Day 24 of a Month of Gratitude

The Reclining Buddha in Bangkok
(photo taken on 2/9/15)

I have been having some strange sensations during my recent meditations. After what I assume when I’m in a deeper state of meditation my head tilts upward and I begin to see a very beautiful, warm, golden light, and I even feel something at the crown of my head. Of course, not understanding what this experience is or means, I Google it. It appears that this is a positive sign of increasing my spirituality as well as opening up my third eye. 🤔

I have always had high intuitive skills but pushed them aside choosing to listen to my logical left brain. But ever since my mom died about a year and a half ago I have been meditating frequently which actually helps the two hemispheres of the brain communicate better. Also, I think my meditation is my way of honoring my mom as well as her Buddhist traditions. As I think of her now I see her in my mind’s eye praying among large Buddha statues, and I can even smell the incense burning. Because of the golden light that I experienced in my meditation I thought of the enormous gold Reclining Buddha in Bangkok which is the photo above. It stands 15 meters tall and 46 meters long and it’s a must-see in life. Of course, I wish I was back in the warmth of Thailand right now instead of being in isolation from the pandemic for 41 days. As we all know nothing stays the same, and since this current world situation is as bleak as it gets, I’m gratefully awaiting the positive changes that are ahead.

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Day 23 of a Month of Gratitude

Memories of WanderLust…

I’m waking up today of being in isolation for 40 days from the coronavirus pandemic. For some reason I haven’t been caring too much about what day of the week or what the actual date is. What difference does it make as every day is pretty much the same? However, counting the days of my current lockdown seems significant, and today is day number 40 for me. I am reminded that the number 40 is significant in the Bible: Jesus fasted for 40 days, the great flood lasted 40 days, and it took 40 years of pilgrimage from the Israelites in the desert. And upon further research the number 40 seems to be significant in many religions and cultures. But this morning when I thought about the number 40, it brought to mind a book as well as the most awe inspiring time of my life.

The book that came to mind is THE FORTY RULES OF LOVE by Elif Shafak. It tells one story of the poet Rumi and his deep friendship and love with his spiritual teacher, Shams of Tabriz, set in the thirteenth century. And it tells another story set in the current day of a woman who is unhappy in her marriage, although I personally didn’t enjoy this part of the book as much, preferring the Rumi story instead. As I thought that I might or should re read the book, my mind went to that special place in time at the moment of its discovery…

I was on an airplane on Turkish Airlines on my very first solo trip heading to Istanbul. I sat next to a doctor, and he assumed that he would sleep for the entire duration of the evening flight from Chicago. He was wrong. I remember stepping onto that flight so clearly in mind. I was aghast at how small the seats were as I declared my unhappiness out loud, and as I approached the doctor to take the seat next to him, he straightened up from his leaning position against his window seat while also straightening his baseball cap back on. I recall the look on his face so clearly in my mind having the look of horror as I knew he was thinking, “Damn, this is going to be a LONG flight sitting next to this bitch.” But at the same time he was interested and curious about me. He was a doctor who was in Chicago for a whole month and was going back to Istanbul where he lived. We talked almost the entire duration of the flight of over 10 hours about music, books, and our lives in general. When I asked who his favorite author was, that’s when he mentioned Elif Shafak, the author of THE 40 RULES OF LOVE. I wrote this down to read when I returned from my trip which, of course I did, and I now want to relieve the entire moment by moment story of that plane ride along with the details of my whole trip to Turkey. But I will save that for the book I have been writing as I now wonder how many chapters it would take.

A flood of emotions and memories just erupted as I looked at the pictures of my trip just now, and of course, tears 😭. That single trip was THE reason I started this blog, and I just realized that today, the daily writing of this blog is healing me and keeping me sane from the tragedy of the current world events. I have neglected to write on this blog for over a year and only started again because of the social distancing and isolation measures. As I forced myself to practice writing, I have learned a lot about myself and the world. I learned that the term “writer’s block” is bullshit. I have learned that when we are all stripped away of everything that we’re used to, the world and the people in it are pretty much the same. We all want the same thing: happiness. We also have similar insecurities and fears about ourselves as well as life. As the world is in crisis, we are going through a spiritual cleansing of sorts, which I mentioned a few times in my prior blog posts, and that we are experiencing a metamorphosis. Just like in alchemy there is a mention of 40 philosophical days required to purify, purge, and refine our senses before any transmutation takes place, this current world transmutation appears to be a spiritual cleansing of the universe, and I’m all in. As I have the rest of the day before me I have all that I truly need. I feel grateful for all the layers that are stripped away from me during this time as I await to discover that a better me will emerge. I hope you, too, are experiencing your own metamorphosis.

