Saturday, August 20, 2016

On Gratitude & Mindfulness

Is it really already August?  This month is the start of my favorite time of year.  I say that, but then I think the same thing at the beginning of every new season.  This is the time of year that I harvest a lot of food.  I get to try my hand at preserving things.  I'm doing more canning this year than I ever have before.   Right now I have 3 jars of carrots and one of beets in the pressure canner.  These are the things that excite me.  I just finished my first ever quilt.  I've sewn blankets before, but I didn't properly quilt them.  (The perfectionist in me wants to have everyone give them back to me so that I can make them better).
Our harvest today.  

Here at Honeysuckle Homestead we have a small garden in full swing.  Gardens are funny and unpredictable.  We are trying our hand at winter gardening and although we are a bit behind schedule, we are well on our way to having something set up to grow through the winter.  Gardens can teach you a lot.  You can do one of two things when things don't go the way you would like; either become frustrated or learn a lesson.  I've learned a lot about being grateful lately.  I've been chewing on this topic for awhile now and it is finally coming to a point where I think I can write about it.

Several years ago (was it more than 10?!  Gees!), I received a letter from my great aunt.  I've never met this particular aunt in person, I've just gotten to know her a little bit through birthday cards and letters.  At that time Aunt N. was in her 80s.  In the letter I received, she was describing some of the things that were going on in her life.  My great uncle had Alzheimer's and she was taking care of him.  He also had some physical ailments that she helped him with.  PLUS she was going through treatments for Leukemia.  You know what she told me?  "I thank God that I am able to take care of my husband through this and get this time to be with him."  As a young woman in my early to mid 20s, that statement floored me.  It impacted me to the point that now, at 10 +/- years later, it still comes back to me.  I remembered it the other week when I first started ruminating on gratitude.

How it began: My brother made a passing comment about my house being cluttered one day.  Now, even though he didn't mean anything by it, it still pushed me into a de-cluttering frenzy.  I was in the midst of cleaning and organizing when my husband walked in, hugged me, kissed me on the cheek, and said, "Thank you for everything you do to make our home comfortable and for taking care of me."  That was it.  But that one expression of gratitude from the man I love most in the world, filled me with joy.  Why?  It brought to mind this article I skimmed on steps to a happy marriage.  One of the first steps was to express gratitude to your spouse.  I thought longer about gratitude, marriage, my great aunt, and some things I've learned in various classes and books throughout my education.

I would go a step further to say that rather than simply expressing gratitude, try to get to a point where you experience gratitude in the midst of every day occurrences.  This borders on thinking positively and may be difficult for some people.  Some people experience such horrific things in their daily lives that experiencing gratitude may be a stretch.  I started to look around me at all the little things that mean something to me.  (like my garden and being creative)  Instead of just going about my day in a blur of activity, I started to notice that being mentally and emotionally present for things makes the smallest of chores seem better somehow.  Even dishes (which I hate more than any other mundane activity) became less annoying because I decided to make a music playlist called "Happy List" and added music that makes me want to dance around and be happy.  So, I became grateful for music and my attitude changed toward dishes for the time.

Baby Tromboncino Squash
What does this have to do with gardening?  Well, Husband has a brain injury that effects his memory. So, when it comes time to plant things in the garden, he can forget what he has planted and ends up planting the same thing again.  It doesn't happen often because we usually do gardening things together, but this year when he went to plant squash, he grabbed the same squash seeds instead of different ones or he thought they were one thing and ended up being another.  We ended up with four yellow summer squash plants.  Plus, I planted two zucchini.  So, we have A LOT of squash.  I've been searching like crazy to find recipes to use the squash in.  I've made enchiladas with squash instead of tortillas (casserole style).  We've used squash noodles, eaten squash bread, squash on homemade cauliflower pizza, and roasted.  We've given some away and I'm looking to find a way of preserving it without freezing.  (squash pickles and chips?)  We also have butternut, tromboncino, and spaghetti squash plants that are getting ready to produce.

I have a choice.  I can be frustrated at having so many summer squash, or I can be grateful for the abundance.  I can choose to experience gratitude that Husband enjoys gardening and working hard at our homestead.  I've become a far less frustrated person over the years because I've learned to be grateful for all the little things and endure the big things with grace and patience (I try to remind myself of this when our neighbors are being noisy.  Grace and Patience, Amber.  Grace and Patience).  Being grateful not only frees my soul from experiencing negativity, but it also helps to release the burdens of those around me.  When I'm in a bad mood and complaining, it effects my husband and vice versa.  So, when I was in a bad mood and going through my cleaning frenzy, his gratitude changed me.  My gratitude can do the same for him.

