When I was a little boy my mom worked at a children’s home in Arizona. It was a place where children who couldn’t live with their parents, for one reason or another, went to live to be cared for by loving people like my mom. While we were there my mom made a lifelong friend named Marie, who would play an important role in her life until the very end.
Marie had an adopted son my age named Jimmy, and he and I became best friends. My mom and Marie would get together and talk while Jimmy and I played joyfully together. At one point Marie and Jimmy moved away to another part of Arizona to live with a family of prominent doctors.
My mom and I both missed our friends, so one day we went to visit them. When we arrived, Jimmy grabbed my hand and told me he had something to show me. He pulled me through the house until we got to the bathroom. He rifled through a stack of magazines on the back of the toilet until he found two Playboy magazines. Then we ran as quickly as we could to a staircase that led to the roof. And there we sat all day, looking at pictures of naked women …
Flash forward thirty or so years. My mom was in the last weeks of her life, dying from cancer, literally before our eyes. I asked my mom if there was anything I could do for her, anything she needed or wanted. Her answer was, “Find Marie. I need to talk to her.”
That sounded easy enough until I found out that Marie was in Uganda working as a nurse with orphaned AIDS babies. I’ll make a long story short and just say that I bought Marie a plane ticket. She flew from Uganda to visit with my mom and talk about whatever my mom needed to clear up, and as a result Marie and I reconnected as well.
A couple of years after my mom passed, Marie was returning from another nursing trip to Uganda and I invited her to stay at my beach house to decompress before entering the “real world.” She took me up on the offer and we enjoyed a beautiful time talking about my mom, sharing stories, and learning from each other. At one point she told me that I really needed to meet her friend Dr. Gladys McGarey, the “Mother of Holistic Medicine.” Dr. Gladys and her late husband, Bill, were the founders of what today we call holistic medicine. In fact, they were the ones who coined the term holistic — with an “h,” not “wh” — so that it referred back to holy as opposed to referencing the word whole.
In telling me about Dr. McGarey, Marie mentioned that I might remember her because I had visited her house one time as a small boy. She described the house to me and told me that I had played there with Jimmy for hours. At this point I realized what house she was talking about, and remembered the Playboy story. I started cracking up laughing at the irony, that I saw my first naked woman on the roof of the “Mother of Holistic Medicine’s” house!
A couple of weeks later Marie and I went to visit Dr. Gladys, who was then 90 years old. She wasn’t 90 like many people are, there on the last leg of life; she was 90 like she was just getting going. She had spirit and a sparkle to her like a curious puppy dog who can’t wait to learn more about the world. So I decided to introduce myself with the Playboy story.
“Dr. Gladys,” I began, “you have done so many amazing things in your life and introduced so many people to new perspectives through your teachings on health and wellness. But there is one thing you introduced to a young boy that you will never guess …”
She gave me a puzzled look. “What’s that, Jason?”
I said, laughing, “Thirty years ago I saw my first naked woman on the roof of your home!” Then I proceeded to tell her the whole sordid tale.
We had a great belly laugh and then spent the rest of the day getting to know each other. At one point Dr. Gladys told me something I will never forget, and it’s the reason I’ve shared the whole embarrassing Playboy story — to make this one point. She shared with me that at one particularly low point in her life she was driving down the road, fuming and complaining and feeling really sorry for herself. Then she had an epiphany, a message came to her in such a way that she slammed on her brakes, got out of her car, looked to the heavens, and said simply, “I dwell in gratitude.”
I dwell in gratitude.
I dwell in gratitude. Not I am grateful. Not thank you. Not I feel blessed. No, this proclamation she made was much more profound, much deeper than a transient feeling or affirmation. What she stated that day was that from that point forward she resided firmly in a state of gratitude with the Universe.
I was remembering that story this morning … not the Playboy one but Dr. Gladys’ gratitude story. I started to ponder in what state most of us reside. To what state are we naturally inclined? What’s our default attitude in life?
Take a deep breath and think about that question for a minute. When you aren’t trying to be this or that, what is the setting on your default attitude button? Be honest now. Take another deep breath. I know we would all love to say something enlightened like compassion, love, grace, joy, or Dr. Gladys’ gratitude. But the truth is that our default is set more often than not on attitudes that vibrate at a much lower frequency … things like blame, disappointment, fear, guilt, and anger.
I think this was true for Dr. Gladys as well that day before her declaration along the side of the road. I don’t know exactly what was going on in her life and it doesn’t really matter. We all know what it’s like when things aren’t going our way, it happens every day. We decide how things should be and then something different happens, and what may have begun as a “happy day” quickly slides to one of our default feelings and we get mad, or sad, or disillusioned with our life.
So today I invite us all to pull our cars over to the side of the road (figuratively, please, no car accidents) and make a declaration to the Universe and to each other. Find a state of being that resonates with the higher version of yourself, something that represents who you want to be in this lifetime. Maybe GRACE like Maya Angelou, or KINDNESS like Sharon Salzberg, or LOVE like Ram Dass, or COMPASSION like the Dalai Lama, or GRATITUDE like Dr. Gladys.
AND THEN exclaim your intention to the Universe and to us all. Don’t just say the word, but embody it in the moment. Put the meaning of the word in your brain and then take a deep breath and let your breath carry the experience of the word to every cell in your body. Sense it in your pulse, imagine it in your heart, feel it being pumped through your blood until you are that state of being.
For the rest of the day carry that feeling with you. Share it with others via the twinkle in your eye, the smile on your face, and the words that flow from your mouth. Be the highest you that you can imagine. When things go contrary to your plan hold the space for your higher self by planting your entire being firmly in the experience of your word. Be the light you need, that we all need.
Finally, take it one step further and create a short routine that you can follow each morning to put yourself in that state — a daily practice that insures you never stray too far from this higher place. When the alarm goes off, before you check your email or Twitter, before you even open your eyes, take a few minutes and reconnect with that beautiful space inside you. Start with your brain. Then breathe and experience your entire being filled to the brim with your word until it is spilling over.
I dwell in gratitude. Where do you dwell?
Big hugs of love,