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Bret Beall

Mindfulness + Gratitude
= Graceful Living

by Bret S. Beall

I live my life with intention, purpose and mindfulness. I also live my life with frequent, almost constant expressions of gratitude. To me, this is what graceful living is all about. Mindfulness and gratitude.

Letís begin with some definitions, so that weíre all on the same page. First, what IS "graceful"? In my vernacular, "graceful" connotes beauty, ease and elegance. What about "mindfulness"? To me, this is attentiveness, awareness, intention and purpose. Finally, what is "gratitude"? I use it in the context of thankfulness and appreciation.

How do we achieve this life of beauty and ease, highlighted by attentiveness, awareness, intent, purpose and thankfulness? Part of it is "chance," or serendipity, or synchronicity: if you are not already living a graceful life, you have "accidentally" encountered, and are reading this article, and a light bulb goes off in your head as you have an "aha" moment. Part of it is, well, by intent, when you make a conscious decision that you are going to begin to live more gracefully, because your life just isnít working the way you want it to or believe it should.

I have been truly blessed throughout my life, though I must admit that I didnít always recognize it. In many ways, I was not a "mainstream" child, or adolescent (and certainly not a "mainstream" adult). I was not always comfortable marching to my own drummer when I was younger, but looking back, I can see that this was yet another blessing. I truly had no choice but to follow my bliss, and this bliss changed over time!

As a child, I had the opportunity to experience the ocean, and all of its inhabitants. I visited the redwood forests and stood in awe of these might trees. I experienced farm life, and city life, and suburban life. Some were better than others. Most of the time (but not always), I was aware and mindful of being "different" somehow, and I knew that my Path would be unconventional. I also knew it would not be determined by societal conventions or expectations.

While walking my Path, I have realized that not everyone walks his/her own Path with intention and purpose. Some (too many) seem to stumble along. Once we realize that this is what we are doing, we can intentionally stop the stumbling, and engage in mindful, grateful, graceful advancement along our Path.

Sometimes I hear people offer excuses for not living gracefully. "I donít have time." "I donít have the money." "I donít know how." As with so many of the finer things, graceful living requires no time, no money, and only a tiny bit of special knowledge. It does require confidence. It does require the willingness to empower oneself, without waiting for someone else to bestow power. It requires being mindful, purposeful, and intentional, as well as being thankful and grateful.

One area where I help people live more gracefully is dťcor. Clients and potential clients have contacted me stating that they want the absolute "key" to the perfect home design. They usually have something in mind from a TV show or a magazine, or they have heard of some ancient tradition that is supposed to provide the answer to all of their problems. Currently, practitioners of feng shui (the Chinese art of arrangement to enhance "energetic" flow) are one of the fastest growing segments of home consultants. The Indian and Japanese equivalents (vaastu and shibumi, respectively) are catching up fast. My personal interest was the evidence for biological and psychological reactions to sensory input, particularly color, shape, texture, scent, and sound. Over the years, I have synthesized the commonality of feng shui, vaastu and shibumi, plus other traditions, as well as the scientific sensory data, and found that the commonality of all of them is to decorate your home with intention, with purpose, with mindfulness. In reality, the differences or specifics are not so important. The multitude of rules is irrelevant. The merchandise recommended by some to enhance your environment borders on unethical, because it is distracting rather than enhancing. In general, specific colors and textures and shapes and aromas are irrelevant. What is important is the intention with which you decorate your home and environment. Before doing anything, ask yourself, "WHY? Why do I want to change the color? Why do I want to buy new furniture? Why? Why? WHY?" If the answer isnít, "To enhance my personal feelings and my interactions with others," then you are not living gracefully. Too often, I hear, "I want to impress my neighbors," or "I saw this in a book and want to recreate the look at home," or "Iím bored." Itís YOUR home. If you are comfortable and happy in your home, your neighbors WILL be impressed, and it wonít matter if it doesnít look like a picture out of a book. And please, donít get me started on the overused and misused concept of "focal point" in home dťcor Ö to make a long story short, the only focal point you need to consider in home dťcor is your interaction with other people in the room, and how that interaction is enhanced. Good dťcor and design are about encouraging relationships and communication. The mindful placement of personal treasures and comfortable furniture will lead to a more graceful life for you, your family and your friends.

Gardening is another area that is supposed to provide relaxation, refreshment and ambience, but which ends up creating stress unnecessarily. Sometimes just making the decision to acquire plants causes stress. Sometimes uncertainty about their care creates stress. Sometimes, requisite maintenance creates stress. And sometimes, we have individuals so infatuated with plants that they just keep acquiring new plants mindlessly. Plants are important to our environment because they are esthetically pleasing, psychologically calming, and physiologically healing Ö if selected mindfully. Acquire plants that are appropriate for a particular environment, not because some trendy dťcor magazine recommended them; most of the plants illustrated in design magazines will die in the locations in which they have been placed, so consider them examples of what NOT to do. Start with only a few plants, until you get the knack of caring for them. Then add a few more. Having confidence in your own abilities, or in the abilities of your consultant/advisor, will help you live more gracefully.

