: (say it) You are welcome.
Was that so hard?  Try it again.
Me: Thank you so very much.
You: You are very welcome.
See.  It isn’t so hard, is it.  With practice, you can make it permanent.  Find the place within yourself that is void of ego.  Operate from there, moving through life with a spirit of welcome.  I think life will feel more meaningful.
Check back on Sunday for the next Thanksgiving inspired topic - Attitude of Grattitude.  
Thank you for reading my blog.