A World of Gratitude

“I live in the space of thankfulness – and for that, I have been rewarded a million times over. I started out giving thanks for small things, and the more thankful I became, the more my bounty increased. That’s because – for sure – what you focus on expands. When you focus on the goodness in life, you create more of it.” Oprah

How many days have you had in the past couple of years where you don’t want to look at the news?

I read it online most mornings just to keep an eye on the state of the world, and mostly my little corner of it. When it becomes overwhelming, I’ll take a news-free day (or two) to decompress.

The pandemic has turned our world upside down, but we have so many things to be grateful for. This past Tuesday, September 21 was World Gratitude Day, and this week’s post is dedicated to the healing power of acknowledging and appreciating the good things in our lives, even the tiny ones.

You may already practice gratitude, but if you’ve only heard of it and thought it was bogus, I can tell you from personal experience that it works.

For the last few years in which I was working at a Monday-to-Friday job, it became harder and harder to get up in the mornings, achy and tired from the fibromyalgia, and push myself into a functional state. One particularly dreary morning I decided to try saying aloud five things that I was grateful for – anything I could think of off the top of my head. I was grateful for having a decent job with a pension, for a great hubby, for a car that was running well…I don’t remember them all, but by the end of my little recital I did actually feel better.

I’ve done this many times over the years, and my impression is that it’s like a reset button, breaking you out of a mental loop that keeps replaying everything that’s bugging you – which, if you think about it, is both non-productive and depressing. If you pay attention to how you’re feeling when you’re in one of these loops, you’ll notice that your dissatisfaction keeps building until it poisons the entire day. How much better to snap yourself out of it and keep moving forward?

Studies have shown that practicing gratitude will lower your stress level, which benefits your immune system. it will improve your self-esteem (tell that severe inner critic which exists in all of us to just shove it!), improve your sociability (which your boss will appreciate), and help you sleep better (now that you’re not grumbling and beating yourself up). Concrete physical benefits include greater cardiovascular health and lower rates of inflammation. Life serves up both good and bad, but understanding how to mentally balance them will improve your resilience.

On days when gratitude is hard to summon, find other ways to break the cycle. My favourite method is to go out into nature and let the trees, the wind, the birds all wash away my frustration and resentment. I’m so grateful to live on such an amazing planet, with so much beauty to look at:

The silken interior of a milkweed pod
Autumn crocus glowing with sunlight amid a carpet of blue plumbago
Pumpkins for sale at a local farm market

World Gratitude Day was developed in 1965, out of a conversation at a Thanksgiving Day dinner in the meditation room of the United Nations building. A spiritual leader named Sri Chinmoy suggested a day of thanks that the entire world could celebrate.

If you’re uncertain on how to start, you may want to check out Gratefulness.org, a wonderful and thoughtful place to learn more and even participate in a global community. I particularly recommend watching the 5-minute “A Grateful Day” video on their World Gratitude Day page. It’s a beautiful and profound statement on why we should be grateful to be alive.

All photos are by me and all rights are reserved. E Jurus

Have a Day of Imagination

Imagine that you’re spending the summer in a villa on Lake Geneva in 1816. The weather is terrible – it will become known as ‘the year without a summer’. In April the year before, a little-known volcano in Indonesia, Mount Tambora, erupted so powerfully that its ash cloud reached almost 27 miles high, into the Earth’s stratosphere, and it’s still affecting the world’s climate over a year later.

The days are dark, cold and rainy. Stuck inside the villa for the most part, your host Lord Byron suggests that, to pass the time, everyone there should come up with a good ghost story.

This is easier said than done – writers usually work from inspiration, not on command. Then one night you all spend an evening of discussion about the nature of life, and whether a corpse could be reanimated by applying enough electricity, based on the discoveries of Luigi Galvani just a few decades previously.

The gloomy weather and macabre discussion infect your thoughts. Perhaps you have a vision such as young Mary Shelley did:

“I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life, and stir with an uneasy, half vital motion. Frightful must it be; for supremely frightful would be the effect of any human endeavour to mock the stupendous mechanism of the Creator of the world.”

