It may seem hard right now to feel any gratitude. I understand that looking up into the sky when you’re standing in a pit of despair seems stupid, unrealistic, undoable. Nevertheless, even in the midst of the most awful, there is always a place where gratitude can lodge. Finding something to be grateful for every day allowed me to find space away from my fear, turned my face and my heart to beauty and grace, connected me with hope instead of misery. Gratitude links you consciously to your heart, helping it to open. I found the more often I was grateful, the smoother my life seemed to run, the happier I felt, the more in tune I was with the grace and beauty of life. Simply said, gratitude turns your attention to what you have and away from what you don’t have. Practicing gratitude everyday released me from my unhealthy concentration on myself and my problems and made space for what I loved to rush in. I was grateful for my family, my friends, that I could still read or walk in nature, had a tv to watch funny shows, that all my music was at my fingertips. All of these things and more I was, and remain, grateful for. Once a habit of gratitude begins, the mind seems to become attuned to what is working in life. Lately I have used my smart phone to set an alarm that chimes at me every three hours. It is to remind me to pause, look around me, say a quiet, silent thank you or a prayer or just a smile. That little chime and my response to it really calms and charms my day.
Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend………..Melody Beattie
There has been an explosion over the past few years of sites on the web that encourage the practice of gratitude. I was given a tiny little blank book once that was for listing 5 things everyday that I was grateful for. It always turned out, if I paid attention, that I found many more than 5 things to be grateful for. Once you start to look for the blessings, you see how much you already have, how much beauty there is in life. I often get stuck in a mind rut – not so different from most people – and when I was diagnosed, what I was seeing was bleak. Again, it’s a choice. I had to consciously turn my attention to the little things I love – a soft breeze on my cheek, the light of morning, that star at night, a funny joke, an amazing app – are in truth gifts and being grateful for them frees that logjam around the heart. I found that if I could feel gratitude, even the tiniest bit, then I entered into a subtle current of happiness that aligned me with my better self and what I like to call the Great Mystery, Spirit. That is a really good place to be.
The word that comes up again and again when I read about gratitude is “nurture.” Gratitude seems to nurture, feed and care for you inner being. Initially, I would give myself a set time to focus on being grateful. It worked well for me to do this as I was waking or going to sleep, but eventually I found that I was grateful outside of those times; it had become a good habit, looking for what brought me peace or joy. At some point, I began to be thankful for my diagnosis and those other, difficult things that we all face. A friend gave me a wonderful phrase – “unforeseen gratitudes”. These are the things that stand in opposition to you, those hard things that end up giving you something unexpected – understanding, courage, self awareness, fortitude. Sometimes your challenges are what bring you your greatest achievements.
Since poetry usually speaks the emotions better than prose, I’d like to share with you a poem that came in my email the other day. It’s written by my online abbess (www.abbeyofthearts.com) and says with beauty what is hard otherwise to say:
What if you bowed
before every dandelion you met
and wrote love letters to
squirrels and pigeons
who crossed your path?
What if scrubbing the dishes became
an act of single reverence for the gift
of being washed clean, and what if the
rhythmic percussion of chopping carrots
became the drumbeat of your dance?
What if you stepped into the shower
each morning only to be baptized anew
and sent forth to serve the grocery bagger,
the bank teller, and the bus driver
through simple kindness?
And what if the things that make
your heart dizzy with delight were
no longer stuffed into the basement
of your being and allowed out to play
in the lush and green fields?
There are two ways to live in this world:
As if everything were enchanted
or nothing at all.
There is no in between, although you
keep trying to live this divided life knowing
deep down something is awry.
You have lived long enough
with this tearing apart.
Come out into the wide world
and discover there companions and guides
at every turn, and even those who summon
curses from your heart have
a divine spark within them bright enough
to invite wonder.
—Christine Valters Paintner