A few months ago, soon after I’d finished writing my memoir, Raw: A Midlife Quest for Health & Happiness, I had the opportunity to share five minutes of my work at a reading. While combing through my manuscript for excerpts, I found myself thinking, Hmm, maybe this writing isn’t as strong as I thought. The writing felt flabby and slow. I found myself tinkering with passages so they’d read better in a shorter timeframe, and wondered if that was okay. In past readings, I’ve mostly read my poems, complete works, each one featuring a beginning, middle, and end.
For the past seven years, I’ve been teaching private writing classes. Teaching is a great joy and pleasure for me—and as creative an act as writing is. I love meeting people wherever they happen to be with their writing (and their life) and helping them move forward. While I sometimes say and do routine things while traversing this path, teaching is a journey that feels very much alive and present-moment oriented. Like my writing, I carry with me into teaching the full scope and range of my life experiences. I never know what ideas will present themselves as I listen to my students, and I am often surprised and delighted.
Two months ago, I touched upon journal writing in my post, “What To Do When You Feel Like You Can’t Write?” I alluded to the fact that basically, when life throws you a curve ball, one of the best things you can do is write in your journal. I spoke about how journal writing provides self-comfort and self-knowledge. I said it was your writer’s training ground, your therapist, and your best friend rolled into one. But journal writing is such an essential part of my writing life that I wanted to say more.
Holidays can be great, but they can also be challenging. Each person in every family has his or her own energy, plus the collective energy of the family itself. This is true for both nuclear families as well as extended families.
A few weeks ago, while shopping at JoAnn’s fabric and crafts store, a sewing box at the check out counter caught my eye. I can use that, I thought, but had no idea why. Except for the basics, I don’t sew. My mom, an excellent seamstress, taught me how, but I don’t enjoy it, so I take my mending to the cleaners instead. I had no clue why this sewing box called my name; I bought it having no idea what purpose it might serve.
Last Friday was a stressful day. I found myself thinking about how I cannot control what happens, but I can control my reaction to what happens. But having that knowledge and putting it into practice are two separate things.
A week after back-to-school night at my daughter’s school, our Indian summer ended abruptly. Clouds filled the sky. No raindrops fell, but it turned cool enough to convince me that, yes, summer is over. I’ll admit I didn’t want it to end. I love the long days of sunlight, the warmth, and fresh produce. I’m going to miss my hammock and lounging by the pool reading. I’m also going to miss meditating, practicing yoga, and journal writing in the back yard. I’m going to miss lying on my back and staring up at our eucalyptus tree. I’m going to miss hummingbirds and blue jays, and the smell of honeysuckle and damp earth after my husband has watered the yard.
A few months ago I bought a moonstone egg. When I roll the hard, cool stone in my hand, I visualize my memoir, which has not yet “hatched,” but is gestating. The blue tinge on the stone’s surface reminds me of the challenges I face writing it, the difficulty of mining the depths, telling the truth, and conveying complex human emotions.
Years ago, while traveling in Greece, I picked up a pair of worry beads (Komboli). It didn’t take long to incorporate these beads into my daily meditation practice. But I renamed my worry beads gratitude beads.
First thing every morning, as I slide each bead, I say something in my life I’m grateful for: my health, the health of my family, my husband, my daughter, our home, my mother, my sisters, their families, my friends, my students, my clients, my guides—both physical and spiritual—my enthusiasm, my love of learning, my computer, my car, my writing practice, my connection to God, my life itself, and so on. I try to stay in the moment and think of new things I’m grateful for each day.
Yesterday in church, the Reverend said, “To a grateful heart, much is given. The Universe sees you as a satisfied customer and gives you more.” Then he asked, “Can you allow what’s good in you to change you?” I realized this is what I try to do each day with my gratitude beads. Thinking about the ways in which I feel blessed focuses me on what’s going well in my life. The more I do this, the better things get.
Lately I’ve been looking for ways to give myself treats. Since my Greek gratitude beads are plastic, I thought it might be nice to make a pair out of a gemstone, such as rose quartz or amethyst. Purple is my favorite color. It is the color of the crown chakra, which symbolizes our connection to the divine. Amethysts are associated with nobility, spiritual awareness, meditation, balance, psychic abilities, inner peace, healing, stress relief, and positive transformation. But rose quartz’s properties enhance all forms of love, self-care, kindness, nurturing, and tenderness.
I went to my local bead shop and held strings of rose quartz and amethyst stones in my hands: they both felt wonderful, but I selected the amethysts, and with the help of the women who worked there, created a new set of gratitude beads.
Modern Greek worry beads contain 19-23 beads. My plastic set contains 21. But I decided to make my new set with 22 beads. In Soul Lessons and Soul Purpose, Sonia Choquette sites several reasons why the number 22 is auspicious: In numerology, the study of the mathematical order of the Universe, 22 is a sacred number that reflects how the physical world is manifested; in western Kabbalah, this number is considered the foundation of all things; the first 22 numbers symbolize the cosmic principles; the Hebrew alphabet is composed of 22 letters, each corresponding to a number that represents spiritual law; there are 22 archetypes in the Major Arcana of the Tarot; and in many spiritual traditions, the number 22 is an important and sacred number. But for me, the clincher was that my daughter was born on 2/22.
The day I made my amethyst gratitude beads I visited a psychic for the first time in years, as part of my treat quest. When I showed her my beads, she said, “These are great, but you need another pair—in pink.” The rose quartz beads I’d been holding earlier flashed in my mind.
“How come?” I asked.
“You’re aura is radiating pink. There’s all this loving energy around you.”
Great, I’ll take that, I thought, thrilled for an excuse to return to the bead shop for the rose quartz I’d left behind. The bit of guilt I experienced over acquiring not one but two new sets of gratitude beads vanished when I held the completed rose quartz creation. This second set was more radiant than the first; when I held it in my hands I felt serene and happy.
I keep the rose quartz beads on my main home altar, the amethyst beads in my purse, and the original plastic set in my office, and I am grateful for them all.
While preparing to write this post I found a website that explains the history and use of worry and prayer beads, including Muslim worry beads (Tespih); Buddhist worry beads (Malas); and Christian rosaries. The site includes information about gemstone properties, and offers exquisite beads for sale. I’m eyeing several pair, but am holding off for now. I want to make sure my desire to express is greater than my desire to possess.
If beads aren’t your thing, you can use your fingers to count your blessings, or keep a gratitude journal, or just remind yourself daily how lucky you are to be alive. The simple act of expressing gratitude never fails to uplift me. Try it. Take five minutes. What are you grateful for?