No, really, still your life for a moment. On this crazy day when people are running around trying to get Black Friday deals or whatever else … just pause for a moment, remember the gratitude of Thanksgiving and celebrate the beauty of stillness.
Since it’s the week of Thanksgiving I thought that I’d share some of the things that I do to practice, remember and celebrate thankfulness in my life.
At the end of each day I try to take a moment to sit down and send a Tweet/ Facebook post listing everything about my day. I usually focus on the things that gave me joy, made me feel creativity or productive or were just positive in some way. This is a small thing that I do to help remind myself to recognize what I’m grateful for each day. It’s also nice because a lot of times people reply back about their days and I get to celebrate the little things with those I care about.
Happy/ Crappy Text
Just in the last month or two I’ve started doing this with a group of three of my friends from school. Basically we each text something that happened during the day that was happy and also something that was crappy. I like this because it allows me to pause and think about what has made me happy. It also reminds me that it’s okay to not just be happy all the time and there’s some relief in regularly sharing the little and big things that are hard during the day. Each time I do this, I’m grateful for the support of the people doing it with me and the support of the wider school program that I’m a part of. And sometimes when I can’t think of a really bad crappy and it’s just a small one it makes me feel grateful for that fact alone!
I got this idea from one of Julia Cameron’s creativity books. I think it was from Walking in the World but it may have been Vein of Gold. Anyway, she suggests daily walks and I can’t remember her specific suggestion but at some point she suggests focusing on gratitude during the walk. I think maybe she suggests once a week. Anyway, I don’t do this every day but I do try to remember to do it when I’m walking a puppy or just walking somewhere. I try to spend at least ten minutes of the walk just mindfully focusing on the things that I’m grateful for.
Journaling about Gratitude
I don’t keep a gratitude journal. I used to but I didn’t really keep it up and actually I started the aforementioned daily tweets as a way to be more accountable to daily gratitude. But I do keep a regular journal and periodically try to use it to focus on the things that I’m grateful for in my life. Usually of course these relate to the same broad topics – friends, family, health, opportunities, etc. but each time that I focus on the details within those things I’m reminded what a charmed life I really do have in this wonderful city with fascinating and loving people.
I have been drawn to a life of self-understanding since I was a child. It has taken so many forms and continues changing. Or rather expanding.
Writing for Self-Understanding
Istarted journaling at age ten and have used writing ever since as a constant way to know myself better.
Reading for Self-Understanding
I have also always been a voracious reader who enjoys non-fiction books that give me greater insight into the ways that people of different cultures, beliefs and backgrounds perceive and improve upon the human experience.
I have also gained self-knowledge and self-compassion through meditation and yoga practice.
Plus I have had professional Western counseling, including working for about 18 months with an excellent psychologist who helped me through my own difficult bout with chronic depression.
Holistic Learning About The Self
These days I take an approach to self-understanding that incorporates all of the above methods that I’ve used in the past along with new tools gradually gained over time. I hope I keep learning about myself and try to stay open to changing the way I see myself over time.
I’m working on a group project for my human development class. Our area of study is emerging adulthood. Specifically, we’re interested in how narrative can help emerging adults to better understand the issues of identity that they may be dealing with at this time of their lives. We’re using a variety of study methods and research to explore this and it’s been very interesting.
One of the things that we’re doing is asking 18 – 20 year olds to complete an online survey.
The online survey takes about 30 minutes to complete and consists of a combination of multiple choice and open-ended questions. It can be anonymous and is, of course, confidential. We’re interested in reaching a diverse range of young adults in this age group. There are a variety of different things going on for people in this age group thanks to the nature of the transition between adolescence and young adulthood. It’s a fascinating, complex period of life that I’d love to learn more about from people directly experiencing it right now.
The deadline to complete the survey is 11/22/13. It is our hope that the information that we gather from this survey will allow us to gain additional insight into the information we gained from both our research and our direct interactions with emerging adults.
Some of the things I’ve loved to consume recently:
Oatmeal with spices, peaches and raisins on top of blueberry muffin and topped with slices of plum
Waffle with fresh berries and warm honey
Scrambled eggs with onions and broccoli, blueberry muffin and apple slices
“I remember the first time that I tried formal meditation. I sat amidst a group of compassionate people with closed eyes who were letting go of all thoughts, focusing attention on their breath. I felt no compassion for myself as my monkey mind skittered about. I felt self-conscious about my constant twitching and resituating, certain I was irritating the peaceful beings around me. More than that, I simply didn’t enjoy the experience. My anxious mind raced into terrifyingly uncomfortable places. I left feeling that meditation is a great thing…for other people but not for me!”
