Culativating an Attitude of Gratitude

Cultivating An Attitude of Gratitude

Cultivating an Attitude of Gratitude Meditation 
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n positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Why? Because gratitude can help us experience more positive emotions and better able us to relish good experiences and even reduce symptoms of depression. It also can improve our overall health, help us better deal with adversity, and build strong relationships. While this research is relatively new, the principles have been a part of human being’s traditions for eons. This is particularly true in many of the world’s faith traditions, as well as indigenous peoples, such as our own Native Americans who truly practice an attitude of gratitude as daily practice.

Learning from past traditions

I write this in the week of Thanksgiving, which is traditionally the time we take pause to give thanks for all we have harvested during the year – goals accomplished opportunities ensued and people who made a difference in our lives. Yet going back in time the first Thanksgiving was celebrated after the first harvest and attended by 90 Wampanoag Native American people and 53 Pilgrims (survivors of the Mayflower). Having always lived close to the Earth, Native peoples must have understood the great hardships the Pilgrims had endured. They could teach the newcomers how to live with the land and the changing environment.

I recently read of how Native Americans have always had a tradition of expressing gratitude in all their gatherings. Unlike most of us, I am very intrigued with how broad they cast their gratitude. Whether for a council gathering or of family they always begin with ritual of giving thanks. They believe they have been given the duty to live in balance and harmony with each other and all living things.

Bringing minds together as one

They start by bringing their minds together as one as they give greetings and thanks to each other—so their “minds are one.” Then they proceed to thank what they refer to as their “Mother the Earth” for all it’s bounty. Thanks for the waters to quench their thirst and nurturing life to all beings. Thanks for the fish, plants and animals, and for medicinal herbs for health and healing. They give thanks for the trees and beautiful songs of birds. Each day without fail the sun travels the sky from east to west, bringing the light of a new day providing the source of life and the moon that governs the movement of tides. Finally, they thank their ancestors and the very source of creation itself.

Author Daniel Defoe’s famous 300-year-old novel, “Robinson Crusoe,” provides a portrait of how gratitude can enhance one’s life. Crusoe is the sole survivor of a shipwreck in which he finds himself alone on an unknown island. Rather than falling into despair and focusing on loss and regret, Crusoe begins to count his blessings. He’s alive and has been able to salvage many useful items from the wreckage. Thus. thanksgiving becomes a part of his daily life.

Ways to cultivate gratitude

Gratitude is a way for us to appreciate what we have instead of always reaching for something we lack. As we learn from native peoples, there is a whole world—much of which we take for granted—to  be thankful for. Some ways to cultivate gratitude on a regular basis include writing a thank-you note and keeping a gratitude journal. Meditation and prayer produce positive healthful hormones. Even thanking someone mentally produces can do the same.

Whether we are inspired by fiction, native peoples or our faith or family traditions, gratitude is an essential ingredient for living a healthful  and engaging life. It involves both receiving and giving. Cultivating an attitude of gratitude is like a growing a currency from which we can never be bankrupt. The more we feel it and express it, the more deposits in our master gratitude account, canceling out facing “notes” of regret at the end of our life.

Join me now as we cultivate an attitude of gratitude

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iRest Meditation and Hanna Somatic Movement–a gentle movement practice to release pain and enhance mobility.

Room in your heart

Room in Your Heart

“In a full heart there is room for everything, and in an empty heart there is room for nothing.” —Antonio Porchia, Argentine poet

Have you asked yourself recently if there are things you’d like to welcome into your life? Do you want to improve your career, finances, or relationships? Perhaps better health or deepening your spirituality is on your list. Or, maybe you seek a greater sense of meaning or purpose in your life, or more peace, joy, or love.

Just as you need to create space in your home, at work, and on your computer’s hard drive to function well, you also need a clear mind to be open to possibilities. These all have a finite amount of space. But the space in your heart is unlimited. This heart space, however, must be uncluttered and cultivated in order to experience the things you desire.

 Cluttered heart

Cluttered heartThe physical organ the heart holds our deepest truths. The simple placement of your hand on your heart can be a powerful way to tune in to these truths—unless your heart is closed or cluttered inside. Dark feelings such as fear, shame, guilt, and inadequacy can take up a lot of space. Avoidance or even acceptance of these feelings keeps them alive. Thus your deepest desires may become obscured, resulting in a stifled life force.

