Finding Gratitude in Unusual Places

Gratitude is everything.

The happiest people I know are grateful. The least happy people I know are ungrateful. Gratitude takes a sad person and gives them joy. Ingratitude takes a happy person and makes them miserable.

Gratitude is what allows someone to endure all sorts of injustice and hardship and emerge stronger and more resilient instead of broken and cynical. It’s been important enough in my life that I did an entire month on it a few years back. I’ve done podcast episodes about it as well.

A lack of gratitude is what causes people who have everything to need more and more and more. This creates the cycle of suffering that is greed and self-absorption. A lack of gratitude is what allows people with more than enough to be miserable and angry and to seek to inflict their suffering on others.

I won’t say gratitude can fix everything, but it can certainly make everything a little better.

It is the root of everything good for us.

In many ways, gratitude is at the heart of mindfulness as it allows us to cultivate a deep appreciation and love for the very simple act of being in the moment, and for all the simple things the moment offers.

Let’s look at a few less-than-obvious places we can be grateful.

Gratitude for Existing

The most basic place for gratitude is in the very fact that we exist at all.

This gets weird when you think about it too much.

The only reason we can even think about being grateful for anything at all is because we exist. This is the first place for gratitude.

I often think that no matter what is happening around me, at least I am here to experience it. This is especially noticeable when death is near me. Either someone I love has passed away or I am helping someone walk through the death of someone they love. Those moments suck, but at least we are there to witness them at all.

The alternative to all of this is nothing.

I often hear people say they would rather experience nothing than what they are experiencing at the moment, but there is even an expression of awareness in this statement. I get it, nothingness seems nice sometimes. But when we say that we are, in some way envisioning ourselves experiencing that nothingness. We see ourselves existing in the nothingness, which makes no sense at all.

Whatever is happening, we have been gifted an awareness to experience it. At the very least, we have this wide beam of consciousness, experiencing this world.

That is ground for gratitude.

Gratitude for the Body

It is also a little weird that we have a body when you think about it.

I can make my hands and fingers move as I need them to and I can make my feet go where I want them to and all that, but I don’t really know how I do this.

I just do.

As a matter of fact, if I think about it too much I start to make mistakes. It’s better when we let things go without being too involved.

My heart that does its job with no help from me and my lungs. My brain and all these other systems and organs do their jobs with no input from me at all. I can’t even make them stop doing their job without some sort of radical external intervention. One that would really be harmful to my continued existence.

So some of this stuff happens with my control (sort of) and some without my control, and I call all of it my body and I think it is me, so I am rarely grateful for it.

It gets me up and moving every day. It performs this task reasonably well, but I don’t give it much regard. Because of this, I have done some pretty rough things to my body over the years. I have some difficult consequences as a result, but it keeps going. It not only keeps going since I have started treating it well by not drinking, exercising, cutting out sugar and getting sleep. It actually seems to be improving and healing.

On top of all that, it gives me a place to house this weird thing called consciousness in the first place. I can’t say whether or not having a body is always necessary to having consciousness, but I can say it is as far as my very limited experience goes.

It’s really amazing.

Gratitude for Pain

We need pain in life.

Pain is a universal experience for the most part, something we can all understand.

It helps us connect to other humans if we let it and it can give us a sense of resonance with all life. It is why we have empathy and understanding for suffering we may not even have a reference point for, and why we seek to move toward and help others.

Physical pain is a warning light, our body telling us something is wrong and that it needs care.

The pain of your hand on a hot stove is better than a life-endangering injury. Breaking your arm doing daredevil stunts causes enough pain that you are less likely to lose your whole life on something even more foolish.

There are people who do not feel pain, and many do not make it out of childhood due to the lack of lessons that pain teaches. Pain is there to keep us alive, to help us learn how to navigate through this world. A child crying with a busted nose is also a child learning about running through the house with a bucket on their head.

But what about pain that cannot be fixed, chronic pain that is not serving the function of warning or teaching us?

There is good here too, as it provides us an opportunity to lean into something unpleasant, to sit with things not being as we would prefer them to be. There can be a deep peace in accepting our experience as it is, in realizing that we are more than the experience of our body and thoughts.

It’s not always easy, but it’s there.

