Photo by Markus Spiske courtesy of Unsplash

“Saying Grace” or “Giving Thanks” before a meal used to be a part of our everyday life. Now, it is a rarity reserved for the deeply religious, and endured in uncomfortable silence by the rest. 

In Catholic School in the early 1960’s I learned to pray a set of ritual prayers before and after each meal. Then, as a young adult in the evangelical church of the early 1970’s, I learned the art of the extemporaneous prayer (making it up as you go) –  the giving of thanks for anything and everything that came to mind, including the food and the hands that had prepared it. These prayers always ended with, “we pray these things in Jesus’ name, amen”.  Then there was the traditional protestant Grace at my in-laws family table. “For what we are about to receive, may the Lord make us truly grateful”.

Once I left the Church I found it difficult to pray at all, including giving thanks before meals. For years, now, I have struggled with that awkward moment where Grace used to be. Dinner is on the table, the cook sits down, and we pause… “Bon Appetite!”, we might say to each other and dig in without a word or thought of gratitude. 

Recently a friend suggested that I read Robin Wall Kimmerer’s beautiful book, “Braiding Sweet Grass”. Robin writes from the perspective of an indigenous woman from the northeastern United States. She is a Professor of Botany who delights in teaching others the lessons that can be learned from the plants and animals around them. She teaches us to consider ourselves as a part of the natural environment rather than setting ourselves apart and above. 

Robin’s words have opened my eyes to a new perspective on the natural world – the indigenous teaching of an economy of gifts, rather than commodities and ownership. 

Mother Earth has given us everything we need to thrive. What has our response been to her gifts? To grasp and hoard, own and sell, scrape and destroy, until She can no longer give, only weep. 

What would happen if we made the shift to seeing all of the natural world as a gift? 

A gift economy implies reciprocity. What have we got to give back to Mother Earth? How can we reciprocate such extravagant giving? 

Let us begin with gratitude – giving thanks. Let us begin with Grace.

Perhaps I can adapt the old version that my father-in-law murmured before each meal:

“For what we are about to receive, may the Lord make us truly grateful”.

Maybe…but how about:

“For what we are about to receive, may we be truly grateful.”

What the difference?  Responsibility.

In the original we abdicate responsibility to “the Lord”.  “Make me grateful”, we say, as though we cannot generate gratitude for ourselves. 

How can we generate feelings of gratitude from within ourselves? 

Through our attention. Where is your attention? Why do we call it “paying” attention? 

This giving of our attention – noticing and noting – is the beginning of gratitude. It is the beginning of giving back.

Perhaps it is time to begin again – giving thanks before our meals. Taking a moment to pay attention to the gifts of the earth, the plants and the animals, as well as the farmers and cooks. 

Attention will generate gratitude and awareness. Awareness will lead us to more attention. Attention to food sources that are nurturing the earth rather than poisoning her. Attention to supporting our ailing planet as she gasps for breath. 

The scale of the challenge to save the planet is so massive that it is easy to feel paralyzed. What if we begin again with the simple act of Giving Thanks, Saying Grace, with paying attention to the gifts of the earth and expressing gratitude?

“For what we are about to receive, may we be truly grateful”.

Life Lessons – my little book

Here it is – at last! My lovely little book has arrived from the printers.

It started in 2009 with an art journalling experiment while I was struggling to cope with my mother’s declining health and her increasing anxiety. Ten years later, I looked over the drawings and and found, to my surprise, that they were powerful reminders of the life lessons I had learned. I began to post them onto this blog along with my reflections on these lessons.

Fast forward through the 2020/21 Covid-19 pandemic – with lots of time to reflect and write – and now I am delighted to have my Life Lessons in the form of a beautiful book.

I have sent these drawings and musings out into the world, hoping that they might encourage others and maybe even relieve some suffering. If you would like a copy of this book please email me at croneschronicles@gmail.com

I have given away the first 100 copies. Another shipment is on its way.

They will be $25 CAD each, plus postage. Please email me if you would like a book: CronesChronicles@gmail.com

Curiosity – a Portal to Compassion

Photo by Marija Zaric on Unsplash

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about curiosity – curious about curiosity, you might say. I have begun to notice how curiosity, has led me into understanding and then made it easier to access compassion.