The poet Rumi encourages us to: “Let the beauty of what you love be what you do.” “Your task, writes Rumi, “is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” The love that fuels our lives already resides at the heart of our being. But it can become buried beneath the rubble of dark feelings and emotions. Unconsciously, that rubble is a barrier expressed in our outer experience: we think and behave in ways that support what seems to be lacking in our lives. We then become stuck, which may be reflected in our inability to attract or maintain loving, supportive relationships; to find satisfying work; or to live a generally happy life.

Wanting versus allowing

Attempting to get rid of, deny, or just live with the barriers only lodges them in further, intensifying our suffering. A better way is to allow them to surface and then to fully feel them. We must bring them into the light and allow them to speak their truth. Rather than seeing them as enemies, allow yourself to befriend them. Ask what they want or need, or what actions you might take in the world to help them—and you. This befriending helps release the ego from being the gatekeeper of your heart, allowing the heart to know its truth.

Given this freedom, the heart is able to embrace our deepest longings. In the process, we learn that whatever the barrier, there is a desire for its complement or opposite. When we experience pain or frustration, we deeply desire relief or satisfaction. Food is more pleasurable when we are hungry. A tender touch or compassionate ear is most welcomed when we feel depleted or alone. Becoming conscious of what we don’t want in life paradoxically provides clarity about what we truly desire.

harmonious pathFor many years I struggled to find a fulfilling life path. I engaged in a number of successful business ventures along the way, yet never felt satisfied. Things started to shift as I lovingly inquired into what was blocking me and listened to my heart’s deepest longings. Allowing this acknowledgement helped me learn from what wasn’t serving me at the time. I now understand that each endeavor helped me acquire skills that are serving me well today. I feel blessed with the ability to manage a not-for-profit business. I also help people heal from trauma, discover wholeness, and uncover purpose and fulfillment in their lives. Living harmoniously and in sync with life—and helping others do so—has become my true mission.

What we desire desires us

magnetAt our very core, don’t we all desire love, peace, and happiness? How can we long for something unless we know what it feels like? Love is like a magnet that attracts positive things. Love is infinite and timeless and already present within our hearts. As we open our hearts and clear out the debris, space becomes available to welcome in profound peace and gratification.

To explore your own heart, ask questions like: What is my heart feeling at this moment? Is there a song that it wants to sing? Something it longs to express? What will bring my heart into harmony? When do I feel fully alive? Listen for an answer. Notice when thoughts like undeserving and other negative feelings surface. Make friends with each feeling. Learn what it wants to share. Shift from asking your ego’s point of view to allowing your heart to express its deepest longing.

Room for everything

“Keep some room in your heart for the unimaginable.” —Mary Oliver

Over time you will find yourself living more and more from your heart. You’ll discover there is more space there than you ever could have imagined. There’s abundant room for forgiveness—especially self-forgiveness. There’s also room for making mistakes and experiencing grief, which help us build resilience. And we must allow room for feelings of empathy for people with differing values as well as for ourselves. Remember, your heart’s capacity is limitless.

Make a vow

Lotus flowerAs you become more at home in your heart, it’s helpful to harness its capacity to engage your imagination. Ask: How do you want your life to be? A helpful concept that can be borrowed from yogic philosophy to keep you on target is sankalpa. This is a sacred vow that you make in support of your deepest desires. A sankalpa requires your mind and body to be in harmony. It is not focused on something outside of you, such as your desire for a new home, better health, a romantic relationship, or a job promotion. Your sankalpa should be a brief affirmative statement that helps you realize your best self. Examples are:

  • I appreciate and accept myself.
  • I am whole, healed, and healthy.
  • I am deeply connected to myself, to others, and to life.
  • I am a compassionate and kind person.
  • My thoughts, words, and actions are aligned with one another.

The practice of tuning in to your sankalpa helps keep it alive, strengthens it, and brings more clarity to it. With this heartfelt intention as your foundation, your everyday and long-term goals will be more easily realized.

