Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Getting Ready to Launch

For the past two weeks or so I have been thinking a lot about starting this blog. I've told a few friends about it, a few family members and a very few colleagues. I've wondered about why I'm doing this. The short answer is that I don't know why. I'm just following a small inner voice that kept whispering to me to be grateful and to be public about it.

The longer answer is that I'm on a search for value. On a cold morning in 1987 I set aside my stack of law school applications with the dreadful realization that I had no answer to the essay question staring back at me from each empty packet: "why do you want to do this?" Since then I have looked for what value I can add to the world. At times I have felt quite strongly that I've found it. At other times, well, not so much.

The beginning of 2009 has the feel of a crossroads. Much will change in the outside world - we'll have a new President in a few weeks; at the very least that swearing-in will be a symbol of enormous change. The conversations I have with friends, family, colleagues, and acquaintances suggest that they're all sensing great changes to come, too.

For many years I have said that my only true desire in life is to make a difference for other people. That's utterly true for me. Oddly enough I have long felt that I'm standing on one side of the Grand Canyon, looking across and sensing that the opportunity to make a difference lies on the other rim. Silly, isn't it?

This year I will build a bridge to that other rim. One of the footings of that bridge is gratitude. So that's why I'm writing these pieces and exploring gratitude.

Tell me a bit about you. What would draw you in to participate in a conversation about gratitude?

Friday, December 19, 2008

Gratitude and the atheist's spirit

I'm a jew. Sort of. Small "j," anyway. Years ago I was observant: I kept a kosher home for a time, observed Shabbat, and knew a lot of prayers. At times it was a heartful thing for me; sometimes on Friday evenings I felt connected, close, wrapped up in a web of life and spirit much bigger than me. My ex-wife and I had probing and powerful conversations with our religious friends. I often walked for hours on Saturdays, meditating in the way a privileged 20-something will, spirit soaring.

Then I got divorced, and in the process of obtaining a get, a Jewish decree of divorce, I met with a panel of Orthodox Rabbis. Dissatisfied with my converted mother's bona fides, they declared unanimously that I was no Jew. That was 1995, and I've hardly lit a candle since.

It took me years to understand fully that I put that light out myself. I blamed the beard & shtreimel set, convinced that they took something from me.

Since that time I've come to a different understanding of God. As in, there isn't one, outside of the God we've invented in our human language. I've got all the same arguments anyone else in my position does - we need some framework to ponder the imponderables, for example.

So many blogs about gratitude seem to fall into one (or both) of two categories: religion or recovery from addiction. This one is neither. I thought I'd bring it up early and get it out of the way at least as far as context goes. I do wrestle with the religion question.

What a luxury to have the time, energy, and comfort to noodle this stuff around in my head. Being religion-free has advantages, perhaps chief among them is that I am aloof, protected by some veneer of rationalism from all the crazy shit I don't understand in the world. Plenty of that going around, by the way. And of course I am much "better than" the religious fundamentalists whose seething hatred fuels so much disaster in virtually every corner of the world. One might argue that fundamentalism is the shadow side of religion but now I'm headed for an even deeper digression.

The point is this: I'm an unreconciled atheist, and already only a few days into this silly experiment of writing and thinking about gratitude I'm sensing the gap between my rational conviction that there is no God and my soul-deep yearning for a spiritual connection through the world and all the people in it, not to mention whatever lies beyond it. There are imponderables, after all. And every time we read another story of human goodness poking like a weed through the heavy cover of grave circumstance, I think we're all pulled for even the tiniest moment to believe that something grand is moving out there.

Maybe not. What I'm thankful for this morning is that the sun is shining, as it does. It's just the simplest little miracle, anyway.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

What is the Year of Gratitude?

Greetings and welcome to the Year of Gratitude. Thanks for coming by.

The stock market is in the tank. The 401k I thought I had allocated so brilliantly has been crushed. Yours too, I bet. Jobs across the nation are disappearing at a rate we haven't seen in decades. If you used to get a bonus, this year it's a bonus if the direct-deposit hasn't stopped. Violence is everywhere, from that once-quiet house two blocks away to the Khyber Pass and beyond.

The news seems relentlessly bleak, doesn't it? Daily we read of corrupt governors, discredited CEOs begging for bailouts, failed states in distant places. The broadcast-driven drumbeats of seizing this, shrinking that, terrified these, broken those... they go on. And on. And then it's Tuesday and we hear the drumbeats and read the stories all again. In the context that this world-wide broadcast "conversation" creates, there doesn't seem to be much place for gratitude.

I think that's exactly why it is time to focus on being grateful, and expressing my thanks for my Self and my life. So I've declared 2009 to be "The Year of Gratitude" and I will update this blog frequently with thanks.

To be grateful, in my view, is the foundation of positive action. Taking one positive action leads inexorably to taking others. Gratitude and grace are closely related words and closely related states of being. I know from my own experience that being grateful puts me at ease, calms and opens my mind, and makes me more pleasant to be around. Gratitude begets humility as well as confidence. The people I most admire have these traits in abundance and I'm grateful to have them as role models.

I admit to feeling a little silly and tentative about putting these thoughts on the public web. I'm not a pollyanna; I'm a fairly crusty middle-aged guy worried about hanging on to my job, supporting my family, planning for the future, taking care of my body, and more. I drink more alcohol than I should. I can't sleep worth a damn. My knees hurt, my back aches, I'm losing my hair. Gratitude is not going to restore my trading account balance after ill-considered or ill-timed stock trades. I'm clear about that.

Still, I am enormously grateful; compared to the six and a half billion people on the planet my problems are laughably small. I have plenty of comforts, many excellent relationships, and time to enjoy a few leisure pursuits. It would be lovely to think I know where this year of manifesting gratitude will take me but I don't. My hope is that I will move from being grateful for what I have to being grateful for who I am, and perhaps ultimately simply to being grateful for what is.

Thanks for joining me. Come by often and add to the conversation. Let's see what comes from the Year of Gratitude.