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“It’s not happiness that makes us grateful but gratefulness that makes us happy.” – Br. David Steindl Rast

Three Things Your Must Do + Greetings From Cape Cod

I’m sitting in a white rocking chair under an oak tree, full of a rotating cast of East-coast birds. Just a few blocks from the beach, I can feel the sea in the breeze, see it in the particular light on the clouds. We’re enjoying our annual pilgrimage to Cape Cod, visiting Carl’s mom, and some of the most beautiful places in the world.

Yesterday we spent the day at the beach, each of us enthralled by a stunning variety of sea-life and the beauty of sun, sea and sand.

I had a chance to take a kayak from our spot at the beach back into magical territory where a river joins the sea. I’m reminded of something I wrote back in April about my body being too small for me.

Oh how I feel that in Cape Cod!

Yesterday, floating along silently in that green kayak, among gulls, terns, cormorants, great blue herons, and one stunning snowy egret, so purely, impossibly, luminously white, watching the light sparkling on the water, the soothing colors of green seagrasses and lapping waves reflecting a perfect blue sky….

It’s actually so lovely it’s painful.

Know what I mean?

Painful-wonderful to see how much my sweet son is enjoying the moment, chasing little sand-dabs and hermit crabs as he splashes through the shallow water.

Knowing there is only one day like this when he is 3-years old, playing in Cape Cod Bay, and we’re all alive and healthy and enjoying being together, and knowing that of course, it all will change, (and who knows how?) and viscerally feeling the preciousness of moments like this….

As Mary Oliver writes in one of her poems:

“I must close my eyes to take it in, to bear such generosity.”

To bear such generosity!

I love a story Russell Delman tells of the one time in his life he heard a voice when no one was present.

He too was sitting on a beach as a young man, on the opposite coast, after a meditation, feeling such oneness, such a sense of being blessed with this life – and he wondered –

“What can I ever give back?”

And the voice said

“Appreciate.”

I think of this often.

Appreciate.

I wrote recently about growing my capacity to “stand it so good.”

Actively appreciating the many blessings which are

always there, many times a day is for me, an important part of that practice.

I’m continuously re-discovering the truth of something so many of my teachers have pointed out over the years.

What I pay attention to grows.

Becoming conscious about how I choose to direct my attention (and so create my whole experience of life) has been one of the most fruitful explorations I have found.

I could nitpick someone’s imperfections. (Most usual candidates would be Carl or myself.) Now that sounds fun, doesn’t it? When I attend in that way, the imperfections grow. Magic!

Blech.

Or I could choose to appreciate the immeasurable blessings in my life. And they grow. Magic!

Ah.

It may seem oversimplified, but there’s a lot of truth there. At least in my life. :)

Pema Chodron once said that warm-hearted awareness is like magic. If you bring it to hurting, stuck, painful places, they heal and transform. If you bring it to good qualities, they grow.

Imagine if you could bottle that! It’d be worth a fortune. But we don’t have to.

It’s free.

We just need to remember.

So today I must of course include a poem from Mary Oliver, who is not only my favorite living poet, but who also happens to live here at Cape Cod. (Carl and I haven’t run into her yet, though we hold the fantasy every year.)

It includes a powerful recognition of the three things we must do, not one of which is light, or necessarily easy. But each of them keys to a life well lived, nonetheless.

In Blackwater Woods

by Mary Oliver

Look, the trees
are turning
their own bodies
into pillars

of light,
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
and fulfillment,

the long tapers
of cattails
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders

of the ponds,
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is

nameless now.
Every year
everything
I have ever learned

in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side

is salvation,
whose meaning
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.

Sending warm wishes and seabreezes,

Erin

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