Gratitude for Responsibilities

I shirked and shied away from responsibility for a vast majority of my life.

I called it different things like laziness and I couched it behind different pale ideologies like resisting the capitalistic desire to control my life through work or not buying into the western concept that our lives should be regimented into a functional grind. I suppose I believed these things at the time, but my dodging responsibility really rooted in fear, which is often fueled by selfishness.

I prized what I wanted and how I wanted to spend my time above all else, thinking this would make me happy. I was unhappy, and no matter how much more time I shoveled into doing my own thing, the less happy I became.

Today, responsibilities seem to govern my life.

Between running an office, a blog, trying to get other projects off the ground, having a family and trying to live a healthy life and be a good dad and husband and continue to grow as a human being, I don’t have a lot of time for what I want.

And I have never been happier.

My life isn’t about me anymore, and I am doing my part for my family, my community and my society, and there is something inside of us that needs to live this way. I am grateful to responsibility for teaching me this.

Responsibility is a gift if we are grateful for it, a curse if we are not. It is there either way, we get to choose how we see it.

Gratitude for Everyone Who Came Before

We live pretty easy lives these days.

We drive where we need to go, we have safe food at our fingertips, we can talk to people all over the world. I don’t even have to physically walk into my bank anymore unless there’s a problem, like someone stealing my debit number and buying a bunch of Walmart gift cards and cigarettes in New Jersey. Even that was fixed in minutes.

We have all these luxuries and conveniences because of the nearly endless line of other human beings that came before us.

There is this chain of people, stretching back into the distant, distant past, and they endured untold hardship and suffering as they played their part in this great drama called history. A vast majority of them came and went without so much as a mention in our history books and no one remembers them.

Your chain created you through millions and millions of tiny iterations and nuances, and here you are. Some were helpful, some not so much, but they all contributed to you being alive at all, and they all did so in circumstances quite different from our own.

There is a beauty in this chain and in the history of all of us, a beauty in how, though we are one in billions, we are a necessary part in the chain for everyone who comes after us.

I find a deep gratitude for everyone who came before and paved the way for all of this, and try to do my part for everyone who comes after.

  • Can you see yourself in this great play?
  • Can you be grateful to the ancestors who allowed you to be here?

Gratitude for Toddler You

Being a human is hard, the process of becoming one seems to be even harder.

I look at babies and little kids, and I am amazed by everything they have to do on this path of becoming a full human being and doing all the full being things. Their hands don’t work correctly, their legs are all wobbly and clunky. They bite their own fingers when they eat too fast and their heads hit everything. If you are smart enough and coordinated enough to be reading this, it took a lot to get where you are.

Sometimes we need to stop and offer gratitude to our younger selves for navigating all the hardship and difficult learning required to get us where we are.

All the skinned knees and banged heads and bit fingers and smashed toes, not to mention the stress and struggle of learning how to talk and where to poop. It’s difficult to figure out how all these weird laws of physics work. It’s difficult to fit into this social world with all of its unstated rules and its irrational demands on our natural way of doing things. We owe our toddler selves a debt of gratitude for getting through it to become the people we are today.

You had to work hard to get where you are, and the youngest versions of you had to do a lot of the heaviest lifting.

Think about younger you, thank them.

Cut them some slack if you need to.

Cut the kids around you a little slack.

Help them learn to live on this planet.

Gratitude for Teenage You

Being a teenager sucks, and it was probably the worst time of my life.

I was miserable, there was something wrong with me, and I struggled. I was annoying and full of it, self-centered, difficult and emotional.

I have to work to have gratitude toward that kid for getting through that time, because I am often so ashamed of him and how he acted so much of the time.

I just dislike who I was.

But, I get it. I don’t think anyone knew how hard I struggled because I tried to mask it behind rebellion and being too cool for things. I was deeply depressed and trying to deal with some things that I had no frame of reference for.

I did the best I could with what I had, unfortunately, that best just wasn’t very good.

I was lucky, things got better over time. I found some good friends, I tried to make some changes, but I had already developed some habits and ways of existing that were difficult to break. I suppose I owe 20-something me some gratitude for fighting those battles.

It can be difficult to even forgive ourselves for how we behave during difficult times in our life, much less have gratitude to our younger selves for surviving and getting through them.

