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OPINION: Paying attention to thoughts, words, actions

A year ago, I offered a Gratitude Goes Live online series via Zoom. The goal was to connect people to each other and find reasons to be grateful, even when COVID was separating us from our usual routines.

A year ago, I offered a Gratitude Goes Live online series via Zoom.

The goal was to connect people to each other and find reasons to be grateful, even when COVID was separating us from our usual routines.

On Day 1 of each subsequent series, I challenge participants to simply start paying attention. In spring time, gratitude participants are aware of bird songs, of gardening pleasures and the fine feeling that accompanies a morning cup of coffee. By taking time to notice and savour, people also gained awareness of the things that were clouding their days.

Fast forward 13 months and with new information, new understanding, new COVID challenges, new urgency, we are being further pushed to adopt habits that place the well-being of the collective ahead of our own expectations. COVID is clearly telling us that our social habits, our current rules of engagement, our usual economic priorities need some serious recalibrations. 

The unimaginable realities facing the loved ones lying in hospital or working in an ICU ward in Calgary are directly correlated to social patterns of activity that have not changed. The unimaginable circumstances facing the patients, health-care workers, families and communities in India will only improve if we can collectively build new patterns for distribution of vaccine and oxygen in special tanks.  

A habit is a pattern of thought or response that drives action. We hear a piece of news, are given instructions or have a conversation and we respond, mostly in our usual way. The cue or trigger may mean we reach for a piece of chocolate or glass of wine or our cellphone.  

Habits seldom require much thought, unless there is a disruption or a disturbance – like COVID, like loss, like unexpected news that forces us to stop and see the world differently.

About eight years ago, I attended an evening talk at one of Banff's sportwear stores. I was in the audience because at the end of the program, I would be called forward to accept a cheque. I was working for the local community foundation, the charity-of-choice named because a  new community habit was forming. As a new way of doing business, a portion of retails sales was being reinvested for the benefit of community groups. 

The speaker was a highly accomplished mountaineer who told a tale of adversity, adventure, physical achievement and passion. Dressed in a fleece jacket and climbing sandals, he showed images that highlighted the beauty and esthetics of his mystical destination, Shangri-la. Images of blue skies, prayer flags, high caves accompanied the images of lined  hands of people who lived a much simpler lifestyle, counterpointing our local levels of economic prosperity.

Then, the speaker read the words on his final slide, attributed to Lao Tzu:

Watch your thoughts, they become your words.

Watch your words, they become your actions.

Watch your actions, they become your habits.

Watch your habits, they become your character.

Watch your character, it becomes your destiny.

I sat quietly and paused as the program ended. The sequence of thoughts to words to actions to habits to destiny remained with me.

Developing new habits starts with your frame of mind. Looking for gratitude in times of COVID, or climbing mountains in adverse conditions, requires the same first step – to see ourselves in context of our shared destiny and then start paying attention.

From Alberta to Gujarat, new habits of mind can make a significant difference. By pausing to take inventory of our beliefs, emotions, attitudes and thoughts, we have a chance to influence destiny. Gratitude can help us realize that having enough is absolutely good enough.

With the full power of positive thinking, grit, open-mindedness and genuine gratitude, Lorraine Widmer-Carson's book will be launched later in 2021. To learn more about her services and her Grassroots Gratitude vision, contact lorraine@grassrootsgratitude.ca  To watch her journey of self-directed challenge related to self-awareness, follow her on Instagram: @lorraine_widmer_carson.