Category Archives: Gratitude
“A bayberry candle burned to the socket puts luck in the home, food in the larder and gold in the pocket.”
We adopted the tradition in our house, until it became almost impossible to find bayberry taper candles. Taper candles are out of vogue generally, and bayberry candles even more so. Imagine how pleased I was, then, when one of my book club members gave me bayberry taper candles for Christmas. (She might have been a little taken aback by how pleased I was with the gift.) When I got home from my book club meeting, I happily placed a bayberry candle in my nativity scene once again.
I did a little research, and I discovered that my mother-in-law’s version of the tradition differed from the original. According to on-line sources, the candles were burned on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, not Christmas Day like my mother-in-law did. And my mother-in-law lit her candle on Christmas morning and let it burn throughout the day, whereas the traditional bayberry candles burned on Christmas Eve evening, and the flame had to continue burning into Christmas Day to carry the luck forward; same for New Year’s Eve.
I thought, ever so briefly, about changing my tradition to align with the legend, but then I dismissed the idea. Traditions—the good ones, anyway—are really rituals, and rituals—the good ones, anyway—warm the soul, revive memories of loved ones and centre us in what is really important.
If I were to light a bayberry candle on Christmas Eve instead of Christmas Day, it would feel wrong, like a betrayal. It would not warm my soul.
So I’ll keep on lighting a bayberry candle on Christmas morning. When I do, it will warm my soul, it will remind me of my mother-in-law, and it will centre me in what is really important. And that, I suspect, will bring me more luck than anything.
This short clip from 60 Minutes serves as a fitting follow-up to my Tuesday post about thinking.
Anderson Cooper wires up his brain to show visual evidence of the calming effects of meditation. When Cooper drops into meditation after thinking about a stressful event, his brain responds immediately. His brain leaves behind the red stress zone and enters a “blue mindfulness zone.”
For centuries, meditation practitioners have touted the physical, mental, spiritual and emotional benefits of meditation, but naysayers dismissed the claims as a bunch of unscientific hooey. Scientific evidence gives such naysayers permission to trust in the unseen.
The next time stress-inducing thoughts pop into your head, remember Anderson Cooper’s brain, focus on your breath and find your own blue mindfulness zone.
Click on the link below to watch the video: 60 Minutes
My friend, Jennifer, thought of me when she read a New York Times article last week: “No Time to Think” by Kate Murphy. Jennifer thought of me because I am not like the people described in the article—people who are so afraid of being alone with their thoughts they actually administer electric shocks to themselves if left alone with nothing but their thoughts for as little as 6 minutes.
Jennifer is the friend who coined the “Laughing Thinker” phrase I use as part of my bio; I take it as a compliment that she sees me as both profound and happy. I love to think. During the day when I am at home, I never turn on radios or TVs. I live in silent contemplation all day, and I love it.
During the Christmas season I work part-time at a bookstore in a shopping mall. Many of the younger solo shoppers enter our store with ear buds in both ears. I think, “They can’t even go shopping without some din in their ears?” Are they really so afraid of their own thoughts? Apparently so.
Why is this a problem? What does it matter if people shut themselves down? According to researchers, the main reason people don’t want to think too much is they don’t want to dwell on the negative or ruminate on their problems. But if we don’t allow ourselves the time to sort ourselves out, it hampers ability to empathize with others.
Lost creativity is another cost. Murphy writes, “. . . an idle mind is a crucible for creativity.” Thinking about problems outside of reality adds new dimensions to the issue and allows for novel solutions to challenges.
Empathy and creativity melt away so many negative issues. At this time of year, it’s tempting to rush, rush, rush and party, party, party. At this time, some of the negative family, friends and financial stuff we suppress the rest of the year raises its unavoidable ugly head for us to deal with. So, at this time of year it’s more important than ever to foster thinking time.
Winnie the Pooh and Tigger were onto something: Think, think, think, and laugh a little too.
I know the world is getting better and better. My evidence: Puppy rooms.
My daughter brought this to my attention. It’s exam time at universities, and these institutions of higher learning have started providing therapy dogs to help students deal with stress.
Oh, how I wish such a thing were available when I was in university.
Of course, every good idea must have its detractors, and at least one columnist suggested that work is the ideal solution for extreme stress. Give that man a puppy!
This story reminded me of an entertaining TED talk video featuring Hans and Ola Rosling. These Swedish researchers discuss “How not be ignorant about the world”. At the TED conference, the Roslings asked audience members to answer with their predictions about three topics:
- How did deaths per year from natural disaster change in the last century?
- Women aged 30 spent how many years in school?
- In the last 20 years the percentage of people living in extreme poverty . . . increased, stayed the same, or decreased?
The respondents tended to take a dim view of societal events.
In general, we believe everything is getting worse, we believe in a large, increasing gap between rich and poor, we believe countries need to be rich before they can improve social conditions, and we exaggerate the number of people harmed by things that scare us. But in every case the results were better than people expected and improved today over what happened in the past.
The Roslings suggest if we want to interpret the world, to “turn our intuition into strength,” we might follow their “rules of thumb” and assume that:
- Most things improve
- Most people are in the middle economically
- Most countries improve their societal conditions and then benefit economically
- The things that scare us (terrorist, shark attacks) harm few people.
My unscientific examination of the societal conditions in Canada suggest that this country is indeed a better place today than it was three decades ago. My evidence: Three decades ago my university had no puppy room; today my daughter’s university does.
I rest my case.
TED Talk: Hans and Ola Rosling –
In Ottawa, Canada where I live, one of our hockey players earned some time in the spotlight last night. Daniel Alfredsson, who played for the Ottawa Senators NHL hockey team from 1994 to 2013, soaked up a shower of adulation on the day he announced his retirement from the game.
— Ottawa Senators (@Senators) December 5, 2014
We Ottawa Senators fans adore Alfredsson, affectionately known as Alfie. He is so good, fans of opposing teams boo him, and that’s a sure sign of high quality play. We adore him even though he left our city for a while; we adore him because he left our city for a while to stand up for his principles. We adore him even though he made occasional (very rare) missteps; we adore him because he made occasional missteps. We adore him even though he spoke the brutal truth when our team did not play well; we adore him because he spoke the brutal truth and didn’t feed the media stock soundbites.
We think we want heroes of the bulletproof variety. We expect to lose faith in them if they fail. But we don’t. We like our heroes real, and that inevitably means fallible. Heroes that stick, the real, durable sort, gain that status because they don’t try to be heroes. They live their truths—win, lose, gain, fail—because they don’t know any other way, not to please us.
That’s what I’ll remember most about Daniel Alfredsson. I’ll remember his determined style of play, I’ll remember his last-second, save-the-day goals, and I’ll remember his role as an ambassador for mental health awareness. Most of all, I’ll remember his authenticity.
Authenticity. The word crops up around me more and more often these days. Unconventional heroes proclaim themselves in this transformational age of authenticity, and we love the real people who beam with joy once they shed a false faςade. How can we not love Ellen DeGeneres and Neil Patrick Harris? Their authenticity reassures millions of LGBT people around the world. And how can we not sigh with relief when we learn that the adorable Sean Mendes gets zits just like the rest of us?
— Shawn Mendes (@ShawnMendes) November 30, 2014
Be real, everybody. If you are, you’ll be a hero to someone.