Gratitude practice: Thanking those who gave us direction

gratitude and life directionEvery once in a while in life it is important to acknowledge the people who we are grateful to. We don’t do this often enough. We get lost in the day-to-day business of living and move on without a thank you to those who have done so much for us.

Who might you have a debt of gratitude to? This can be your parents, siblings, teachers, old friends, co-workers, mentors, therapists or other helpers. These people often go unrecognized; your acknowledgement can be very affirming for both you and them. After all, they have made your life better in some unique way.

Sometimes it is the simplest things that make that person important to you. At other times it is a lifetime of helping behind the scenes.

I have thanked many people over time but, as I have gotten older, I feel compelled to give a more formal thanks to those who have been there for me. It is becoming a practice; I am making a list. It is long and gets longer. I do this with some trepidation since there are people on it who I am no longer in contact with due to a misunderstanding. Or we just drifted apart over the years. How might they respond to my efforts to reach out to them? My apprehension is lessened as time has a way of healing the wounds that separated us.

I only wish that I had the foresight to have done this when I was younger; many of those who did so much for me have gone. I will thank them nonetheless.

My thanks will take the form of a letter, email or video, whichever medium best suits the recipient. This is my gratitude practice right now — letting people know they are important and appreciated for how they have given to me unselfishly. They oftentimes provided a sense of meaning and hope when I was lost or confused.

These people were the guideposts that created my path through life. By thanking them I am put back in touch with those things that have made me who I am.

Practicing nostalgia: Looking back to look forward

Albany, NY nostalgia

Nostalgia is an interesting phenomenon. It is a force for going back into our past and pulling out evocative remnants of our memories. In life, we forget as much as we remember, however it’s what we remember that forms us and helps us to make sense of the world.

At a certain age nostalgia takes over. This usually happens when we are less active in the world and are turning inward. Circumstances often dictate this. We are taking time off from life to look backward instead of into the future. We are looking for clues to who and what we have become.

If you have had a long illness, a long vacation, an extended unemployment, a retirement, the death of someone close to you or anything that has taken you out of what you believe to be the normal imperceptible progression of life, then nostalgia can be your enemy or your friend.

Most dramatic life changes happen suddenly and involve a loss of some kind. The past comes rushing in to fill the gap and this experience can be very overwhelming. It is as though we are alone in a foreign land with no direction. To find our way back to ourselves and to the familiar streets of our psyche seems impossible.

This is reason enough to make forays into the foreign territory of nostalgia every once in a while especially when we are most comfortable with our lives: go back to the old neighborhood; sit in front of our childhood home; look at photographs of those who have passed; listen to music that helped form us; reread a book that changed our thinking forever; look up a friend that we haven’t seen in decades; get re-involved in a hobby or activity that we once enjoyed; or revisit places that inspired us at one time.

Nostalgia becomes the powerful force we turn to in order to redefine ourselves in light of our past. The light is bright and constant and there to help us make meaning out of the seeming chaos of those things we often have no control over. With a steady dose of nostalgia we become less fearful of the sudden curveballs that life inevitably throws us.

When we know how we survived, and even thrived, in the past we are more confident that we can do this now and in the future. We meet life on our own terms.

We simply look back to look forward.