Thirty Thousand Days - Holiday Edition 2009

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hirty Thousand Days A





The Therapy of Community


By Fr. Ron Rolheiser

hirty years ago, Philip Rieff wrote a book entitled, The Triumph of the Therapeutic. In it, he argues that the widespread need for private therapy today exists mainly because community has broken down. In societies where there are strong communities, he contends, there is much less need for private therapy, people can more easily live with or work out their problems through and within the community. If Rieff is right, then the answer for at least some of the problems for which we seek professional therapy is fuller participation within community life, including church life, rather than private therapy. We need, as Parker Palmer suggests, the therapy of a public life. What is meant by this? How does community heal

and strengthen us? In caption, community (life beyond our private selves and private intimacies) is therapeutic because it draws us outside of ourselves, gives us a steadying rhythm, helps us feel ordinary, and connects us with resources beyond our private helplessness. Simply put, to participate healthily within community and family takes us beyond the pathology and fragility we so often sense within the recesses of our own souls. Community steadies us. It has a rhythm and regularity that helps calm and make ordinary the feelings of disorientation, depression, paranoia, and obsession which can wreak havoc in our private lives. Participation in community gives us clearly defined things to do, regular stopping places, and regular events to structure and steady Continued on Page 12

Attention Self-Reflection Morita Therapy Purposeful Action Naikan Challenging Children Living Fully with Illness Gratitude



Volume 15 Number 3

Thirty Thousand Days

Don’t Expect Applause

is a publication of the ToDo Institute

What this slogan means is don’t expect thanks… More than expect thanks, it would be helpful just to expect the unexpected; then you might be curious and inquisitive about what comes in the door. We can begin to open our hearts to others when we have no hope of getting anything back. We just do it for its own sake. We can thank others, but we should give up all hope of getting thanked in return. Simply keep the door open without expectations. —Pema Chodron

Editor Gregg Krech Editorial Team John Kain, Margaret McKenzie Editorial Board Perri Ardman Victoria Register-Freeman Layout Winslow Colwell Distribution/Subscriptions Valarie Wilson Thanks to Father Ron Rolheiser, Linda Anderson Krech, Eboo Patel, Margaret McKenzie, John Kain, Naomi Shihab Nye, Nikkyo Niwano, Daigaku Hanaoka, Victoria-Register Freeman, Jennifer Bucko Lamplough, Bill McKibben, Dorothy Kain, Viveca Monahan, Denise Mosher, Otavio Lilla, and Win Colwell. A special thanks to the readers of Thirty Thousand Days— without you we wouldn’t be publishing it. Thanks to Ishin Yoshimoto and Shoma Morita who pioneered the approaches of Naikan and Morita Therapy in Japan. Cover photo by Yves Schiepek The ToDo Institute is a non-profit educational organization. Thirty Thousand Days is published four times during the year: 2010 Publication Schedule Holiday Edition – December 2009 Winter – February 2010 Spring – May 2010 Summer – August 2010


Subscriptions are $15 per year ($22 outside the U.S.) or free with a basic membership ($30) to the ToDo Institute. To subscribe or become a member, send your check to: ToDo Institute P.O. Box 50, Monkton, Vermont 05469 Tel: 802/453-4440 Email:

The Therapy of Community. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Cover Father Ron Rolheiser

Turning a Couple into a Single Vision . . . . . . . . . . . . . page 3 Linda Anderson Krech

Board of  Directors

The Four Questions of Doing. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . page 4

Bob Rauseo, President Linda Anderson Krech Perri Ardman Melissa Ericksen Holly Petrozza

Gregg Krech

Ramadan: A Fast Track to a Larger World . . . . . . . . . . page 6 Eboo Patel

The Many Faces of Our Holiday Experience. . . . . . . . . . page 10

A special thanks to

Margaret McKenzie, ed.

The Stephure Family

Kindness. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . page 13

for their generous support of Thirty Thousand Days

Connections. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . page 14 A Christmas Film You May have Missed . . . . . . . . . . . . page 15

We depend on your memberships, subscriptions and donations to support our work. If you’d like to help us influence the world in a healthy way,

Naomi Shihab Nye

Margaret McKenzie

please renew your membership now

Media Multitasking. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . page 15 John Kain

What Will Come Next? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Back Cover

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2 • Holidays 2009

Thirty Thousand Days


Thank you so much for the article about complaining and gratitude in the Fall, 2009 issue of Thirty Thousand Days (“Not Complaining” by Brother David Steindl-Rast). Since reading the article, I have been practicing not complaining. It took me about three weeks before I had a day with no complaints! At first I thought, “Oh, this is going to be easy; I hardly ever complain.” I found out differently. I discovered that by evening each day, I would forget what I had complained about that day. So I decided to keep a journal of my complaints—just something to keep me focused. One day I wrote that I was grateful I hadn’t complained that day. Now I always add something I am grateful for. Just the other day I did something really stupid because I was impatient, so I was forced to look at my impatience. Now I’m conscious of that aspect of myself as well. I’ve found that impatience goes hand in hand with complaining. I realize that I have the opportunity to be patient with my entire life; every moment has something of interest if only I will slow down and see it, and stop being the big director of the show. I really don’t have to work so hard to make everything go my way. What a thought! Many grateful thanks to all of you at the ToDo Institute, Harriette Greene Fairfax, CA

Upcoming Distance Learning Programs Living on Purpose

January 11–February 10, 2010 We desire to live more purposeful lives, but when we step back and look at how we’re living, we’re not satisfied. A program about finding direction, setting direction, and staying on course.

Renewing Your Relationship February 15–March 16, 2010

The relationship we have with our partners has the potential to create growth and intimacy, but it can also be a great source of frustration, pain and disappointment. Take a month and devote yourself to your partner and your marriage.