May you explore the intimacy of your heart tenderly and lovingly in the coming year and live from its limitless potential.

 

 

Islands: connection in the deep

Connection: Feel Supported, Valued, Loved

“We are like islands in the sea, separate on the surface but connected in the deep,” wrote American philosopher and psychologist William James over 100 years ago. Modern science is now revealing how we are “connected in the deep.” We are born with the natural urge—wired in our brains—for connection, and this urge continues throughout our lives. Ironically, however, even though social media connections continue to grow exponentially, we seem to be more separate now than at any time in history, as loneliness, isolation, and alienation are reported to be on the increase.

Heart – love in actionAs social beings, we crave to feel supported, valued, and loved. It is well documented that true social connection lowers stress and improves physical health and psychological well-being. Isn’t it time to get back to valuing true connection and learn ways to improve or enhance our connectedness to one another—and especially to ourselves?

Disconnection

Everything in life is about connection. When we leave the nurturing, loving environment of our mother’s womb, we are suddenly separated from our source. From that point on, we seek ways to reconnect and make new connections. But inevitably there are more disconnections. Our mother is not always available, there is no one to play with, etc. As we grow and move out into the world, life circumstances change. Losses, failures, and unfulfilled dreams leave us feeling isolated or even that something’s wrong with us. When a friend or confidant is nowhere to be found, the tendency may be to stuff our feelings. Our reaction might even be something we’ve witnessed in the adults who mentor us. Such a situation can turn into a lifelong conditioned response, and we lose the ability to trust others and share our true feelings.

In the May-June 2016 issue of Scientific American Mind, an article entitled “Friendships: The Remarkable Power of Our Closest Connections” revealed that 50% of American adults now report that they have zero close friends. This is down from two close friends reported in similar studies 10 years earlier. Yet, according to Brené Brown, professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, “We are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong.” So what is the disconnect here? We crave connection, yet we’re losing our ability to achieve it.

interconnected with natureConnectedness was an essential part of life for early humans. Not only were they connected to one another, but they also had an interdependent relationship with nature. Being social was just as essential as having food, water, and shelter. In today’s world we no longer have that deep connection with our tribe or environment. In our busy lives we have ready access to connection on demand that helps us surf the surface of other people’s lives but neglects the depth. We’re becoming emotionally lazy, as we’re drawn to connect via methods that are fast, easy, and always at hand—and that don’t require physical presence.

Genuine connection

According to Sherry Turkle, professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology at MIT, “Genuine connection and companionship involves emotional risk—the risk of being authentically yourself, of being vulnerable, honest, and open.” Intimacy is what’s most essential. But human bonds take time and care to form and maintain. Intimacy involves trust with someone who can be a true confidant, who has our back, and who is not critical of our flaws.

MIrror neurons

Mirror neurons

Human connectedness runs deep in our brains. Neuroscientists have discovered that we have the capacity to read other people’s minds. I’m not referring to psychic abilities. We are able to become attuned to another person‘s actions and nonverbal behaviors through a phenomenon called mirror neurons. When we tell a friend about a happy experience we’ve had, for example, neurons in our brain light up in all the networks associated with that memory. As we convey this experience through words and body language, the mirror neurons in our friend light up as well. In turn, our neurons pick up her signals that let us know we’ve been heard and accepted. This could help explain how and why we feel empathy for people when they are suffering.

Research has also revealed that whenever we finish doing something analytic or engage in nonsocial thinking, the network in the brain for social thinking lights up almost instantly, like a reflex. This spontaneous reaction prepares us for the next moment in our lives. We switch from taking in information to being ready to send it out. Our brain prepares us to be in the world socially.

Deeper connection

connectednessIn this vastly changing world, I believe we are charting new territory in exploring what it means to be human. We can’t go back to living like our ancestors. But we also must not cast aside the basic elements of body, mind, and spirit that connect us with one another. Let’s explore some ways we can learn to enhance our connections.