These days, I am grateful to teenage me for doing what he needed to do to get through those years. It wasn’t graceful or skillful or even competent, but I’m here right now so he must have done an okay job.

  • Where do you need to offer yourself gratitude?
  • Is there a part of yourself or your life that you are alienating out of resentment?
  • Is there room for gratitude instead of anger and hurt?

Gratitude for Unintentional Teachers

A majority of the best things that have happened to me have not been by my own doing.

I often say that we have no business getting what we want because we don’t know what is best for us. We really have no business classifying someone as an enemy because we really don’t know what will come out of the relationship with them.

Instead of calling people enemies, maybe we can see them as oppositional forces or unintentional teachers.

Enemies are useful because they help us learn things about ourselves and force us to develop new ideas and strategies for being alive and dealing with difficulties. Just because this is not their intent does not mean that we cannot be grateful to them for the help in growing.

I can see a great number of cool things in my life that only happened because someone else’s actions jarred me into making a change or trying something new.

Sometimes we need someone to betray us to help us see that we are accepting mediocrity from our relationships.  Sometimes we need someone else’s unhealthiness to become so unbearable that we are willing to leave our comfort zone and do something new.

A story is really only as good as its antagonist because it is the antagonist that sparks everything.

Looking back, I can see where the people I identified as villains and enemies have been my greatest teachers and have forced me into many new things that turned out to be good. In this respect, I am indebted to them.

  • Who has sharpened you in your life?
  • Can you be grateful to them for what you learned whether they meant to help you or not?

Remember, gratitude is everything.

It shifts our attention away from the things we are not happy with, over to the things that are going right.

There are always more things going right than wrong, starting with the fact that we are alive to witness any of this in the first place. That is cool.

I am grateful for my life, for my wife, my family, and my body, even though it hurts most of the time. I am grateful for the sun, the wind, the rain and the amazing storms we have out this way. I am grateful that there is something instead of nothing.

Lastly, I am grateful to have people who read these things I write, thank you.

Misconceptions About Mindfulness

I talk about mindfulness a lot.

Every day type of a lot.

It’s a primary part of what I do for a living, how I live my life, and what I see as important.

I think it matters. I think it’s the antidote to this dream (nightmare for some) that we are all living in. I think it is a return to our true nature, and that this can’t help but help us.

I also think it has become a fad and that it has been co-opted by many institutions and hierarchies as a way to keep people happy in crappy situations. It can certainly be exploitative in the wrong hands, and it can become a way of suppressing difficult things when practiced incorrectly.

Let’s look at some misconceptions about mindfulness.

Misconception #1: Mindfulness and meditation are interchangeable words.

This is probably the most pervasive misconception, and it’s more than simple semantics. Mindfulness is a kind of meditation, an aspect of meditation, so it is not interchangeable. Mindfulness refers to a set of practices that encourage us to allow things to arise and fall as they are, to come and go as they please, without attachment, without clinging or rejecting. It is a nonjudgmental awareness and observation of what is happening.

This is different from many other practices that involve strong concentration and focus. It is much different than meditations involving visualization or creation of mental objects for the purpose of relaxation or refuge from difficult emotional states. And this is exactly why it’s more than semantic nitpicking.

I often have people come to me to learn mindfulness so they can relax, but mindfulness is often far from relaxing. It can, in fact, be anxiety-inducing and very difficult to practice, especially if a person has trauma in their past or deals with overwhelming emotions of some kind. Our minds, in an effort to protect us, often build walls and other ways of protecting us from things we may have a difficult time sitting with or accepting in their fullness. We all have ways of avoiding or stepping away from things when they get too intense. While there is good in slowly wearing away these defenses and protections so that we can fully engage the world and our lives as they truly are, this is very hard. It is a little uncaring to throw someone into this without helping them know how to retreat to safety first, and may actually be dangerous for people who are dealing with some kind of disorder or serious trauma.

This is all further complicated by the fact that a deep mindfulness practice is all but impossible without initial training in maintaining a steady awareness (keeping your focus on one thing) because of the mind’s inherent tendency to run amok and chase thoughts. To put it shortly, not only is mindfulness not synonymous with meditation, you need to develop other kinds of meditation to practice it in a truly useful way.

