In daily life, we must see that it is not happiness that makes us grateful, but gratefulness that makes us happy.
– Brother David Steindl-Rast
It has been some time since my last newsletter. Life has been rich and full and I am so grateful for the life I have been given and the many friends, students, readers and listeners who make my life worth living and give me a sense of meaning and purpose. I would like to share some of my thoughts and favorite quotations about gratitude in this newsletter. I am learning that gratitude is not just a feeling you occasionally have when something good happens to you. It is a practice that leads to greater happiness and deeper fulfillment in our lives!
One could say that the foundation of shamanism, the world’s oldest spiritual healing tradition, is gratitude. Shamans are continually expressing their gratitude for life, for the elements, the seasons, the cycles, the directions, the universe and the spirit that lives in all things. Shamans believe that they draw their power from their gratitude for and communion with the natural world. Native Americans have a saying, “may you walk in beauty”, which to me means to recognize and be grateful for all the beauty that surrounds you. When we walk in gratitude we bring a sense of wonder and curiosity to everything around us. We realize the enormous bounty that is already present in our lives. When we deepen our appreciation for all we see, we get a sense of our interconnectedness the web of life.
What we appreciate, appreciates!
– Lynn Twist
It is easy to be affected by all the negative things that are happening in our world today. Our attention is often on what’s wrong, rather than all the goodness that surrounds us. The media thrives on death, doom and destruction. Indeed there are real issues that we must face, such as climate change, economic instability, habitat destruction, war and poverty. But our primary focus has been on what’s wrong or not working and it has pervaded our language, thinking and ways of acting in the world. This weakens us and makes it more difficult to deal with the enormous issues that humankind is facing at this time. If we want to change the outer world, we must first learn to transform our inner landscape. To live a happier, more fulfilled and healthier life, there is no better place to start than with the practice of gratitude. It is easy to blame the media, the corporatocracy and external events, but real change starts within and gives us the strength and fortitude to change the external world. It is well known that what we focus our attention and intention on grows. What do you want to grow in the garden of your life?
In their book The Grateful Life, authors Lesowitz and Sammons say that we are in the middle of a “gratitude revolution”. They present overwhelming evidence for this cultural shift from the growing ranks of scientists who are studying how feelings of gratitude improve physical health and emotional well-being, to a proliferation of smart phone gratitude apps, and people peppering their conversations and Tweets with gratitude or gratefulness. The scientific studies are clear that people who consciously express gratitude feel better about their lives as a whole, are more energetic, exercise more, have fewer illnesses, get more sleep, have higher self-esteem, and are more likely to give back to others. Expressing appreciation also helps to combat depression, improve relationships, and boost academic and professional performance!
Most human beings have an almost infinite capacity for
taking things for granted.
– Aldous Huxley
As a result of our focus on what’s wrong and fixing problems, we miss the abundance of beauty that surrounds us. Many people think that the expression of gratitude makes us appear weak, naïve to the world’s problems, or falsely positive about the state of the world and the real and painful difficulties in one’s life. But, in reality the expression of gratitude, even in the most horrible and difficult of times, can teach us to be resilient and courageous. As Auschwitz survivor, Victor Frankl has said, “The last of our human freedoms is the ability to chose our attitude in any given set of circumstances.” It was gratitude that kept him alive in the most horrible of times.
When we become more present to what is happening within and around us, and look for the beauty in life, we can choose an attitude of gratefulness. Stories of gratitude from people learning their most important life lessons in the midst of life changing events like cancer, loss and tragedy are well documented. The way we face our adversities in life not only impacts the quality of our experience, but according to the science of epigenetics, we alter the expression of our genes. Engaging in a practice of gratitude can actually stimulate the growth of new synapses in our brain, change our genetic structure, and impact evolutionary heredity. In this way, it could be said that gratitude positively impacts the future descendants who will inhabit the earth.
There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle.
The other is as though everything is a miracle.
– Albert Einstein
The practice of gratitude is intentional mindfulness. It is about waking up and being present to the gift of life itself. It is a stepping out of the tranquilized obviousness of every day life and seeing with fresh new eyes the wonder and beauty that surrounds us. To honor the elements means to recognize the clay that dances in us is born of the earth. The 70% of us that is water, that runs through our veins and nourishes every cell in our body connects us to the water world from which we came. The breath we breathe is a gift from the very spirit of air and the sun that warms us also brings light to our heart and lives. Being here is truly a miracle. If we really knew this in every cell of our body we would drop to our knees in tears of gratitude and kiss the earth. Gratitude opens our heart to the radiant beauty that surrounds us. I invite you in this Thanksgiving week to take on the practice of gratitude.
To practice gratitude you might start the day with keeping a gratitude journal and writing down at the beginning and ending of the day all the miraculous beauty that you have encountered in this precious and unique day. Taking a walk in nature and receiving the astounding beauty of the natural world is another way to practice gratitude. If you have a question and ask a nature spirit, you will find illuminating responses that will open your heart to the wondrous splendor that is your own life unfolding. There are even apps that you can purchase (see article on Sandra Ingerman’s) that can remind you on a frequent basis to take a break from your terminal busyness and ask your self, “What am I grateful for in this moment”? Just think of three people each day that you are grateful for and tell them. These small seeds can grow into a beautiful garden of abundant joy and profound connection.
We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our
hearts are conscious of our treasures.
– Thornton Wilder
Maintaining an attitude of gratefulness positively impacts our physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. People who practice gratitude are more optimistic than those who don’t and this positively affects our immune system, bringing us greater health and vitality. Gratitude brings us alive. Its expression creates a vibrant field of connection with life and living. Thankfulness is the beginning of gratitude. Gratitude is the completion of thankfulness. Gratitude is shown in action.
It has been a year with many challenges for me and for people in our community. I am so grateful for all the love and support so many of you have expressed to me and demonstrated within our community. Something miraculous is happening in this time of great change and transformation. The expression of gratitude is evidence that we are waking up to the magnificence of this precious life we have been given. Thank You! I am so thank full for the gift you are in my life and to the world…
With Love and Blessings,
If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, “thank you,”
that would suffice.
– Meister Eckhart