Shine the Divine:

Creativity IS a Spiritual Practice

When we see through our hearts, we recognize that every single one of us is infused with creativity. Divine Sparks are embedded in everyone and everything. It's up to us to be courageous, to look and listen deeply, to find the sparks, gather and release them back into the universe, transformed into something new. Join me as we wake up to the sacred-ordinary blessings waiting to greet us each and every day.


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Gratitude: Toni Bernhard

It is with great pleasure that I introduce a new friend who instantly became dear to me, Toni Bernhard. Sylvia Boorstein introduced us via email, to tell me about Toni's book that was about to be released a few months ago. If you have been reading my blog for a while, then you have likely noticed the cheerful orange cover with the bright blue butterfly on my sidebar; How To Be Sick: A Buddhist Inspired Guide For The Chronically Ill And Their Caregivers. (now found on the featured books page at the top of my blog) Sylvia connected the two of us because she knew that Toni and I had a lot in common. Not simply that we both negotiate daily life with chronic illness, but also because we have both been graced with inner, strength and joy that we continue to cultivate as one of the unusual gifts of living with chronic illness. Toni and I both understand the value of lovingkindness and genuinely find blessings through people, experiences and the beauty of the world every single day. Metta, a Buddhist lovingkindness practice (known as chesed in Jewish circles) is something Sylvia teaches, and yes we have both learned a great deal from her. Thank you Sylvia. YOU have been a blessing to so many people, I feel it is vital to mention your gentle inspiration and teachings on behalf of Toni and me.

photo provided by toni bernhard of her son, daughter-in-law & granddaughter

When I began to contemplate gratitude in preparation for this post, so many things came to mind, from particular people to specific spiritual practices to a favorite food! And so I decided to just follow the instructions that Laura gave us: I closed my eyes. I exhaled fully. I inhaled fully. I exhaled again with a full sigh of release and relief, and I opened to gratitude.
There before me was the face of my daughter-in-law, Bridgett (you can see her in the picture here, along with my son and their three-year old daughter, Camden Bodhi).
Cam is not my first grandchild. My first grandchild, Malia, was born six months after I became chronically ill; she will turn ten in January. She lives 400 miles away. I’m too sick to make the trip from my home in Davis to hers in Los Angeles. My daughter, Mara, tries to bring Malia to Davis so I can see her, but Mara runs a dance company and so it’s hard for her to be away for more than a day. Through nobody’s fault, I have not been a regular part of Malia’s life. Although we have a special love for each other, I see her only once or twice a year.
But Camden? Thanks to Bridgett, I see her once-a-week. Every Thursday, Bridgett drives from Berkeley to Davis so I can spend time with Cam. As a result, I’ve been an integral part of her life since she was born. I’m the (semi) active Nana I’d dreamed of being for my grandchildren. On my bed, we draw with crayons and a pad of paper. I supervise her favorite activity: squirting my body lotion into the palm of her hand and spreading it on her arms and mine. I’ve even introduced her to opera by picking comic arias and ensemble pieces to show her on my DVD player. (The Barber of Seville is her favorite.)
I’m also treated to watching a skilled mother at work. I’ve never seen a parent who is as patient as Bridgett is in the face of the “terrible twos” (which seems to spill into the “threes”!).
On days when I’m too sick to visit for long, Bridgett spends more time on the road than she does at our house. She doesn’t mind. When my husband is out of town, Bridgett stops at the market first and before she leaves to go home, makes sure any necessary household tasks have been taken care of. 

And when Cam plays on her own, Bridgett and I get to visit – just the two of us. (Sometimes we call it our “carnival cruise time.”) I didn’t know her well before I got sick. Now she’s a close and treasured friend.
So this post is in gratitude for Bridgett, whose face popped right into my mind when I followed Laura’s instructions.

Toni is a wise soul and a shining light in the world if you are someone you love is living with a chronic illness, or if you just find that you are easily stressed out in your life and are looking for some clear suggestions for finding ease, I highly recommend Toni's book. You do not have to be Buddhist to benefit from her gentle teachings.

Visit Toni Bernhard on her website to learn more about her life and order her healing book (I highly recommend it as a must on your nightstand!)

I am including a link below (highlighted in purple) to a conversation between Toni and Sylvia at Spirit Rock Meditation Center, where Sylvia is a founding teacher. I enjoyed this candid discussion, laced with Buddhist teachings, humor and compassion. It touched on many of my own experiences as a person living with chronic illness. And as Sylvia says somewhere in the recording (I am paraphrasing from memory) "We are all living with the chronic illness called 'life' ends with death." I hope you will take the time to listen to this mp3 link from There is a great deal to be gleaned from what both teachers have to say.