Misconception #2: Mindfulness is a magical cure-all

This is the second most prevalent misconception I see, and it is due largely to the recent and present fad around mindfulness. This happens with all fads, and is part of the reason they die out. People go into them with very unrealistic expectations, so they are inevitably disappointed by the results. This tends to sour them to the entire enterprise.

Mindfulness has not escaped this trap. I have people coming to me asking for training in mindfulness so that they won’t be sad anymore, so they will stop getting angry or so they can quit using drugs or drinking easily.

Don’t get me wrong: a mindful lifestyle can very much help with these things, but it requires discipline and patience – it’s a practice, and a lot of hard work goes into being able to observe your experience with equanimity. We’ll talk more about that in a minute, but for now, let’s look at the things mindfulness won’t do for you.

Mindfulness will not keep you from ever getting angry or anxious or sad or jealous. It won’t prevent disappointment and it won’t keep you from ever having bad dreams. Mindfulness will not end your addictions or fix your marriage or make you the perfect parent. It won’t get you to work on time, it won’t mow your lawn, it will not help you find something better to watch on TV.

Depressing, right?

But here’s the thing – everything I just listed is part of being a human being. It’s part of this grand experience called life, and we shouldn’t seek to be free of it or avoid any of it. All of these things are real and true and we need to embrace them because they aren’t going away. Mindfulness can help us do that.

Cultivating a nonjudgmental awareness of the present, of what is going on right here and right now, opens up so many possibilities for us. It really is amazing how our life changes when we learn to recognize the difference between a situation we are experiencing and our thoughts about a situation we are experiencing. It really is a whole different world when we learn to recognize that we are not our thoughts or our opinions, and that having thoughts or opinions about things beyond our control does not serve us.

So you will still get angry and anxious and sad and jealous and disappointed and this is good because you are a human being and these emotions are part of being a human being. But a mindfulness practice can help take the edge off of these things and allow us to see them as what they are – warning lights on life’s dashboard. Something to notice, something to address, but not something to be driven or controlled by.

You will still struggle with addictions and marital trouble and parenting decisions, but a mindfulness practice can help you address them all more intentionally and purposefully. It can help you recognize the impulses and drives that are feeding the addiction, or the leftover memories and struggles from your own childhood that are bringing you distress as a parent. It can help you see your own expectations and fears that are driving unhealthy behavior in your relationships. It can make mowing the lawn a time to calmly abide in the moment rather than a chore.

All of this is possible, and even guaranteed with practice, but that leads us to our next misconception.

Want to get started? Click here to learn to be present.

How to Be Present Cover PageMisconception #3: Mindfulness is automatically easy and peaceful and freeing and fun

When I first started meditating I thought I would find some sort of peace right off the bat. I’d seen movies where people were calmer and happier – even smarter – almost instantly. They didn’t even need a cool montage to demonstrate rapid progression – it just happened.

It didn’t work that way for me.

The first few times I sat down to meditate, to simply observe my experience, were miserable. I’d spent years building up the walls and protections I mentioned a few paragraphs back, and suddenly sitting in the middle of myself was nauseating. It nearly made me panic, and I couldn’t sit for more than 30 or 40 seconds without getting up in frustration.

I tried all sorts of shortcuts.

I set up a super comfortable little area in the corner of my room – pretty much a blanket fort for grown-ups. Or twentysomethings who are pretending to be grown-ups at least.

I tried listening to classical music while I sat, and when that didn’t work I ordered these binaural beat CD’s off the internet. They promised to get me all Zen in the shortest amount of time, and I was able to sit longer when I listened to them, but I still wasn’t peaceful. I really hated it, in fact.

The idea that we are suddenly going to correct years of running amok in the mind in a few sessions on the cushion is crazy, this is obvious in hindsight. We spend a majority of our waking lives lost in thought, driven by thought and distracted by thought. To believe we are going to fix this immediately is delusional (and nothing more than an idea driven by thought).

I ended up signing up with a meditation center here in town. I would walk to the farthest side of the room before sitting down to ensure maximum disruption if I chickened out and left once the meditation started. I used my ego to conquer my fear.

