Each week, we will post a Gratitude Breath. These come from Jeannie Martin, who is a retired Deaconess and a social worker who works with assisted living residents. These breaths are going out to residents of six nursing homes, through the activities directors. The neighborhoods are South Boston, Dorchester, Jamaica Plain, Brookline, Allston-Brighton, and Chestnut Hill. The contents are taken from Jeannie’s Relaxing Through the Arts groups in these homes.

Week of September 21: The Harvest Moon

The Harvest Moon, the last full moon of the summer, will shine most brightly on Wednesday September 2. This moon is also called the Corn Moon, named by the Algonquin, for the season of gathering in staple vegetables such as corn and squash.

The Harvest Moon is a staple for us as well, shining low in the sky, as it calls us to the beauty of this time of year: to the end of summer; the first of the early fall when there is a slight cooling to the air and the sky is a clear, deep blue. This is a time too when we move from the heat and activity of the summer to a quieter time as we prepare for the indoor living of the cold months.

If you go out for a walk or look through a window you can see the Harvest Moon. At times this week it has been shining through a slight cloud cover, its edges softened into a round orb. At other times this moon is clear in its fullness, creating a bright light in the night sky.

Take a gentle breath.
Inhale. Exhale.
As you exhale notice the deep brightness of this Harvest Moon this day, this week, this moment.

deep breath
the Harvest Moon
fills the sky

outside my window
the Harvest Moon

Week of September 14: Your Face

No one has a face just like yours. In fact, we know that no two faces are ever alike. Your face is your face throughout your life.

We greet the world with our face. There are some things we can do to change it, such as make-up, shaving, smiling or frowning in a particular way. But for the most part the face we have does not change very much.

When you look into the mirror, what do you see?

Your eyes
Your nose
your mouth
your chin
your forehead
and the entire shape of your face

Our faces come from our biological families. Maybe your face looks a lot like your father’s face, your mother’s face, or someone else in your family.

You may have a special facial feature that gets passed down the generations. Your face has changed over the years, but its fundamental features have stayed the same.

It is with our face that we greet the world.

Take a deep breath. Be grateful for your face. It is you.

a look in the mirror
I see you

nose print
on the mirror
yes, that’s me!

Week of September 7: Crickets

If you open a window or stand outside, you can hear crickets. Their chirping is a sound of the summer, when they are most vocal. Crickets are especially active in the hot summer, their chirping chorus sometimes filling the July and August evening air. Once late summer arrives, they become less vocal, until the cooler weather stops them completely.

Why do crickets chirp so much? The chirping crickets are the males calling to the females. They call and call all summer, during this time of the mating season.

You may hear crickets in a yard or on a playground or in a park. They seem to collect under bushes and leaves to sing in a chorus. And if you come near to them, they stop chirping. This is Nature’s way of protecting them from predators, or just the curious, like us.

Once the Fall comes you may hear only a few crickets, or even just one or two, their distinct chirp easily recognizable.

Do you have childhood memories of crickets? Their sound can bring us back to long summer evenings of playing outdoors, sitting on a porch, or taking an evening walk.

Just like many small creatures, crickets are our close companions. They add to our experience of the summertime.

all through town
the single sound
of crickets

outside the closed window
a cricket’s
insistent chirp

Week of August 31: The Dark

When I was a child, my mother use to say to me, “The darkness is your friend.” But I questioned this. How can the dark be a friend when we cannot see anything?

And yet, there is much to appreciate about the dark.
The dark of night, when most of us are asleep, is a time of calm and quiet, of slumber and deep breathing.
A time of dreams and gentle waking.
A time of pulling up the covers and turning over to sleep.
A time, maybe, of seeing the moon or the stars through a window near the bed.
A time of cool night breezes over the skin.

Childhood fears of monsters, and mysteries under the bed, are gone now. We can now enjoy the darkness as a time of rest and rejuvenation, when the body and mind are restored.