Touch: What’s drastically missing in the connection-on-demand culture is physical touch. “To touch can be to give life,” said Michelangelo. When we touch someone we strengthen bonds and give life to a relationship. A pat on the back, a caress of the arm, a hug—especially a big hug—are primary ways of expressing caring and compassion. Touch is fundamental to human communication and it provides incredible emotional and physical health benefits. A simple touch activates the vagus nerve, which can calm the body and stimulate the release of oxytocin, the “feel good” hormone. Even the sound of loving words can resonate in the body, touch the heart, and deepen connection.

Deep listening: Probably the most important thing we ever give each other is our attention. Being fully present to another cannot be accomplished through a text or email. Physical presence is essential. It requires setting aside our own needs and agendas and not rehearsing what we’re going to say in response while the other is talking. When we become fully present, we open our hearts and minds to the deeper being beneath the words, and do so with a curiosity and openness. This intimate way of listening is particularly powerful following a great loss or during a difficult change or transition. It can create space for compassion; when you lose yourself in another, feel what they feel. But it also exposes our vulnerability as we face the possibility of hearing disturbing truths we don’t want to hear. Ultimately, though, it can open the door for mutually experiencing a deeper sense of self-acceptance and self-appreciation.

Befriend yourself: It’s often recommended that if you want a friend, be a friend. What better place to start than with yourself. Believing in yourself helps you to enjoy your own company. This sense of “okayness” with yourself can transmit to others, conveying that you are a caring person whom others will want to be connected with. I can vouch for this approach; being alone doesn’t have to be lonely. It can actually provide an opportunity for your heartfelt life mission to be revealed and unfold. If you don’t have a partner, you can still feel connection to life. We all need to give ourselves a hug every now and then!

Connect to life!

Few have understood connectedness as well as Martin Luther King Jr., who said: “It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tired into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one destiny, affects all indirectly.”

Are you ready to take the challenge of finding ways to become more “connected in the deep”?

heart

Embody The Five “A”s of Love

I was inspired to explore the five “A”s of love after attending a performance of Chicago’s Natya Dance Theatre’s new work, “The Seventh Love.” Based on the ancient Buddhist discourse known as “The Five Aspects of Love,” a narrative was brought to life through expressive East Indian dance and dialogue. The message: learning to embody these five aspects—attention, acceptance, appreciation, affection, and allowancehelps one attain a sixth, perfect love. Continue reading

Getting High on Life – Again

In my last article, How to Get High on Your Life, I wrote about the “Givers High.” Performing acts of kindness elevates our sense of well-being and contributes to a longer, healthier, happier life. Let’s explore how some people discover ways to integrate this high into their lives.

natural-antidepressants-2Natural anti-depressant
Acts of giving take you outside yourself, beyond the troubles, pains and challenges of your life, and can pull you out of the doldrums of isolation and loneliness. The brain is a social organ wired for empathy. When engaged in helping others, we experience their joy and suffering as though it were our own. Yet the giving also produces a positive emotional high pushing away our negative emotions. The old adage, “When you’re feeling down, go out and help someone,” really works.Continue reading

How to Get High on Your Life

Will the economy ever return to providing the good times we once took for granted?  Greed and mismanagement have shown their ugly face and, as a result, millions in our nation are suffering. Those who can still afford the high life are a privileged elite.

getting-highActually we can all live the high life – in a natural humanistic way – with the “Givers High.” The good news is that the means for experiencing this high, in terms of body-mind health, better relationships and spiritual well-being, is available to virtually everyone. Plenty of research studies support how performing acts of kindness contributes to a longer, healthier, happier life.

Getting the “givers high” doesn’t require money, drugs, material possessions, or expensive entertainment. In fact, even if you’ve had to downsize, minimize and simplify, you can still enjoy a richly rewarding and meaningful life. This elevated state can be easily realized by showing concern for others, being a good empathetic friend, reaching out to help a neighbor, mentoring, or volunteering in our community.

Change of heart
|I sense that our society may very well be at a tipping point for positive change. Perhaps this is a time for cleansing and moving from a society enveloped in secrecy, power and greed, to one that recognizes the basic human values of truth, transparency, compassion and interdependence. We are, after all, social beings here on Earth to help one another.

This change is evident in a new breed of humanitarian warriors. A remarkable journey is portrayed in Eric Greiten’s book, “The Heart and the Fist: the Education of a Humanitarian, the Making of a Navy SEAL.