Working With Your Attention April 5–May 5, 2010

Much of our psychological and emotional distress is associated with an exaggerated degree of self-focused attention. Strengthening your attention skills can improve your mental health, memory, concentration and enhance your enjoyment of life. Discount available for registering in all three programs


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Turning a Couple into a

Single Vision Imperfect Partners and the Potential of Marriage



eart-toast! The thought popped into my head one day while I was making breakfast for Gregg. I toasted up a piece of his favorite bread and, with the help of a sharp knife, fashioned a heart from it. It took less than ten seconds and virtually no effort at all to transform an ordinary piece of toast into a cute surprise. What it did take was a presence of mind. That’s the hard part. Gregg and I are surprise-oriented these days. We try to surprise each other a lot. Sometimes it takes an edible form, either a self-concocted surprise or a purchased treat. Sometimes a tangible gift. Or it may be written. It may be slipped into a pocket, left on a car seat, a bed pillow, or placed in the fridge with a note. It may also take the form of a service—a chore or an errand that we do for each other, or a gesture of support such as preparing a bath or washing a car. As long as it’s a welcome surprise, it qualifies. This practice has been both rewarding and revealing. Of course it’s simply fun to make someone you love smile, and to punctuate the day with a moment of unexpected pleasure. Even tiny surprises are worth doing. But my biggest surprise is the difficulty of this practice. Though my spirit for the practice is strong, the practice of the practice needs some… practice. Why is it so challenging for me to follow through with my surprise plans? What gets in the way during the course of my day? What bumps my plan from the center stage of my mind? Any of a thousand things, of course. Perhaps a friend or relative takes the stage. Or a health concern. Or a creative idea I’ve recently read about. Or the political state of affairs. Or my daughters, who tend to steal the spotlight whenever possible.

T h i r t y T h o u s a n d D a y s

Continued on Page 8

Holidays 2009 • 3

The Four Questions of Doing BY GREGG KRECH


here is a little gnome who lives on the hill just up the trail from the ToDo Institute. He is a very wise gnome. He reminds me a little of Yoda in Star Wars, except without the idiosyncratic speech in which sentences end with dangling verbs, they do. People come to see this gnome when they need guidance around the issue of procrastination. Of course, just getting yourself up the hill to his house in the moss-covered rocks demonstrates that you are not completely hopeless. If you’ve come for help, you’re already moving in the right direction. If you have been procrastinating, then my little friend, the gnome, is likely to offer you four questions to reflect on. Here are the questions: Are you doing? What are you doing? Why are you doing? How are you doing? In these four questions lie great wisdom about how we can live an active and productive life. The gnome only offers one question at a time, so you have to answer each question before he will give you the next question to reflect on. The first question is:

Are You Doing? Well, are you? He’s not asking what you are doing. That’s the next question. He’s just asking you “are you doing?” In fact, most of us are doing, at least doing something, much of the time. On the other hand, how much of our life is really active? When we’re sleeping are we doing? When we’re ruminating, are we doing? When we’re watching television, are we doing? When we’re spectators of life – of basketball games, concerts, movies and children at the playground, are we doing? There’s a difference between playing music and listening to someone else play music. There’s a difference between sitting on the park bench while your kids romp around

on the playground and joining them in the fun. If you go to a dance, you will generally find people dancing and people watching people dancing. Examine your life. Are you doing or are you watching the doing? Are you engaged in the dance of life? It’s interesting just observing the activity of the world. It can be entertaining, even downright seductive. But don’t mistake looking at pictures of lovers with being a lover. To love the world you have to jump in and express your passion with your body. Ah ha! Here’s a clue—the body. Doing involves the action of the body—a body that was designed to take action. Legs were designed to let us travel and kick. Arms were designed to hold and embrace. Hands were designed to explore texture, play music, throw and paint. Ears team up with legs for dancing. The senses and the body form an orchestra of engagement with a dynamic world that never stops moving. But do we stop moving? Yes, and for many of us, the absence of motion is the norm rather than the exception. Does the sparrow or the chipmunk wrestle with the philosophical query of doing vs. being? Does a child stop playing with her favorite toy just to be? If you’re a human, then doing is being and being is doing. So, are you doing? What is this little gnome really asking us? Is he asking us whether we’re the ones who dive into the pond on the first warm day of summer when the water is still reluctant to abandon its stored-up chill? Is he asking us whether we are more apt to complain about our aching bodies than to enjoy using them? Is he challenging us to live fully in these physical bodies before they are taken away from us (which they are, gradually, as we age). Do ’t trivialize this question. Are you doing? Are you living? Are you loving? Are you moving? To respond to this question, you’ll need to do more… then just think about it? As I said, you’ll need to answer the first question before you can move on. Don’t just simply blurt out what’s on your mind. The gnome will put its hand up as a silent gesture to quiet you. He wants you to contemplate each question with a depth that goes beyond your normal response. You have to demonstrate that you have answered the question to his satisfaction. You have to demonstrate understanding that goes beyond words.

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Thirty Thousand Days

The Second Question

What Are You Doing? The second question is the same as the first, except for the addition of one word – What? What are you doing? Say it in first person – What am I doing? Now repeat it several times with an emphasis on the “what.” WHAT am I doing? WHAT am I doing? Just doing isn’t enough. Morita therapy is considered the psychology of action. But people can misunderstand this to mean that if we are taking action, we must be doing a good job. Terrorists take action. Drunk drivers take action. There’s more to action than just acting. What more is there? What you’re doing has to do with your dream, doesn’t it? Are you living your dream? Are you building your dream? Are you moving towards your dream? Of course you have a dream. Everyone has a dream. Some of us know what it is and others are trying to uncover it. We make the mistake of trying to find our dream in our thoughts. This is laughable. How can your thoughts find a dream? Your thoughts frame, analyze and dissect a dream, but can’t create the dream. Dreams are found in the world, born out of life itself. Don’t confuse the projector with the film itself. If you’re looking for your dream, make sure you look in the right place. What you’re doing has to do with reality. It’s a response to reality’s needs. What does reality need from you? What is reality asking you to do? Reality doesn’t always need you to do what you feel like doing. Sometimes reality needs you to do something you don’t feel like doing. This happens quite often. So what do you do? Do you attend to reality, or do you attend to your feelings? Don’t mistake your passion for your feelings. They are distant cousins. Your feelings will change and rise and fall and sometimes disappear altogether. Reality will change as well, but it will never disappear. There are times, however, when you may disappear into reality. Those are wonderful moments. But what do they have to do with doing? Quite a bit, actually. It’s hard to consider the question, what am I doing without considering the question of what have I done? There can be great value in examining the past, yet also great danger. You can either learn from the past or be trapped by it. A wise examination of the past is the way out of the trap. But only if you can see reality clearly. Waking up to a realistic vision of what have I done is not necessarily pleasant. It may be disheartening. Even painful. Don’t try to avoid this