Take a deep breath.
Close your eyes.
Let yourself breathe into the darkness behind your eyelids.

in the darkness
the slow twinkle
of a night light

to a single star

Week of August 24: Jupiter

If you look out your window or stand outside and look up on one of these summer nights, you may see the planet Jupiter. On a clear night, Jupiter is visible in the southeast sky until about 4:00 AM. Right now, this summer, Jupiter is closer to earth than it will be for a long time.

In the night sky, our solar system of eight planets is more visible. You can tell if you are looking at a planet instead of a star if the light is steady. Planets are shining because they reflect the sun. Stars do the twinkling.

Jupiter, the biggest planet in our solar system, was named after the king of the ancient Roman gods. Jupiter is the stuff of legends and fairy tales as it glows large in the sky. There is still much we do not know about the planet due to the thousand mile cloud cover that prevents us from seeing it directly. We think it consists entirely of gases, but we are not completely sure. In many ways Jupiter still seems like a magical planet.

What we don’t know about Jupiter reflects what we do know about our own planet home. Our earth is filled with flora and fauna: plants and animals, flowers and trees and all kinds of living things. Our oceans, mountains, and forests sustain life along with the rains, clouds and sunlight.

Take a deep breath. Look up. Watch for the planet Jupiter with your own feet on the ground.

just when I thought
things were solid –

star gazing –
this dirt under
my fingernails

Week of August 17: Day Lilies

Day Lilies are everywhere. We see them growing in small front yard gardens, clustered together on corner lots, and lining the fronts of buildings and houses.

As perennials, day lilies are here each year to greet us as they grow through much of the summer into early fall. Their blooms open with radiant yellow, pink or orange each morning, then close for the night as shadows darken the gardens.

Each morning, a new bloom appears from the same bush. These flowers grow, bloom, close, then grow and bloom each day.

Not only do day lilies radiant joy, but also hope. Hope that each morning brings more of these brightly colored blooms, born from the thick foliage around them, the mother plants, year after year.

Day lilies seek the sunlight, and if in the shade, perhaps under a tree, they turn to face the open sky. Quietly they line our streets and gardens, a calm bit of bright color during these pandemic days.

day lilies yellow
in the yellow

deep shade
day lilies turn
to face the sky

Week of August 10: Birds

Birds are often called our “feathered friends.” They live everywhere in the world, even the polar regions, and there are many who live right here in Boston, among us. Some, like pigeons and certain types of sparrows, live with us through the long, cold winters, while others come to stay with us in warmer times. We see them flying in the air, sitting in trees, hopping along the ground looking for things to eat, and maybe, if we look closely, fussing with their nests.

Canadian geese fly high over our heads on their way south to South America, and then back to the wilds of Canada. Pigeons live on the ledges of high buildings and peck away in parks, while robins stay closer to us, in the yard. And who has not had a sparrow ask for a crumb or two from your muffin while you are eating outside ?

Some of us have had birds as pets. They can be good company: parakeets as chatty companions; canaries who sing us songs.

You don’t have to be a bird-watcher to see that birds are very smart. They even are able to problem solve around getting food, keeping warm, and how to fly to where they want to go.

Look out your window – what do you see? These are the birds close to you, to the people around you. They are our constant companions. Where would we be without birds? Living in a less melodic, less beautiful world.

Boston winter:
pigeon, pigeon, pigeon
robin, pigeon

just outside my window
robins make
a nest

Week of August 3: Twilight

Twilight: The time before sunrise; the time after sunset. The very early morning time when birds start to chirp, perhaps waking us from sleep. The evening time of the glow of the sun after sunset, when the world slowly darkens into night.

Twilight can be a magical time, of waking up or getting ready, slowly, for sleep. A time when the world is in half-shadows with only whispers of light. It is a changing, a transition time that ushers in, and closes, the day.

Most of us are more likely to notice the evening twilight when we settle in after dinner for evening activity. That may be reading, talking on the phone, doing some computer or other games, or watching television. Twilight is generally a more quiet, slower time than during the day.