Before becoming a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford, Greiten volunteered in Bosnia, Rwanda, and Bolivia serving war-affected children. Integrating his studies and experience with deployments as a Navy SEAL fighting terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan, he learned that without courage, compassion falters, and without compassion, courage has no direction. Returning home, he started Mission Continues, an organization to help empower wounded and disabled veterans start new lives as citizen leaders here at home.

Our wired nature
Lots of research shows we are hard-wired to commit acts of kindness and generosity We are all natural born givers—it’s a primal urge. As early as a baby’s first birthday, she demonstrates the need and ability to empathize, connect, care and share. Her soothing and caring expressions melt our hearts, reigniting the joyful, caring child within us. Hanging out with babies can bring out the best in us.

The Dalai Lama says that “our primary purpose is to help others.” He believes that a major paradigm shift of this millennium is from the belief that “parents raise children” to one in which “children raise parents.” There does seem to be a trend among younger people toward getting high by living more consciously, as vegans, protectors of the environment, doing good deeds and finding new ways to connect. Whatever negatives may exist with social networking, the younger generation is living with greater transparency and interconnectedness than previous generations.

This natural givers instinct undeniably blossoms most clearly in the roles of parent, friend, mentor, worker, teammate, and creator.  Similar to the “runners high,” Greitin sees that, in the process of giving, the brain releases natural opiates, endorphins and calming hormones such as oxytocin.

In our next article we explore more benefits to “getting high on giving,” and inspiration for giving of your best self.

Generosity of Our Best Selves

Third in a three-part series

In this series I’ve been exploring how consumerism has come to dominate our culture in the form of craving, getting, having and hoarding. We’ve lost touch with our best self that is concerned not just for the individual, but for all people. The sense of “other-serving has taken a back seat to, What’s in it for me.” Yet when we begin to shift our consciousness to unconditional giving we are showered with incredibly valuable gifts that can feed our spirit for a lifetime.

powerhalfPower of half
One family chose a novel approach to assume the role of good citizen. In their book, The Power of Half, Kevin Salwen and his daughter, Hannah, share their story. Stopped at a traffic light with a Mercedes in front of them and a homeless man begging for food on their side, Hannah found herself saying to her dad, “If that guy didn’t have such a nice car, the man over here could get a meal.” While this prosperous family was already volunteering to help the needy, with Hannah’s persistence, they downsized, sold their house and donated half the proceeds ($800,000) to The Hunger Project to help villagers in Ghana. (visit their websiteThe Power of Half for more information)

While most of us may not be in a position to do as much, everyone does have time or resources to give. By cutting back half your precious time spent on the internet, TV or various devices, you would have time to dedicate to a worthy cause. Imagine if everyone donated half a paycheck, or half a day’s wages. Imagine if you moved through your day looking for ways to express random acts of kindness. Try it for a day and record your feelings at the end.

When the next fundraiser comes around, why not refuse the premium, forget the tax write-off and allow the currency to flow freely toward others? Again, notice how you feel.

Find meaning
True generosity is without ego or judgment, yet seems to give the givers a sense of meaning and purpose. Generosity can help you to become more attuned to the real you, make better life choices and create intentions around what you want to invite into your life. Choose causes and volunteer activities that are meaningful to you or that make you feel a sense of purpose. It’s not unusual for this to open new life pathways you never dreamed of.

There is scientific evidence that we are born to be kind and generous. However, growing up in an environment that conditions us to believe in scarcity and limitation creates fear that blocks our generosity current. Getting outside yourself and engaging in generous activities takes you out of your funk and provides a positive perspective on your situation.

generosityWith the best models, generosity recipients can be given a sense of hope, feel empowered and truly cared for. When we see a grateful face light up, we can begin to let go of our own lack and limitation fears and find gratitude in our lives. The law of attraction can then kick in, opening up currents of unimagined abundance.

The best way to express your best self and build a generosity consciousness is to give of yourself. Wherever you can conjure up your caring and compassionate nature, whether it is for a civic cause you believe in, a friend, relative or child whom you can help, it will come back to you in multiple ways. Be your best self and partner up to make the world a better place.

