Gratitude

“. . . in this huge mound of data there was also story after story of men and women who were living these amazing and inspiring lives.  I heard stories about the power of embracing imperfection and vulnerability.  I learned about the inextricable connection between joy and gratitude. . .”

“Without exception, every person I interviewed who described living a joyful life or who described themselves as joyful, actively practiced gratitude and attributed their joyfulness to their gratitude practice.”

-Brene Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection

And so, in honor of what may be the most important holiday of all, allow me to practice:

I am grateful for the mountains.  I have stood on top of Mauna Kea and watched the sunset from above the clouds.  I have hiked the ridges of the Canadian rockies amongst the Big Horn sheep.  I have climbed Half Dome and slept on Cloud’s Rest in Yosemite.  I have crossed the Continental Divide, and skied more mountains than I can remember.  I have hiked 14,000 feet up Mt. Albert, called in a mule deer with the scent of blueberry pancakes in the San Juans, watched hoarfrost form on the Blue Ridge, and watched mist rising off the Smokies.

The mountains bring me home.  They remind me my feet are on the ground–and that they can take me to amazing places.  The mountains teach me I am small and my problems smaller.  They fill me with calm and inspire me with wonder.  I am grateful for the mountains.

I am grateful for the trees.  I have gulped their oxygen in moments of panic as well as intense exertion.  I have sat silently and listened to their songs.  I have climbed within their swaying arms, held high and safe above the ground.  I have showered under them, swung from them, curled up in their shade for an afternoon nap, and frolicked in their brilliant leaves.  I have witnessed their generosity–Pileated Woodpeckers tucked into a cavity, baby trees suckling on the corpse of a former giant, Bloodroot springing from the rich nutrients of rotting leaves.  Trees connect me to the air and root me to the earth.  They remind me that great strength sometimes comes from flexibility and patience.  I am grateful for the trees.

I am grateful for the oceans.  I have bobbed along the surface in a quiet cove, peering at the underwater marvels through a snorkel mask.  I have floated for miles with the tide on a flimsy blow-up raft, I have kayaked with green sea turtles and swum with wild dolphins just by chance.  I have watched the sun sink into its nightly bath and watched it rise from the sea, fresh and new again.  I have eaten from the bounty of life the sea provides.  The ocean buoys me up, pushing me to the surface, reminding me I can float.  It soothes me with its endless rhythm and delights me with its underwater surprises.  I am grateful for the oceans.

 

Jumping Into Fall

Ahh . . .fall.  Every year I am surprised to discover summer truly is over.  More so since moving to Chattanooga where the temperatures stay summer-like longer and then catch you off guard with sudden dips that remind you you’re no longer used to temperatures in the 30‘s.

I laughed at myself the other day when 26 degree weather in the early morning caused me to put on both a down sweater and a mid-thigh down jacket over it.  I couldn’t help thinking back to Ohio where I once rode my bike 13 miles to work in pitch darkness when it was 19 degrees.  I have been southern-fied.  I suppose that is better than southern-fried!

Having discovered my new sensitivity to cold, I realized I was pre-maturely cocooning this fall.  I liken the feeling of cocooning to the feeling of dread I get right before jumping into a cold swimming pool.  There’s that pause, that moment of hesitation when I ask myself “is it really worth it?”  The colder the weather, the shorter the days, the harder it is to get out and get into the water.

Today, I reminded myself that every time I’ve ever jumped in a pool, I was always glad I did.  Much like I remind myself every Friday morning when the alarm goes off at 5:15 that as much as I want to roll back over, I’ve never once regretted going to yoga class once I’ve gotten myself there.

It was this reminder that caused me to say to Pat, “Let’s go hiking” today.  We headed over to Raccoon Mountain, a combination Tennessee Valley Authority power station and recreational area.  It sounds like a strange combination, but the pump station makes a scenic lake and the surrounding woods provide miles of hiking and mountain biking trails.

I was surprised to realize we had almost missed the fall color.  The top story of trees were all but bare.  Fortunately, the understory was still going strong.  With temps back into the 60’s, we didn’t mind the tiny sprinkling of rain and the foggy, overcast skies.  In fact, the leaves seemed only more brilliant against the drab backdrop.

Tisen romped along with us, charging down the trail to catch up whenever we got ahead of him.  His wagging tail and high spirits did my heart as much good as the woods.  His recent improvement with his allergies and skin issues has made all of us wag more.  (Of course, Tisen is the only one who doesn’t look insane doing it.)  This was the first time he’s been able to run free since he started feeling better.  He’s snoozing soundly by my side now–I think he wore himself out.