That imagined scenario prompted her to produce one of the most original horror stories ever written, Frankenstein.

What a rich life we lead when we use our imagination.

As kids we have nothing but our imaginations; we haven’t experienced much by the age of four, or seven, or even ten, so we make up wildly creative worlds to play in.

If we retain that capacity for crazy ideas and creative mental leaps, as adults we can come up with amazing concepts.

In the 1820s, Charles Babbage created his Difference Engine, basically a mechanical calculator, but it was the forerunner of our modern computers.

J.R.R. Tolkien created such a powerful alternate world, Middle-Earth, in his Hobbit and Lord of the Rings stories that he continues to inspire generations of fantasy writers and readers to this day.

Albert Einstein famously developed the theory of relativity by first imagining what it would be like to travel so fast that he could catch up with a beam of light.

Several years ago at work I was on a committee to organize the annual Appreciation Day for staff. The morning schedule always included a team-building activity based on that year’s overall theme. One of the most successful activities we ever devised was inspired by the Harry Potter theme: build a dragon.

All the materials were provided. Since the activity was only 30 minutes long, we decided to give the teams a head start by demonstrating how to build the core of the dragon quickly with shoe boxes and tape; after that they could create the rest of the dragon as they wished. We had a big table strewn with all kinds of decorative materials, from pipe cleaners to feather boas, for them to use. There were no rules; we’d be judging the dragons based entirely on how cool and interesting they looked!

After the demo, we waited nervously to see if the teams could come to a consensus on how they wanted their dragon to look, or devolve into arguments, or decide the whole thing was too lame.

The room quickly erupted in sound and motion. It was clear that the teams were fully engaged and having an absolute blast.

When time was up, the creativity blew our committee away. Each dragon was completely different, and some departed entirely from the body mock-up we’d offered. We did award a prize, to much cheering, but I’m not sure it mattered because the staff had already enjoyed themselves so much.

In the past year, people were extremely creative during the pandemic lock-downs because there wasn’t much else to do while we, much like Mary Shelley and her companions in 1816, were stuck inside, but there’s no reason we can’t continue to think that way as the world slowly begins to move on.

There’s an event coming up this Saturday in New York City called the Day of Imagination. It’s described as “an ode to idealism — a space for the presentation of the most thrilling, ambitious, wildest “dream projects” of musical artists from across the world” – and it gave me the idea for this blog post.

While we’re still dealing with the ongoing effects of the pandemic and the continual bad news in the media, how about taking a break for our own personal Day of Imagination?

Regularly taking the time to engage our imaginations is healthy, even critical. It’s well known by science that stretching our brains is something we need to do, especially as we get older. For example, as reported by CNN, a study by neurologists in 2015 found that “people who engaged in artistic activities… were 73% less likely to have memory and thinking problems, such as mild cognitive impairment, that lead to dementia.”

If you took an entire day to just live in the realm of your imagination, what would you do?

Would you buy some materials and paint a picture, or go out into nature and photograph all kinds of little details you’ve never noticed before?

Would you read a book in a genre that’s new for you? Play with Lego blocks? Do some free-form writing in a journal? Start that vacation scrapbook you’ve been planning for years?

Would you, just for fun, do something way outside your wheelhouse? Maybe you might try your hand at writing a ghost story, or a horror story?

Albert Einstein, in an interview for the Saturday Evening Post in 1929, said, “I am enough of the artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”

Step away from the troubles of the world for a day, whether it’s by yourself, or with friends or family, and spend a day being like children again. Sometimes they’re smarter than we are.

What do rising global temperatures mean for all of us?

When I was growing up, fathers made skating rinks for their kids every winter. Once the snow began falling my dad would make the wall for the rink, and then I tried to be patient while he decided when it was cold enough to flood the space and let it freeze. New ice skates were common gifts under family Christmas trees.