And it worked. I was there for a year before venturing out to get certified in teaching meditation so I could share it with others. It worked, but it was a difficult process. I see people struggle to different degrees. People with overwhelming emotions or trauma have a longer road to walk much of the time. People who are deeply invested in thought or intellectualism may have a more difficult time, as may people who are deeply invested in the ego due to being very talented or being told they are.

Some things definitely make it more difficult while other things may make it easier, but it doesn’t matter. Mindfulness is a practice everyone can participate in, it just takes a little discipline at the beginning.

There are probably more misconceptions, but let’s move on to what mindfulness is.

At its heart, mindfulness is a simple awareness of what is happening right now. This entails many things.

The sounds you are hearing, what you are smelling and tasting, the temperature of the air on your skin, what you are seeing. Your thoughts and your emotions.

Here’s the deal though: all of this information is tainted by our memories and things we’ve learned and our experience in life.  The sight of a rainbow is beautiful unless it reminds you of the day your mother died. The sound of a police siren brings a different response depending on your history with them. The smell of vanilla may remind you of a warm cozy house or that time you got food poisoning. All of this is conditioned and conditional.

This brings us to an important feature of mindfulness: being nonjudgmental of what we are experiencing. This is difficult in and of itself because we are so used to having an opinion on everything. Not just having an opinion, but believing that this opinion is objectively and externally valid in some way. It’s not that I dislike chocolate chip cookies, it is that they are gross. It’s not that the sound of a baby crying bothers me, it is that it is an objectively terrible sound.  We do this with so many things, and this puts us in a constant state of tension and opposition with reality.

One of the amazing things mindfulness can do is to help us strip away the layers of conditioned opinions about things, and simply let them be exactly as they are. It can help us arrive at a place where we are meeting reality as it is instead of how we think it should be or what we want from it. These are radically different perspectives.

In short, mindfulness is about returning to a state of being in the world instead of thinking about the world. It’s about being present for our experience instead of allowing it to be mediated by our thoughts, expectations, desires and emotions. It’s about living our lives in a real way.

Once I understood this – really understood it and let go of the misconceptions, it was life-changing. I got certified to teach it and incorporated it into my counseling practice, and my life has never been the same.

Neither will yours.

Ready to give it a try? Click through for your free guide to finding mindfulness in 5 simple steps.

Mindfulness in 5 Simple Steps Cover Page

More of a one-on-one learner? Click here to set up mindfulness training, either in-person or online.

Thanks for taking the time to read this.

Take care.

Do You Really Matter?

Do you really matter? My gut response is to say yes, of course, you do. We all do. Let’s explore it though.

People ask me why all of this introspection and intentionality and mindfulness and meditation are necessary. It’s an odd question in my mind, but I hear it often enough that it must have merit. If I take a moment, I remember when I would have laughed at anyone living the way I do now.

So, why bother putting all this work into getting to know yourself of all people? Do you really matter?


You are a unique happening in this universe.

There has never been, and there will never be another you.

Your experience is unrepeatable and irreplicable. When it ends, we have all lost something irreplaceable.

You are a brand new, never-before-seen aperture into reality. An exceptional and irreplaceable stream of consciousness experiencing life and everything it has to offer.

Why would you not want to know everything you could about this?

What would keep you from trying to have the clearest perception of this once-in-existence experience?

So, do you really matter? Yes.

We spend so much time living through all the accumulations of life, rather than living life itself. We get caught up in whether or not we like one thing or another, with whether or not we like how it makes us feel.

We get caught up in whether or not something matches up to what we want and whether or not we think it is the way it should be. We get caught up in all the different meanings things acquire for us over the years and all the accumulated memories and perceptions we have of things.

We spend more time living through our thoughts about things than being with all the magical things going on at every moment.

Clearing this space and letting it be as it is, experiencing this unique and extraordinary life is all we have. This window into existence is only open for a while. It will close eventually.

You are the only you available.

It would be a shame to miss that.

Media Manipulation, Maniacs, and Majora’s Mask

Welcome to the final Sunday Pop-Up, where I talk about whatever pops into my head.

