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Author Joanne Singleton Explains, in Her Own Words, How to Live In Gratitude, Even in Challenging Times

When a crisis occurs, we have various attitude choices on how we can react to the situation. The keywords for me are attitude and reaction. Some events occur that are not within our control, yet affect us momentously. The multi-faceted spectrum of different emotions come into play; many as we have experienced; it is the inevitable part of life. Negative emotions can create stress, anger, guilt, and heaviness in one's life, where positive feelings can bring faith, inspiration, happiness, and a clearer path for greater opportunities to come our way. Love softens, where fear hardens and creates isolation. To live life in gratitude, we need to shift our attitude towards gratefulness, even in the most challenging times. Consciously making a habitual choice to find and express appreciation in one's life, no matter how big or small, creates much bluer skies ahead. Jogging our memory to recall how wonderful we feel when things go well and searching for that piece of goodness in all situations will help re-create that once loved feeling and guide us along the highway of happiness. There will always be peaks and valleys in life, but reminding ourselves that "this too shall pass" helps lighten the air we breathe.

A lesson is most often revealed in difficult times, making us stronger and ultimately more appreciative of the present moment. I always ask myself, "What am I supposed to learn from this?" Even when I initially think "absolutely nothing!" something always pops up when I settle down to having an open mind and then doing my best to approach the situation with love. It can be hard, but I continuously try to be objective. I stand back and look at the problem rather than dance in the chaos. When I'm thinking a million things, I know I've been dancing way too long. Being objective and observing from the outside helps create a clearer head for me to think things through and help shift my being to an attitude of appreciation and understanding. It is said that "misery loves company" and I have certainly had my share of sharing or complaining too much. Passengers love to jump on that bus. Being thankful leaves only room for grateful passengers and, ultimately, a smoother ride for all.

Photography: Kevin Clark Studios

When my mother passed away five years ago, after the numbness subsided, I remember thinking that I could either fold or pick myself up, dust myself off, and put one foot in front of the other. I had no idea where that next step would take me, but I knew it would help me move forward. I, and possibly others who have experienced profound loss, felt like I had a huge rug pulled out from underneath my feet, leaving me with absolutely nothing to hold on to. The stability and grounding had to come from within. My mom and I had an extremely close connection, and now I was flying solo. Someone once said to me that when this event happened, the umbilical cord would be cut, and I would have to start over. For me, this was quite an accurate way of putting it. He was right! As we all know, an umbilical cord is cut at birth, though the energy connection of the oneness we shared in our relationship remained, making the new journey with her tough. Along with that, the heart's physical pain was like something I had never experienced before. I now understand how people can actually die from a broken heart. My heart really hurt and did so for quite some time. So, choosing to dust myself off, and with a lot of personal understanding, a huge attitude adjustment, and faith for this new journey ahead, less my best friend, I kept reminding myself of how grateful and blessed I was to have had this amazing woman as my mother and best friend. My attitude while grieving, choosing to be thankful, helped me heal. Along with my family’s and friends' love, we bridged the gap of sadness to a grander appreciation for everything I looked at, experienced, and wanted. In the blink of an eye, it's true; your life can change. Mom always said, "Be thankful you are breathing another day" and "Never settle for seconds." Heaven or hell to her was right where she stood. "Share your life with those who make you smile, and as for the others, walk away, but do it graciously." Not a day goes by that I don't think about my mom or miss her dearly, but her spirit was so full and her love unconditional; she always wanted me to smile. I know she is still with me. She leaves me dimes in the oddest places, even when traveling, and always on special days. In tough times, when I see that dime, I smile and carry on, knowing that all is going to be okay. Of course, I pick them up. I've saved many. No matter the adverse event, our attitude of how we react will determine if the doors of life will open or close; whichever one we choose, it is our choice, no one else's. You are the producer and director of your life, so create an amazing script. Was the deep connection with my mom and the ultimate heartbreak worth it? You bet it was! Always, always choose love.

Recently, as we have come to know all too well, COVID-19 has thrown the world a massive curveball. It is incredible how the spinning globe of uncertainty and confusion can travel through one's mind, which is experiencing fear and devastation like never before, but also, for some, shifting to sweeping away the clutter and debris, leaving space for clarity, lightness, tranquility, and gratitude. With the ever-changing decisions on how we are supposed to live or not supposed to live, this pandemic seems to be more "real" than one could have imagined. It has tremendously changed peoples' lifestyles, personally and professionally, some being by order, choice, and unfortunate circumstances. These changes have also left others with time for self-internalization and reconnection with their souls, while others are walking in circles, not knowing where to go or when to stop. Everyone's personal views and reactions to the consequences of the virus can be completely different, possibly because of direct effect, beliefs, learned behavior, or simply the grandness of uncertainty. We haven't done this before, not to this extent. Many people have become more mindful of their neighbors and strangers, realizing how one's individual act can react like a deck of cards having a positive domino effect. The opposite has held true for some, and unfortunately, that deck of cards resulted in not so good a hand. Again, finding a speck of gratefulness benefits significantly and has rewarding returns. What we give, we get! Our attitude is a choice, so we should choose wisely.

