Tag Archives: Gratitude

Getting to Tomorrow

I met up with a former student last week and it was a delightful, gratifying, and energising experience. It is a real pleasure to see how much a young person has grown in a very short amount of time and to have conversation about, as a friend would say, life and the universe.

I’ll paraphrase and modify here, but we talked about what it means to be grounded and about believing in something to get through a difficult time. Some people rely on faith in a religion or religious figure and for the rest of us, well, there must be something, right?

I know what has carried me through times of difficulty in the past and I know there will be more of those times. After all, that’s living. In many ways, overcoming a difficult time has come down to perspective. Where am I really in the grand scheme of things? What can I cling to that will remain constant no matter what else is happening? What images need to be in my head while I concentrate on my breathing until my heart rate slows and my mind ceases racing?

There are several things that I find helpful and this post will share these. Perhaps you will find them helpful, too.

Tiny little me with a very tall tree in Berkeley, California – June 2018

One thing that I know is that the sun will set tonight and rise tomorrow. It might be cloudy and I might not be able to watch the sun disappear and reappear along the horizon but I know it’s happening. I know that today will end and tomorrow will come. Even if I’m dreading tomorrow, I know that, like today, it will begin and then it will end and I will walk tomorrow like I walked today.

Deliberately cultivating a certain attitude matters a lot here, too. I have spent the last seven or eight years writing down three things I’m grateful for every single day. There have been extended periods when this lists consists of a roof over my head, a hot shower, and a full stomach, but it helps to remind myself that I do have these things. I have something rather than nothing. And I have been lucky enough that those things are also constants for tomorrow. Regardless of what it is, the perspective of having something to be grateful for has calmed my mind.

Another image that helps me find my footing when the world is spinning more quickly than I can grasp it is to look at the trees. Really look, look carefully and silently and deliberately. Mentally trace the patterns on the bark, the shapes of the branches, the growth of leaves and flowers. Trees are strong and tall and solid and they withstand all sorts of weather conditions and human activity. The trees, too, will be here tomorrow and through the next storm and the next one. Touch the trees if you can. They hold a special sort of warmth.

I’m not a religious person but I think there’s an element of spirituality here, an understanding that I am part of a wider universe that spins and moves. The best I can do is spin and move with it rather than remaining rigid and uncompromising. Complaining and waiting have a time and a place but they don’t always get us very far. As my pen holder mug proclaims:

Peace. It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart. – Unknown

Peace can be hard to find, there’s no doubt about that. Peace can also be fleeting. It can engulf in one moment and then completely desert in the next. But the important thing is being able to find it again, to develop those moments when peace is easy and fluid. This also means you need to look for it, actively seek it out, especially when everything is all right. Watch the sun. Write down a few things. Look at the trees. When all is well, the world has given you time to find who you are and ground yourself in the present. Doing so eases the transition to whatever world we awake in tomorrow.

A Note from Israel

Greetings from the Holy Land!

View from my hotel room

I’m in Tel Aviv right now on a free weekend while the students are off at host families. I spent the day at the beach, which was beautifully relaxing and rejuvenating. We will be on a plane back to the US mid-week. 

Over the last 11 days, we’ve had a stomach virus, several versions of the common cold, a camel bite, two sprained ankles, and dehydration. We’ve seen old friendships fracture and new friendships develop. We’ve crossed the country and spent time in the  mountains, desert, and three bodies of water. We’ve met new people and learned about ourselves and others along the way.

Being on this trip with students, like doing anything with students, requires a level of confidence that I don’t normally have about my own life. It means being optimistic even when I’m anything but hopeful, calming when my own stress levels are high, and compassionate when my patience has completely dissipated. 

Although the kids are constantly asking about what’s next, I try to remind them to focus on and enjoy what they’re experiencing now. Emphasizing mindfulness and gratitude for what there is now has been a helpful reset in my own mind, as well. For a change, I’m trying to figure out my own next steps. I’ve always been a planner and I’ve watched the plans I’ve made fall to pieces again and again. What has remained, however, is a feeling of serenity and internal peace when I am able to push the plans aside for just a moment. Those are the feelings I have been trying to help my students find on our whirlwind tour of Israel.