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Day 22 of a Month of Gratitude

In honor of Earth Day

I woke up and didn’t know what day it was. I thought it was Tuesday for some reason but lately it’s truly hard to know what day it is. I’m on my 39th day of isolation and it doesn’t seem real how much time has passed. I was happy to know that it’s Earth Day, and I thought of all the amazing green places I have seen in my life. The greenest place that I have ever witnessed was Machu Picchu, of course. As I was looking back at all the past travel photos to feel good again, I thought it was so incredible to see that EVERY place is SO DAMN BEAUTIFUL!!!! As we are all in lockdown and in a terrible place emotionally, physically, and economically, I thought at least the good thing is that we’re all taking part in healing Mother Earth. The cleaner air and water resulting from the world economic lockdown is a blessing to Mother Earth although a tragedy for the world economy. I’m suring Mother Earth is loving the irony of all this!

Anyway, let’s all enjoy today’s cleaner air and be grateful to Mother Earth. Breathe in, breathe out…and…repeat.

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Day 21 of a Month of Gratitude

Appreciating the simple things…

They say that it takes 21 days to form a habit, and today is my 21st day in a row practicing gratitude. Although the idea of a habit forming in 21 days probably depends on the difficulty or the enormity of the behavior one is trying to change, my habit of practicing gratitude has taken root. When I started this practice it was just to pick a theme for this month but also to pass the time during the current isolation period. What I didn’t realize was how profound the benefits would be.

I believe that expressing gratitude first thing in the morning was the biggest factor in the formation of my habit, resulting in a much happier outlook on life. The average human being has about 60,000-70,000 thoughts a day, and most are actually negative! For example, you might wake up and think about problems first thing in the morning while still in bed. This process starts your day off in a negative mindset which might spiral into more negativity, which then further affects the rest of your day being negative. I have been there many, many times. So to prevent this just the simple act of thinking a grateful thought first thing in the morning will help you with a much healthier, happier attitude toward life. Or rather, this practice will train your brain to look for the good in life.

Research has shown that expressing gratitude leads to less anxiety and depression, improved sleep, lower blood pressure, improved immunity, as well as a healthier heart! My favorite research finding on gratitude is that it increases dopamine which is a neurotransmitter for being known as the “happy hormone.” There are more effects than what I listed here so please research more in depth if you’re serious about practicing gratitude, thereby increasing your happiness to life.

With the stresses of our current world we can use all the help we can get, especially with such an easy practice as gratitude. I must confess, though, that my loyal meditation practice probably was a factor in my eudaimonia, but I will discuss and elaborate either in a separate blog post or even make it my next month’s writing goal. For now, I will continue with my daily practice to see how being grateful will further deepen my appreciation for life, health, and general well being.

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Day 20 of a Month of Gratitude

Light and Architecture is all I need…

Wow, another sunny day in Chicago with temperatures of up to 60 degrees! What a gift. Of course, I decided to go running even though my legs still felt heavy from the 6 miles I ran two days ago. When I went outside I saw an airplane so I thought that was a hopeful sign that the world will go back to normal soon. I was running MUCH slower today but the sunshine kept me going. With the slower pace I began to notice how quiet and beautiful the city seemed. I mean, Chicago IS beautiful, no doubt. But today’s quiet beauty seemed different. My thought was that while this terrible pandemic is unfolding, the world is shedding its outer layer, unveiling a more beautiful layer underneath, and thereby revealing its original form which is the TRUTH. And what could be more beautiful than truth? It’s like appreciating a beautiful face seen naked instead of with too much makeup on. Or appreciating a pasta dish with wholesome, simple, pure ingredients (like in Italy!) instead of putting too many other stuff in it. Yes, I guess I’m a purist.

As we all are going through this crisis together we will all experience change, for sure. And although change is painful there is always a lesson as well as growth. And a life without growth is death. So today, I choose to be grateful for this current growth spurt in our world.

