Instead of following up on last week’s blog post, “Who Am I, and What Do I Need?”, this week I’d like to write about an NPR program that I listened to today: “Voices in the Family”. The host of the show, Dr. Dan Gottlieb, was interviewing Dr. Stephen Post, a Professor of Preventive Medicine and Founding Director of the Center for Medical Humanities, Compassionate Care, and Bioethics at Stony Brook University School of Medicine, on the topic of caring about each other. What really struck me was the discussion at the beginning of the interview, which touched on being thankful, and what that means to each one of us, especially in light of the coming Thanksgiving holiday.Dan began by commenting that “acknowledging what we’re grateful for doesn’t change anything, but when we experience gratitude, that experience can change our sense of well-being.”
But it can become difficult to experience that gratitude, because we have become disconnected from who and what surrounds us: the beauty of nature and the world around us, and the people that we relate to and care about. As we become wrapped up in the acquisition of the latest and greatest, as we constantly email and text, we start to lose the ability to pay attention to our surrounding world. Technology steals our attention and experience. But if we pay attention, we can find and experience gratitude in anything.
I thought about this for a bit, especially in light of the Thanksgiving tradition that is followed by many: going around the table at Thanksgiving and recounting all the things that you are grateful for. I know that some participants in this tradition view it as an obligation to come up with a list of things that they should feel thankful for. Some pretty much recount the same things over and over every year. I’m not saying that this isn’t a good tradition to follow, because it does bring our attention to the things we are saying we are grateful for. But is it the same as experiencing the gratitude, and if not, how can we do that?
I believe that one answer is by slowing down. Steve recounted a Buddhist meditation tradition: the meditator meditates on each part of the body thankfully. This meditation slows us down from our crazy busy “life strut”, as he calls it. This meditation is different than a rote recounting of a list of things to be thankful for, because it makes us stop and pay attention to each part of the body as we recognize the precious nature of our existence.
Moving From Gratitude Towards Caring
The interview continued: “Taken as step further, what if we turned the conversation toward what we do with that gratitude and how the simple act of truly caring for others can change our lives and the world around us? That simple act can help others feel seen, welcomed, and valued and add to our sense of well-being — and ultimately increase our ability to care.”
I won’t recount the rest of the interview, but if you’d like to hear more, click on the link below::
A Thanksgiving Chuckle
I’ll close with a funny story that Dan told during this podcast. He told a story about being in hospital and had surgery. Nurse came in day after surgery, asked how he was. Dan asked her to lift blanket off her foot. Dan asked, when you look at my foot, is there a tag on my toe. No. Then I’m having a good day. A day without a toe tag is a good day.
Words to live by.