pain. It is the gift of the gods. The pain of what have I done is the soil in which what do I need to do grows. What are you doing? Can you see your life clearly? Are you willing to measure your life by how you are spending your time? Watch the movie of the past year. The past ten years. What do you see? What is done and left undone? What gets attention and what is neglected? The Committee of the Whole is reviewing the assessment of your life. What is their conclusion? Do you get the prize that everyone dreams of? Or do you get a prison sentence? Or are you living out a prison sentence even though you were never sentenced? Perhaps you just sentenced yourself. Isn’t it time for freedom? What are you doing? Are you expressing your true self? In what form? Are you creating, or are you just using the creations of others? Are you doing what you are here to do? There is a room in your house. It is the room you don’t like. The room that contains all your wasted time. How big is it? If you don’t like it, why do you go there so often? Don’t make excuses to the gnome. He won’t accept them. He just wants truth. Watch the excuses leave your lips and notice what they do for you. Notice what they do for the world. They are distractions – ways of fooling yourself and others. But you can’t fool this gnome. He already knows you.

There’s a room in your house. It’s the room you don’t like. The room that contains all your wasted time. How big is it? If you don’t like it, why do you go there so often?

You walk down the hill with your new question:

Why Are You Doing? You didn’t realize the questions got harder. You didn’t realize the answers could be painful. What have you gotten yourself into? Maybe you should just abandon the investigation. Go back to your previous life. But it’s too late. You already have the question. The gnome gave it to you. And he won’t take it back. And it won’t leave you alone until you have the answer. Gregg Krech is a leading authority on Japanese Psychology and author of several books including A Finger Pointing to the Moon. He will be conducting the month-long distance learning program, Living on Purpose, which begins on January 11, 2010. Part II of “The Four Questions of Doing” will be published in the next issue of Thirty Thousand Days.

T h i r t y T h o u s a n d D a y s

Holidays 2009 • 5


A Fast Track to a Larger World



amadan arrived in August this year. I’d grown accustomed to the Muslim month of fasting being an autumn affair. But because Ramadan follows the lunar calendar—moving back about ten days every year —the dawn prayer preparations are even earlier and the dusk fast-breaking meal even later. It is a dramatic break from my normal routine. Usually, I start thinking about my second cup of coffee before I’m barely halfway through my first. When I cannot decide between sweet and savory at breakfast, I order both. I don’t have particularly caviar tastes, but like most middle-class Americans, if I want an iced tea in the afternoon, I go out and buy one. I live in the land of serial small desires, serially satisfied—and most of them revolve around food and drink. Eating is the way I pass my time, and how I plan my day. But Ramadan is a different country. And like any experience of elsewhere, the biggest difference lies not in the change in landscape, but in the altered perspective of the traveler. My system slows down during Ramadan—it has to— it’s the only way to make it through the day. I find myself noticing things I otherwise wouldn’t, and feeling connected in ways I usually don’t. I pay attention to the hopeful look on the face of the guy selling bottles of water in the middle of Western Avenue. I’m walking too slowly to use the, “I don’t have time excuse,” with the woman selling the homeless newspaper on the corner. So I stop, and I buy a paper, and ask how her day is going. I remember one Ramadan when I was in college, walking out of an afternoon class, feeling my energy fading, starting to be a little sorry for myself. I overheard a class-

mate blithely say to a friend, “I’m starving, I haven’t eaten since breakfast.” The line shocked me into a kind of clarity. “You’re not starving,” I thought to myself. “And I may be very hungry right now, but I’m not starving either.” It’s not the kind of thought I would have had at any other time of year, whether I skipped lunch or not. If it was up to me, I wouldn’t choose Ramadan. If I didn’t feel required to fast, I probably wouldn’t. That afternoon iced tea would keep calling my name, and I’d keep answering. But after a while, I find something spiritually numbing about constantly getting what I want. It feels like I’m building a world that revolves around fulfilling my minor wishes. I know, intellectually, that I’m not the center of the universe, but my daily routine around food sure indicates otherwise. If it wasn’t for Ramadan, I would just keep repeating that pattern every day, all year, for the rest of my life. And my world would feel smaller and smaller. Ramadan is an expansion. Knowing that I am not allowed to eat or drink, I find different things to look forward to; I read more, and I pray more, and I spend more time with the people that I love most. I find myself strangely grateful for my hunger and thirst, for the opportunity to put at the center of the universe something larger than my desire for a second cup of coffee. Eboo Patel is executive director of the Interfaith Youth Core and author of the book Acts of Faith: The Story of an American Muslim, the Struggle for the Soul of a Generation. Used by permission of the author. This essay originally appeared on the NPR program Worldview.

Gratitude That Cannot Be Put Into Words

by Nikkyo Niwano

One day I guided a group of young parishioners’ wives around Kyoto. Toward evening we decided to eat supper near Kyoto Station and went into an inexpensive restaurant. When the simple meal of chicken and egg on rice was brought, we put our palms together in prayer and began to eat. After we finished our plates without leaving a single bite, we again put our palms together and gave thanks.

said, “It’s not necessary to pay.” When we asked why, he replied, “I’ve been running this restaurant for nearly thirty years now. I’ve cooked all these years hoping my customers were enjoying the food. But today, for the very first time, someone has shown true gratitude for the simple meal I prepared, and a group of twenty people at that. Nothing could make me happier.” Tears welled up in his eyes as he spoke.

When we went to the counter to pay our bill, the fiftyish owner of the restaurant

I believe that Hanaoka’s and his parishioners’ gesture of gratitude for a plain

6 • Holidays 2009

meal was merely a natural expression of their Buddhist faith that everything that comes to hand is provided by the Buddha. Whether it is a person or a thing that one is thankful for, putting one’s palms together expresses a gratitude that cannot be put into words. Originally printed in a collection of lectures titled Kokoro ni Tane o Maku (Sowing Seeds in the Heart), by Daigaku Hanaoka (1910—1988), known for his Buddhist stories for children.

