Tag Archives: grace

Stone Soup

“We are so lucky.” (Nancy Barnes, almost every day)

Note: This blog series investigates twelve attributes I see as conducive to recovery from PTSD (and other past stress) which has become part of our ethos or basic belief system. November investigates gratitude.

Grace is a state of exuding joy, an emotional effervescence springing from the heart and overflowing the physical self. I love that feeling. I want some more of it.

Still, much of my life is lived in some kind of vortex between grace and despair.

I know that I am fortunate and I am grateful. I am thankful, but grace often eludes me.

Fate, Fortune, or Facility?

It is my mind. I keep wondering, obsessing, on why I am so blessed.

Is it fate? Have I been granted privilege to live so long, to experience joy and success, to feel functional and relevant into old age, for some reason? If this was predestined for me, I have to ask, “Why?”

Why have I been so blessed? Is there some purpose for my existence that has not yet been accomplished? What do I owe (and whom?) for these gifts?

Maybe grace is the ability and practice of accepting gifts with simple gratitude. Okay, “Thank you.”

Or, is it all just luck…fortune? Is life just a big numbers game? I cannot help but believe that my choices have had something to do with my luck, but how (and why) did I make those choices?

I have won in casinos and it felt good. I have won in life and questioned why. I question my worthiness for the good fortune.

Maybe grace is the ability and practice of accepting gifts without justification of worthiness. Okay, “Thank you.”

On the other hand, maybe all that I have is a result of my hard work. Maybe I have earned everything I have found enjoyable. Ah, but there is a rub.

Maybe I survived combat because of my prowess. The corollary is that those who did not survive, failed. The conclusion is that I won and others lost.

By my junior year in college, I had lost my drive to win in wrestling—because it always meant that somebody else had to lose. Winning was not that much fun, anymore (even though it was rare enough), but losing was no fun at all. Winning meant creating losers, a philosophically unsatisfactory reality for a young idealist (or for an old one).

The proposition that I won the combat contest while others lost their lives or limbs is deeply troubling to me. The proposition that my Vietnam experiences were relatively mild compared to others’ because of the choices I made is deeply troubling. It makes it hard to say, “Thank you.”

Stone Soup?

There is an old folk tale from sixteenth century Europe about a village running short of food when a traveler came through town looking for a meal. Yesterday morning, in the dark shadow of Monday nights events in Ferguson, MO, my spirits were lifted by serendipity as I watched preschool children act out a version of the story read by a teacher. The experience changed my whole day.

Was this encounter fate, fortune, or facility of my decision to schedule my co-teaching date in a beginning education class on that particular day?

The answer does not matter. I am grateful for the experience.

Sometimes there is evidence in my past and present of forces beyond my understanding. If the product of these forces leaves pleasant tracks in my heart, I have reason to smile and be grateful. Thanksgiving is about finding that evidence and celebrating it without regard to causes or worthiness, but accepting it with grace.

Happy Tracking.

Generosity of Spirit

“The love we give away is the only love we keep.” (Elbert Hubbard)

Note: This blog series investigates twelve attributes I see as conducive to recovery from PTSD (and other past stress) which has become part of our ethos or basic belief system. November investigates gratitude.

An old man I call friend has survived multiple wives afflicted with Alzheimer’s Disease. He told us of his gratitude through the process as his wife and friend of over thirty years slipped away, gratitude for the years shared and for his opportunity to care for her through their ordeal. When I grow up, I want to be so grateful.

Grateful people are happy. At least, that is my observation. Unhappy people are ungrateful.

Generosity seems to be the key to happiness through gratitude.

“Minds, nevertheless, are not conquered by arms, but by love and generosity.” (Baruch Spinoza)

Sometimes, the mind to be conquered is my own. When I feel I need a little love, may I remember the power of generosity to give love away. There lies the way of happiness.

And, happiness, according to some, is the meaning of life. (I will leave it to you to find such quotes. Quests are good for the soul.)

This is just my opinion, of course, but I believe there are two basic views of human existence: #1) our world is dangerous and stuff is scarce; #2) our world is gracious and stuff is abundant. How we live our lives depends upon which view we choose.

Traumatic events tend to nudge or shove us toward view #1, a theme of danger and scarcity. We expect bad things to happen, people to be dangerous, things we need and want to be hard to get. Naturally, we are unhappy and our unhappiness perpetuates our belief.

Funny thing about belief and this self-perpetuating phenomenon. When we approach view #2, a theme of grace and abundance, we notice it in our lives. When we feel fortunate, we believe in abundance. When we accept the grace of generosity, we feel blessed. When we feel loved, we love others.

My old friend has a favorite saying when asked how he is. “Never had it so good.”

That always gives me pause, and I admit (often reluctantly) that the same is true for me. I am blessed. Feeling so, I become a little nicer, more inclined to share love, to give it away freely. It always comes back to me.

Is that all there is to life? If we are generous, we become happy?

Well, there is this little problem of waking with a feeling of dread, and feigning happiness just does not work. So, which comes first, feeling loved or giving love?

That’s your problem. Do a little work to discover your answer. Look to others for advice, if you wish, but look inside yourself, also. Look deep inside. What evidence can you find in your heart?

War and other trauma may scar our brains and hearts, but love leaves tracks there, too.

Happy tracking.

Graceful Heart

“The deepest craving of human nature is the need to be appreciated.” (William James)

“Gracias”

“De nada.”

I find it rather sad that in several languages, we often respond to a thank you by claiming that it is nothing. It is definitely not nothing. A gift is surely something, and gratitude is much more.

Gratitude is a condition of mind and heart I know by feel—particularly in contrast to other feelings such as anger and grief. For some of us with symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress, gratitude, and the serenity of wholeness it brings, can be elusive. It is not something we can create or capture. It seems to arrive with the stealth of dawn and slip away with the busy day.

Reminder: This blog series is dedicated to love, the various kinds of love beyond the romantic and erotic that support personal growth and healing, especially the healing of invisible wounds from Combat PTSD.

Our Yuma psychologist, Dr. Hart, frequently reminds us that only good people feel guilty, and feeling guilty is often a dominant symptom of combat PTSD. There are a lot of Vietnam Veterans who have serious difficulties each February—the anniversary of the 1968 Tet Offensive battles.

Survivor guilt robs us of gratitude for the gift of life. Sometimes we feel that we are not worthy of that gift and are reluctant to accept it. Subconsciously, or even consciously, we reject gifts and good fortune that come our way. We remain stuck in the past and in our old ways of thinking. How dare we feel joy, today, when so many of our brothers cannot?

We cling to scarcity in an abundant world. We box with shadows rather than dance in the light. And, we turn our backs on love because we feel unlovable.

Our reality is scarcity, shadows, and loneliness. It is a reality we create in our wounded minds. We are, indeed, living in a shadow—our shadow. That is what we see when we turn our backs to the light.

Then, miracle of miracles, someone comes to offer us love. We say no because it doesn’t feel right. We reject the miracle.

What is wrong with these happy people? Can’t they see the shadows? Why are they so joyous? Don’t they recognize their poverty? How can she love me? Only a sick or crazy person could love a wretch like me.

It isn’t being loved that cures us. It is accepting abundance, light, and love—for it is in the acceptance that gratitude grows.

The next step in our recovery is only a thank you away.

To each of you who have read this, “Thank you.”