Waking with gratitude: The start of a gratitude practice

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Clear day on South Puget Sound, WA. (Hadi Dadashian photo)

Waking with gratitude on South Puget Sound, WA. (Hadi Dadashian photo)

We’re sometimes asked how to start a gratitude practice, and we have a simple, two-word reply: Wake up!

Don’t leap out of bed.  Feel your body edging from sleepy to alert.

Think of one thing for which you’re most grateful.  Breathe deeply and think only about this one thing; embrace it, in gratitude.

Carry this with you through the whole day, no matter how irritating, frustrating, or depressing everything else seems.

Make it a moment of calm, no matter how harried you feel.  Return to that one reason for gratitude, and think about it whenever you need to slooooooooow.

Seize on it when you can be still.  Think about why this one thing, this one person perhaps, makes you grateful in the moment, in this moment.

Just be in the moment, in gratitude.

Waking with gratitude is the start of a gratitude practice that you can build for life.

When you arise in the morning, think of what a privilege it is to be alive; to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.” Marcus Aurelius, one of the ‘good’ Roman emperors (b:121 AD)

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Honoring Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. with actions, not just words

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White granite memorial to Martin Luther King Jr., D.C. (Hadi Dadashian photo)

Most dramatic sculpture in monument-loaded Washington, D.C. (Hadi Dadashian photo)

We’re honoring Martin Luther King Jr. across the United States this week — tomorrow marks the 50th anniversary of his I Have A Dream speech.

No one can be unmoved by that rhetoric.

A half-century later, his vision has proved stronger than many of his most fervent supporters hoped.

Yet we still have a long way to go to fight oppression, and to recognize equality for all — true equality — in this country.

I am grateful for the example of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and his inspiration.  I am grateful to read American history, and learn how his civil rights movement emboldened others, around the world, to use non-violence to fight for freedom and equality.

I am grateful for the way Dr. King transformed the U.S., and transforms it still.  True, his mission is incomplete, but it is up to us — “we, the people” to heed his words from August 28, 1963:  “We cannot walk alone.  We cannot turn back.

Tens of thousands of Americans marched on Washington on Saturday, recreating the famous March on Washington, led by Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. 50 years ago.  They get it.  They understand that King’s call for justice and democracy — two words carved prominently in his memorial in Washington, D.C. — still rings today.

Working for social justice didn’t begin, or end, with Rev. King.  As long as voting rights are threatened in this country, we have work to do.

Celebrating my first anniversary as an American citizen this month, I am committed to social justice and working to broaden and protect voting rights.

I am lifted by Rev. Martin Luther King’s message of love and hope. Those two words are carved in white granite at the King Memorial in Washington, D.C.  To read them at that place of peace is to truly believe the minister’s message, that hope transcends despair.

(For me, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C. is the most powerful sculpture in a city of monuments.  One block of white granite depicts the Mountain of Despair that confronted Dr. King; the other, 30-feet-tall sculpture of the man, is carved from the Stone of Hope.  Both are phrases from his I Have A Dream speech.)

Ty Carter teaches all of us about PTSD and courage

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Ty Carter goes to the White House today to receive the Medal of Honor, the highest award this country bestows for bravery.  The real honor is for all he’s doing to help the wounded deal with that invisible war injury, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Others tell the story of the 12-hour battle in Afghanistan in 2009, when then-Specialist Carter helped save lives of fellow soldiers.

Carter tells the story of what PTSD does to men and women after war.

Instead of focusing on the bravery it takes to win battles, the 33-year-old Army veteran talks about the courage it takes to get help with post-war healing.

The Staff Sergeant is unafraid to speak publicly about the unseen wounds that can last a lifetime.  Carter speaks with the honesty of a soldier who struggles still with the trauma of what he witnessed that day.

And he urges others to seek treatment for PTSD.

This is the most important message Ty Carter bears, and I am grateful for his courage.

While others glory in the victory of a battle pinning 54 Americans against 400 Taliban, Carter downplays his role in saving anyone.  Eight of his fellow soldiers were killed that day, and 25 others were wounded.

Carter speaks about the anger and the hurt — some of it aimed at himself, for not saving more soldiers.

Carter does the unsoldierly thing in telling others that love saved him.  He speaks of the support of his wife, Shannon, and their children, in helping lift him from the darkness that follows trauma.

He speaks directly about the counseling of army psychologist, Captain Katie Kopp, and how their private sessions have saved his life, far from the battlefield.

Carter has announced his intention to be a national voice for wounded warriors dealing with PTSD and other psychological wounds of war.

He speaks with the clarity of a man who has suffered much, and has the courage to name his suffering:  Post-Traumatic Stress, without the D.  As wounded warriors learn, it’s a normal reaction to the abnormal events of war.