Thirty Thousand Days

Thirty thousand days. On my birthday in August, I had 9,560 days left to live, if I live out an average lifespan. Today I have 9,407. How about you? Part of our mission at the ToDo Institute is to help us remember the precious and fleeting nature of our lives, so we can LIVE FULLY WHILE WE HAVE THE CHANCE. Living fully may mean something different to each of us – that’s why it’s so hard to describe our results or to paint a general picture of our successes. Our success stories have endless variety, as our members discover their purpose, heal relationships, change lifestyles, awaken their senses, and start giving themselves away to the world. Please support our efforts at the ToDo Institute by making a year-end contribution today, if you haven’t done so already. Without the generosity of our members and subscribers, ToDo would be on very shaky ground, if not underground altogether. You can pledge a contribution by emailing me at Or… * You can donate online at * You can call us at 800/950-6034 (or 802/453-4440 for international). * You can send your check to: ToDo Institute, PO Box 50, Monkton VT 05469.

I just reread the article “Thanks So Much, You’re Welcome”, and I wanted you to know what a wonderful and profound effect it had on me. It brought me out of depression and focused my attention, actions and words on the positive things around me. As I started to thank the people in my life, I noticed their delighted faces. Thank you for all the work you do, with the website, the quarterly and the programs. It really and truly makes a difference. –Michelle, Pittsburgh, PA

Please help us to remain strong and vibrant by making a contribution today. Our resources are helping to enrich and even transform the lives of individuals, while simultaneously nudging the culture in a healthier and more compassionate direction. Thank you!


I had signed up for the “Working with your Attention”

Linda Anderson Krech ToDo Institute

program expecting one result (to be able to remember where I put my keys and to listen more attentively) but had the most unexpected and wonderful result! I have long suffered from a condition called trichotit-

Your program has been a god-

lomania — I pull my hair out. I’ve spent hundreds

send for my life, as I cope with the

of dollars on hypnosis, researched the condition

unfolding of Multiple Sclerosis,

extensively, even considered drug therapy and psy-

and I am forever grateful for your

chiatry. Now, with one simple exercise from the

intellect, honesty and empathy. I’m

program, “Letting Go,” I have ceased this lifelong-

not sure if you all know how many

condition, and the result was immediate.

people you effect in such a positive way; it is an ever-widening circle.

—Christy, Prior Lake, MN

—Diane, Niles, MI

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Holidays 2009 • 7

Couples and a Single Vision Continued from Page 3 For example, a few hours ago I planned to leave a sweet note for Gregg on the driver’s seat of his car so that he would discover it when he took the girls to their piano lesson. I only just now remembered that plan. I was sidetracked by an urgent search for purple leggings, a review of math homework, and a discussion about the next sleepover, none of which were more important than writing the note to my hubby. Though he is my best friend and life-partner, Gregg often gets pushed off the stage. I want him to occupy the prime real estate in my mind—Park Place, not Baltic Ave. I want to have the presence of mind to follow through with more of my ideas for him, which means allowing some “urgent” callings from other ohn sources to go unanswered. It’s easy to put our partners on hold while we attend to everyone else’s concerns and needs, but is that really what we want to do? Surprises stitch our relationships together with a strong and colorful thread, demonstrating that we have a presence in the other’s heartmind, beyond the expected special occasions, such as birthdays and holidays. They are unforeseen, extending beyond the expected and reaching past the minimum. They are fed from a different spring than the scheduled and predictable aspects of life. If we have time, even for small surprises, things can’t be all that bad. In fact, things are pretty good. Surprises hold this reminder for us.

be active and present on an ongoing basis? Affection? Surprises? Compliments? Sex? Dates? Playfulness? Shared activities? New adventures? What kinds of things would be conspicuously absent? Certainly rancor and animosity. Complaints and sarcasm. And much of the unnecessary criticism. Guided by this vision, we are more likely to make room for good will to thrive and to prevent problems from getting the upper hand. Pondering this question has proven to be very powerful. We spent several hours agreeing on the key elements of a vision for our marriage (see the next page for our example). Once complete, we review this vision in the morning, whenever possible, to keep it fresh in our minds for the upcoming day and to reflect on the previous day. We each aspire to be loving partners, and we each face the reality of our efforts, which are often humbling. That’s good. The awareottman ness of our own shortcomings tempers our judgmental, self-righteous tendencies. Don’t underestimate the value of humility in a healthy partnership.

“It’s a myth that if you solve your problems you’ll automatically be happy. We need to teach couples that they’ll never solve most of their problems.” —J

A Marriage Vision But surprises are just a small piece of the broader practice that Gregg and I designed this year for our marriage. The practice, inspired by Naikan, grew into a guiding vision for our marriage when we posed and answered the following question: What is our vision of a healthy loving marriage and what would it look like on a daily basis? William Doherty, in his book “Take Back Your Marriage”, speaks about the three entities that are part of any marriage. There’s you. There’s your partner. And then there’s the marriage itself. What would an extraordinarily healthy marriage look like? What kinds of things would

8 • Holidays 2009


Problems Aren’t All There Is If we’re not careful, problems can begin to dominate our lives and our relationships. Problems are seductive, calling for attention and resolution, and echoing in the hallways of our minds. But we don’t necessarily need to answer. We may have something better to do. We may remember that we have not complimented our partner recently. We may realize that we’ve not offered any support for their important project. We may recall our plan to write a special thank you note or take a walk at sunset or give a foot massage. Those things are just as real as the “problem” we want to solve, maybe even more real, but they also hold the potential to stimulate harmony and good will. The more harmony and good will we have between us, the more likely it is that our direct problemsolving efforts will go well, if and when we initiate them. The ankle bone’s connected to the shin bone. The kindness we offer, particularly when conflict sits on the horizon, may help us to remain heart to heart, even when we do not see eye to eye. By embodying those qualities that we aspire to, we are strengthening ourselves and our relationship in one fell swoop. That’s not to say that we don’t address problems. We can and we need to. There are plenty of things that we

