Kirby's story - The road to freedom is paved with gratitude

"And then when I tried to put it into practice, I found lo and behold, it was true! As crazy and as corny as it sounds, it really changed my life. And it changed how I view the world."

Illustration of a road

Kirby: I wanted to tell you my gratitude story for one reason: I had worked kind of like yourself, a very fun, but high-stress job as an editor of a major newspaper.

And for many years, and I was very successful at it, but working at those kinds of jobs, with that many people on stressful deadlines can start to really wear away at you, spiritually and physically.

And I had always had chronic pain issues with my back and had tried to manage those the way most doctors have you manage it with pain medications. And between the stress of my job and the stress of being in chronic pain, I really felt like I was gonna start to crash into the rocks.

And luckily, I was able to take up a retirement because I'm an older person now, and wrap up my job as an editor.

And one thing that I had discovered in researching, like how to deal with chronic pain and stress was, and it sounded ridiculous at the time, but they said, to try to meditate, try to be friends with your pain, try to meet your pain.

So this was an idea that was really new to me about 12 years ago when I started this. But I have come to find out that is exactly the best way to control not only pain but other things in your life. I just feel so happy to be able to enjoy my life now.

I go for daily walks with my rescue dogs Champ and Jasper, and we breathe in the air, and I do my mindfulness and meditation practices.

And in almost every practice and every book about meditation, and also in the 12 step traditions of recovery, they talk about gratitude.

And gratitude sounded really corny to me at the beginning, like an old-fashioned kind of silly idea.

But I've discovered some of the prompts in the Gratitude app showing, for example, you can be grateful for your warm cup of coffee in the morning. Just spend one or two minutes, breathing in the smell of your coffee, and being grateful that you have coffee.

And one of my friends taught me the empty plate meditation. So before you put your food on your plate, look at the empty plate, and think of all the people who don't have food, and just be grateful that you're able to put some food on your plate and eat today.

And they're just simple ideas, but they're so meaningful. And it really kind of makes you realize what's important, and what's not. And being a kinder, more mindful person, to me has become important. And being a striving, conniving, corporate person is a lot less important than it used to be.

Aarushi: That's wonderful! I learned so much! Firstly, definitely meditation helps a lot. And I want you to tell me more about that.

And certainly, I'm going to remember to look at that empty plate whenever I sit down to eat, I'm definitely going to think of your words and gain that perspective. It's so easy to forget that we are blessed in so many ways.

And I think gratitude is, among other things, that reminder that we have so much that we just forget to appreciate. So yeah, tell me how meditation helped you deal with chronic pain and how it improved things for you. How did you begin, also?

Kirby: Well, I began exploring some online ideas and some apps. And I found that I'm a free thinker and writer.

I really like the Gratitude app. If something comes to my mind, I can just quickly add it to my vision board or my journal and think about it or take a quick picture of it.

And, then that way, I can go back, and remember and re-relax, and re-enjoy some of those small moments. And those really start to add up and change your mind and thinking.

There's a lot of different gurus and teachers that have told me that where your mind is, so goes your life. So what you spend your mind on is really where your life is going to end up.

And if it's with positivity and clarity, then it's in a good place, and it's in a place that's able to make the world a better place, I feel.

Aarushi: You're absolutely right. You have so many wonderful things to say! So, you started this during your job after you retired?

Kirby: Well, I started it as I realized that I had to make a change in my life because the job probably would have killed me. Towards the end, we had had a lot of cutbacks, and people were doing the jobs of two or three people.

So I was an editor, but I was also proofreading and doing a lot of things that missing people should have been doing. And so with budget cuts, and everybody working twice, or three times as hard, things get very tense.

And when you're tense, your body tends to feel a lot more pain. I found a really direct connection between the amount of stress in my life and the amount of pain in my life.

So if I was able to tap into that, and reduce toxic people, toxic places, I could control my pain much better than I could with any narcotic. So that was what I read about.

And then when I tried to put it into practice, I found lo and behold, it was true! As crazy and as corny as it sounds, it really changed my life. And it changed how I view the world.

Aarushi: I am so happy to hear that, really. I become so sad when I find out that, people are being so stressed out and facing all this pressure in their jobs.

And I just want them to enjoy their life when they are living it and not postpone it into the future. So, how are you doing now?

Kirby: I am blessed - in a word. Blessed and grateful. I have a joke because we grow up in the country. "Any day on this side of the dirt is a good day." And I am on this side of the dirt, and it is a good day.

I'm just able to get up and enjoy the things around me. When I go on my hikes, I find these decorated little rocks from other people and I noticed they're being mindful too.

They tuck them away here and there on the hiking trails, and sometimes I pick them up and read them and take a picture of them. But I like to leave them there for other people to enjoy.

I wanted to give a shout-out to those creative-type people that are doing things like that and just sharing the message of mindfulness and reaching out to others, even when it's a little bit harder when we're social distancing.

When I read a message that somebody painted on a little rock and tucked away in a park bench, it's uplifting and it's a little thing but it's a very nice little thing.

Aarushi: Suddenly I want to paint rocks now and such people are gems who want to give and sparkle everyone's day a little bit. I'm really happy you're around such people and you get to experience what they've done for others.

Is there anything that you will want to say at the end now? Any lessons for the people who might have shared a background like yours? What should they focus on?

Kirby: One thing is, I know we have a very competitive society. And one thing I want to suggest, that doesn't benefit anyone, is jealousy.

Because I've seen jealous relationships. And if you truly love somebody, you never want to make their world a smaller place. You want them to experience everything, and everyone they can, and I mean, not in a physical sense, but in the sense of broadening your world and your horizon and finding out as many ideas as you can.

And I see so many of these young couples that cling so tightly to each other, and won't let them out to see their friends or the places they usually go. And I think that does really not love, that's making somebody's world smaller.

And you really want to make your world more inclusive. And let your sparkle out there for everyone to see. It doesn't diminish your love to let the person in your life shine, or yourself shine.

And I think if you truly love somebody, then you want them to have everything. And that's probably as an older person. been my biggest life lesson that I would like to suggest people think about. It doesn't take anything away from you to see other people succeed. There's enough for us all if we just look within ourselves.

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