I haven’t met Carter, but he is my neighbor.  He’s based at JBLM, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, the massive Army and Air Force base near Tacoma, Washington.  Here, he helps lift other wounded warriors, and encourages them in their recovery.

This takes a special kind of bravery that no Medal of Honor or Purple Heart of other award recognizes (Carter has many awards).  It also takes a special voice, to convince other wounded soldiers to listen.

The awards ceremony will be live-streamed by C-SPAN at 2 p.m. EST.

Kathleen Kenna is a rehabilitation counselor and Certified Clinical Trauma Professional.

Grateful for good health, after being denied health coverage

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I’m ever-grateful for good health, and now that I have a full-time job with benefits in the United States, I’m grateful to have full health care again.

living in gratitude©

living in gratitude©

I am keenly aware that this is perhaps the greatest gift of employment here.

I learned the hard way that disability bars me from health insurance in this country.

Every insurer I contacted — including all the firms that had insured me before, through various employers — rejected me for health coverage when I became unemployed.

Why people with disabilities are denied U.S. health insurance 

For non-Americans, this is unbelievable, so let me explain.  I could not get health insurance because I was deemed one of the people who needed it most.  Insurers won’t cover people they predict will be a big drain on their accounts, unless the risk is shared with an employer who contributes to health coverage.

This, by the way, includes women, who cost more to insure because they use more health care.  (We get pregnant; we have babies.)  I was told that even as a woman who has never been pregnant — and doesn’t intend to — I am a higher risk for American health insurers.

My disability — acquired in the Afghanistan war — was deemed a “pre-existing condition” and therefore precluded health insurance.

Go figure.

So I did what I’ve always tried to do:  Stay healthy.

I exercise every day; eat a vegetarian diet (with plenty of West Coast, cold-water fish for protein); and try to get sound, restorative sleep each night.

I believe I’ve stayed healthy, through three years of unemployment, by staying optimistic.  Research shows this makes a big difference in mental and physical health.

When I met my new doctor this week, I was so grateful to learn that she, too, was an immigrant.  I was grateful to learn that she understands the humiliation of no health coverage in the U.S. (trust me, you’re treated like a criminal sometimes for being uninsured here, even when you pay for every single thing with your own money. I have stories …)

I was grateful to see she has compassion for the underprivileged, after working in several under-served communities across the U.S., as part of her medical training.

I was grateful that this doctor had the time to discuss the importance of preventative health care during my annual exam.

We talked about workplace stress and how one copes.  We discussed the challenge, for many, of maintaining a healthy diet, when incomes are low and cost-of-living expenses are high.

The privilege of having a job

We agreed that living in Washington, with all its natural beauty, is a healthy choice for us, who are privileged to have jobs and health insurance.  It’s such a great place to stay fit for free.

I’m grateful for meeting a gentle, young doctor, who takes time to get to know her patients, and welcomes an opportunity to discuss healthy living choices with them.

I’m grateful that she sees some patients pro bono who cannot afford health insurance, or who are denied health coverage due to “pre-existing conditions.”

And yes, I am thankful to have been unemployed in this country, and learn what that means.  (I have many stories …)

As an immigrant, it makes me that much more grateful to have a full-time job.

I’m especially grateful for good health, and I’m confident my new doctor shares that gratitude.

After pronouncing me strong and healthy, despite disability, she uttered four of the best words I’ve ever heard from an American doctor:  “See you next year!

 

 

Life in 5 lines or less: Diss this! Talking about disability

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Single kayaker, from wheelchair to water. (Hadi Dadashian photo)

From wheelchair to waves. (Hadi Dadashian photo)

We are not THE disabled.

We are not our condition, our disease, our disorder, our wounding.

It’s estimated one in five Americans has a disability.

Yet our collective sensibility about how we treat each other, and how we label each other, can be more hurtful than physical or mental pain.

Working with wounded warriors, I learn more and more about that rallying cry, “Diss this!”

Life in 5 lines or less© contemplates life, with gratitude, here every Saturday.

In praise of a blue moon in the Pacific Northwest

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Full moon, August 20, 2013. (Hadi Dadashian photo)

Full moon in all its glory, 08/20/2013. (Hadi Dadashian photo)

If we were poets, we would be praising the advent of a blue moon with sweet words.

Alas, we’re not.

Words can’t capture the beauty of a full moon that turns from pale blue to warm gold.

In the Pacific Northwest, we don’t always see the moon because of fog and overcast skies.

But Tuesday night, the moon was so bright it left a broad path of light across our living room floor — so bright it seemed we had left on a lamp.