ThirTy Thousand days

need to come to agreement about and need to discuss and solve. But which problems and when? How often and for how long? These are difficult questions. A while back I wrote about waiting 48 hours before raising issues or problems with each other. Rather than impulsively tackling an issue, I would wait before deciding what to do. Surprisingly, I was often uninterested in raising the topic at that time. Often my feelings had settled down as new breezes had blown through, bringing about a turn of the mind. Sometimes the problem had resolved itself or no longer had a charge. Sometimes I saw it differently, as a non-issue. Sometimes it even was the seed of a joke. And only rarely did I decide to follow up on the topic. This was a poignant lesson for me. Putting more emphasis on conducting ourselves as loving partners than on forcing solutions to problems is a win-win strategy which cultivates a sense of good will and a steadiness in the air, despite the rising and falling of feelings and issues. Our reflective practice offers a daily opportunity to realign ourselves with the behaviors and qualities that will support our marriage. While problems can bend us out of shape a little bit, without our even realizing it, embracing this practice can help to center and straighten us. What is in my control? What am I responsible for? What kind of partner do I want to be? What kind of person? There will always be problems, AND my job is clear.

A Marriage Vision

Our relationship vision serves as a sort of compass, pointing us back where we belong. It has made a real difference to us, although this is clearly a lifelong practice. Hopefully we’ve got a lot of life left in which to polish the practice. If you and your partner create your own vision, it’s important to keep it alive on a regular basis by reviewing it. It may shed a light on what to do when threatening winds start kicking up. It will remind you of the person you want to be, whether it is sun or rain that is pouring down upon you. Most of us are overextended, I know I am. But busy lives take a toll on marriage. We need to make time for tune-ups and maintenance, or we may find ourselves traveling in an RV (Relationship Vehicle) that breaks down too often. Beyond that, we need to be clear on the direction of our relationship so we can share the driving, navigate unexpected detours and stay on the same road. Now what can I do to surprise Gregg today? Finish the article!! Here you go, Gregg. xxoo Linda Anderson Krech, is a licensed social worker and author of Little Dreams Come True: A Practical Guide to Spiritual Parenting. She has been studying and teaching Japanese Psychology for the past 21 years and will be leading the distance learning course, Renewing Your Relationship, which starts on February 15, 2010.

Gregg and I developed nine marriage measures. We offer them as an example, but please don’t use them as your guide. The process of developing a joint vision is important, so create your own, based on what you and your partner value and aspire to.

1. We surprise each other in delightful ways. This is a rich and fun practice. Humbling too. 2. We ask each other “how can I support you today?” We are looking for a specific way that we can lend a hand or support an effort that is important to our partner. 3. We compliment each other a lot and rarely criticize. Good training to prevent critical thoughts from impulsively bursting through the mindfulness gate. 4. We’ve developed a vision of our sexual life together (we’re keeping this private, if you don’t mind). With busy lives and tired bodies, it is easy to neglect this important dimension of life.

7. To show affection to each other during the day, both physical and verbal. Holding hands when we take a walk, or a brief shoulder massage. 8. To speak without rancor, sarcasm and animosity. Rancor, sarcasm and animosity, like little grenades, can blow holes in the fragile fabric of a relationship. We keep our eyes open for these three so we can disarm them immediately. 9. To share some kind of spiritual practice together. Meditation, spiritual reading, mealtime grace—doing something to unite us on our spiritual path. —Linda Anderson Krech

5. To laugh together a lot and remember to be playful. We want to cultivate a more playful spirit, busy or not. 6. To set aside protected time to do things together and then follow through. A walk with our dog, listening to music together in the evening—a little space in all of the busyness to experience life together.

T h i r t y T h o u s a n d D a y s

Holidays 2009 • 9

“It came without ribbons! It came without tags! It came without packages, boxes or bags!” Maybe Christmas, thought the Grinch “doesn’t come from a store.”

The Many Faces of our Holiday Experience


watched How the Grinch Stole Christmas for the first time with my kids in 1968. We’d just returned from living three years on an army base in Germany. I’d been struck during those years with the relative calmness of the German Christmas celebration and the words of the Dr. Seuss story rang true for me. In these winter holidays of Thanksgiving, Christmas and the New Year I am always seeking moments of personal connection and authentic experience. In the final act of Dickens’ Christmas Carol, we are told that henceforth Scrooge always kept Christmas in as good a way as he could. The keeping of Christmas that was demonstrated by his ghostly visitors had little to do with buying, and a lot to do with eating, dancing, singing and visiting. The following stories have been collected to inspire you to keep the holidays in a way which will provide the fondest and most meaningful memories for years to come. —Margaret McKenzie

A Thanksgiving for Poets


here’s a poet named Lew Welch, of whom few people have heard. He was associated with the Beat poets of the 1950’s and the San Francisco poetry renaissance of that same period. He published an underground classic titled Ring of Bone (“ring of bone where/ring is what a bell does”). In that classic book Lew includes a poem called He Thanks his Woodpile—referring to watching a fire in his woodstove, he writes, “and can’t stop peeking at it!/can’t stop opening up the door!/can’t stop giggling at it.” He disappeared in the foothills of the California Sierras in May of 1971 and his body was never found. In the mid-1980’s a group of poets, musicians and artists, including myself, decided to gather each Thanksgiving—inspired by Lew’s poetry—and give thanks to all the poets we admired and saw as mentors (living and dead). We called ourselves The Ancient Order of the Firegigglers after a line from Lew’s poem. For years we gathered, no matter to what far corners folks had moved, to read our favorite poems, share food and give thanks to those scribes who’d come before; those many vagabonds who often toiled in obscurity and poverty in communion with the practice of poetry, marginalized from the “practical” economies of capitalism but nonetheless speaking from the heart of the matter, from the ring of bone. —John Kain, Portland, Oregon poet, author and senior editor of Thirty Thousand Days

A Christmas Gift


wise friend of mine used to say, “My mind is a bad neighborhood and I shouldn’t go out alone in it.” On Christmas Day 1983, the first Christmas after my divorce, I did go out in the bad neighborhood of my mind and I was mugged by some thug thoughts. “I am dying. I am never going to recover from this divorce. G----- is a beast. ” Passing my 86 year old neighbor’s house after jogging, I noticed she was on the porch waiting for her nephew who would transport her to his house for family festivities. She hailed me and inquired about my boys. I told her that they were with their father and his new wife. The court documents had them returning at five. She caught the sadness in my voice and asked me to come and sit with her on the porch until her nephew came. I went up and sat down. She took my hand in her gnarled fingers and looked for a moment at the gold wedding ring I had moved over to the third finger of my right hand. With her German accent a little heavier than usual, she began her story, “My first husband went back to Germany for a visit and never returned. I found out later, he had married another woman. I was brokenhearted but I did not let myself hate because hating someone is drinking poison and hoping the other will die. Life goes on. You will heal. I did.” Hank, her nephew, came and helped her down the steps. I walked on to my empty house. I knew that I had been given a gift. A very private person had shared a bit of her life with me. I think it was writer Barry Lopez who said that sometimes folks need stories as much as bread to stay alive. I think he’s right.

