Is Your Real Work Loving the World?

A note from Erin, April 15 2023
Why do praise and gratitude matter?
Both of these practices are a kind of soul activism and one I believe we and the world need.
Gratitude is a way of seeing. I think of putting on Mary-Oliver-perspectacles as one doorway to this way of seeing – seeing with a readiness to be amazed – by a flower, a grasshopper, by the existence of grass or the pulse in your own wrist. Gratefulness is a feeling as well as an attitude we can cultivate. It gives rise to awe, the “anti-inflammatory emotion.” It offers us one route to removing the cultural cataracts that blind us from seeing the abundant miracles we are surrounded by.
Praise is an action, a tangible practice. Praise is a generous expression of appreciation that blesses the recipient as well as the giver, and also blesses the soul of anyone who witnesses it. Praise practice is a way of feeding the soul of the world. It is a life-giving practice in every sense of the word, and there are a thousand ways to do it.
“My work is loving the world,” wrote Mary Oliver.
Now that she’s gone, who will wholeheartedly take up that essential work?
Who will pay attention, be astonished, and tell about it as a regular practice?
Who is moved to say, “Loving the world is my life’s work too.”
Who understands how important this work is during this time on Earth?
I’m raising my hand. Meeeeee! Will you too?
This upcoming class offers us a chance to dive into this practice together.
Mary Oliver once wrote a confession that she wanted to create “a literature of praise.” My bold declaration is that I want to create a culture of praise.
Brother David Steindl Rast wisely wrote that happiness does not make us grateful, but gratefulness makes us happy. It’s true. In many indigenous cultures, being deeply rooted in gratitude is a understood as a foundational aspect of how to be a decent human being. It’s one that we modern people could really stand to grow.
The skillful practices of gratitude and praise do not preclude grief – in fact they are deeply woven with the tender heart of sorrow. These practices are sourced in the understanding that everyone and everything we love is impermanent. Knowing this, don’t you want to fall in love as much as you can with {fill-in-the-blank} while you’re still here? While your beloveds are still here? While redbud trees and starlings and your favorite water bodies are still here?
Grief always comes when gratitude is invited because they are conjoined twins.  This class is not a practice of forced joy – you can feel however you feel and there is plenty of room for inner multitudes and contradictions.
I vividly remember one Praise Practice I hosted a few years ago while the western U.S. was on fire. The air was full of smoke. We knew that giant, ancient redwood trees were ablaze. People and animals were dying. Our hearts were full of grief. As we spoke our thanks to the world, our praises were bubbling up from tearful hearts and through clenched throats, and yet it had never felt so good or so necessary to say, “We love you! Thank you for the beauty!”
 Isn’t it astonishing how easy it is to take it all for granted?
Are you familiar with the Gottman Ratio? It says that in stable and healthy relationships, for every one critical or negative interaction, we need to have 5 positive ones. Our brains carry a negativity bias such that, as Dr. Rick Hanson describes, positive experiences tend to slip right off of us like a fried egg from a non-stick pan; while negative, stressful experiences tend to stick to us like velcro. No wonder we need a 5:1 ratio to balance these out.
I often think of this in my relationship to the world, to life, to the news of the day. (And speaking of the news – holy negativity bias!)  How might your day feel if you consciously invested in having at least 5 positive, life-giving interactions with your world for every one negative, stressful, challenging one? It’s amazing how much stressful news is coming our way every day – from the outer world or from our own minds. It’s also amazing that the choice to turn toward life and beauty and praise and possibility is right there before us.
This practice is about remembering the ancient ways of good manners; rituals of reverence and appreciation. I believe grateful humans who remember how to praise are more capable and resourced to meet these tumultuous times.
We have the capacity to nurture the flexibility of our attentional habits and to pay attention in life giving ways. To care for our stressed out parts as we simultaneously look up and say, wow, birds!! Amazing, there is electricity that I wouldn’t know how to make happen and it’s right here in my living room! Incredible – running water in my own home at any temperature I like! In the grand scheme of human history, I’m rrrrich! Birdsong, wow! A relatively safe place to go for a walk; how lucky am I? No toothache today! Yay! No bombs dropping in my neighborhood! Wonderful! Maple trees leafing out and dropping golden blossoms! Gorgeous! Squirrels and their amazing acrobatics in the trees! Brilliant! Someone who was kind to me! Thank you! The miracles truly are all around us.
I believe with my whole heart that the world needs more humans who wake up and give thanks with their first breath. Who resist the dominant narrative that we never have enough, do enough, are enough. I believe grateful humans have a more clear-eyed view of the abundant gifts we’re showered with by this generous Earth every day, and grateful humans are less likely to destroy them. Let’s practice being those kinds of people.
LaUra Schmidt, creator of the Good Grief Network and author of the forthcoming book How to Live in a Chaotic Climate wrote this week, “You do not need more information; you need embodiment and reconnection. You need practice and community.” I couldn’t agree more. That is exactly why I’m offering this class. I’d love your company. We’ll be developing a really vibrant Gottman Ratio within ourselves and our way of being in the world. It really matters.
With gratitude for all the good-hearted and brilliant humans who are rarely in the news, and with deep thanks for your being one of them.
From my heart,

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By training and profession, I am a somatic educator. Over the past 25+ years I have trained in and taught modern dance, tai chi, Indian and Tibetan yoga, yoga therapy (specializing in back pain). I completed a 4-year professional Feldenkrais training in 2007 and a 3-year Embodied Life training in 2014. I also study and work with somatic meditation and the profound practice of embodied inner listening known as Focusing.