That paragraph is the first paragraph in a guest post that I did awhile back for Lion Brand Yarn about the benefits of crochet when used as a meditative tool. In that post I went on to discuss how crochet could be used to focus and therefore can be conducive to practicing meditation when you’re either a beginner at it or dealing with issues such as anxiety.
I’m curious whether others have found meditation to be difficult … is it something that you disliked and then came to like? Something you tried and never did again? Something you fell in love with from day one? What was your first experience with meditation?
Sometimes when I go to the grocery store or farmers’ market I see foods that I am totally unfamiliar with. If they’re a pretty color or a cute shape there’s a good chance I’ll buy them. I admit it, I like cute foods. Then I have to go home and Google what to do with them.
That was the case with these cranberry beans. Actually, I didn’t even end up trying the beans to be honest because I kept them around too long and they started to mold and I had to throw them out. But they were so pretty! I intend to buy some again and actually see what they taste like!
From what I’ve read it seems like you basically open up the pods, take out the beans and then do something with them such as boil them. I often make chili – it’s one of the few foods I’m really truly good at cooking in creative ways – so maybe what I’ll do when I get them again is figure out a good chili that they can be made into.
I discovered this menu suggestion set for a week in some old vintage magazines. I wish I’d written down the date and name of the magazine so I could be more accurate in sharing it here. I’m thinking it was an old McCalls because I had a ton of those that I recently went through but it might’ve been something else.
In a little more detail:
What sounds good to me:
- orange marmalade and rhubarb marmalade
- mashed brown potatoes and mashed sweet potatoes; (I barely ever have them but I love mashed potatoes!)
- chicken soup with sage
- steamed brown bread
- Dutch Apple-Cake
- Fried Parsnips
- Grape Ice
- Oatmeal Macaroons
- Walnut Loaf
- White Sauce with Parsley
- Baked Apple
What sounds kinda gross:
- boiled fowl
- broiled liver
- creamed dried beef
- grape jelly sauce
- marshmallow sauce
- fish hash
- codfish balls
- fish chowder
- freicasseed rabbit
- rabbit salad; (I just can’t stomach the thought of eating rabbit)
Things I’m not quite sure what they are:
- Preserved quince (I kind of know that quince is a fruit but I can’t think if I’ve ever tried it)
- Chicory salad (I feel like I should know what this is; I’m going to look it up right now)
- Cream cheese balls
- Johnny Cake
- Hashed brown chicken
- Hominy with figs (I think hominy might be a vegetable?)
- Dried-Apple Sauce
- Peanut Fondu
- Egg Sauce
In yesterday’s post about an art show I went to on Geary I mentioned that after the show I came across a bunch of free books on the street and decided to pick up a Hmong memoir that I ended up really liking. I think it was an interesting story but I also think I liked it because the timing I came across it resonated with me since I’m about to begin studies that require me to do consider issues of diversity in institutional settings.
Actually, the book isn’t really a memoir. It’s a biography written from an outside perspective but I keep forgetting that because it reads almost like a memoir, which I really love. The difference (besides that it’s actually not written from the person it’s about) is that it incorporates a lot of researched history into it.
The book is called The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures. That tells you a lot about the book’s story. The name of the book relates to the fact that the child had epilepsy and this is described in the Hmong culture as “the spirit catches you and you fall down”. The family was a refugee family living in Merced, California, and the epileptic child was treated there in Merced.
The story is a virtual horror story of what can happen when there isn’t cultural sensitivity in an institutional setting like a hospital. In fairness, the experience happened in the 1980s and there have been a lot of things put into place in institutions since that time (although they are still very limited) but some of the things that we see happen in this true story include:
- There was absolutely no one there to translate for the Hmong family members. Occasionally a Hmong janitor was asked to translate. This meant that not only did the family not understand what was going on but the medical staff missed out on getting very important information.
- There was very little attempt on anyone’s part to understand the Hmong culture and the family’s beliefs about medicine. They believed strongly in alternative medicine and wanted to use folk treatments either instead of or in addition to prescribed medications.
- A failure to understand the parents’ point of view resulted in the hospital labeling the family non-compliant. For example, they wouldn’t give the medications to prevent epilepsy but they had many reasons for this that weren’t adequately explored (including not actually understanding the dosages since they didn’t speak or read English and were illiterate in their own language as well).
The child was actually removed from the home by Child Protective Services for a period of time even though her parents loved her and did all they could to care for her. It wasn’t an easy decision of course but basically the medical community felt like the parents wouldn’t give the child her meds so she would keep having seizures and would eventually die so they removed the child and she was out of the home for about a year.