10 • Holidays 2009

—Victoria Register-Freeman, Jacksonville, Florida writer and retired principal

Thirty Thousand Days

Decorating the Christmas Tree with Gratitude

The Most Thankful Day


y dad died unexpectedly of a heart attack the week before Thanksgiving. I was 18, had just ur family includes my two daughters (now ages 10 & 12) left for college (my first time away from home) and who have always looked forward with excitement to the thought I would never be happy again. We had just holiday season. A few years ago we designed an approach to thrown away the last of the requisite mourning casdecorating our Christmas tree which has become one of the most seroles and Thanksgiving was upon us. What did mindful and enjoyable activities of the season. First, we lay out any of us have to be thankful for? How could we our growing and eclectic collection of ornaments on the table, celebrate a holiday? Should we celebrate a holiday? ranging from the handmade ornament Chani created in first For tradition’s sake, and normalcy’s sake, my mom grade, to a shiny, bobbled ornament that would be comfortable cooked a turkey and all the trimmings, we set the dinon the tree of the Russian Czar. Then, we take turns selecting ing room table and all of us—my devastated mom, and hanging the ornament on the tree, one by one. As each of us my four siblings, takes a turn, we contemplate who their significant we will dedicate this ornament to, others and my two and search for a suitable ornament nieces—sat down for that person. Grandma likes to a beautiful meal. the color combination of black/ As tradition red so she might get a matching holds, we decided ornament. Jody, the girls’ piano to go around the teacher, might get an ornament table to say what shaped like a musical note. As we were thankful each of us prepares to hang the for. “Nothing” I ornament, we announce who it snapped silently in is dedicated to, and thank that my head. My heart person for something they did was broken and for us or gave to us. Thanks to my whole world Margaret for housesitting while had just been we were on vacation last sum- Bill McKibben knocked on its mer. Thanks to Steve for helping head and dragged author, Enough: Staying Human in an Engineered Age (2003) us with the construction of the off by its neck. But new teahouse just up the hill. as we went around The ornaments go up, one by the table, my family members said in cracked voices, one, and the tree becomes a canvas for all the love and support “I’m thankful that we can all be together” and we received from our circle of friends and family. Each ornament “I’m thankful for this beautiful meal.” Suddenly, represents the kindness and generosity of someone we know or a light clicked on in my head—I was thankful to have known. In some cases, we dedicate an ornament to someone be with my family, and for the beautiful meal, and who is no longer alive and, in doing so, we honor that person’s to attend an outstanding university, and that my life with the memory of their loving deeds. We might spend dad went quickly and didn’t suffer. The enormity 30-40 minutes each evening for 3-5 nights before we complete of this revelation didn’t become significant to me this process. The decorating itself becomes a reflection on our until later in life when I was mature enough to good fortune, and even before the appearance of presents underunderstand it. But how poignant that Thanksgiving neath the tree, we are reminded, throughout the season, that our actually did what it was supposed to do. It made lives are blessed and that we have been the beneficiaries of great us stop. It made us realize that life goes on and that generosity from an ever-expanding circle of wonderful people. we were lucky to have each other. Seventeen years —Gregg Krech, Middlebury, Vermont later, it’s still my favorite holiday, mostly because author, editor of Thirty Thousand Days of food and fellowship but also because I can look at my ever-growing family and joyfully remember the saddest of times and how it was brightened by a glimmer of gratitude on that most thankful day.


I know what we’ll be doing Christmas morning: After we open our stockings and exchange our few homemade gifts, we’ll go out for a hike. Following the advice of St. Francis of Assisi, who said that even the birds deserve to celebrate this happy day, we’ll spread seed hither and yon – and for one morning the chickadees and the jays will have it easy. And then we’ll head back inside to the warm and fragrant kitchen and start basting the turkey, shaping the rolls, mashing the potatoes. Some things are sacred.

—Jennifer Bucko Lamplough, Bativia, Illinois chef, culinary instructor Continued on Page 12

T h i r t y T h o u s a n d D a y s

Holidays 2009 • 11

The Therapy of Community Continued from Page 1

us. This is a commodity that no therapeutic couch can provide. Beyond this, community links us to resources that can empower us beyond our own helplessness. What we dream alone remains a dream. What we dream with others can become a reality. This may seem abstract, so let me try to illustrate it: While doing doctoral studies in Belgium, I was privileged to be able to attend the lectures of Antoine Vergote, a renowned psychologist and doctor of the soul. I asked him one day how one should handle emotional obsessions, both within oneself and when trying to help others. His answer surprised me. He said something to this effect: “The temptation you might have, as a priest and a believer, is to simplistically follow the religious edict: ‘Take your troubles to the chapel! Pray it all through. God will help you.’ It’s not that this is wrong. God and prayer can help. But obsessional problems are mainly problems of overconcentration, and over-concentration is broken mainly by getting outside of yourself, outside your obsession. So to break an obsession, get involved in public activities: from entertainment, to politics, to work. Get outside of your closed world. Enter more into public life!” He went on, of course, to distinguish this from the simplistic temptation to simply bury oneself in distractions