I also teach and consult on cooking. It turns out that paying attention to the flavors (being mindful of what aspects of the recipe represent sweet, sour, bitter, salty and umami, and adding what is missing) will allow you to create fabulous recipes. This is not a new concept. It has been utilized by cultures around the world, but rarely formalized. Most of the best (not necessarily the "hottest") celebrity chefs have an intuitive, if not an explicit, understanding of this concept. This, coupled with a sense of experimentation, has led to their creative cuisine. My goal is to help everyone understand that by paying attention to some simple guidelines using not only flavor, but also texture and aroma, can lead to some of the most delicious meals you have ever prepared at home. Interestingly, by following these simple guidelines, your delicious meals will also be some of the healthiest you could imagine.

One of my favorite diet regimes is The Okinawa Program, by Dr. Bradley Wilcox, et al., because dietary diversity is emphasized (plus, it is one of the few diets based on sound scientific research; you would not believe the pseudo-science cited as evidence for most of the published diets!). Be mindful of the different types of food that you consume (more is better in this case!). Forget about Hi Carb vs. Lo Carb vs. Hi Protein vs. Lo Protein: just eat a bit of everything! Too much of any one thing is harmful, and too little of any one thing is harmful. Low fat? Fine, but donít make it NO fat, because youíll end up with vitamin deficiencies (some vitamins are only oil soluble). Eat a diversity of food, with a variety of textures, featuring all five of the "tastes" (sweet, sour, salty, bitter, umami). Eat slowly, savoring each bite and chewing it fully. And if you are considering the current "raw food" trend, just remember that the "evidence" for this trend is intellectually-impoverished, so please donít do it (some raw food is great, but not exclusively, please)! Mindless consumption leads to obesity and dissatisfaction. Mindful consumption leads to height-proportionate weight, and greater health and happiness, which in turn leads to gracefulness.

Mindful consumption with some sort of exercise regime is even better (this is also recommended by The Okinawa Program)! Personally, I hate exercise for the sake of exercise. But, I like it when I get exercise doing other things. I try to do as many of my errands on foot as possible. I walk, and walk, and walk. I live on the third floor of a walk-up, and I try to jog up and down the stairs when I come home, or when I go to the storage room to do laundry or to retrieve a bottle of wine, or to dump the trash. My downtime is often spent wandering through public gardens, or hiking along Chicagoís lakefront, or strolling through some of my cityís fantastic ethnic neighborhoods. Sometimes, I go out dancing. If these activities donít interest you, consider taking classes in tai chíi, or chíi kung, or go skiing, or try roller blading or roller skating. You have so many options.

Mindful consumption can also have even farther-reaching ramifications. For instance, once you start preparing your own flavorful meals, you will rely more and more on fresh ingredients rather than on pre-packaged food loaded with preservatives, and your health will improve. You will be able to cultivate your mindfulness as you slice and dice your ingredients, improving both your dexterity and eye-hand coordination (call me crazy, but Iíve enjoyed slicing and dicing since I first began helping my mother in the kitchen as a 12-year-old. If you allow it to be, such preparatory work can be absolutely calming. I promise you: practice makes perfect!). Soon, you can move on to organic ingredients, which have not been exposed to artificial fertilizers or insecticides; while they are not higher in nutrition, they also do not pollute your body with these residual artificial substances. And please, please, PLEASE avoid all genetically-modified (GM) food; despite what anyone says, there is no evidence that genetic modification wonít lead to a health, or an ecological and/or environmental disaster (realize: Iíve done my doctoral work in evolutionary biology; I understand both ecology and genetics). Furthermore, your mindful consumption will have an important effect on the Earthís health. Less fertilizer polluting our water sources. Less insecticide and herbicide contaminating our bodies and food chain. Such larger scale positive ramifications are indicative of truly graceful living.

Once you have a handle on mindful dining, you can move on to mindful entertaining. Iíve already written about the importance of communication and relationships in dťcor. Well, take advantage of your dťcor by entertaining more. Invite a few friends in for dinner, and donít worry about impressing them. Just prepare the mindful food that you have mastered, and they will be thrilled to be part of your environment. Donít worry about expensive or exotic ingredients. Donít worry about flamboyant and flashy centerpieces; if anything requires a hot glue gun, itís unnecessary. Just concentrate on simple, flavorful food, and you will have happy guests. Donít allow yourself to be intimidated by those "professionals" who insist you must have special decorations or flash presentations or multiple courses; you can do all of this if you wish, but you donít have to. Just remember that your friends and family are in your home because they are your friends and family, and treat them as you would treat yourself. There is nothing more graceful than this.

When entertaining, you may also be serving wine. Hereís a secret: wine tasting is all about paying attention to what is being tasted. Please, donít allow yourself to be intimidated. It isnít about being snooty, itís about being mindful. Think of the Zen tea ceremony. Too many people think of Zen and immediately go to "ascetism" or "rules." Really, itís about mindfulness, and that leads to gracefulness. I have seen friends go from uncouth quaffing to graceful gratification by becoming mindful of the technique and purpose of wine tasting, and by being encouraged that there is NOTHING to be intimidated about. Every human being has a unique palette, and your palette is just as valid as the most famous wine critic. Once you realize and accept this fact, you can enjoy wine with confidence, and gracefulness.