“I hope someday you’ll join us and the world will live as one.” ~ John Lennon, “Imagine

See also: What Happened to Our Best Selves & Generosity Consciousness

Generosity Consciousness

newworld1

Currency of Our Best Selves

Second of a three-part series
(See part one – What Happened to our Best Selves)

Imagine a world where generosity became as important a currency as the dollar, the currency of commerce. This currency would not wait until a natural disaster struck, a local fundraiser’s direct mail appeal arrived or a friend reluctantly asked for help. It wouldn’t expect anything in return. It would be the natural way for doing the world’s business and for manifesting our best selves’ nature.

Utopia? I think not. We are in the midst of a cultural evolution where old values that ultimately produce greed and self-interest are showing their true faces and new core values of equality, caring for the human community and our Earth are emerging. In this world, we’ll be known as good citizens versus consumers.

Currency as energy
Giving and receiving is an energy exchange. In the world of commerce, when you give money, you generally receive a product or service in exchange. When I donate money and receive a premium tote bag, mug, CD or event tickets in return, I am participating in this exchange. My donation then becomes attached to the expectation of getting something that I will ultimately consume – or stuff in a closet.

A Dictionery.com definition of currency is, ”the fact or quality of being widely accepted and circulated from person TO person” (my emphasis). In this case, there is no expectation of receiving something back from the source, but rather starting or keeping the flow moving.  A power plant sends an electric current to your home. Turn on the light switch and electric current flows to the bulb. The bulb gives off light, which helps you to see, then read, better understand, ultimately transmit your knowledge to others.

open hand - heartConditional giving
With any energy exchange, there is always something to receive. However, when currency is received from unconditional generosity (nothing expected in return), it generally comes in unexpected or intangible ways. Research has shown that giving a part of yourself, particularly in volunteer work, can build new relationships and community. It can enhance your health – immune system, cholesterol, heart – and reduce stress. A sense of empowerment, pride and accomplishment tops this exchange.

So much of the giving in today’s world has strings attached. When I give, currency returns to me as a tax write-off or premium. Though we are known as the most giving nation in the world, why are so many people in need? Our government has built-in provisions for funding not-for-profits –- public services, arts and community organizations. But whenever the economy is in jeopardy, a lot of this funding goes south causing many to suffer the consequences. Most of today’s business models have a component of giving back to the communities where they do business, which generally becomes a promotional scheme. (I’m always intrigued with those anonymous donors.)

Generosity Consciousness
How can we manifest our better self and give back unconditionally to society? It requires a shift in consciousness. True generosity asks for nothing in return. Rather it gives freely from a compassionate heart. It is aware of a need and finds a way to fulfill that need in what I term is “Generosity Consciousness.”

To manifest “Generosity Consciousness” means to be open-handed and open-hearted in giving. When it comes to stuff we accumulate, there certainly is a feeling of freedom, of letting go when you give it away. It lightens the load and provides space to invite in new opportunities, situations and people into your life.

The root of the word “generous” also means noble – of high moral character, courage and honor. How noble and honorable it is to help others!

Being called
In the past year, I’ve been called several times to be with my elder family friend in the ER and hospital. In situations like this or when someone is in distress, and I can be of service, I don’t even think about myself. I feel compelled to open-heartedly be there and create a loving container, a larger, fuller space to hold them. When you care about others, you make them feel special and show that they have worth.

My friends, Mary Jane and Louis, who regularly give of their time, money or wisdom both shared that they feel no division between giving and ordinary life. There is a seamless quality between the two. It just doesn’t occur to them that they are doing anything extraordinary. Whenever there is a need, they willingly try to fill

Your generosity reflections
Reflect back on your life to times when you gave freely without conditions – in your family life, school, workplace or community. How did your feel afterwards? What were the outcomes for others involved? What are you doing now or what would you like to do to express your best self?

Learn how to teach your kids to be generous

What Happened to Our Best Selves?

