Last Day of a Month of Gratitude

Although my isolation from COVID-19 started in March, I cannot believe that today is the last day of April, 2020. The concept of time was unusual and challenging because although time seemed to pass by so, so slowly at times, looking back on the whole month it seemed to pass by as a blur. This doesn’t make sense to me, but then again, what about the COVID-19 makes any sense?

As my month-long project and commitment to express and appreciate gratitude comes to an end, I have experienced some good benefits. To start, I have learned to differentiate joy from happiness, which is a thought that I never contemplated before. Of course, happiness was difficult if not impossible to experience during this solitude from the COVID-19 so I was surprised to find joy. Happiness usually is triggered externally, say, from buying a new pair of shoes or enjoying a great meal at a restaurant. But these happy feelings seem to be very transitory. Joy, on the other hand, comes from within and, I have found, more spiritual in nature and therefore, lasting longer. Another thing I noticed while practicing gratitude was that small, mundane things made me happy, or was it joy? LOL. The experience of simply walking on the grass, hearing the sound of birds as well as the sound of children’s voices laughing, having the abundance of time (although a blessing and a curse), feeling true presence, and even appreciating a well cooked meal to enjoy alone without trying to please others all were simple joys that I didn’t expect. There were numerous other benefits of practicing gratitude like fully appreciating the time I had to mediate as well having the time to exercise every single day. As a matter of fact, the time for meditation and exercise were actually the two most important things that helped me get through these dark days of the isolation. Thank goodness I had the determination and fortitude to adopt these two very important life practices which ended up being my medicine.

As with each end a new one begins. The month of May is just one night’s sleep away, and none of us knows what to expect. With warmer temperatures as well as the wearing thin of the patience of the world, I pray that the world begins an emergence of a better, new normal. I am letting go of the month of April with gratitude of what it has taught me and allowed me to experience. May the new month ahead bring more joy and happiness along with a new enrichment of thoughts, experiences, and renewed Life for us all.

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Day 29 of a Month of Gratitude

I woke up to a rainy, gloomy day with very dark skies again. The Chicago weather is so fickle, and I’m really, really over it. It was one of those mornings where I didn’t want to get out of bed as the heaviness of the entire world could be felt which seemed to reflect the ugly view outside my window. It’s day 46 of this prison from the COVID-19. Ugh. After managing somehow to get up I tried meditating after having my usual morning tea but I had trouble for the first time in I don’t know how long. I had to try again later, I thought, and started talking and texting friends. I felt better. But then I realized that I didn’t want to work out, either. I really wanted some air and wanted to run outside but it was raining ugly all day. I tried meditating again and felt satisfied that I accomplished it. There was no way that I would break my streak because it would mean that the damn COVID-19 is winning over me and I can’t and won’t have it. Somehow this thought made me push myself to start my yoga practice because again, there was no way in hell that I would allow this isolation and circumstances get the better of me. My anger made me perform better with the online yoga class, and afterwards I looked outside my window at the still raining dark skies and felt proud that I was disciplined enough to do things I didn’t want to do, including some hard decisions that I had to make.

Each new day brings us closer to the opening up of the world so although the days are hard, we must get through this. We must be grateful for each and every brand new day.

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Day 28 of a Month of Gratitude

I woke up in a great mood completely unlike yesterday. Nothing dramatic happened between yesterday and this morning so I wonder why such a drastic mood change. Again, I will blame it on the COVID-19. It was sunny but rain was predicted in the afternoon, just like yesterday, so after I meditated I put some sunscreen on and ventured outside with short sleeves since it was 60 degrees. The minute I came out of my building I saw bright colorful tulips, and I immediately felt happier and much lighter in spirit than yesterday. When I got toward Millennium Park I saw a worker mowing the grass and the smell of it really made me smile inside. I thought of my dad growing up when he would mow the lawn so early on Saturday mornings that I would wake up and be kind of mad at him. I would love the treasure of that experience again as he is long gone.

After three miles I stopped although I wanted to run longer, and I wondered how I ran six miles ten days prior. But the sunshine was such a welcome pleasure to just slow down and walk on the grass. I am finding it odd these past few weeks of isolation that I’m taking pleasure in the sound of birds, walking on the grass, and noticing four leaf clovers. Who am I? I saw a patch of dandelions so bright and colorful that it seemed strange to me that they are considered weeds instead of pretty little flowers. I noticed a woman running and then stopping abuptly to command her dog to sit, and then I realized she took a picture of her dog against the numerous dandelions. Then I thought that if I had a dog while running I would have done the same thing, too, because the patches of bright yellows against the green grass under the sunlight could have been almost passed for a painting.

