Unexpected Challenges and Gratitude

In several of my annual Thanksgiving newsletters, I have touched briefly on the importance of being thankful not only for all of our blessings, but also for all of our challenges. In recent months I’ve had an opportunity to “practice what I preach” at a deeper level, and sometimes THAT has been a challenge!

After a delightful vacation adventure in Ireland and the United Kingdom (Northern Ireland, Wales, England and Scotland) and a flight delay that caused us to “speed-walk” a long distance to our connecting flight from Dublin to Los Angeles, I woke up the next day and could hardly walk. This was quite a shock as I’ve always been grateful for very strong legs and had recently set an intention to get back to hiking the hills more often as soon as we returned. Yikes!

Obviously I had to do some serious “recalculating.” It was determined early on that I had an acute (and very painful) case of achilles tendinitis in my left leg and that it would take 8-10 weeks to heal. As someone who has prided herself in being very active, athletic and energetic, this took some major attitude adjustments.

For those who have experienced much greater challenges, I can only imagine how hard it would be to adjust to something more serious or long-term. I send blessings, deepest empathy and gratitude to anyone and everyone who has had those kinds of experiences. I’m sure you could teach the rest of us how to deal with both expected and unexpected challenges. Hopefully you could also help us reach a place of gratitude.

In my pursuit of gratitude, here are some of the things I have learned.

1. Feel and identify the feelings. Be willing to feel and identify all the feelings that come up. I’ve found that naming them— disappointment, anger, frustration, fear, anxiety, worry, sadness, depression—allows me to “say hello” to these feelings and work with them. I choose not to think of them as “negative” any more because I now know they can serve to move me forward. For most of my life I chose to tuck feelings like these away and pretend they didn’t exist. Now I know how important it is to shine the light on them. Several teachers have reminded me that “what we resist persists” and gets in the way of any healing, so now I welcome these feelings. I am grateful for this teaching and my awareness of it.

What We Resist Persists

2. Express and process these feelings. Find a way to express your feelings. To be able to talk about your feelings is a blessing, especially if you have a partner, family members, friends or therapists who are good at listening and supporting you. Journaling can also be helpful. I sometimes sit down at my computer and do what I call “stream of consciousness” writing, allowing my rational brain to rest while the words fly through and appear on the screen. Handwritten journaling can be helpful, but if I’m processing a lot, I can type faster than I can write and this allows more words and feelings to flow out. If feelings run very deep, I’ll also turn to art journaling (or art therapy) to process them. I used to keep a lot of these feelings inside (especially since some of them weren’t “allowed” when I was a child), and now I know that doesn’t serve me (or my health) very well at all. They can clutter my mind and prevent me from moving through whatever challenge(s) I am experiencing. I’m very grateful that I have learned to express and process my feelings and doubly grateful for the people in my life who listen and are so supportive.

3. Do some reprioritizing. Reprioritizing may seem obvious, but once I realized my physical activities would be limited for awhile (and that I would not be able to hike or even walk very far), I needed to find other things I could do that would help with the healing process. Yes, there were several medical appointments and prescribed heat and icing treatments as well as specific exercises, but I was also limited in home projects and anything that required strength and stamina. (As I’m writing this, it occurs to me that I can also be extremely grateful that in most of my 83 years I’ve still had lots of strength and stamina and an abundance of energy that have served me so well all of my life.)

Focus on the Things You Can Do

4. Do the things you CAN do. When physical challenges arise, it’s pretty easy to focus on and get depressed about all the things we CAN’T do. And it takes practice to begin to focus on and do more of the things we CAN do. A colleague once suggested that when we are really busy we make a list of all the things we wished we had time for, so I went to that list. Below are some of the things I’ve chosen to do. Perhaps they will be helpful if/when you are facing your own physical challenges.

  1. Read more books than usual, including those about aging and wellbeing. I’m especially enjoying The Inner Work of Age: Shifting from Role to Soul by Connie Zweig, Ph.D., which we’re now reading in a Women’s Group I formed last spring called OWLS—Older, Wiser, Loving Seniors.
  2. Sorted a bunch of travel information I’d collected over the years, only keeping information about places we really want to go to and recycling the rest.
  3. Organized all the images, words and other supplies I wanted to use to art journal our recent travels.
  4. Created this art journal—capturing all of the memorable moments, adding handwritten descriptions as well.
  5. Started a list of all the things I want to do when I’m physically more able.
  6. Took time to enroll in some classes online, including Dr. Sue Morter’s “Quantum Healing with the Energy Codes.” This was a real turning point for me, because I was reminded of how important it is to remember what P.A.I.N. stands for—Pay Attention Inside Now. Using some of Dr. Sue’s techniques and practices, I was able to reduce the pain considerably. This was particularly helpful when my RIGHT leg started hurting from limping around and compensating for my left leg’s issues. Grrrrr. Once again, practicing some of Dr. Sue’s techniques reduced this pain. I’m so grateful I chose to spend time to listen and to learn even more ways to better take care of myself.

5. Find things to do and words of wisdom that feed and nurture you. (By the way, once I started organizing supplies and creating my art journal, I started to feel much better. I quickly realized how therapeutic it was for me—this really fed my soul.) I highly recommend finding something creative and/or nurturing to do—writing, drawing, knitting, crocheting, etc. Perhaps you could also do some things that help you feel better organized like sorting papers or cleaning out a drawer or two. While sorting papers recently, I came across a favorite quote:

Out of clutter, find simplicity.
From discord, find harmony.
In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.
—Albert Einstein

6. Look for the lessons. To find the lessons and learnings, pay more attention to what’s going on INSIDE—focus more on the INTERNAL than the external. After years of practice, it’s now much easier to turn inward  and seek the lessons sooner than later. So now one of my first questions is:

What Can I Learn from This?

7. Remember that gratitude is a choice. When we choose gratitude, we’re more likely to have less stress, get better sleep, feel better about ourselves, improve relationships and recognize that gratitude can have a powerful impact on physical healing. This is certainly true for me. I intend to deepen my practice of gratitude…for everything.

As Thanksgiving approaches, it is my hope that we continue to find many, many things to be grateful for, including our challenges, and to do so frequently throughout every season.

Blessed be.

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