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Day 19 of a Month of Gratitude

Royal Mansour in Marrakech

It’s such pleasure, again, to wake up to sunshine. I felt a little tired than normal from yesterday’s long run so I just wanted to stay in bed and read with the sun filtering through my windows. What a luxurious treat! I finished the book I started a few days ago and then immediately started a new book, LOSING MY VIRGINITY by Richard Branson. It starts with a Prologue which takes place in Morocco over the Atlas Mountains, and I immediately begin to cry. I’m assuming the one reason for my tears is because of the spectacular memories of my trip to Morocco, and maybe the other reason for my tears is because of the strange effects of the isolation from the coronavirus. Today would start the sixth(!) week of this bullshit, and I’m finding that my emotions are…well…strange. I don’t know how else to say it. One day I’m great (like yesterday) and the next day I might be just sad or be in a state of fear for all the unknowns. I didn’t want today, a Sunday, my favorite day of the week to be a letdown so I allowed myself to go back in time to experience the wonderful memories of Morocco in my mind…

My entire trip to Morocco was too good to be true, really. In fact, when I tell my story to others it seems like I’m making things up, or if I recall all the details in my head, I don’t believe it myself. Marco Polo once said, “I did not tell half of what I saw, for I knew I would not be believed.” This is exactly how I feel about many of my trips around the world, especially my trip to Morocco. It started in Rabat, then to Casablanca, then Fez, then driving through the Atlas Mountains with a stop in the Sahara Desert to ride a camel at sunset, and finally, arriving in Marrakech at night to wake up there on my birthday seemed way too good to be true! I still can’t believe it happened. Luckily, I have pictures to reminisce as you can see from the photo above. I had tea and cookies at the Royal Mansour, and if you ever go to Marrakech you MUST visit that hotel. I wasn’t lucky enough to stay there but since The King of Morocco owns it you can bet it’s spectacular. Try Googling it and take a look at their spa! 🙌

Since a trip to memory lane is always good for the soul, I will continue to look at my photos and be grateful for all the memories of all my travels. And at the same time I will pray for new adventures for I have faith that we will all be allowed to travel again soon. 🙏

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A Month of Gratitude: Day 18

Finally! Blue skies and sunshine!

It’s amazing how the weather changes so drastically from one day to the next, especially here in Chicago. Yesterday was snowing and depressing, and today is all sunshine! 😎 I knew I had to go for a run although it was only about 45 degrees. I felt the absolute NEED to run, even though I’m not really a good runner. When I came out into the sun it felt SO good. Really, really good. It felt so good I wanted to push myself farther than the usual three miles right from the beginning. But when the time came I was hesitant and was looking for a push, an inspiration. That’s when David Goggins came to mind. If you haven’t heard of him, he’s the man who endured against all odds and became a Navy SEAL as well as an ultra athlete. If you need some inspiration in your life you must read his bestselling book, CAN’T HURT ME. What came to my mind after I surpassed mile three was that David Goggins ran a 100 mile race with broken bones near the end, if you can believe it. Of course, I had no desire to run that far because I’m really not a runner. It’s just because of this damn coronavirus that’s making me do different things to stay in shape. So when my legs felt like two big pieces of lead at mile four, I had to go farther because I didn’t have broken bones so I had no excuse. I can go a little more. When I reached mile five I was happy. I never went that far non stop on concrete before. But the thought of David Goggins along with my anger at the coronavirus (I didn’t know I was angry until then) gave me the extra push to reach 6.1 miles non stop!

As I slowed down to walk back under the perfect blue sky, I decided to stretch my legs near the river and was surprised that the spot wasn’t closed off. I was actually shocked and giddy with delight. The stretching was so healing as I sat by the stairs by the river and watched the sunlight dance on the small currents. At that moment I didn’t feel the heaviness of the world pandemic at all. So I tilted my head toward the sunshine, closed my eyes, and felt immense gratitude while I allowed the incredibly satisfying warmth of the sun engulf me with pleasure.

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Day 17 of a Month of Gratitude

I’m not sure why I woke up and felt light hearted, especially after seeing that it snowed, and it looked like the dead of winter. It’s April 17th in Chicago and the 34th day of my isolation from the coronavirus. Still, instead of lounging around in my warm bed at 5:57 a.m. I got up right away. As usual I wrote my to do list for the day only allowing ten items to fill the page. I wondered what I would do if and when I went back to work. Would I be stressed out at the lack of time? I wondered. It felt strange to even have this thought, but I guess a small part of me will miss the abundance of time when the world goes back to normal. Anyway, I decided to start the day by doing and crossing off my two favorite things on the list which is meditation and yoga. I felt great afterwards, and after I showered and had lunch I was ready to go outside to get groceries, stop by the drug store, and pick up my Amazon packages and mail.