Toni is also a guest host at Awake is Good hop on over there to read some more words of wisdom.

I hope you will be back to visit here tomorrow for the unfolding of the Second Annual Mega Mobius Gratitude Quilt; words of love to fill your heart and wrap your whole being up in the beauty of thanks-giving humanity. 


  1. Good morning, Toni and Laura,
    This post lit up my morning and sent waves of ease and gratitude through my body by reading it. Toni, what a blessing you have in Bridgett! And to be able to be with your granddaughter in this way is precious!

    It reminds me much of my own life. Our oldest granddaughter, Anna, lived with us (as did her single mom, my step-daughter) for the first 5 years of her life. I remember well the sweet times you speak of with Camden. For us it was also lotion and crayons, jewelry and make overs. They still live in our town so we are very blessed to be nearby. Every Friday we pick her up from school and have a special day together. And, yet, there is another granddaughter who lives out of state far away who we rarely see. I barely know her, but when we do connect it is quite dear.

    So here's to the blessing of family and grandchildren, especially! Toni, thank you for sharing your heart in this way...Happy Thanksgiving!

  2. I am dearly blessed this morning having read this. I have health issues related to my thyroid & adrenals and I have a neck and skull injury that gives me pretty intense pain 24/7 so as I read that both of you have health issues I started to tear up because I could feel deep in my soul that you both understand.

    I also take care of a woman in her early 50's that has severe artheritis and Lymes disease. She too lives with severe pain and cannot raise her arms up very high so needs a lot of help with self cares. All of her joints and hands and feet have been severely affected as well. I am actually getting ready to go out the door to her house to spend the day with her. I am going to have to look into this book as I have a feeling it would be beneficial for both of us.

    While I am raising 2 grandchildren as my own, I have another one that lives with us along with his mom. I also have a granddaughter that lives across the country so only see her at most once a year, if that. We talk almost every day though and it helps that during her early years they were here and I actually watched her while her parents worked and went to school so we had a chance to bond before she moved away.

    What a blessing to have such a wonderful daughter in law.

    I am very grateful for the gift of the words in this post today. Thank you!

  3. This writing is so filled with love and grace... I thank you, Toni. Your story is a powerful expression of finding the gifts of life and love scattered within each day, even when the days include living with a chronic illness. I needed this encouragement today.

  4. What a treat for me to wake up (California time) to three such lovely comments.

    Jan, it's amazing to read about the similarity in our circumstances, even down to the lotion and crayons! And yes, when I do see my older granddaughter, it's truly special for both of us. In fact, my husband is going down to L.A. on Friday to being her up to see me. Blessings to you and have a wonderful Thanksgiving. Toni

    Lori, thank you so much for sharing your story with me. My book is very practical -- it contains lots of tools and practices to help us find equanimity and joy despite our physical limitations. If you get it, I hope with all my heart that you find it helpful. It is so wonderful that although you are in pain yourself, you are helping care for another person. All my best to you. Toni

    Leslie, just to know that my post has encouraged you today brings me joy. Thanks so much for taking the time to give me this feedback. Warmest wishes, Toni

  5. A beautiful post of gratitude, Toni. And a reminder of giving thanks for those people who make our every day beautiful. Thank you.

  6. beautiful and inspiring - thank you*

  7. what a warm post...and nice that her face was the fist to pop into your head...

  8. What a lovely post, I'm happy that you get to spend so much time with your daughter and granddaughter :o)

  9. The holidays can be such a difficult time for those of us who can't fully participate because of illness, pain or health restrictions. What a blessing to find these graceful words of gratitude to help center us in the midst of it all.

  10. Talon, Hele, Brian, Karine, Joy. Thank you for your kind words. My wish for all of you is that no matter what your difficulties, you find comfort in knowing that there are people and things to be grateful for right before your eyes -- in your ordinary, everyday life. With gratitude, Toni

  11. An open heart finds gratitude in all things, great and small. Bridgett makes an extra effort to come see you, to be with you, to share her daughter/your granddaughter together with you. It makes my heart well up with happiness. If Laura'd asked Bridgett to write a blog post, I'm betting that she'd likely write about you and the precious times you share. ("Tuesdays with Morrie" just popped into my head - lol!) Thank you for sharing these honoring thoughts about Bridgett and your granddaughter here; and the love you share with your granddaughter further away. It sounds like you have fun with all these wonderful females in your life, Toni.

  12. Hi Rose. Thanks so much for your beautiful heartfelt comment. When I read that you thought Bridgett would write about me, I big smile came onto my face! Thanks for lighting up MY day! Warmest good wishes, Toni


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