There was always enough snow to make snowmen and snow forts, and ‘snow days’ were regular occurrences. By the time I was married just ten to fifteen years later, my hubby and I bought cross-country skis to enjoy winter more instead of grumbling about it, but we rarely got enough snow to use them.

Within the past thirty years, according to the World Wildlife Fund, “the oldest and thickest ice in the Arctic has declined by a stunning 95%.” Within less than one lifetime, my hubby and I have noticed a significant change in our local weather, and we live in a very temperate zone. Changes in other parts of the world have been much more dramatic.

WWF predicts that by 2040 there might be no ice in the Arctic. That’s a horrifying thought – our majestic polar bears would then literally have no place to survive. Here in Canada we’ve already been experiencing dramatic shifts in temperature, from frigid polar vortices in winter to heat waves in the summer, which this year have led to catastrophic fires in parts of the country.

I’ve been extremely worried ever since the Greenland Ice Sheet began seriously melting several years ago. According to WWF, “if it melts entirely, global sea levels could rise 20 feet.”

Read more at “Six ways loss of Arctic ice impacts everyone”.

August’s stunning report by the IPCC told us that over the next 20 years the temperature of our globe is expected to increase by at least 1.5°C. That may not sound like a lot, and like you I wondered why that amount is so significant, so I did some research.

That increase in global temperature would result in extreme hot days “in the mid-latitudes” (which includes most of North America and Europe above the equator, and below it most of Australia and about the bottom third of South America), becoming 3°C hotter (5.4°F) than pre-industrial levels.

There will be more droughts and heatwaves; hurricanes will become stronger; there will be more wildfires, more insect invasions, more disease, less food. If you want to watch a truly frightening film about what our future could be like if we don’t start making changes, watch Interstellar (2014).

So what can be done? Following the KAIROS climate action calendar, I looked at Day 10, which says to “learn to laser talk”? I had no idea what that meant, so more research was required. The LASER acronym appears to mean “Leonardo Art & Science Evening Rendezvous”, and represents an international program of gatherings with artists, scientists, and scholars presentations and conversations. Apparently there have been quite a few regarding our global environment and climate change, which you can read and watch to start your own conversation.

I found examples on the website of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL), as well as a great overview resource about Climate Change and how to solve the growing problems, CCL Canada LASER Talks Booklet updated November 2020. I encourage you to download the PDF – it’s 38 pages long but so well organized that it will be easy for you to sift through the information. You’ll have a much better understanding of the economic issues and viable solutions.

Sections I found especially useful were:

  • “Carbon Pricing 101”, which explains the heavy costs associated with carbon pollution and how they tend to land on we individual taxpayers instead of on the corporations that generate the most greenhouse gases.
  • Six ways of pricing carbon pollution, how that could be done more appropriately and how that would take the burden off middle- and lower-income citizens.
  • There’s an interesting section on Canadian Family Wealth Distribution. The document tells us that “the top 1.0 % quintile of Canadian families possess more than a quarter of all wealth in Canada” and pay the least taxes toward the federal budget. The same applies to Canadian corporations. The income from more equitable taxation could be used to invest in better sources of fuel.
  • Data about where Canada’s damaging emissions come from.
  • Why Canada’s relatively small percent (<2%) of global greenhouse gas emissions still really matters: global responsibility and cumulative impact, the leverage we could gain from being leaders in environmental recovery, the increase in jobs, lower costs from dealing with climate disasters, and what should be foremost on the minds of all Canadians: improved health.

We still live on a beautiful planet. Let’s ensure that future generations do too.

For love of our global home

Here in southern Ontario the heat of August has finally broken, and it’s been an absolute delight to be able to open the windows of our houses to let fresh air back in.

We’ve had hot summers before, so this year’s wasn’t anything new, but around the world the signs of climate change are unmistakable – melting polar snow, widespread forest fires, increasingly powerful hurricanes.

A study of impacts globally during the past 50 years (1970 to 2019 ) from weather, climate and water extremes, has shown that climate-related disasters are now five times higher than they used to be, with an enormous cost to the local economies. It’s been estimated that the fires in British Columbia this summer cost $600 million dollars just to fight them, much less the lives lost, compromised health and damages to homes and business disruptions.

