This morning, I sat in gratitude, which is part of my morning meditation, and I thought of my father. My mom and dad were a pair, they had their unique approaches to life, but they BOTH had the parenting attitude that I am so thankful for today. My dad passed away on September 23, 2017, and my mom is still alive, so I can express my gratitude to her in person! It’s rare, incredibly rare, the marriage my parents had because somehow, they remained precisely who they were while still being married. My dad had a risk-taking, let’s go for it, you can do it, anything is possible world view. My mom supported his beliefs, even if she didn’t see whatever was happening the same way. She never squashed his incredible optimism. And he let her more rational, creative, organized nature shine, without trying to convince her to be more like him. They allowed each of their strengths to support the energy and purpose of the other, without pushing for sameness. It’s transformative when a partner enables you to be fully who you are. I was raised by parents like that, which is probably why I sit in gratitude every morning!
There’s a song that’s part of my gratitude practice. A year ago, I made the decision to pick a different person and visualize him or her as I sing this song. The words are, May the long-time sun shine upon you, all love surround you, and the pure light within you, guide your way on. For about three minutes, I sing that sentence over and over while thinking about that person. Sometimes I choose a person who is struggling or has some significant event happening. Sometimes it might be a politician or stranger I meet who needs to be blessed! I do it because it helps me to move my thoughts from self into the world of others in a precise and focused way. Many spiritual practices are about training your mind—to choose peace, to choose forgiveness, non-judgment, love— takes practice. The world is NOT an easy place to live these ideals. Which is why it’s called PRACTICE! Sometimes I sing the song for people I’m having a tough time forgiving or for people I feel judgmental towards. I even hum it to myself when I have a negative encounter with a person and feel the urge to react.
This morning I sang the song to my dad. I visualized his face, then his smile, and I let my mind wander through memories; our shared experiences and talks we had. I imagine him there with me. With a huge smile on my face, I felt his presence. And then a realization hit me—in every one of those memories; of Sunday drives, days at the lake, horse shows, ski trips, family dinners, supporting my lofty goals, and attendance at all my kid’s events —one absolute rang out. He said YES. Yes to me, yes to life, yes to new ideas, yes to possibility, yes to God, yes to compromise, yes to struggle, yes to adventure, yes to learning and personal growth, yes to love and yes to sacrifice for his children. There were so few times he said NO to me, that I had to think hard to find even one. He said NO when I asked to go to an R rated James Bond movie when I was twelve. I went anyway, and he grounded me for a week! I’m sure there were other NO’s, but they don’t live in my heart the way his Yes’s do.
I asked how he stayed positive, through his struggles; losing his mother as a child, alcoholism, cancer, and then finally the Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s that killed him. He said that he made a point to learn every day, go a different route, experience something he’d never tried, as often as he could—and even in the worst of circumstances, to be grateful and say yes to life. He even said yes to disease and yes to death, without the bitterness, regret, and anger that mark so many people when life takes a turn for the worse.
When he could no longer drive himself or plan outings, I took this mentality on, and every Wednesday I picked a location he’d never been to; a park, or museum, a coffee-house, a musician he’d never heard—the only requirement had to be that he hadn’t experienced it in his 80 years! We did this together until the end.
Realizations, moments like this, where memories or ideas, insight from others in the form of a poem or spiritual verse or song, only happen when you make room for them in your mind and in your day. It doesn’t matter how you PRACTICE connecting with your spirit, but be assured that if you do, if you pay attention, notice and listen, you will be blessed with insight that will bring you more joy.
So, my dearest father, May the long-time sun shine upon you, all love surround you, and the pure light within you, guide your way on.
Thank you for saying yes and teaching me how to be grateful.