Take a gentle breath. Notice the lights going on around you, the lengthening of shadows, the rise of the moon. Look for the planet Mars and the planet Venus; the stars as they begin to light up the sky. There is much to see during this time as we are more likely to be less distracted. Let yourself relax. There is little, hopefully, you have to do but relax and engage in quiet activity.

shadows lengthen
into longer shadows
twilight sky

the glow of the sun
the glow of a candle

Week of July 27: The Crescent Moon

If you look up at the sky in the early evening, right after sundown, you may see the crescent moon. The crescent moon appears to be in the shape of an arc, or a crescent as it faces eastward, toward the sunrise. This is the illuminated part of the moon that is lit by the sun as it grows from the new moon, to the crescent, then widens into the half moon and eventually, the full moon.

But it is the crescent moon, with its gentle shape, that we admire in the early evening. It can catch us by surprise, as we may not expect it. Often the crescent moon seems to be hanging low over a building near us, or over the trees. Once again we see, and welcome, its familiar shape.

Do you have any memories of the crescent moon, perhaps from a camping trip, or an evening walk? Maybe an outing on a boat when you see the moon shine brightly across the water? Or just sitting on the front porch or looking out the window?

Take a gentle breath, and as you do, picture the crescent moon – its calming arc of light as it welcomes the night sky.

turning off the lights
crescent moon
at my window

familiar face –
the crescent moon
of my childhood

Week of July 20: Your Face

We all need to wear masks during this pandemic, to stop the spread of the coronavirus. But in doing that, we are not able to see each other’s faces. No smiles. Instead what we see are eyes over a half-covered face.

Faces, and looking at each other’s faces is a primary form of expression and connection. We appreciate faces even more now.

The next time you wash your face, look carefully into the bathroom mirror. What do you see? Maybe your face is like your father’s or your mother’s. Maybe there is a family facial feature, passed down through the generations, that you share. Look carefully at your mouth, your eyes, your nose, your chin and your forehead. This is you. You are here. You are present. Your face may have changed some, but it is still yours.

Take a gentle breath, and softly brush your hand over your face. Look at your face: the color of your eyes, the shape of your mouth, the way you smile. So much of our personality is expressed through our faces.

Take care of your face. Splash on some warm, then cool water. Dry gently, and smooth on a little lotion or cream.

Your face is the way you greet the world, even from behind a mask.

from behind a mask
I smile
with my eyes

all my life
I wear my grandmother’s

Week of July 13: Houseplants

You may have a plant that grows in a pot on your windowsill. This may be a new plant, or one that you have had for a long time. Either way, you water your houseplant, tend to it, and watch it grow. Maybe your plant produces flowers from time to time, and most certainly, green leaves.

Houseplants are our calm, quiet companions. No matter what goes on during the day, they are there on your table, shelf, or windowsill. In their own way, as they grow, they keep us company. They share our living space. We even share the same air. Plants take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen, while we breathe in oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide. So we help each other.

It is impossible to imagine a world without plants. For sure, we would not be able to live in it as plants are the source of all our food. And they make our world a much more beautiful place.

Look carefully at your houseplant. Notice its leaves, its stalks, and maybe its roots that appear from the soil. In some ways, sitting there in the sunlight, houseplants bring the outside world of growing things inside, to be with us.

shaped by the sunlight
old houseplant
on the windowsill

family photo
I put my arm around
my philodendron

Week of July 6: The Air

These days we are all wearing masks because of the worry about what may be in the air around us – that the air may carry the coronavirus and spread contagion. It is true we all have to be careful of this possibility.

And yet we also know that there is nothing quite like fresh, clean air. The air that comes through our windows on a clear spring evening, or a warm summer night. The air that blows fresh and cold into a stuffy room in the middle of winter. All is very inviting and invigorating. We know that taking a full breath can bring us energy, and a gentle breath can bring us calm. We also know that breath is life.