I think we spend too much of our lives going through actions and not really recognizing the things that go on around us.  This has an impact on our mental and emotional health and on our relationships.  To some, the act of being present is to practice mindfulness.  Put simply, mindfulness is recognizing your thought process and emotional state at any given moment.  When we become more aware of how we feel and what we are thinking, we can then change it to something more beneficial.  This isn't about denying that bad things happen, it is about choosing to focus on the things we love instead of the things we hate.  It is about being grateful for the things that make life beautiful.  (And there is A LOT that makes life beautiful!)  I can sit here in my living room and focus on the fact that I have paint cans out because I haven't finished painting, or I can be grateful that I can feel the breeze through the windows and hear the wind chimes singing their songs.  I can focus on the fact that our flooring won't be done any time soon, or I can be grateful for the bouquet of wild sunflowers my husband picked for me.  Gratitude makes life pleasant and peaceful.  Each of us can only do the best with what we have.  For those negative things that we have no control over, we can choose to focus on something lovely.  Then we deal better with the negativity that comes our way.

May we all learn to experience gratitude and see how it changes our lives!

Light and Love,


Sunday, February 28, 2016

On Racism, Fear, and Respecting One Another

Is it already February?  The last post I wrote was about Honeysuckle Homestead in November with winter on it's way in full force (for New Mexico).  It is now that time where we are experiencing a pre-spring antsy. We have been working on building our raised beds for our first year here.  We have to keep reminding ourselves that this is a trial-year: figuring things out, how to keep the deer away from our garden, what to plant when, how the weather behaves.  It's exciting and irritating all at the same time.  Husband has been working all day on beautifying our acre.  We like nature's beauty and this place has gone wild for quite a while now.  We are trimming trees, offering them TLC, making quail and song bird feeding spaces, and just taming things in general.  It's fun to have so much stuff to do.
Sunsets in New Mexico are like medicine.

I've always been a naturally curious person and I can't go very long before I'm searching out the husband so I can listen to his plans.  I love listening to him tell me about things, what he wants to do where, and ask questions and offer up my advice and opinions.  He is always really great to listen to me too.  One thing I've been curious about for quite awhile now is why this country seems to have such a problem with respecting one another and why there is such a big to-do about racism.  Not, in the sense that it doesn't exist and the big to-do is meaningless, but in the sense that there SHOULD NOT be any reason why ANYONE could find reasons to feel such hatred toward others; nor should ANYONE feel as though people hate them.  It is unreasonable.

I've never understood racism.  In fact, it didn't occur to me to look at any person of color any differently than myself based on skin color or culture until I went to college when I was 28 and started reading about studies conducted in the name of sociology, science, and psychology.  These studies show that certain people groups do one thing while others don't.  For example, the study of kids in preschool where they put dolls out with different skin-tones.  Then they measure how many kids choose dark skinned dolls versus lighter skinned dolls.  This study is supposed to show what society prefers as a standard.  Degrees in certain areas are inundated with studies like these.  African-Americans prefer this while non-white people groups prefer this and whites prefer something else.  I never understood why it was divided this way, what in the world continuing to divide people up like that does to benefit anyone.  Or why they seem to bunch other ethnicities into a non-white category.  As if they don't matter enough to have their own categories.  If I want to know what color of doll a little girl wants, I'll ask her.  They even have pink and blue ones now.  I'd love to feel free enough to ask people who are different than me about their experiences.  I'd love to listen to someone tell me about their religion or their culture.  But I'm afraid to ask questions because I'm afraid that others will misperceive my curiosity. And if I'm afraid, then others might be too.

I would like to state that I did not grow up in a predominantly caucasian world.  I grew up about 30-45 minutes from the Mexican-American border.  I grew up with people of Mexican decent in my family. It never occurred to me to think differently of those family members.  I still don't think of them differently, and it hurts my heart to know that they could have experienced prejudice and racism at some point in their lives.

Before I went to college, I did hear racial slurs, sometimes pointed toward me from individuals of color, but mostly pointed toward a person of color.  They never made sense to me, so it didn't hit me as "that person is different".  I only thought of it as an ignorant insult.  Let me explain why they didn't make sense to me by giving an example.  In middle school a white girl started dating a black guy.  I remember hearing the term "jungle fever".  I automatically thought of jungles in South America and dismissed the comment as ignorant because people in the jungles in South America aren't black.  I said as much to my friends.  They laughed at me and tried to explain.  None of them could explain to me why it mattered to them that she was dating a black boy.  I just remember thinking of how beautiful it looked when they held hands.