Today, think about today. Tomorrow will come when it’s time, regardless of whether you’re ready. Enjoy this moment for as long as you can hold it in your hands, and take that feeling, learning, and sense of awe with you to the next moment. Feel what you’re feeling, not what you think you should be feeling. Embrace the thoughts that come, recognize that they’re there, and use those thoughts to put yourself in a place where your current experience guides what happens next. Tomorrow will come when it comes. Now is already here.

Makhtesh Ramon

Gratitude, Forgiveness, and Listening

Yesterday was Canadian Thanksgiving, which my family has not celebrated since we moved to the US and the US version of Thanksgiving became my mum’s favorite holiday. It has been years since I started keeping track (sorry about the photos!) of who or what I’m grateful for on a daily basis, and this is as good a time as any to make some of those thoughts public.

I am grateful for the family and friends who have held me up over the past year during which I’ve made some really hard choices and have restarted everything – twice. I am grateful to those who stand beside me as I continue to make choices about what to do next.

I am grateful for the technology that allows me to keep in touch with people all over the world from anywhere in the world.

I am grateful for the people I’ve called at all hours when I couldn’t breathe, couldn’t think, and couldn’t see tomorrow. I am grateful for those who have reached out just to see how things are going.

I am grateful for everyone who has helped in the three big moves that I’ve made over the last twelve months. Sorry that my book boxes were so heavy!

I am grateful for all the people who make me laugh, certainly including my students. I am grateful for the compassion of those who have seen me cry (including a group of grade ten students in Cambodia).

I am grateful for everyone who has helped me learn and grow, and who believe in me when I don’t believe in myself.

I am grateful for my travel experiences and all the travel partners I’ve had along the way.

I am grateful for the roof over my head, clothes in my closet, food in the fridge, and for getting paid to do my favorite thing – teach.

For all this and more, I am grateful and I thank you.

These reflections leave me acutely aware that today is Erev Yom Kippur, the night before the Day of Atonement on the Jewish calendar. (I’m a huge fan of this website for all things Judaism, so have a look if you want to investigate Yom Kippur further.) Since I’m teaching at a Jewish day school this year, I have time off for all the Jewish holidays, which is the first time that has happened since my own day school days. Overseas, I struggled to get the time to be part of a religious community, which is really important to me. With the tumultuousness I’ve been experiencing lately, I’m glad to have one fewer thing keeping me up at night.

Yom Kippur is considered the holiest day on the Jewish calendar. It is a day of self-reflection, connection with others, and an exploration of individual spiritual relationships. Judaism teaches that the only way to be forgiven for wronging other people is to seek their forgiveness. The goal is to begin a new year with a clean slate based on the new connection formed between both parties.

Forgiveness changes who we are because we are required to relate to each other in uncomfortable ways. Not only am I admitting what I have done wrong, but I am asking your forgiveness because I care about you, about myself, and about our relationship. It’s easy to brush off a negative conversation, walk away, and never mention it again. Acknowledging that someone has been left hurt, when that happens, means looking outside yourself to the impact your actions have on others.

It is very important, however, to keep in mind that many things that we do cause harm, pain, or discomfort. There’s a huge difference between actions and words that are malicious and those that hurt because of misunderstanding or miscommunication. While I am by no means advocating avoiding challenging and uncomfortable conversations, I do believe that my responsibility over the course of these conversations is to talk with you rather than at you, listen to and hear what you are saying, and respond to your ideas without attacking you personally.

When I don’t do that, I will ask your forgiveness. I will not apologize for my ideas or perspectives, but I will apologize for the way I treated you during our conversation. I have learned that the most difficult conversations need to be had sooner rather than later, with open minds and care towards others.

I believe this is important, especially in such a corrosive political climate. There’s a lot to be said about Hillary Clinton’s experience and policy proposals over Trump’s shockingly violent, hateful rhetoric. But there are also ways to have these conversations so as to actually hear one another.

On our way home from school last week, my carpool friends and I discussed our own failures to listen to and hear the other side. In our case, we’re too quick to dismiss Trump supporters as “crazy” or “ignorant”. What we need to do instead is provide evidence for why we believe what we believe and ask for their evidence in return. When political conversations move towards facts and evidence and away from personal feelings, we all learn a lot more. And we’ll cause a lot less anger, hate, and violence towards each other as a result.