As you breathe, imagine the fresh air circulating through your lungs to all parts of your body. Imagine too that most all creatures upon the earth breathe too. We breathe along with our dogs, cats and other pets. We breathe with the rabbits and squirrels in the parks and trees, and with the birds flying in the air.

Sometimes it is comforting to remember that we all breathe the air from our earth’s atmosphere, and this breath connects us to other living things.

you take a breath
I take a breath

up and down the street
even the trees

Week of June 29: Color

As a child, did you have a favorite color? Do you have one now? Maybe a color you choose when selecting clothes, or deciding about the color of bracelet, hat, or scarf?

Colors reflect not only our personal choices, but the earth too as we are all part of the color spectrum:

green for leaves and plants
brown for soil
blue for ocean and sky
yellow for the sun, and sunlight
black for ebony, onyx, obsidian
red for roses and other flowers
pink for sunset
orange for orange fruit
white for the moon
purple for dusk, or twilight

Take a gentle breath, and look at the colors around you. Do you see one that is a favorite? Perhaps it is the color of some flowers on your table, or the sunlight as it travels over a wall or floor throughout the day. Or maybe the pink of the sunset outside your window. Your hair, your eyes, your skin too all reflect colors of the earth, from which we came.

spring twilight
the glow of purple

the yellow
of summer sunlight

Week of June 22: Songs

Do you have a favorite song? One that you may have learned as a child? Perhaps a song that was sung to you by your mother or grandmother? Or maybe there are many songs you have liked throughout the years. Let yourself remember these songs: songs of place, adventure, love and romance; songs of faith and friendship. Jazz, pop music, show tunes, classical songs, hymns, blues, lullabies, folk songs.

Choose one or two now that you can sing or hum to yourself. You may want to tap along with the song, to keep up the melody and the bounce. When you want, from time to time throughout the day, hum a little tune, a little song. Take a gentle breath. Music is wonderful company, and can give us all a little lift.

Here’s one song we all know:

‘Tis a gift to be simple
‘Tis a gift to be free
‘Tis a gift to come down
where we want to be.

And when we find ourselves
in the place just right,
It will be in the garden
of love and delight.

springtime –
I tune my dulcimer
to another key

with each breath
a melody –
spring wind

Week of June 15: Tulips and Daffodils

Tulips and daffodils are everywhere this spring. Lining streets, growing in yards and around houses; even in vacant lots and on street corners.

Maybe this is due to all our April showers or, since there is no one on the streets, tulips and daffodils want and need to take up more space.

Tulips we know grow in many colors: red, pink, orange, yellow, white, and even purple. Daffodils are always yellow, but with splashes of orange or white here and there.

Each blossom opens to the sky, the open air, the sunlight. These are outdoor flowers, here now to greet us, one of the first flowers of the spring season. As perennials they grow and blossom every year. Their bulbs carry the past, present and even the promise of future blooming with them.

In many ways these humble flowers, present almost everywhere, are messengers of hope, and certainly, beauty.

Do you have a favorite memory of tulips or daffodils? Maybe they grew in your yard or on your street. Maybe they served as a first spring bouquet.

In whatever way you remember them, these flowers are still here, blooming their brightly colored petals, for us all to enjoy.

from my hand
to yours –
pink tulips

all down the street
the yellow light
of daffodils

Week of June 8: Stretch and Breathe

These days most of us spend a lot of time sitting – a good time to stretch and breathe in your chair. Taking a natural, full breath opens the lungs as well as our spirits. Taking a deep but gentle stretch can give a lift to the day.

First, take a gentle breath. Become aware of your breath as it moves into your lungs, and then out again. A soft sigh.

Let your whole body relax a little more into your breath. Begin with your feet. Wriggle your toes, move your ankles, and let this gentle stretch move up your legs to your stomach. Picture this relaxation and stretching going to your back and shoulders too.