I think this part of the story really hit a chord with me because of my work with the foster care system and Child Protective Services. I didn’t see anything like that but I did see many situations where in my opinion the child would’ve been better off left in the original home than put into the system. And I also did see many instances where culture/ language barriers were a serious issue. For example, there was a period of time when I was doing supervised visits for Spanish-speaking families because I was the only person who would do them … note that my Spanish is really weak and I was an untrained intern. And this was Tucson so it shouldn’t have been hard to find a Spanish-speaking translator … but for whatever reason (lack of funding, lack of time, etc.) CPS wasn’t providing those translators so parents who were legally supposed to be getting visits with their kids weren’t getting them. I mention this for a few reasons:
- My experience with that made me appreciate the Hmong story.
- It shows how this happens to people of all different types of non-dominant cultures dealing with the system.
- It happened less than ten years ago so we’re not talking about something that happened in the 1980s before cultural diversity was better explored in these systems.
The Hmong story reached me for that reason, I think, and also just because the story is so compelling. The writer does a good job of explaining the varied viewpoints of the different people who were players in this tragic drama. More than that, the book provides a lot of researched information about the Hmong history as well as the Hmong experience in the United States.
I didn’t know much at all about the Hmong culture. I realized as I read the story that I am actually shamefully ignorant about the variety of Asian immigrant experiences, which is terrible considering the large percentage of Asian Americans in the Bay Area.
Let me digress for a minute. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m starting grad school studies in a counseling program soon. A couple of months into the program I’m going to have to do a weekend of diversity training. I have to admit that when I first saw that I kind of quietly rolled my eyes as I read information about the training that says things like, “It’s easy to unconsciously hurt people through “microaggressions” and we want to reduce these woundings”. The training is eighteen hours of intensive training across two days and is designed to do things like “familiarize participants with basic concepts of racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism, privilege, and ally building” and help us “gain a basic understanding of how these concepts show up in both individual, classroom, and larger institutional settings”.
Now don’t get me wrong … I think those are important things. But I tend to think that I’m already pretty well-versed in diversity. Although I’m from a white middle class background I have a background of diversity issues in my extended family and of course I’m female so I understand sexism from that perspective. I grew up in a minority-rich town and went to schools where there were a lot of minorities. I got my undergrad degree in studies related to social work so I have taken tons of courses designed to increase my understanding of diversity issues (including courses on mental health issues for the elderly, for example). And I worked in social work so I did a lot of certificates in training related to being sensitive to people from different backgrounds. I even worked for a time at a refugee agency whose sole purpose was to help people who had just arrived, typically from African refugee camps. Plus I live in San Francisco, which isn’t the most diverse city in the country but definitely has diversity as well as a very liberal attitude towards issues for people from different social cultures.
So basically I guess if I’m honest I’d have to say that while I thought diversity training made sense and I wasn’t opposed to doing it I also kind of had an idea that the trianing didn’t apply to me so much and would be kind of boring.
But Actually …
I think if you have that attitude then it’s a good sign that perhaps you need a refresher course in diversity training or at least to take the time to take a good long look at yourself. And I was actually reminded about that when I read this Hmong story.
The truth is that I don’t like to admit it but I fall prey to racist thoughts sometimes. For example, when I walk through the crowded throngs in Chinatown and someone clears their throat and then spits it up really close to me I get disgusted and annoyed and think things that I probably shouldn’t say out loud. There were certain things that the Hmong book mentioned that made me realize that I don’t have a clue about why someone would do something like that and that my judgments are inappropriate. For example, the book talks about how the Hmong people come here and don’t know the language and don’t know the basic customs and are totally overwhelmed by even the most basic things to the point where they would sometimes receive informational pamphlets with tips like, “don’t stand on the toilet, this will break it” and “don’t throw water on the stove to turn it off”. When you’re dropped into such a radically different culture, after being uprooted from a home you didn’t necessarily want to leave in the first place, you may do things like spit close to others in public places. Who am I really to judge that?
Obviously this is just one example. And obviously the situation is more complex than that. But reading the book and being so touched by the plight of the people in the book made me realize that there’s no harm in revisiting some of my own assumptions and looking closely now and then about my automatic thoughts and reactions to the people around me.
The diversity training is still a couple of months away. And it’s not the main focus of my educuational courses that are coming up so it’s not as though I’m really thinking all that much about it. But the memoir combined with the knowledge that it was coming up provided me with a really good opportunity to re-examine my own biases and my own limitations and my own need to constantly review how I see people of different backgrounds.
The funny thing is that I really have no idea what compelled me to pick up this book. I was walking home from the art show and came across dozens of boxes of free books that someone had left out on the street. There were art books and all kinds of others books that are typically what I would be drawn to. And I don’t even actually usually get books to own (I’m a library girl) but for some reason I glanced through the boxes and that memoir popped out at me. Interesting.