What January teaches us

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January in Colorado has so much to offer us:

It teaches us to bask in a sunny, spring-like day on Monday. To enjoy it fully, knowing that spring is far away, and to let it go again before winter’s bitterness returns.

It reminds us that our planet is always in motion as we witness short days grow longer and longer.

It gives us a relationship with winter, calling us into its mountains to play or to wander or to simply rest.

It allows us to watch our breath, and our words as they enter the world like smoke.

It keeps us aware of our skin against the air of the world around us.

A Thanksgiving Mindfulness Exercise to Cultivate Gratitude

IMG_3038Consider trying this practice by reading it aloud as you sit down to your Thanksgiving dinner.

Take a moment to notice your feet on the ground, your back against your chair. You have arrived at this table. It may have been a journey across the country, on a mere few steps into your dining hall. Either way, thank yourself for being here, for the efforts it may have taken to work through a family conflict or logistical hiccups to be able to come together.

Feel the clean air moving through your lungs. Find gratitude for the simple fact that the air has always been there to feed you, and for your lungs in their persistent dedication to sustain you, even when the rest of your body feels exhausted.

Let your awareness scroll down your body, from head to toe, noticing any places that may be holding tension or excitement, frustration or peacefulness. Just notice how you are feeling, without any need to change it. Your body is so full of wisdom, and it will alert you to what feels right or wrong, safe or dangerous. Discomfort can even clue you in as to when you may need to take action or make a change. Thank your body for its honesty and guidance, even in this instant, as it allows you to understand this exact moment a little more intimately.

Gaze around the table or onto your plate at all of the beautifully prepared food in front of you. Let your eyes rest on one favorite item—be it the stuffing or the potatoes or the casserole—and take a moment to ponder the journey it took to get to your plate. Imagine the labor that went into preparing it today. And before that, on the trek it may have made across the state or across the globe to arrive on your plate. Think about all those who contributed to bringing it from the soil to you: the weathered hands of farmers and packers, truckers and grocers. Think about the food and air and love that fueled them in their work.

Acknowledge that whether a turkey or a green bean, it was once alive. Take a moment to appreciate its spirit and thank it for sustaining you, without needing to feel guilty for this gritty part of the cycle of life.

Let your mind wander back to its origins: the sun and rain and nutrients of the earth that all played a part in it being here today. The entire universe exists in this bite of food; even its most basic atoms were once fused in the center of a star. Let yourself be baffled by that, and find gratitude for your world, a world that is still so full of mystery.

Lastly, look around the table at those around you, acknowledging the journeys each of them took to be here with you. Take a moment to touch into the infinite ways in which each one has added to your life: what you have learned from them, moments when they have inspired you, how they have colored your world in little or large ways—ways that no one else could. Reach your hands out to theirs, and give the ones closest to you a little squeeze, reminding yourself of the sacredness of connecting with another living being.

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

A Word of Gratitude

upThis weekend, a training in Motivational Interviewing left me with a deep sense of gratitude. Sure, I was grateful for having a fun way to learn and practice helpful skills. I was grateful for the generosity of the trainer, who has been an amazing colleague and wonderful support for me in my professional development. I was grateful to be spending time with a group of wise and talented therapists and coaches over tasty scones and cherry juice.

But what left the deepest impression of gratitude was the continual reminder of the beauty and resilience of my clients, and how sacred it is to be invited into their life journeys.

Motivational Interviewing is a wonderful approach to therapy that calls on the wisdom of the client to move toward the changes they feel compelled towards making. And the therapist is lucky enough to be a travel agent and a guide in this profound process. As we learned new skills and reviewed the ones I had already been practicing, I thought of all of the growth and existential shifts I had been a part of over the last year with my clients. That I have had the blessing of knowing, over and over, on the most intimate level, how resilient the human spirit is.

Thank you to those of you I have worked with. It has truly been an honor.

Thanksgiving Gratitude Roll: The Minor Leagues.

It’s before 8 am. I am sitting in a freezing white room, accompanied by swiveling fish and a skinny, Patagonia-clad mom talking to the cashier. She’s wearing short socks like me; all four of our ankles are exposed to the cold air. She is overwhelmed by the new world of high school hockey she has entered. The cashier, hockey nut, bounces up and down, offering her help in any way he can: talking to her son about the adjustment, and practice, and learning the ropes of this very unique early-morning corner of the high school experience. “Hockey moms are unlike any other moms,” he says, scrolling through the roll of before-dawn excursions (due to the number of teams and leagues sharing one rink, all kids have to go through before-sunrise practices at some point), stinky and hard-to-wash jumbo-gear, and spontaneous dental emergencies his own mother had braved for so many years. His eyelids dance as he reminisces about his hockey youth. And I get a sense that she’s spent some time here. This is my first time, and yet I feel welcome.

Upon waking before the sun, I had noticed myself holding a grudge by this car shop’s oil change system. They told me to get here at 8 am sharp, and depending on where I fell in line, I could wait 45 minutes or a helluva lot longer; it all sort of depended on luck. I arrived, and was offered a carabineer in the color of my choice by the bright-eyed attendant. The light grey tiles, the black-smudged walls, the chill against my ankles from the cold morning seeping into this tiny waiting room all feel reminiscent of hockey, and I begin to enjoy the enthusiastic conversation about shoulder pads and vulgar locker room banter and chipped teeth and team camaraderie. And so I linger here, despite the inviting coffee shop next door.

I reminisced about my own short-lived hockey days. Of getting up so early in the morning it surpassed that zone of grogginess and went straight into confused state of night awakening. My mom drove me through the dark, abandoned streets to the rink, watched me slash around on the ice haphazardly with other skinny, braces-faced 14-year-old girls, and then schlepped me to school, all before the hour that feels so early to me in this moment. Sure, I only played about two months before losing interest. Mom probably anticipated as much, but was spirited about supporting me anyway. I probably haven’t thought much about it in over a decade. I never got to build that sportswoman companionship with my teammates or score any goals. And though I was never good, or didn’t stick with it long enough to get good, I was happy, and I am happy now thinking back on it.

And I am grateful. I am grateful for the coupon a friend gave me that landed me here, in a new and unexplored corner of my town. I am grateful for hockey—for the chance to pad myself thickly enough to physically express aggression as an angry teen. And for learning how to skate. And to skate backwards. And to stop on both sides: skills I have held to this day. I am grateful for that ability to glide along a frozen earth, unafraid of my own speed. And I am grateful for my hockey mom, and all other hockey moms, like this chilly-ankled Boulderite sitting by my side.

This year, I want to dig deeper into gratitude—into the details that can get forgotten. I want to extend my gratitude ponderings beyond the quick round at the table and into the week. Here’s the beginning.

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Rachael Uris, MA, LPC is the owner of Atacama Counseling, LLC, offering sex therapy as well as individual and couple's counseling for issues surrounding sexuality, love, and pregnancy. All services are located in downtown Boulder, Colorado, and are provided in English and Spanish.
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