The first way I noticed the benefits of curiosity was when I learned about becoming an observer of my own feelings. Once I began to observe my feelings objectively (as much as is possible for me), I was able to see them as a phenomenon that I was experiencing. I began to Inquire into the significance of those feelings, rather than getting hooked by them and going down an emotional rabbit hole.

When negative emotions occur, and a soon as I remember to detach from them, I breathe and observe, waiting for them to pass like the clouds. Often that is all that is needed. Other times, the feelings persist. That is when curiosity is so helpful.

What is this feeling? I see that anger is happening. What is behind that feeling? Is it hurt, or embarrassment, or fear? Is it about what is happening now, or is it something that has been triggered by past experiences?Why am I experiencing this feeling right now? Is it really because of what my partner said or did, or is there something else going on?

This attitude of curiosity about my thoughts and feelings has increased my understanding and compassion for myself. That is a beautiful thing to experience.

The other way I have noticed the benefits of curiosity is regarding the behaviour of others. This applies to loved ones as well as strangers.

What might be my partner’s state of mind? What are they feeling and thinking? What motivated them to say or do that? I see that anger is happening. What is behind that feeling? Is it hurt, or embarrassment, or fear? Is it about what is happening now, or is it something that has been triggered by past experiences?

When strangers behave in a disturbing way, can I be curious? Rather than jumping to negative assumptions can I wonder about other explanations? When an irate driver shows road rage, can I wonder about their emotional turmoil and feel compassion?

Try to cultivate curiosity. It can lead you to better understanding and greater compassion for yourself, your loved ones, and strangers too. This is the beautiful alchemy of mindfulness – turning pain into compassion.

Do Not Feed the Animals

What a weird holiday season this is! Sometimes it feels like this pandemic will go on forever. My mind is so full of questions about the future – when? What if? What will…? Questions about the spring, and questions about tomorrow and next week…

When I sit still and listen in- paying attention to the chatter that’s going on in my head – I can see that some of it is utter nonsense and the rest is just a waste of energy. My Monkey mind.

Monkey Mind gets especially busy at Christmas time, producing all kinds of emotional baggage from the past.  Family occasions, whether in person or via Zoom can bring up old tapes in our heads – so many monkeys!

Here’s the thing – you can observe the monkeys without feeding them. Don’t encourage them or they will never leave you alone!

The trick is to see your monkey-like thoughts for what they are – a mirage – without substance. You can acknowledge your thoughts without believing them or buying into them.  Try just observing them while consciously breathing, then watch as they pass like clouds on a breezy day. Then carry on with the task in front of you, living in the peace of the present.

Peace and love to you all as we close out this remarkable year. 


Pay Your Body a Friendly Visit

This morning I was at the dentist getting my annual teeth cleaning.  It’s hard to relax when someone is poking and scraping in your mouth, still I tried. Just out of curiousity I would peacefully lay my relaxed hands on my tummy and silently follow my breath. Then, every few minutes, I would check back in with my body and find my hands clenched tightly together.  Oops! Relax and begin again.

Clenched hands, clenched jaw, shoulders up around my ears, these are some of the ways I carry tension in my body. These are stress signals to my mind. The body doesn’t lie, but sometimes I am just not listening. 

Make sure you check in regularly with your body. How is it feeling?  Where do you carry stress and tension? Can you let it go?

Try to connect with your inner sensations, deliberately and respectfully, without judgment – like a good friend. 

A Mindful Balance

Knowledge and Understanding are important building blocks for personal growth, but they are not the whole picture.

Experience and Feelings are what gives life its richness. 

The head and the heart – both are needed to create a balanced life of mindfulness.

We all spend a lot of time “in our heads”. We fill our lives with a constant stream of inner and outer talk and busyness. 

Try interrupting your thoughts for a moment, to take in your feelings. Can you feel without labelling and thinking about your feelings? Ah – that’s a challenge. 

Turning your attention to your breath can help you to hit the pause button on your thought train. Thoughts are not bad – they’re just not the whole of experience of being alive. Give yourself the opportunity to embrace the space in between your thoughts. The space where you can absorb the present moment and enjoy its beauty

Breath – A Good Friend

Breath is a friend who is always there for you – ready and willing to help when you need it.

