The year of la sonrisa

Do you have a word for the year ahead? I never have, but I’ve made some new acquaintances who do this and, of course, it got me thinking. They’ve pegged 2018 as their year for spontaneity and courage, respectively. Great concepts, both of them, but my hopes for 2018 felt too complicated to be encapsulated in a mere word.

But they weren’t.

You know how words sometimes just pop into your head? Well, January 1, there it was. Sonrisa, a Spanish word I loved when I first learned it. It’s sound and spelling made me think of a sunrise, and then a tequila sunrise, and that made me smile. Which was perfect, because it is the Spanish word for smile, and I had no idea I remembered it.

I’ve been trying to learn Spanish since 1997, so I’ve learned a lot of words. I don’t, however, speak Spanish, which is a different matter. Yet, I can often get the gist of something I read and once a Spanish speaker figures out that I am trying to speak their language (something that is not obvious with my poor accent and constant confusion with vowels), I can often communicate rudimentary concepts. It’s better than nothing.

This year, I will be spending some time in South America. I’m quite excited, and brushing up on Spanish is at the top of my to do list. Sonrisa reminds me of this.

This year, I hope to continue my commitment to fighting for fairness and compassion in my country. Thanks to the research I did for my novel z2, I am a strong supporter of finding a quick and caring solution for the many “dreamers” in our nation, the young people brought here as children who want to make a normal life in the only home they’ve ever know. (One of the main characters in z2 is a dreamer.) Sonrisa makes me think of this.

This year, I hope to come to terms with the few ghosts that still haunt me. One of them is my incessant smile, an artifact of being raised by a woman who hated any other facial expression. She had her reasons, and I understood them. After all, my grandmother lived with us, and my grandmother was the most unhappy person I have ever known.

Yet, no adult wants to be the person with a grin on their face at the worst of moments. I’ve smiled at the news of tragic accidents, during corporate layoffs, and throughout a bout of postpartum depression during which I needed help more desperately than I ever had.

This year, I want to discover how to smile only when I mean it. For me, sonrisa does not carry the baggage of the word smile. I can embrace my sonrisa.

This year, I want to remember how wonderful my life is, how blessed I am. I want to appreciate the love, and stimulation and the comforts that I am fortunate enough to have every day. I want my sonrisa to let that gratitude shine out of my soul, unencumbered by the struggles of those who came before me. To that end, I’ve started a gratitude jar, in which I hope to leave a note every day about some silly or profound thing for which I am grateful.

Here’s the real irony. When I looked for something to use as a container, I stumbled on my grandmother’s old cookie jar. It’s a big ceramic apple, a beautiful creation from long ago. She gave me and my sister store-bought cookies out of it when we came to the house she lived in by day. (She lived with us by night, because she was too afraid to be alone.)

One of my father’s chief complaints was that after a decade of eating dinner every night and sleeping at his house, my grandmother never once said thank you. Even as a child, I recognized that the woman was as incapable of gratitude as she was of love. So I vacillated between thinking her cookie jar was the worst of places to record my own gratitude and the best of them. In the end, the incongruity won me over.

Life is complicated, isn’t it? If you want your sonrisa to be genuine, I figure you need to own the complicated parts. You need to put your arms around them and let them snuggle up against you in such a way that their barbs soften and can no longer hurt you, or at least not as much.

Today, I’ll write my third note to myself. So far I’ve been grateful for being alive in the year 2018, and for oatmeal with raisins. I have no idea what I’ll be thankful for today. Whatever it is, I’ll tuck it into my grandmother’s cookie jar as I send my best thoughts of kindness and understanding to her and my mother, remembering the struggles they had with all the affection I can.

Then, I’ll do my best to let their travails drift into the air and dissipate, as they should have long ago. I’ll let my own beautiful sonrisa emerge like the rising sun.

It’s going to be a very good year.

farewell 2014

 

 

Feeling gratitude in Costa Rica

Costa Rica 2Pick something that you are grateful for.  It sounds like an easy directive, coming from the Qi Gong instructor.  Friends have talked me into joining them on this week-long retreat in beautiful Costa Rica to learn what is commonly called “Chinese Yoga”. We are entering into the meditation phase of the day’s session.

Okay. I do a little Americanized “Hindu Yoga” and I am familiar with the gratitude thing. Good stuff, this feeling of thankfulness. Perhaps it is the Chinese influence, but my first thought is of my parents. Raising me to be open minded, to try new things. Good, that’s settled. I am grateful for my parents.

My Sifu offers more clarification. Yes, I do now have a Sifu. This retreat instructor, by virtue of being my first teacher in this art, is now my “Sifu”, my tutor on this path. Oddly enough, independent western soul that I am, I am completely okay with this. “Make sure you choose something simple, with no complications,” he tells us.

Oh dear. Parents are complicated, aren’t they.  Even basically good and loving ones. Perhaps, for the purposes of this exercise, I need to be grateful for something that carries a little less baggage. That quickly eliminates my spouse, children, sister, job and friends. Let’s try another approach.

Costa Rica 1I open my eyes and steal a quick peak at the gorgeous tropical flowers surrounding the pavilion where these sessions are taking place. My sense of sight. That’s it, I am grateful for my vision.

“This gratitude should erase all worry, remove all the stress from your mind,” my Sifu says.

Oh dear. My eyes have been aging, my vision is not what it used to be.  On some deep level I fear losing my sight in my old age. Maybe this isn’t such a good choice either.

He sees many of us struggling. “Just pick something that brings you joy,” he suggests to the class. “If you really like chocolate,” he says, “be grateful for chocolate.”

Okay, I am not the extreme chocolate lover that some people are, but I do have a similar illicit love affair. Mine is with ice cream. From the almost guilt free lemon sorbet that nursed me through the flu a few months ago to the cappuccino gelato that has no equal, I am grateful for ice cream.

“We are going to use what ever you pick as a focal point all week,” my Sifu adds.

Oh dear. I am always trying to drop a few pounds. Do I really want to spend the whole week focusing on my appreciation of ice cream? Probably not.

“Now concentrate on this gratitude,” he says. I start to panic. What to pick? Something. Quick. Of all the million things I am grateful for doesn’t one, qualify as simple and stress free?

I comes to me. Sunsets. I am grateful for sunsets.

My monkey mind (of which I am hearing a great deal about this week) has not one single objection. Sunsets it is.  I imagine the beautiful colors of the sky at dusk as they burst into oranges and purples. I am grateful.

Costa Rica 3

Read more about my novice attempts to quiet my monkey mind here. Read about other changes this week has wrought here.

To learn more about Qi Gong and what I have spent this past week studying, please visit Sifu Anthony’s website called “Flowing Zen” here.