My amazing Aunt Helen celebrated her 102nd birthday March 16th and I was privileged to “sit at her feet”…actually by her one good ear! We had a most delightful two hour visit. She still teaches me so much, is still quick-witted, and asks penetrating questions. Even though it had been awhile since I had time to really be with her, she never shames or judges me and just delights in the time we have. I experience pure, unconditional love from her. What a gift that is! She remembers details about my past and present life and I always learn more about myself when I take the time to be fully present with this incredible woman.
This visit I commented on and was curious about how she gracefully accepted it when it was time for her to move from her home to Independent Living (where she continues to reside) and when it was time for her to use a walker. I asked her how she did that so graciously, without “stubborn pride.” She said she learned that lesson as a young mother when an older farm woman, whom she admired, told her, “It is what it is.” She adopted that mantra and said it has served her well. Life hasn’t always been easy for her but I have never heard her complain or express self pity. She truly looks on the bright side of life and always seems to hang out in the emotion of joy…laughing frequently and finding the good in everyone. Amazing. Plus she is one of the best gift givers I’ve ever known. She treasures and collects beauty. This time she brought me a pretty little flower vase my mom had given her years ago. It’s her favorite. Now it’s my favorite!
I’m reading a fantastic book right now called Gratefulness, the Heart of Prayer, An Approach to Life in Fullness by Brother David Steindl-Rast. Aunt Helen is a living example of how he describes the fullness of being alive. She lives in the moment, seeming anxiety free, she recognizes the value of interdependence and she is quick to express gratitude. I love how Brother David describes the value of thankfulness and the interdependence of gratefulness for full, whole-hearted living. He says, “…The receiver of the gift depends on the giver….But the circle of gratefulness is incomplete until the giver of the gift becomes the receiver of thanks…” because in giving thanks we give ourselves. He goes on to say, “The moment I acknowledge the gift as gift and so acknowledge my dependence, I am free—free to go forward into full gratefulness,” …and I add, into whole-hearted living. I am convinced this is key to Aunt Helen’s resilient, joyful living. Plus, she just does not allow room for cluttered negative thoughts and she fully recognizes and embraces her need for relationship with others.
I particularly appreciate Brother David’s assertion that we need each other to be truly full in our alive-ness and that “self sufficiency is self deception.” Our American culture prides itself in independence but he reminds us that to be human is to need the other, to be together, not alienated from one another. This same sentiment is echoed in another book I am reading, Composing a Further Life, The Age of Active Wisdom by Mary Catherine Bateson. Bateson discusses how the cost of the emphasis on our cultural sense of independence is high. I love how she states:
“We need to do more to give children the experience of both giving and receiving, teaching and learning, helping and being helped—making sure to include some of each in our own lives from beginning to end. We need to practice accepting kindness as well as giving it and to avoid reacting to the offer of help as an insult.” (p. 8).
So how do we set a new beginning/Spring intention for this renewed sense of whole hearted living?
To make room for this, I suggest:
* Take ourselves lightly so we can laugh more and let more light in.
* Make a habit of looking for what’s good in our lives.
* Make a habit of genuinely saying thank you and expressing gratitude, at least 3 times a day.
* Cut ourselves and others a break.
* Don’t waste time on judgments or grudges…Clean those out!
* Accept “what is” with an “oh well” and “I can do this” attitude.
* Help the children in our lives have experiences of giving and receiving with kindness.
* Help ourselves have experiences of giving and receiving with kindness.
* Practice some stillness each day, to let go that which does not serve…(including anxiety, fear, shame and all other negative energy zapping emotion).
Another great resource for this kind of mind spring cleaning is Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, Big Magic, Creative Living Beyond Fear. Plus Dan Harris’ 10% Happier is fantastic on this topic and, like Liz Gilbert’s book, is spiced with humor.
(And a really fun, easy to read novel about living wholeheartedly is The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson.)
May Spring renew and refresh you so there’s plenty of room for joy!