Last month the IPCC, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, released an assessment of the current dire condition our planet is in: we must take action immediately in order to prevent a catastrophic future in as little as twenty years. Some of the changes that have already happened will take hundreds of years to reverse..

Lots of people are working on the problem, but it’s our job as average citizens to understand the seriousness of the issue, to value what we’ve been blessed with until now and to help in any way we can.

KAIROS Canada, a coalition of religious organizations across denominations, along with advocates from around the world interested in human rights and the preservation of our planet, has designated September as Climate Action Month, and as a graduate in ecological and environmental science myself, I’ll be following some of their initiatives throughout the month.

If you’re wondering what you can do, KAIROS’ 30-day Challenge Card will give you some ideas:

You can download the 30-Day Challenge ACTION Card for yourself and track your actions.   

Today I’m fulfilling Actions 2, 6, 18, 20 and 27 all in the same post. I engaged in some Forest Bathing today in a local conservation area called Woodend on top of the Niagara Escarpment to absorb all the healing aspects of a simple walk in the woods and to collect samples of the beauty of nature all around us to share with you. Here’s just a little of what I found.

Cool, aromatic trails through the forest
Tiny flowers have amazingly elaborate structures
Clearings contain a complex layering of inhabitants, through which white butterflies dance from flower to flower
Throughout the area massive blocks of dolomitic limestone create jumbled landscapes
Nearby, this bark-less fallen chunk of tree has strange markings — maybe trails of subcutaneous insects that once lived there?
Another fallen trunk sports a collection of woodland fungi
Forest bathing is all about taking a break from everyday life and letting the sights, sounds, scents and healthy atmosphere of a forest replenish you. It’s important to notice all the layers; here the trail underfoot is dry and cracked from the heat and limited rainfall of the past few weeks.
Wild rose shrubs dot the airier edges of the forest, now sporting their rose hips, or haws, for the transition into autumn
This fallen trunk houses an ethereal spider web and accessories of dried leaves
A patch of bright red berries on the sunny forest fringe
Wild apples (crabapples) hang temptingly for the region’s white-tailed deer population
A wide path cut through part of the woods draws visitors in with its peace and shade

All of that in one tiny corner of our world, free for anyone to enjoy. Imagine if in twenty years or so none of that was there.

Bees, for example, are in great danger of disappearing, and that would be disastrous. Bees pollinate 80% of the world’s plants – including more than 100 different food crops: fruits, vegetables, forage for dairy and beef cattle, herbs, spices, nuts, medicinal plants and the many ornamental plants we love in our gardens. Without the humble little bee flitting around, working away, we all face starvation.

Forests clean our air. They also shelter thousands of species of animals around the world. According to Reset.org, one 100-year-old oak tree every year binds about 5,000 pounds of carbon and gives off enough oxygen to support eleven people. At the same time, the roots absorb about 40,000 liters of water from the soil every year, which it “sweats out” through the leaves to work like a giant air conditioner. On top of that, the tree filters about one tonne of dust and pollutants from the air.

Without trees, we all face climatic disaster.

I think a lot of people believe that humans are the only important species on the planet, but they’re so wrong. Earth is a massive interconnected system that depends on millions of creatures, both plant and animal, to function properly. Without all of them, humans are doomed.

How can you help? By supporting everyone who’s working so hard to change things for the better. Recycle, sign petitions to our governments, support the plants and animals we have left.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature estimates that more than 37,400 species of all kinds are currently threatened with extinction, but the actual number is even higher because there are many more species that simply haven’t been assessed yet – or even discovered!

International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List, www.iucnredlist.org/

Every species counts. One petition that came to my inbox today illustrates the importance of everyone making their voice heard so that our governments realize we want them to preserve our planet, not big business.

Would you allow someone to dismantle your own home bit by bit, until there was nothing left to shelter and nourish you? Of course not. So let’s not let big business do that to our global home.

All photos by me and all rights reserved.