Horror Movie Media

I think about the media a lot. I am pretty sure they hold us in contempt (whoever “they” are in this scenario). Think about it – a month ago everything was about how North Korea and Kim Jong Un were going to annihilate Guam and start World War 3. It was inevitable and imminent. We were going to die any minute. Then, when the hurricanes showed up and they had some other form of human drama and suffering to sell us, and Kim Jong Un and his missiles disappeared from the news cycle. Did he graciously stop threatening to bring about the apocalypse because there were two natural disasters headed our way? Did he take a knee to give us time to deal with that so it would be a fair fight? I am not saying that it was a fabricated story, only that the media seems to, at the very least, get to prioritize what terror is going to kill us each week. There’s always something. I think it’s a rogue planet crashing into us next week.

End of the World, Mowing the Lawn

I wonder what it is like in the life of the people predicting the end of the world right now. I always wonder about this as their anticipated date of destruction gets closer and closer. It must be hard to be trying to say your good-byes and have moments with the people you love when they don’t think anything is going to change. It must be hard to have these moments and resign yourself to the end of the world and then have to have conversations with the same people again. How do you go from meaningful hugs and tearful goodbyes to talking about college football and Game of Thrones again? I’m not making fun of them either – it really seems like it would be difficult.

Where’s Link?

This is all assuming of course, that they are true believers and not just professional trolls. Neither would surprise me. I am not sure about the profit of the troll angle unless it is just the joy of freaking people out and the attention you get. It can’t be positive attention though. I don’t know a single person in real life who is concerned about Niburu going all Majora’s Mask on us. Most everyone must make fun of them.

That’s it for today. Enjoy your last full Sunday before we all die.

Take care.

Want more? I write a lot. I also have a podcast and post videos and mini-blogs on Instagram.

Perspective is Everything

Shifts in Perspective

My numbering and the date I started posting daily (September 19th) are not matching up, so I am going to go with the date and write three more. I assume I screwed up the numbering. I doubt the calendar is wrong.

It is funny how much of a role perspective plays in things.

I got locked into this idea of finishing this today. I realized I would not, now it feels like a difficult thing. I have written at least 362 of these, but three more is a chore. That’s bad math.

Disappointment is one of the harder things for us as humans. Our brains are not well-equipped for it. Once we think we are getting something we pretty much see it as ours, so what we already have becomes unsatisfying.

You think you are getting a raise. You don’t. Your current rate of pay now feels inadequate

You think you are getting a promotion. You don’t. Your current job now feels mundane and unsatisfying.

You think you are getting a new car. You don’t. You now notice all the things wrong with your current car.

The list goes on and on.

We get accustomed to things very quickly. It feels like our brain gains momentum in a particular direction and it is hard to “reverse” it, but if we look, nothing has changed. It’s all perspective. The momentum is an illusion. Things are as they have been for a very long time. Our perspective has shifted, nothing else.

So I write every day as I have done every day for close to a year. I have enjoyed it 99% of the time. There is no reason these last three need to be any different.

Enjoy your day.

The Incoherence of Perfection

Perfection Doesn’t Exist

Over the course of the last year have talked about perfection a lot on this blog and the podcast. We’ve looked at how it will keep you from trying, how it is unattainable, how it is the enemy of the good.

Stuff like that.

More than anything else though, perfection is, at its core, a non-concept. It does not exist in any real way. We like to talk about it and imagine it, but if we examine the idea, it is not real.

Think about it.

What would a perfect life look like? How much money? What tax bracket? What kind of weather? Does it ever rain? What kind of spouse? What kind of kids (or no kids)? What kind of house? Do you have to vacuum? Does the grass in the yard grow? Who mows it? What kind of car? Does it need oil changes?

This can go on and on.

Speaking of spouses and kids, what is a perfect person like? Do they make mistakes? Do they ever oversleep or drop a coffee cup? Do they eat? Do they use the bathroom? Have morning breath? Can you imagine how annoying a perfect person would be?

It’s a stupid idea the more we dig into it.

It’s stupid because perfection does not exist. It’s not a real concept when we break it down.

Perfect doesn’t exist, yet we strive for it and wonder why we are dissatisfied with our lives. Perfection is an idea that doesn’t hold up to scrutiny at all, but we hold it up as the only way to be happy.

What are you rejecting because it isn’t perfect?

What good things are you missing as you seek perfect?