First of a three-part series

During the last half of the 20th century, the concept of “citizen” was hijacked and became that of “consumer.” This great loss has made it extremely challenging to exhibit our “best self”—a concept that earlier generations worked so hard to instill in us. While we may exhibit our best briefly, reaching out to help others when natural disaster strikes (as it did in January in Haiti), it mostly lies dormant. We need to feed, nurture, and reawaken this aspect of our natures.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word consumer is defined garbage heapas someone who “devours, wastes, or destroys.” Consumers focus on taking rather than giving or giving back. This is evident in our everyday accumulation and hoarding of “stuff,” our exploitation of the earth’s resources, our focus on instant gratification, and our lip-service compassion for those in need.

Don’t get me wrong. We all need to consume daily to survive–breathe in oxygen, drink water, eat the fruits of the earth, and surround ourselves with the goods and services that have extended our human lives over the millennium. But balance is necessary to maintain this multidimensional energy system we are a part of. The question is how much are we taking, and what are we leaving or giving back to enable our children and future generations to thrive?

parents-love-jpgGifts you’ve received
Much of the world envies our prosperous society. The latest fashions and gadgets can be bought by most anyone, even with minimal budgets, at Wal-Mart and Target. Yet so much of the stuff we buy for ourselves and others is superficial. We buy gifts not because others need them, but because it’s the thing to do. It makes us feel good. Yet, the recipients soon stuff them in closets, basements, and garages.

Think about the genuine gifts your parents have given you. They made a huge investment of time, money, and resources for you to have a better life than their generation. Then, there were your teachers, relatives, mentors, and even strangers. Your elders, ancestors, and a multitude of others invested in this country with their hard work, tax dollars, and even lives to provide the institutions, goods, services, and opportunities for you to live a happier, more peaceful, and productive life than they experienced. Giving and sacrifice were their core values.

Make the shift
Isn’t it time to turn away from self-serving entitlements to focus on what I call “other-serving”? Mahatma Gandhi said,”There is always enough for the needy, but never enough for the greedy.” The needy can teach us much as they somehow manage to keep the spark of life alive through life’s challenges. Witness the survivors of the recent Haiti devastation, a nation of people who have weathered many disasters throughout their history and yet always manage to adapt. The needy can also enliven the spark of giving in us when we help empower them by sharing our excess. “Less is more” is an adage that few live by.

Our country has lost much of its power due to mounting debt. We are being consumed by our own greed just as our natural resources are vanishing. More people are living on the edge. Many who were looking forward to their “Golden Years” have lost pensions, investments, and homes and see retirement pushed well beyond the horizon–if at all.

artcandy - treeWhat’s our role?
A citizen’s role is one of responsibility and partnership. A citizen cooperates in making his/her part of the world a better place–not just for the present, but for future generations. A citizen not only gives time and resources to help build safe, physically and spiritually enriching environments, but also helps the sick and less fortunate find a new path toward empowerment. It’s a citizen’s responsibility to contribute and, yes, make sacrifices when necessary for the greater good of all. The whole then becomes far greater than the sum of its parts. When we work together to create more balance–make this world a better place–we become immensely enriched. What actions are we taking, and what are we giving back to regain and maintain the balance of Life?

What is at the core of consumerism? In a heartfelt book that captured the nation, Tuesdays with Morrie, Mitch Albom shared the wisdom of a dying man.tuesdays-with-morrie Morrie believed that when one lives exclusively in a materialistic world of gadgets, conveniences, getting ahead, and accumulating money, our lifestyle is generally seeking to replace what’s missing: human relationships, health and well-being, and joy. One can fill this void by treating others with respect, kindness, love, and dignity.

Having, over the past year, spent a lot of time in a retirement/nursing home environment attending my elder family friend, Mae, I can personally vouch for the importance of these acts. While no longer surrounded by the material things that once filled her life with such importance, she is content with a few small mementos. Her face always lights up when I walk in the door. I am so impressed with how the aids treat community members with dignity and respect.

Take Stock
What’s missing in your life? What lies underneath the consumerism, hoarding, and cravings for stuff outside yourself? What gives you true meaning and purpose, and how does this feed your inner spirit? Do you have a true connection with your Higher Self?

In my next article I will be writing about ways to create a “Generosity Consciousness,” which, I hope, will help you become your best self and will enable all of us to be partners in making the world a better place.