Letís have a look at "work." We hear so much about multitasking, and that this is THE way to be productive. I once thought that. In truth, it is THE way to become overstressed, perhaps even physically ill. If you adopt a mindful approach to work, you will not only be more productive, and more accurate, but you will be happier, healthier and more harmonious. You will be working gracefully. When you file, file with intention. When you write a memo, write with purpose. When you create a budget, create with awareness. Please, just give this a try, and see if your results are not better. See if your product is not appreciated more by others. See if your own mindset is not healthier, calmer, more graceful. See.

Itís one thing to talk the talk, and quite another to walk the walk. But, once you take the first step toward intention and mindfulness, and thus gracefulness, a change occurs within you. Suddenly, you see the wonder of that one act. It just happens. You experience the joy of that act. Until you have experienced this, you cannot imagine how good it feels. And then, you become grateful for the opportunity to experience that act! Now you are experiencing true Gracefulness.

You may ask, "Grateful to whom?" Thatís YOUR choice. Perhaps, most obviously, you are grateful to a Supreme Power, a Deity, God, Goddess, The Universe. In this case, donít let your prayers be "wish lists" or, in the words of Saffron to her mother Edina on Absolutely Fabulous, a "cosmic cash machine." Instead, make each prayer a statement of gratitude. And Please donít limit your gratitude only to the big things, like love, or a new job, or even an "A" on an exam. Instead, try being grateful for little things: "I am grateful for the traffic lightís changing to help me get to my destination" (or, "I am grateful for the traffic lightís NOT changing, giving me a chance to be calm and reflective." Or, if you drive home without incident or accident, just say, "Thank you." Make it a habit. You wonít regret it.).

You may wish to express gratitude to your immediate friends, family and colleagues. Thatís terrific. Are you where you are today based solely on your own efforts? Did your parents provide an environment of nurture? On the other hand, was your family so dysfunctional that you were further motivated to escape from that environment and create your own way? Did you have mentors along the way who took a special interest in your activities and eventual success? Or, did your presumed mentors become threatened by your progress, and sabotage you, thus redirecting you on your Path? Do you have friends who celebrate every success you achieve, and enjoy being your friend because of YOU? Or, maybe you have friends who like to be around you because of your money or generosity or whatever else they can get from you, for whom you can be grateful when you finally wake up and see what is going on? Donít take anyone for granted! Be grateful!

Finally, you may wish to express gratitude to all of those who came before you to make your life what it is today. One of my favorite quotes is, "If I have seen further it is by standing on ye shoulders of Giants" (Sir Isaac Newton, 1676). As a scientist, I know that no one works in isolation (if they do, the results tend to be a bit "odd"). We all work and build on the theory and empiricism of our predecessors; moving scientific thought forward is an incremental process. Social change is the same way. I have a friend who is a young, successful executive. I knew she had a somewhat more conservative bent than I, but I was taken aback when one day, describing the theme of a book she was reading, announced, "I donít know why Iím reading THAT book. Itís all about feminism, and I am SO not a feminist." I looked at her incredulously, and said, "You have had the choice and the opportunity to climb the corporate ladder. You have not been discriminated against because you are a woman. You have been treated equally, and paid equally, with all of your male coworkers, so that your talent and intelligence, rather than your gender, have allowed you to achieve what you have achieved. Donít you realize THAT is what feminism is? Having the opportunity to be treated equally, and to have choices?" She didnít know that then, but she does now, and she is grateful for those people who fought for womenís equality. And she is living more gracefully now!

By being aware of the past, by being mindful of the work that has brought us to where we are, by living our lives with purpose and intention, and by being grateful for all that we are and that we have, by default we are living gracefully. Start slowly, gradually increasing your awareness and gratitude. Whether with dťcor, or gardening, or cooking, or exercise, or entertaining, or work, practice being mindful, and then being grateful. All of the pieces just fit together so well, so simply, so elegantly Ö dare I say Ö so gracefully. Graceful living is simple, once you are mindful and grateful.

I am not a Buddhist, but I am drawn to this tale of the Buddha:
Once a man asked the Buddha, "Are you a god?"
The Buddha replied, "No."
The man then asked, "Are you a magician or wizard?"
The Buddha replied, "No."
Then the man asked, "What are you?"
The Buddha replied, "I am Awake."

Are you awake?

© Copyright 2003 Bret S. Beall, MS, PhD (Cand).  All rights reserved. 

Bret Beall
Bret S. Beall, MS, PhD (Cand), former evolutionary paleontologist, now leads Global Organic Designs Ė Discovering Earthís Science & Spirit (GOD-DESS). He helps people live fantastic lives with minimal time, effort or money, via consultations, demonstrations, lectures and articles about Cooking, Entertaining, Dťcor, Budgeting, Simplification, Streamlining, Organizing, Gardening, Travel. His website is: www.god-dess.com




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