Blue moon at dusk. (Hadi Dadashian photo)

Blue moon over Tacoma, Washington. (Hadi Dadashian photo)

Apparently, blue moons can appear smoky blue or even purple, depending on the atmosphere.

Our August moon was burnished like gold.

We’re told there won’t be another blue moon until July, 2015.

I’m grateful to have seen this light now, and walked its path across my living room.

With gratitude, always, to the resident photographer, Hadi Dadashian.

With gratitude to gardeners, everywhere, for brightening our world

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Washington lilies. (Hadi Dadashian photo)

Bright lilies on a grey day in Washington. (Hadi Dadashian photo)

I grew up with a green thumb — my mother’s — so I’m grateful to gardeners, everywhere, for brightening our world.

I lack a green thumb of my own, so I celebrate everyone who tends the earth for the benefit of the rest of us.

I thank them for every seed they plant, and every flower, shrub and tree they tend, because we all benefit.

They’re putting something back, while most of us continue to exhaust the earth.

Our neighbors with homes tend roses that are so bountiful, they climb to the eaves.  Another still has big, fat sunflowers.

These blooms are a delight every time I see them.  Whenever we walk past a neighbor’s home, and see someone sweating over their flower gardens, we pause to thank them for sharing this beauty.

Since we’re not gardeners, this is always a great conversation-opener, and always an opportunity to spread gratitude.  We’re new here; we really are grateful for green-thumb neighbors.

Our city has planted snapdragons that brighten every morning on the commute to work.  It’s just a small strip of blossoms, but they help me pause, to be grateful, and to enjoy a moment of calm before facing the traffic.

Yesterday, a tall and graceful doe stepped daintily out of a municipal garden, showing her own particular appreciation for these plantings. She stopped traffic across four lanes. We gaped and grinned — our first deer in our urban neighborhood!

Gratitude grows and grows.

 

Grateful at the end of day, for stillness

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Red clouds before sunset, WA. (Hadi Dadashian photo)

End-of-day sunshine, at South Puget Sound. (Hadi Dadashian photo)

I’m grateful as the day closes, because it’s still and quiet here.

The world grows too noisy.

I’m grateful for a long day of solo study and hiking a due, then blissful reading in the sunshine.

I’m grateful for a long, phone chat with a dear friend, catching up and making plans to meet.

I’m grateful to be so still and content, that I can just watch the clouds go by and meditate in the cooling air at dusk.

Red cloud, Tacoma, WA. (Hadi Dadashian photo)

Be still, and watch clouds drift. (Hadi Dadashian photo)

On the anniversary of the 19th amendment, thanks for Alice Stokes Paul

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Today is the anniversary of the ratification of the 19th amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and I’m giving thanks for Alice Stokes Paul. Blogging Our Blessings©

She was arrested and jailed — and force-fed during a hunger strike — fighting for the rights of women in this country.

I wish I had known Alice Stokes Paul.  I would have thanked her for her incredible courage.

I wish I had met so many of the suffragettes (the very word makes me proud, yet sad).  I would like to have thanked them for easing the way for me to go to university in this country, to work here, to become a citizen, and to vote here.  I would like to have thanked them for their many sacrifices.

These women protested and gave public speeches and traveled a long way for their civil rights. They faced the derision of their neighbors, the wrath of powerful men, and, for some, ostracization by their own families. They marched on Washington 100 years ago, and waved placards and banners every day in front of the White House, finally convincing Congress to pass the 19th amendment.

Don’t know it?

It includes this historic sentence: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”

The amendment was introduced in Congress in 1878, but it took 42 years before it passed.

I am grateful to read that the West — from California to Washington, and from Arizona to Montana — was the first to invite women to vote at the state, county and city/town levels too.

Like all civil rights in this country, it took a lifetime of protest and campaigning by women like Alice Stokes Paul and Lucy Burns and Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony to win the national vote.  Women across the U.S. cast their first ballots in 1920.

I’m celebrating my first anniversary as a citizen this month, so I’m ever-grateful to Alice Stokes Paul and all the suffragettes who truly suffered for my rights.

With special thanks to friends who celebrated my citizenship with gifts of big books on all the presidents, and landmarks in American history.  You can’t imagine how many times I’ve consulted those books, read them quietly — and aloud for others — and marveled at how this country was built.  

 

Life in 5 lines or less: What is happiness?

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Kayak prep, Gig Harbor, WA. (Hadi Dadashian photo)

Getting ready to hit the water, Gig Harbor, WA. (Hadi Dadashian photo)

Happiness is discovering the forecasters were wrong.

No rain = more kayaking.

More kayaking means releasing all the work-week tension, and leaving it behind.

Happiness is a paddler and her kayak.

Life in 5 lines or less© appears here Saturdays, before the paddle touches a single wave.