As did I–the fatigue of a little physical effort reminds me how little movement I’ve gotten in the past several months.  It feels so good to get out and move!  I don’t know how I’ve lived so long without it!

Knowledge and Knowing

I am living and breathing photography and raptors in the most surreal way this week.  In the moments I haven’t been doing my day job, I have been preparing for a workshop I’m giving on Sunday to raise money for an organization I volunteer for.  We’re calling it:  Raptography, a Personal Encounter with Birds of Prey and Photography Workshop.

My partner in this workshop, Dale, the bird expert extraordinaire from Wings to Soar, came up with the name as a joke, but I really liked it.  It sums up the workshop well–assuming you know that the family name for birds of prey is Raptors.

Preparing for a workshop involves taking my material, running through it, reorganizing it, supplementing it, researching participants’ cameras to figure out what features and settings will apply for them, and practicing what I want to say to see if I can actually get it all in in the allotted time.

While this is all fun for me, the surreal aspect comes in that I am preparing to teach by reading, writing, creating charts, and finding example images to use.  One would think the way to prepare for teaching photography and bird handling would be to do photography and bird handling.

This leads me to think about the balance of learning something in your head and knowing it in your body.  For example, if you asked me to show you which button I use to focus, I’d have to hold my camera up and start focusing, then look at which button my thumb is pressing (I use a different button to focus from the shutter button) to tell you.  I know this in my body, but I’ve forgotten it in my head because once I knew it in my thumb, I no longer needed to be able to recall that information verbally.

However, in order to teach someone else how to use that same button for focus, I suddenly have to be able to verbalize what my thumb has learned to do instinctively.  The process of breaking down what you know in your body into an organizational structure that can be verbalized and explained to others is fascinating to me.  For one, it forces me to actually know what choices I make and then articulate why I’m making them.  In the process, I’ve discovered some things I wanted to do differently from what I was actually doing.

I have often pondered the old insult, “those who can’t do teach.”  I have wondered if perhaps this is a truer version:  “those who are spending their time figuring out what they are doing to the extent that they can explain it to someone else are spending less time actually doing it.”

In spending less time doing something, the end result is having less knowing-in -your-body and more knowledge in your head compared to someone who just does it.  The question is:  how much of each do you need to be really good at what you do?

What Do You Teach?

“What Do You Teach?” was the title of a presentation I gave many years ago as a corporate “diversity” session I volunteered to do.  It has remained my all-time favorite presentation both      preparing it and giving it.

I created the presentation around the concepts of self-fulfilling prophecy and tacit learning.  I put to use some of the research I had done in my master’s program when I was getting certified to teach.  These two concepts seemed key to me in understanding how we learn.  Having left the teaching profession and re-joined corporate America, I had the realization that each of us teaches every day of our lives whether we realize we are teaching or not.  We are teaching each other what is “normal,” acceptable behavior.   What is tolerable and intolerable.  What is right and wrong.

Somewhat ironically, it wasn’t the master’s program that brought home to me the nature of how we unconsciously teach one another, it was the need to retrain a dog who had dog aggression issues.  In that experience so many years ago, I learned all the things I was doing that were telling my dog to behave in ways I didn’t want her to behave.  In coming to understand how dogs interpret our behaviors, I gained insight into how fellow humans interpret them as well.  This was one of the big “ah-ha” moments in my life and I need to revisit it because I seem to have strayed from the path of thinking about what I am teaching on a daily basis–in particular, what I am teaching myself.

Each time I skip a meal, eat junk, skip a workout, or engage in other unhealthy choices, I teach myself I am not deserving of care and maintenance.  The underlying message is “these other things you do are more important than your own basic needs.”  I would never ask anyone to skip meals because of something I wanted them to do, why do I expect it of myself?

Every time I allow myself to worry on something I cannot change, I am teaching myself that my energy is better wasted than on being used productively.  I would never ask anyone to think about something over and done beyond considering the lesson from the experience and deciding how that applies to the present and future.  Why do I ask myself to replay the same scene over and over again ad nauseum?

Each time I call myself “you idiot,” I teach myself that I do not deserve the opportunity to make mistakes and learn from them.  I cannot claim that I would never call someone else an idiot (inside my head or while driving, anyway) but in general, I am far more tolerant of someone else’s mistakes than I am of my own.

In thinking about treating myself the way I would treat a cherished loved one, I realized I have done no cherishing of me at all.  Time to create a new lesson plan.