As my hands were way too full when I came out of the Whole Foods, I saw a homeless guy. I felt guilty as I walked away and justified to myself that I didn’t have any cash (which I didn’t). When I was entering Walgreens I saw two homeless men talking to each other, and since the first homeless guy I passed stirred something in me I decided to get some cash to be prepared for the next time I could give. Upon leaving and still seeing at least one homeless man sitting by the guard railing, I rolled a few dollar bills in my hand and walked out. While seeing me come out with both of my hands too full of groceries and stuff, he saw my gesture to take the dollars out of my hand. As he stood up with his paper cup toward me, taking the dollars, his eyes were so wide and full of joy that he made me feel like I just gave him a kingdom! He lit up so big while he thanked me and said, “Bless you,” and I repeated his joyful words back to him. After I passed him and was crossing the street I realized he looked familiar. It was the same homeless man who yelled out “Rocky” just a couple of weeks ago when I was running past him at the same spot. He made me smile back then and I made him smile today. Perhaps this is a small example of karma? As I walked away carrying my stuffed bags full of groceries, I felt more than grateful. I felt truly abundant.

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Day 16 of a Month of Gratitude

The future looks big and bright…

Writing every day is hard. Every writer knows about “writer’s block,” and I think many, if not most, have experienced it at some point in their careers, even famous authors like Leo Tolstoy, Toni Morrison, J.K. Rowling, and Jack London to name a few. As I realized this morning that I have been writing every day on this blog for 18 days in a row, it dawned on me that I have learned a tool, THE tool, for what to do to CREATE CHANGE in my life, and I hope this will help you, too.

This tool is to commit to consistency. Because I have all this time now from the social isolation of the coronavirus, I committed (ha ha) myself this whole month to write every day about gratitude. Of course, it’s not easy to write about gratitude during this crazy and stressful world crisis, but I MADE myself do it until a light bulb just went off on this 18th day of consistent writing. What I learned through this process is that this commitment to consistency starts with just ONE thing you can do daily toward your goal. (Also, it helps to write the goal down on paper or make it a recurring event in your phone’s calendar.) If you want to lose weight, for example, write down that ONE thing you can do every day. Eat just ONE thing less than what you want to or do just ONE sit up or push up. Then the next day try and do it again. After a few days of repeats you will likely get tired or bored with just doing only the one thing, and you will WANT to do a little more. So you move on and incrementally increase that one thing or action until you know instinctively that it’s time to move on. Of course, there will be days when you won’t want to do a damn thing at all. We’ve all been there. But I learned that NOT taking action made me feel so much worse than enduring the discomfort of actually the taking action. I repeat: NOT TAKING ACTION MADE ME FEEL SO MUCH WORSE THAN ENDURING THE DISCOMFORT OF ACTUALLY TAKING THE ACTION. This was a pivotal moment as I realized that I have a choice in every moment, and actually pausing and thinking about how I WANT to feel (to feel better about myself or worse?) was such a huge shift in my awareness toward the road to having the power to change. And the true magic that happens when you reach this point is that you have created a HABIT. As you know, habits are very hard to break. When you reach this point of habit you will feel proud of yourself for reaching that milestone, and that milestone of habit will fuel your next desire or goal to propel you to move forward with confidence to improve your life.

As I realized today that I have reached that magic point of creation of the habit of writing, I have reached two other milestones in my life, thanks to the coronavirus isolation. (I can’t believe I’m thanking the coronavirus!) I have worked out for 32 days in a row (but skipped one day as I had to choose between meditation or yoga), and I have meditated for 32 days in a row but skipped one day to do yoga instead. As I choose to focus on seeing the good during this world crisis, I am grateful for my light bulb awareness of my commitment to improving myself, my life! When this is all over, I will be ready to show up with a better version of myself to the world. I hope to meet you there.

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Day 15 of a Month of Gratitude

I miss the World so much…

Last night as I went to bed I was dreaming about the world and wondered when and where my next trip would be. It’s so hard to plan anything right now since none of us knows when the world will open back up. I shouldn’t have looked through my photos, however, because the longing brought tears to my eyes. But there are only a handful of things that I can do that give me pleasure during this isolation from the coronavirus, and going down memory lane of my past travels really makes me smile inside.

So when I woke up today I thought, “What the hell am I going to do today?” Well, let’s be honest…I think this every damn day. And every day I want to DO something!!! It’s such a terrible feeling of being closed in, closed off, and incapable of taking action because of social distancing/isolation. With all this time I have been wanting to volunteer lately but that seems impossible, too, given the restrictions. But when I heard about the today I got excited! I saw it on Ellen DeGeneres’ platform and went online immediately and donated. Please check it out. Basically, you donate money and you can enter different drawings to win. Of course, I donated and entered the drawing to be Ellen’s Co-Host. Hilarious! This small act felt so good and made me happy, especially to dream for a bit. I hope you, too, find a way to give today. Stay grateful!

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