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,

Amber




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