My paternal grandfather was in the Immigration Service when I was little.  I remember seeing people as a teenager who knew him from when they lived in Mexico.  You know what every one of them said about my grandfather?  "He respected us.  He was kind to the Mexicans."  To this day, my grandfather remains the best man I've ever known.  He taught me so much, but one thing I always remember is his respect and kindness toward everyone.  Grandpa was Catholic and as a Catholic he believed certain lifestyles were wrong.  I remember one time he told me about how he went to Mass one day and a known homosexual man was there.  He said that he stood there by himself because nobody else in Mass would even go around him.  Grandpa told me that he walked up to him and hugged him because "If Jesus can love me, I can love homosexuals."  He said, "Remember that Amber."  This was my 70 year old grandfather back in the early to mid 90s, showing love toward someone his religion dictated as wrong.  He didn't talk to the man about being gay or whether or not he wanted to change religions.  He just loved him in a way that nobody else there did.  He wasn't afraid to be different.

Respect.  I've often heard people say, "If you earn it, I'll respect you."  Or, "You've lost all my respect."  I'm sure that somewhere in my existence I've thought or felt the same way, but I've come to understand something different.  It isn't about what we've done to earn respect.  It is about recognizing that there is an inner spirit within each individual that is an image or piece of God.  If we took the time to really look at one another, not at the surface, but at the soul-level, we would recognize that we are all part of one another.  The Spirit in me recognizes the Spirit in you.

I had to remind myself one day last year when I was on my walk and most recently at the library to walk in Light and Love and allow my Spirit to recognize the one in someone else.  One thing that the social climate of this country has done is to make me afraid.  Whenever I'm around anyone of a different ethnicity than myself I wonder, "Do they think I'm prejudice toward them?  Will something I say or do be seen as hateful or racist?"  It has made me fearful of even being nice toward someone.   I don't want anyone to ever experience racism or prejudice from me.  But I've become afraid that the slightest interaction will prove to do just that.  I was on my walk and a bi-racial family was viewing some of the plaques marking landmarks. I started to feel anxious because of how I would be perceived.  I reminded myself not to walk in fear, and to just show light and love regardless of the social climate.  We had a lovely conversation about the abandoned fort where I walked.  Society has made me afraid of social interaction.  I'm an introvert anyway, but social anxiety is new to me.  It is something that has only shown up because as a society we have forgotten to show one another respect and kindness.  Where once it wouldn't have even crossed my mind that I could be misunderstood, now it invades my thoughts.  I've experienced my fair share of hatred and prejudice from others and I never ever want the things I do to make anyone else experience the same thing.  Are there others who feel this way, or am I the only one in the country?  Who knows.

At the library, my mom, nephew, and I were looking at the books for sale.  We loaded up and went to the line to buy our books.  When I was done, I turned around and noticed a man standing behind us.  He had been standing there before we went to line.  He was standing back, away from the rest of the line next to the copy machine, earbuds in his ears, messing with his mp3 player.  On first sight I thought it was one of the athletes I used to work with in an office at the university, but it wasn't him.  It suddenly occurred to me that he was probably standing in line even though he looked to be standing at the copier and not paying attention.  I asked him, "Were you in line before us?"  He sort of nodded (I was a combination of a nod in affirmation and a nod to the beat of what he was listening to).  I said, "I'm really sorry.  I didn't realize."  His answer?  "Yeah, we'll see."  I have no idea what he meant by that.  Maybe just to make me feel sorry or intimidated?  I don't know.  But, I felt bad.  I don't know if he thought that I cut in front of him on purpose because he was a different race, or not, but by his response, I can guess he didn't see it favorably.  There was nothing else to do.  I smiled at him and we walked out of the library.  It bothered me through our next stop at a book store and back to my parents'.  I was partly mad at his behavior and partly sad at his possible perception of me.  I had to remember Light and Love, dismiss my frustration, and recognize his spirit with my own to let it go.    I had to choose to respect him, regardless of his reaction to me.  He didn't have to earn it.

This kind of goes along with my post on bullying.  Even the aggressor has a story.  Also, remember that showing respect toward someone does not mean you allow anyone to harm you or another.  Sometimes showing respect comes in the form of establishing boundaries.  There are people that I love dearly who have had to learn that I have boundaries.

One of the things I seek to do is to function in the Light and Love of the Spirit.  One way to do this is to remember the things I learned from my Grandpa.  Respect and Kindness.  Love.  He was a man of integrity and I want to be a woman of integrity.  So, I may never understand racism or prejudice.  I may always be curious about what has made the social climate so toxic.  But, I can choose to live differently.  May we all choose to allow our spirits to respect the Spirit within others.  May we all choose to live differently, and maybe change the social climate.

Light and Love,