Move your arms, your wrists and your hands, then take a few moments to relax your neck and shoulders. Gently and slowly, move your head from side to side. You may also want to look up, and then slowly look down.

As you finish, welcome this feeling of relaxation with a big smile. A smile is good for the face as well as the spirit.

Anytime you feel a little tense, or stiff, remember that a gentle stretch and breath can help you feel more relaxed and flexible.

spring trees
all the branches
reach up and out

looking out
across my room –
patterns of sunlight

Week of June 1: Rain

You might remember the old saying, “April showers bring May flowers”, and it seems, May showers too.

The rains this spring have been gentle; soaking the ground to bring forth life: grass, abundance of daffodils, and blossoming trees. The sky is gray many days but the ground, the earth, is green and flourishing.

Can you hear the rain? Its pitter patter can be a reassuring sound that tells us the earth is taking care of itself and providing abundance even in these troubled times. Rain has a special smell, of both earth and air, as it falls to the ground. The smell of rain can be one of our earliest memories, when we were children looking up at the sky.

The next time it rains, open a window or walk out to a porch. Breathe in the earthy, wet air that lets us know plants are growing, and spring is here.

opening a window
to let in the rain

the silence
all night rain

Week of May 25: Breath of Deep Calm

Inside each of us, even in these troubled times, there is a place of deep calm. This may be where the heart and mind meet: the pairing of a peaceful word or phrase with our gentle breathing. To be calm is to feel a sense of comfort and even security that no matter what happens you will be okay.

You can always find this place with your breath.

To take a calm breath, place your hand over your chest or stomach and, like the gentle breath, notice the movement of your breath in and out. Now, as you inhale, say a comforting word or phrase to yourself. Hold this word or phrase in your mind and your heart, and then gently exhale. It is a simple as that.

We all have these words and phrases that carry deep meaning. To find the one that is right for you, you may want to think about the calm words of your mother or grandmother as they comforted you. Some examples might be:

It’s going to be okay.
I love you.
All will be well.
This too shall pass.

Or, you may want to think of a song or prayer that carries this sense of comfort and sustained hope. Words from a favorite folk song or hymn such as Amazing Grace, or a popular song, can carry great meaning. The Beatles song, Here Comes the Sun, and Bill Withers, Lean on Me, are two favorites for many people.

You may have a song or prayer from your country and culture that brings comfort in times of distress, and also throughout your life.

Whatever your words and breath are, they are meaningful for you. A breath of deep calm.

Week of May 18: Your Window

Taking a gentle breath can be deeply calming. Just put your hand on your stomach or chest and notice your breath as you breathe in and out.

This is an easy way to relax, and in that relaxing to gently notice what is going on around you.

Look around your room. What do you see? Notice the window in your room: the sunlight as it comes in through the window glass and screen, and between the curtains or blinds. Perhaps the sunlight creates shadows on your wall or floor, or patches of sunlight there as well.

As you look through the window you may see the sky, or the top of a tree; its branches ready to welcome spring. If you look closely you may see small buds, or tiny leaves ready to unfurl into that fresh green color of springtime.

Even in these times of illness and worry, outside our windows the trees are budding with thousands to leaves to welcome spring.

just outside
my window –
springtime in bloom

the dust on my window
begins to glow

Week of May 11: Your Hands

Our hands are the way we touch the world. Yet we sometimes take them for granted. Take a few gentle breaths, and as you relax into your breath, pay some special attention to your hands. Look at them carefully: your fingers, your thumb which can touch each finger, and your palms. With our hands we can grasp, hold, lift things, turn the pages of a book, use the remote, do some arts and crafts, and even play a little music if we like.

With our hands we have worked, taken care of children, cooked and eaten many meals, and perhaps tended a garden and cared for dogs and cats. Our hands are expressions of who we are, and our love and care for the world.

Stroke your hands. Massage them gently. Wash your hands and then apply a little lotion to give them comfort. Your hands take care of you, too.

from my hand
to yours
touch of sunlight

to touching it
touched by it
wild rose