Thanks for the light and the dark

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THANKS” is a poem for this season and for these times.

My friend Anne shared it with me recently, introducing me to the  work of the prolific 88 year old poet William Merwin, social activist, Buddhist, and deep ecology practitioner. With his body frail and weakened, and his dear wife dying, he’s restoring his home in Hawaii, an old pineapple plantation, to its rainforest state.

But more than just a poem, Thanks is an opening into an exploration of where to give thanks in a world fraught with suffering.

I invite you to read it — and then, in your own way, continue it.

Words of thanks multiply as they are created and shared.

The Poetry Foundation writes this about Merwin:

“Merwin was once asked what social role a poet plays—if any—in America. He commented: I think there’s a kind of desperate hope built into poetry now that one really wants, hopelessly, to save the world. One is trying to say everything that can be said for the things that one loves while there’s still time. I think that’s a social role, don’t you? … We keep expressing our anger and our love, and we hope, hopelessly perhaps, that it will have some effect. But I certainly have moved beyond the despair, or the searing, dumb vision that I felt after writing [his book] The Lice; one can’t live only in despair and anger without eventually destroying the thing one is angry in defense of. The world is still here, and there are aspects of human life that are not purely destructive, and there is a need to pay attention to the things around us while they are still around us. And you know, in a way, if you don’t pay that attention, the anger is just bitterness.‘”

So I invite you to read this, and then consider, what is the verse you might add…

THANKS
By W.S. Merwin

Listen
With the night falling we are saying thank you
We are stopping on the the bridges to bow from the railings
We are running out of the glass rooms
With our mouths full of food to look at the sky
And say thank you
We are standing by the water thanking it
Smiling by the windows looking out
In our directions

Back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
After funerals we are saying thank you
After the news of the dead
Whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you

Over telephones we are saying thank you
In doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
Remembering wars and the police at the door
And the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
In the banks we are saying thank you
In the faces of the officials and the rich
And of all who will never change
We go on saying thank you thank you

With the animals dying around us
Our lost feelings we are saying thank you
With the forests falling faster than the minutes
Of our lives we are saying thank you
With the words going out like cells of a brain
With the cities growing over us
We are saying thank you faster and faster
With no one listening we are saying thank you
We are saying thank you and waving
Dark though it is

What are you thankful for, in the light and dark places…

Here’s my start:

In the aftermath of Paris
With cold rains sleeting down on us
Filling reservoirs that almost emptied last summer
I say thank you to the woman
Who bore me
Built her muscles carrying me
Waits to be lifted from her chair
Thank you
For the candles that have been lit
The rooms that remain darkened
And where we can still choose

and one more verse:

For all those who have read my words
And those that intended to, or once did
Or may at some point in the future
Leave a comment, or just smile
Or think for a moment
I say thank you

Now it’s your turn to write  – I’d love to read – and happy Thanksgiving to you.

Try the Appreciation Diet Before Thanksgiving

Hand, spoon and soupThanksgiving is in two weeks but don’t bother fasting. You know that starving today won’t help you on T-day. But I know one diet that will:

The appreciation diet.

I recently started working on my appreciations. I’ve always thought of myself as pretty good at acknowledging others – and I teach about the art of appreciation! But when my husband and I started doing a relationship “tune-up” using the work of Gay and Katie Hendricks, I discovered I had much further to go!

I’m pretty good at appreciating the big stuff my husband does for me. But, I discovered that I wasn’t speaking my appreciations for the small stuff he does: turning on the electric kettle or bringing me a cup of tea in the morning, feeding the horses when I’m getting home late, maintaining our cars, or taking out the slimy compost. I have a lot of appreciations going on in my head that I don’t always voice (especially when I’m half asleep!) But I learned that he’d like more acknowledgment for the small stuff he so lovingly does.

Now, I’m on to it.

Appreciations are the low-hanging fruit of communications that build better relationships.

I’ve discovered, in the leadership classes I’ve run, that most people could get much better about appreciating others. Often, they just feel awkward. They tell me things like:

I haven’t known them long enough to be able to acknowledge them.

If I promised you $100, I bet that you could take an elevator ride with a stranger and discover something you could appreciate about him or her: “Thanks for holding the door.” or “That color you’re wearing really brightens the day,” Or “What a cool pin.” You’d stretch to find something.