With self-isolation and social distancing becoming the new way of life, mingling with our families, friends, and colleagues has become very limited, creating loneliness, boredom, stir-crazy feelings, depression, and anxiety. Through this raw, emotional non-choice of being by oneself or isolated with family, creativity and inspiration have blossomed, hearts have been renewed, judgments and unnecessary opinions have eased, and the doors once believed to have been sealed shut from opportunity or growth have now squeaked open. This is definitely a double-edged sword, with each side's goal of becoming equally blunt, cradled with love, understanding, empathy, and compassion, and some with more anger, anxiety, fear, and bewilderment. These raw emotions, attitudes of appreciation, and gratification for the new adventures being discovered have also watered the soul's seed to reawaken the heart, painting a new life picture.

Our essential global services have remained on guard, placing momentous risks to their personal lives, only to save others' lives. The truest of heroes are every one of them; "Thank you, thank you, thank you" only tips the iceberg of gratitude for these angels on earth. We have been silenced in this chaotic existence, eventually leaving vast room to wade through the snowstorm that has affected every person on our planet. Many gaps have also been unusually bridged in relationships, birthing an intimate human element operating deep from within. The grudges once held seem to fade more easily and our tenderness has been renewed. Like the seed of a flower working its way up through the soil to reach the sunlight's magnetization, we, too, are growing and opening up. In silence, we blossom.

With our world being turned upside down, inside out, and thrown out the other side, we have learned to remain connected to others via social media, technology, telephone calls, or the good old-fashioned way of writing a letter or sending a personal note. Some people have had to literally learn how to operate and navigate a computer from scratch. And, for high-tech individuals, they have become experts on a much larger scale. We all continue to learn something. Much of our technological world, which I once believed had taken away our personal connections to one another, has become the new norm, but I now choose to see it with a unique, special flair. When we cannot touch, hold, or hug, through no choice of our own, we have explored and improvised in a meaningful way. We have either built or solidified our relationships from afar with our new way of living. This unique style has shaped a greater appreciation for the loved ones we were once able to spend time with whenever we chose, to the heartfelt excitement to the ones we are waiting to hug for the first time. Many have opened themselves up to new friendships and opportunities, personally and professionally, creating new space in their lives for a richer, more deeply satisfying experience. Countless are very grateful for all these new opportunities which have sprung, which may not have arisen otherwise.

In speaking with my friends over coffee from afar, we have most certainly concluded that a clear shift has taken place in our lives on many levels. Some are swallowing the peacefulness settled at heart, while others feel like an engine sitting idle at a red light, but the light has turned green and your foot remains on the brake because of the rules in place. With the multitude of restrictions from public and government sectors being forced upon us, dictating how we are required to live, a space of clarity eventually appeared. The sounds of the honking horns got louder and louder— the honks of the soul. Having so much time by yourself, you begin to turn within. For many, gas pedals were accelerated, taking a leap of faith on an unknown adventure with only hope and trust in their suitcase of life. Downright scary, with bravery blended in… so much has truly changed.

Walking down the street in the early morning, afternoon or evening hours presented space of stillness and peacefulness to the vacant streets. Only left to be shared are the sounds of nature at your side. Hearing the rushing of the creek's rapid flowing water traveling over rocks and debris to the singing from birds in nearby trees, all without the hustle and bustle of traffic passing by, this silence provided new awareness and appreciation for all who we share our space with. Birds actually chirp quite loudly when talking to one another, and their melodies are beautiful. It is so sweet to hear the early morning chirps of the baby birds calling out for their parents when they have gone in search of breakfast, and their parents' response letting them know they are nearby. The communication between the different species of birds, including their existence with the other little creatures alongside them, is quite astounding.

Being a viewer to their active lives was like watching a nature show, undisturbed. With the extra time on our hands, stronger friendships with the crows who visit our yard have developed. A deeper trust between them and us has equally been earned. The family arrives on our deck no later than 8:00 a.m. to collect the breakfast that we have offered. The mom and dad have introduced their three babies, and all feel safe and welcome. Crows are extremely intelligent, and once trust is earned, they feel very comfortable— comfortable enough to fly under our cabana while sitting on the outdoor patio furniture. This friendly soul swoops in, touching the top of my head and then continues on his or her flight path. Their claws are quite sharp. I believe it's the mom letting me know that the family is hungry. I will refer to this little friend as "she" in my story as I've seen her feed her babies. When I was gardening the other evening, I was bent over picking the weeds, and she flew by me three times, touching my back, taking off and landing on the post nearby and then intently staring at me. It was clear my attention was being sought. We had to have a little talk because she really didn't need to do that as often as she did. The most memorable experience was when I was on my deck gardening with my back turned from my doorway and when I turned around, this little critter was casually walking out from our house. I couldn't believe it. She also likes to stand at the open door from the deck, hop into the house a bit, and then I have to tell her that she must be outside. She then turns around and out she hops as if she understands what I am saying. When I arrive home from work, she either flies to the roof of my car, or when I open the door and turn around to reach in for my purse, this little friend sits on my open door. It's dinner time.

Strange, to say the least… or is it? The family feels very comfortable in our space, and we clearly feel the same way. There is a grand awareness of realization that we share, side-by-side and intertwined, in this beautiful place we call earth that we share with other living creatures. This given time has created a deeper level of respect and a profound appreciation and understanding of the connection that we uniquely have with all living species. Respect, peace, and stillness created an invisible bridge to one another. I also see this as the attitude that we chose to make known towards our counterparts that made all the difference in the world. We could have shooed our little friends away, creating stress and chaos, and possibly hurt feelings. Had we not appreciated or welcomed our new friends, we would have lost out on this unique enduring friendship that developed.

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