As I walked the rest of the way home in the warm sun I saw lots of tulips and daffodils with groundskeepers tending to the lawns around Chicago. The smell of fresh cut grass and even seeing a bee visiting a flower was joyful to witness. I heard children’s voices of enthusiasm, and for those moments while walking in the sunshine nothing seemed wrong at all with the world except when someone passed by with a mask on. Ah, yes, the reminder that the world is in crisis along with the future being unknown. Today is the 45th day of my isolation but with the company of Mother Nature I didn’t feel lonely at all. And thankfully, there were far too many reasons to be grateful today than I could count.

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Day 27 of a Month of Gratitude

There are just some days when you wake up and don’t feel that great, let alone grateful, and today was one of those days. Nothing was wrong, really, but I just woke up not feeling so well mentally. Maybe it’s because today was day 44 of my isolation from COVID-19 but who knows. I tried all day to feel better and look for the positive but although I knew I was supposed to be grateful, I just wasn’t feeling an ounce of it. To make matters worse, the weather started out nice this morning but by the time I went outside to go running, knowing it was starting to rain a little, I had to come back inside because the raindrops were the dense, pelting kind that made it too miserable to run although I did try. I ended up doing an online yoga class instead and that’s when I started to feel grateful. I felt grateful for the technology that we have today to be able to take a class online, video chat with friends and family, and have wireless internet.

Come to think of it, I think it IS the damn COVID-19 that is taking its toll on my mental well being. Thank God I found something to be grateful for today. 🙏

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Day 26 of a Month of Gratitude

Wow. I can’t believe I’m waking up to the start of the seventh week of my isolation from COVID-19. It’s Sunday, and I’m waking up to partly cloudy skies which is a great relief from the past several days of bleak, dark, and rainy weather. This alone makes me happy immediately. I turn on my Bose system and the Pandora station plays a song which makes me stop, and I truly listen. The guitar sounded so heavenly, and I found myself smiling back to the exact moment that the same artist’s music stopped me dead in my tracks to figure out where the music was coming from.

I was walking in the streets of Prague in the late afternoon. I was somewhere near the Charles Bridge, and it was right before the sun was beginning to set. I was happily lost and just wandering the streets to find a place for dinner, taking pictures in between, when I heard a magical guitar playing somewhere. I was hoping it was a live musician but found that it was coming from inside a store. It was a puppet shop and I walked in just to inquire about the music. I love all the vendors around the world when they ask, “Where are you from?” It starts such a great conversation about travel and the world. When I asked the guy about the music playing in the store, he yells for another guy to come out who spoke better English than he did. The second guy tells me that the music is by Armik, an artist I never heard of before. When I asked him more specific questions about the artist, he became a little flustered because he couldn’t express himself fully in English. So then he tells me to come back to the store the next day so he can make a copy of the CD for me. I smile so big as I asked him what time, and he said late afternoon at about the same time.

I come back next day and the guy who was supposed to make the CD for me looks a bit embarrassed. He tells me that he was too busy and that he didn’t have time. I completely understood, and he asked me to come back the next day again. However, I was flying back home. After hearing this the guy goes to the back of the store and comes out with two CD’s. He hands me the original CD’s, and the other guy standing there was aghast and even looked at his friend as if he was crazy. Then finally, the guy who handed me the CD’s just said with a smile to just enjoy the music as it was very special to him and very hard to get. Of course, I, too, just stood there flabbergasted. I tried to give him money but we both knew that it would have ruined the moment. An unexpected gift is both such a great treasure between the giver and the receiver, and besides, he didn’t want the money. I left the store, of course, with such gratitude, and I went to bed that night with a full heart, and I was so fully addicted to travel.

As I woke up this morning in Chicago a little bit anxious, wondering how I would fill up my day, I realized that it’s the moment by moment presence that helps me live fully. Just the sound of beautiful music took me on a past travel journey, and I think about all the kindness that exists in the world. So as I write down my to do list for the day one of my goals is to help someone meditate today. Then I decide right then that I will help someone, somehow, every day and make it a part of my to do list during the rest of my isolation and beyond. I feel so supported somehow all of a sudden with my decision to help others daily. The universe responds with like energy somehow. Just now, my former Italian instructor who is over 70 years old texts me and asks me if I need any essential supplies! 😭 Gratitude, oh, Gratitude…it looks like you are everywhere.

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Day 25 of a Month of Gratitude

I felt really happy today for no reason at all considering the weather was rainy, cold, and just ugly. I meditated and again experienced the golden light, and just before opening my eyes I saw Pablo Picasso’s face. Strange, I know! I felt joy and happiness all day so I was thinking that maybe the hedonic adaptation had set in? The term “hedonic treadmill” or “hedonic adaptation” is a concept that people return back to their set level of happiness whether something good or bad happened. Whether a person had a bad car accident that left them paralyzed or if they won the lottery, people return back to their original set point of happiness. So maybe I’m used to this bleak state of the world that we’re in and that maybe I’m back to my natural, happy self? God, I hope so. Being happy for no reason at all, especially during this lockdown along with the terrible Chicago weather kinda makes me feel superhuman right now. So, so grateful…

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Day 24 of a Month of Gratitude

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

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

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

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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