Focusing on your breath can keep you from feeling overwhelmed.

By just taking a moment to still your body and focus on the physical act of drawing air into your lungs, and out again, Breath will cool your nervous system and help you to think more clearly. 

Breath is also there to help you take in the beautiful moments of your life too.

Breath is so portable!  Anywhere you go, Breath is with you

And it’s free!

Meditation PRACTISE (or practice)

On the subject of meditation, I remember hearing an acquaintance once comment:

“Oh I tried meditating once and it didn’t work. It’s not for me.”

I thought to myself – if you sat down to try to play piano, and found that “it didn’t work”, would you give up after one go? Or would you give it time and learning and practice?

Meditation takes practise too.

As you practise sitting quietly with your breath, letting your thoughts settle and pass on by, your mind will learn to relax. You can give your mind to a break.

Sometimes I will say to my mind – 

“It’s ok,  

you can stand down for a while. 

The world will keep on turning without you. 

Your vigilance is not required.”   

Meditation is exercise for the mind and spirit. Like our physical bodies, everything is better with exercise – focus, energy, digestion, stress, sleep…

And like physical exercise, it usually feels awful when you start, and improves with practise.

Meditation & Pandora’s Box

So you finally decided to try meditation. Everywhere you turn you hear about its benefits: reduced stress, increased energy, focus, clarity, lower blood pressure, world peace! You sit down, assume the position and turn your gaze inward…expecting a pleasant flood of peace and clarity. Instead you find chaos and confusion.  WHAT!?

It’s a bit like opening Pandora’s Box. Instead of treasure you find all of the thoughts and emotions that you have been studiously avoiding all this time, through distraction and busyness.  Be assured – those feelings and thoughts have been present in your inner world all along. You have just been ignoring them.

Do you stay or do you go? Staying takes courage and trust and patience. 

First it is important to understand that this kind of mental confusion and noise is normal. There’s even a name for it – Monkey Mind. With time and practise you can gradually calm your monkeys and experience some of that calm and inner glow that you were hoping for. 

Through regular practice – even 5 minutes a day – you will learn to observe your inner world and let it gradually settle. Calm and clarity will come, in time, from inside.

Lessons in Mindful Living Using Illustrated Journalling

These days of Covid’s 2nd wave are teaching me lessons that I need to learn, many of them for the ump-teenth time. I am very fortunate to be healthy and comfortably retired, so I am not trying to balance working from home with childcare, eldercare or health concerns. And I am not worrying about where my next rent payment will be coming from. Thus, I have the privilege of time to read and ponder. And so I do – read and ponder.

Lately my reading has taken me through Christophe Andre’s beautiful book, “Looking at Mindfulness”, (photo in last post). Now for the pondering: When a book strikes a chord in my heart I am eager to absorb its message rather than let it just flow over me and then disappear. For me, the most effective method that I have found is illustrated journaling. 

Here’s my method:

  1. I read a chapter, underlining the words that seem to express the idea best. I stay alert to the messages that are there to help me on my journey.
  2. I transcribe those underlined passages into my journal, commenting and summarizing as I go. I use a large-ish journal with lots of room and without lines so that I feel free to doodle, underline, add arrows and circles, diagram or draw – whatever comes to my mind or my hand. I write and draw with a pen or pencil that I love. As I write I try to focus on each word, enjoying the feeling of forming the letters carefully, and the feel of the pen on the paper. This is a mindfulness practice of its own. Of course there are also times when scribbling and scratching is the right thing for the day.
  3. If an image presents itself to me I will sketch out the idea, looking for a way of illustrating the concept. Then, when I am ready, I will copy the sketch onto better paper and dab in some watercolour paint. 

By the time I have been through this process, I have usually absorbed the concept pretty thoroughly. Now, through this blog, I have added a step as I post the sketches and then write about them. 

My hope is that these postings will help to make the ideas more accessible to others, especially for the visual learners out there. I expect that this new collection will be a future resource for me, and perhaps others, when in need of reminders of lessons learned. I am very sure that I will need reminding.

(My previous illustrated journal- Life Lessons- can be found at Croneschronicles.com.)