Holiday Experience Continued from Page 11

The Journey


s our family faced the 2008 holiday season, it was with new eyes we realized this would be our last holiday with Jim, husband and father of five. There was an emotional shift and a deepening family bond. Love and support filled every aspect of our lives as we prepared for our final goodbye. New levels of sibling connections emerged as we banded together in love for Jim and each other. The Lymphoma was unrelenting and Jim left us in May of 2008 with his final message softly whispered, “My Identity Is You.” —Dorothy Kain, Grass Valley, CA

and work. His advice here is not that one should run away from painful inner issues, but that solving one’s inner private problems is also, and sometimes massively, dependent upon outside relationships—both of intimacy and of a more public nature. For 16 years I taught at a theological college. Many is the emotionally unstable student, fraught with every kind of inner pain and unsteadiness, who would show up at that college and slowly get emotionally steadier and stronger during his or her time there. That new strength and steadiness came not so much from the theology courses themselves, but from the rhythm and health of the community life within the college. The therapy of community life helped heal them. How? The rhythm of community, its constant interaction, its regularity, its demands, its common prayer, its common meals, its social interaction, all of these conspire to help steady the unsteady, order the chaotic, firm up the fragile, and give those who feel abnormal a sense of being ordinary. There is a healing and wholeness that can only come from participation in community life. Used with permission of the author, Oblate Father Ron Rolheiser. Currently, Father Rolheiser is serving as President of the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio Texas. He can be contacted through his website

Christmas Comes Singing


s a long time single woman, I don’t always have control over where I’ll spend my Christmas morning. Some times my kids are with me—sometimes not. Some mornings I’m under one of their trees, some Christmas mornings I work a shift in the ER, freeing up my younger coworkers to be with their families. One part of the season that I’m always in charge of, though, is immersing myself in holiday music. The first day of December finds me looking through the local paper for a nearby “Do It Yourself” performance of Handel’s Messiah. Over the years I’ve sung along with the Chicago symphony and a tiny local Lutheran church. The most I’ve done is three performances in one season. For more than 15 years, I’ve gone with friends to the Christmas choral festival at the nearby college. I videotaped the television performance of Nine Lessons and Nine Carols from Cambridge College in England and enjoyed watching it with a pot of hot tea. Music is a consistent thread in my life and I always welcome Christmas when it arrives singing.

—Margaret McKenzie, West Chicago, IL social worker, meditation teacher, senior editor of Thirty Thousand Days

Rx for the Holiday Blues In his timeless essay Holiday Blues, Gregg Krech suggests a number of activities we can undertake to make the holiday season more meaningful for our families and ourselves—including ideas for our bodies, souls and pocketbooks. The essay can be read in full at: Internet Library of Japanese Psychology and Purposeful Living

12 • Holidays 2009

Thirty Thousand Days


By Naomi Shihab Nye Before you know what kindness really is you must lose things, feel the future dissolve in a moment like salt in a weakened broth. What you held in your hand, what you counted and carefully saved, all this must go so you know how desolate the landscape can be between the regions of kindness. How you ride and ride thinking the bus will never stop, the passengers eating maize and chicken will stare out the window forever. Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness, you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho lies dead by the side of the road. You must see how this could be you, how he too was someone who journeyed through the night with plans and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside, you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing. You must wake up with sorrow. You must speak to it till your voice catches the thread of all sorrows and you see the size of the cloth. Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore, only kindness that ties your shoes and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread, only kindness that raises its head from the crowd of the world to say it is I you have been looking for, and then goes with you every where like a shadow or a friend.

“Kindness” from Words Under the Words: Selected Poems by Naomi Shihab Nye. Copyright © 1995. Reprinted with the permission of Far Corner Books, Portland, Oregon.

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Holidays 2009 2009 •• 13 13 Holidays

ToDo Tidbits Congratulations to Jen Harry (Saranac Lake, NY) and Denise Mosher (Corvallis, OR) for completing the ToDo Institute’s Japanese Psychology Certification program. Jen works with youth in upstate New York, and Denise is a minister.


A deep and sincere thanks to Bob Rauseo (Tewksbury, MA) who is stepping down from the ToDo board at the end of this year, having served as President of the Board for the past ten years. Thank you, Bob, for your dedication and unwavering support in helping to grow our work in the world. We wish you well. Holly Mulvihill is stepping in as our new Board President. Holly has been a member of ToDo since 1995 and we are eager to continue with Holly at the helm. Also leaving the board is Perri Ardman (Kingston, NY) who has been on the board since its inception in 1992, and has had several articles featured in Thirty Thousand Days. Many thanks to Perri for being a part of this 17 year journey which started as nothing more than an idea. Joining the board is Margaret McKenzie (Chicago, IL) whose editorial talents have already been a great asset to Thirty Thousand Days over the past two years.


In the Spring of 2010, the Nature Conservancy is expected to complete the establishment of a 400 acre nature reserve to be known as the Raven Ridge Preserve. This land will surround the ToDo Institute’s 12 acre property on three sides and protect our center’s beauty and natural surroundings.


In January, 2010, the ToDo Institute will officially open its newest online presence—the Thirty Thousand Days Community. This will be a functional social network, a la Facebook, for people who share the values of gratitude, mindfulness, self-reflection, living fully with illness, and purposeful action. Stay tuned for more information. Let’s get together for a cup of virtual tea!

Connections The ToDo Institute has nearly 1,000 members in more than 40 countries. Many of our members are doing interesting things and we thought we would periodically introduce you to each other.

Viveca Monahan ­Age: 55 Place: Seattle, WA Member since: 2001 Type of Work: Life and Mentor Coach Accomplishment this past year: Attained Certification as Mentor Coach; attended ToDo Institute summer residency; completed course work and case studies toward becoming registered as a Bach Flower practitioner; Helped organize the building of a Habitat house; I brought many people together in several venues for community and connection. What is your Dream: “I am on the threshold of living my dream. My husband and I are turning our yard into a whimsical, humor-filled friendly respite where living things can come and just be. In the more advanced dream, I live in a metaphorical village of whimsy and beauty surrounded by friendly, joyous people. No one is ever lonely without their choosing it. People are kind, helpful, and pursuing their creative dreams. We’re having fun. All sorts of “just folks” together, enjoying the day…” email: website:

Denise Mosher ­ ge: (oh, you had to ask!) 43. Can’t I say A I’m 35 and live in a fun lie?