If a comment to a stranger feels too intimate for starters, why not practice with the people with whom you work? Instead of daydreaming in meetings (you do daydream occasionally, right?), try to imagine one positive thing you could say to each person in the room. And then, pick out a few appreciations to give out afterwards.

It feels phony.

Fortunately, most humans have an inner litmus test for genuineness. We can tell when someone is bullshitting us and smell when we’re being manipulated. But sometimes, if we’ve been manipulated in the past, our bullshit-ometer gets over-developed and we start to anticipate that everyone is “out to get something” from us.

Truth is, folks probably are, but that’s not always so bad. Maybe they want a connection, a smile, a moment of sharing a good feeling together. Most people aren’t manipulating – and we can hear through false complements.

Sometimes our super-sensitivity to falseness can lead us to judge ourselves and hold back from saying something in case we appear false to others. Do it anyway! The art of acknowledgment is a muscle you develop – and best to start with someone when you know that you don’t have any agenda.

I don’t know what to say.

Just keep going, I say to my clients, until you find something real to say to someone. Small and specific is good. “When you made that comment in the meeting, it really got me thinking.” There. Small. Done.

Although there may be some of us who still enjoy the occasional “you’re wonderful” complement delivered with a hug (I do!), most of my clients prefer appreciations that are specific and targeted. The introverted engineers I work with usually run the other way when complements get too fluffy.

You can always be task-focused: “The way you prepared the data on that report, made it very easy for me to complete the narrative. Thanks.” Or “I appreciate the way you always follow-up with good questions in our meetings.” Just because work is done as part of business as usual doesn’t mean it can’t be acknowledged.

Saying “I appreciate” sounds false, like I’m just out of some kind of self-help seminar.

Fair enough. Choose words that work for you:

“I noticed that”
“It really impressed me when….
“I like it how you….”
“When you did x, it made me feel… (good, more optimistic, engaged…whatever)
“I wish that everyone had your gift for….”
“I just wanted to thank you for….”
“I thought that your contribution was ….” (useful, on target, courageous, etc.)

How can I appreciate someone I don’t like?

Time for the advanced course. Try to drop your aversion to someone’s personality for a moment and think about what he stands for or cares about. Maybe he really values punctuality, detail and the status quo, which is why you might butt heads on a project you think requires flexibility and innovative thinking.

Can you find a useful value embedded in what he is offering, so that you could genuinely say something like, “I appreciate how you are making sure that we don’t lose the useful aspects in how this project currently runs – and I know that you’re really thinking about all the details. We’re going to need that.”

The trick is to be genuine. Falseness is worse than no appreciation at all!

Help! I need some ideas:
Here’s some places I’ve suggested people look for appreciations:

Differences in style. How are is someone different from you and what’s good about that? (e.g. you could say to an extrovert – “It’s great how you get the ball rolling in meetings.” To an introvert: “I really value how closely you listen.”)
Their contribution to a task or project.
Their imagination or way of thinking.
How they make people feel.
The energy they bring to a room.
Their respect for others.
How they make you feel.
How they have helped you.
How they have helped someone else.
Their courage in standing up for their beliefs – even when you might not agree with them.
Their commitments to family or community outside of work.
Their creative way of designing their workflow.
What you have learned from them.

So now for our diet – here’s a sample menu plan:

The appetizer – offer a selection of easy and obvious appreciations for a warm up – the ones you’ve been thinking but haven’t said.

The main course – offer something a little daring. Challenge yourself to create more difficult appreciations – for your boss, a difficult colleague, or folks you know who think differently from you. This stretch will really develop your appreciation muscle.

Dessert – Time for fun to top things off. If you still have room after the main meal, find a way to give an appreciation that is out of the blue and unexpected. Acknowledge a business you like, or a retail clerk who gives you service, or someone you admire on-line. I once sent a note to a woman who curates information on storytelling on-line. She has thousands of followers. But when I appreciated the usefulness of what she does she wrote back: “You made my day.” And she made mine!

So now – go out and gorge on appreciations!

P.S. I’d love to hear from you great ways that you have shared appreciations – even when you didn’t feel like it!

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