New Directions in Buddhist Psychology:

Place: Corvallis, Oregon. Yes, it rains here. A lot.


International Conference on Other-Centered Approaches February 19-21, 2010 Jodo Shinshu Center, Berkeley, California Restoring spiritual and psychological health through methods of psychology that promote other-centeredness as an alternative paradigm to preoccupation with the self.

Featuring the following speakers: David Brazier (UK) • Clark Strand (NY) Gregg Krech (VT) • Caroline Brazier (UK) Greg White (CA) • Daijaku Judith Kinst (CA) Conference Fee: $190 plus lodging Cosponsored by ToDo Institute (USA) and Amida Trust (UK)

For information/registration contact: or call 802/453-4440

Member since: 2005 Type of Work: Solo pastor of a little Presbyterian church. They are wonderful, friendly and dedicated people. And they tolerate my antics (like the time I took a cell phone call in the pulpit at the beginning of the message to illustrate “a call from God.”) They love me and I love them; living in spiritual community with other human beings does take a lot of love! Accomplishment this past year: Being hired as the pastor at John Knox Presbyterian. Last month a reporter called me for an interview featuring “women professionals.” I laughingly told some friends one day that I was pleased to hear that clergy were regarded as professionals—folks are usually so confused when they meet me to learn I’m a pastor. That’s OK. Keeps them on their toes! What is your Dream: “To utilize the powerful teachings of Naikan and Morita with married couples who have tried traditional, western therapies with little success. Lots of folks tell me they would be so much happier if just that other person would change. Wow!” email: website: or

14 • Holidays 2009

Thirty Thousand Days

Media Multitasking: Just Stop Trying

It was out all the cold winter night snow man

—Azaryuon Matin (a haiku poet from Afghanistan)

In a Stanford study on multitasking completed last August (2009), the researchers discovered some surprising and notso-surprising facts. Researchers have long believed that the brain cannot process more than one cluster of information at a time and were therefore a bit perplexed as to how multitaskers accomplished what appeared to be many tasks at once quite efficiently. Some social scientists thought that multitaskers must have some superior ability to sort and store information but the study showed this to be completely false. After putting 100 students through three tests the researchers found that heavy media multitaskers got more distracted, had less memory recall and got worse at switching from task to task the more they multitasked. The study concentrated only on media multitasking—listening to music while emailing while on the phone—and not non-media multitasking—a mother watching her child while gardening and planting carrots. Heavy media multitaskers had a very hard time distinguishing between relevant and irrelevant information. In other words media multitasking, while often promising us increased timesaving and efficiency, failed on both fronts.

—John Kain

Naikan O

A Christmas Film You May Have Forgotten

riginally a radio broadcast in 1955, and then a television production in 1987, A Child’s Christmas in Wales is a lovely film to keep you company as you decorate the tree and have a cup of hot chocolate. Based on a poem by Welch author Dylan Thomas, recalling his childhood memories of Christmas in the early 20th century, this video is a beautiful reflection on the power of recollection. The film is presented as a story told by a grandfather to his grandson about his own childhood Christmas. It’s a story of an only child who is doted on by his large extended family filled with ponderous uncles and sensitive aunts. It is a visually beautiful and evocative production that includes unusual gifts, the volunteer fire br igade and of course snow. The narrator says, “I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six.” Then we’re off into the story. Available on DVD. —Margaret McKenzie

A week of self-reflection in the Japanese tradition

March 20–27, 2010 (Vermont) It is rare to meet a person whose life is full of gratitude. Even though the course of a single day may bring innumerable blessings to us, the few moments of genuine gratitude we experience are often overshadowed by our complaints, disappointments, sorrow and frustration. We may not truly appreciate what we have until it is gone. And having lost the opportunity to be grateful, we simply find a new reason to be disappointed. Gratitude requires self-reflection. Most people are born, live and die without ever taking the time to truly reflect on how they have lived their lives. We are simply too busy. Take one week and step back from your life. You can take a vacation. You can go to a conference. Or you can take a week’s retreat which may change the course of your life.

T h i r t y T h o u s a n d D a y s

“I’ll never forget this experience and will treasure it always. This is gold for the soul.” —Jocelyne Durand, Quebec

Cost: $700-750

(includes tuition, meals and lodging) This program provides 52 credits towards the ToDo Institute’s Certification Program.

Call 802/453-4440

Holidays 2009 • 15

What Will Come Next? Otavio Lilla had just started a month long program of Self-reflection, when the following incident took place in Sao Paulo, Brazil, near his home. His reflection is a poignant example of a Naikan maxim,


Examine Life Outside the Boundaries of Your Difficulties

n Monday, as I was driving home for lunch with my brother, we stopped at a traffic light, behind a small truck. Suddenly, a distracted man came down the street with his nice, brand new car and crashed into our own car, pushing us under the truck in front. My car was almost totally destroyed, but nothing happened to us. As I stepped out of the car to talk to this man, who was about 65 years old, he took off. I was totally amazed that someone could leave an accident scene like this, without even caring if someone was hurt or not. Fortunately, people on the street witnessed it all and noted his license plate. These people helped us to pull the car over to the side, so as not to create problems for the traffic. They also testified at the police department. First of all, we were incredibly lucky not to get hurt in this accident. Then people came to tow our car to the repair center. They did all the work—I just had to phone and wait. My brother helped me bring home the items that were inside the car. The police officer in the police station was very kind and helpful. My aunt even offered to lend me a car while my own was being repaired (if it can be repaired). This will

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make my life much easier during the next several weeks. Everyone was very kind and helpful. I was so grateful to be alive and well, and grateful that my brother was also alive and well. No one got hurt at all. My life could have been fatally interrupted at that moment, even though I was only waiting for a traffic light to turn green. All future plans, all relationships, everything could have been ended by this sudden, unexpected event. I realized again that positive circumstances cannot be taken for granted and that things can turn very badly sometimes. I think that if it had happened in a different moment of my life, before the practice of Naikan, I would have been angry, bemoaning my “bad luck.” Life cannot be taken for granted —not even the next breath. We don’t know what will come next: death or the next breath, as they say. This is so true.

—Otavio Lilla