Diana Butler Bass, in her recent book Grateful: The Subversive Practice of Giving Thanks, says that gratitude is an emotional response to a gift. The emotional response is complex. We may feel grateful because a diagnostic test came back negative. That would elicit great relief, a lowering of anxiety, and a fresh feeling of life at its best.
Or we may feel grateful because someone surprised us on our birthday! Or because a glorious sunset fills us with awe and gratitude for beauty over which we have no control.
My sense of gratitude has become stronger over the years. Reasonable health for my age, good relationships within my circle of family and friends, and life in an incredibly complex creation make a foundation for gratitude every single day.
Suppose we set an intention each morning to be grateful? It is a way of orienting ourselves to pay attention to the people and events that enter our lives. At the end of the day we might reflect on just three new things for which we’re grateful. Jot them down! You’ll quickly have such a long list that just reading it again can be an antidote to those negative emotions we sometimes hold.
How do we turn personal gratitude into a way of life that will change the world? Start small. Express gratitude to people in a way that really shows that you have noticed what they’ve done for you. Ask for the story of their lives and listen with appreciation. It’s the quickest way I can think of to add gratitude to your circle of influence. Based on their stories, you might even dare to ask for advice.
Upset about a social media post? If it’s a friend of yours, what is something you actually like about that person? Can you ground your thoughts in gratitude, then lead your response with a compliment and with curiosity? You might easily see that a conversation on social media is not the best way to resolve differences. Try picking up the phone or inviting a personal video conversation.
Ready to influence a politician or two? Maybe it will help to begin with gratitude for their service even when you disagree with them on many levels. You can be sure they receive a lot of criticism so you can begin from a different angle. Find an underlying value that you perhaps have in common. State your concern based on that commonality.
I would love to hear from you. How can we use gratitude to change the world?
Mar. 3: This was a transition day from my home-based retreat to UBarU, a camp and retreat center a little west of Kerrville, TX. It is an official International Dark Sky, where professional, amateur, and youth astronomers can learn about astronomy far from city lights.
I rented the Ranch House for a couple of nights, which turned out to be pretty darn cold, with temperatures below freezing (20F). When I made my plans it seemed likely that I would enjoy reading or writing on the porch–but it was too cold and windy to suit me. Thank goodness for heaters and hot chocolate I could make after my walks! Estelle Frankel (The Wisdom of Not Knowing) suggests that we ask a good question every day, such as, “Where is this experience taking me?” Be curious about the unknown.
Already this experience was teaching me how good it is to take a few days of silence and prayer every now and then. It took me into meditation more than once a day, for 25 minutes at a time. I turned the coffee table into an altar graced with a chalice, prayer beads, and a small stone inscribed with “A.S.A.P. / Always Say A Prayer.” The book is Danna Faulds’ Prayers to the Infinite: New Yoga Poems. The heart shape is inscribed with a butterfly. I placed my meditation cushions on the floor next to the altar.
Mar. 2: After a good night’s sleep, I began with a guided meditation on starting the day with happiness. Seven affirmations included this first one, to “plan but remain flexible.” My foot is still hurting a little, and my headache continues to come and go as it has for the past week. Other than that, I have enjoyed tea and breakfast and the quiet of a Saturday morning. A Sudafed helped my head, so I’m
still convinced it’s a sinus/allergy problem.
Finished Henri Nouwen’s The Way of the Heart. He teaches that the way to pray without ceasing is to use a simple word or phrase, to use it continually, and to make it encompass all that is. For me at the moment the words are Health and Wholeness, Grace and Peace, prayed rhythmically with my breath. I can pray that for everything and everyone in the cosmos.
Krista Tippett, in her podcast On Being, interviewed Pico Iyer, a travel writer who makes his home in rural Kyoto, “commuting” 5 feet to his desk for 5 hours, then taking a walk, reading for an hour, taking another walk, and spending the evening with his wife. They live in the same 2-room apartment where they also raised two kids.
Every season Mr. Iyer goes to a Buddhist monastery where silence is a way of life. He travels for work, but he sits for insights about all he has seen. I watched his TED Talk on the Art of Stillness. He recommends that each of us devote a few minutes to stillness every day; a few days every season; or even, (as Leonard Cohen did for 5 years at Mt. Baldy Zen Center in California) a few years of your life. Now I’m going out for a walk to empty my head of all those words. They need time to sink in.
This week I have been focused on a workshop for religious educators on Nov. 3, in Houston. The title is Faith Development as Spiritual Practice, and it applies not just to educators, but all of us.
I’ve prepared an agenda, collected supplies, and prepared a list of resources. I have written out my part and tomorrow will practice it all out loud to double check timing and ease of speaking.
My summary is this: Feed your soul every day, especially when you think you don’t have time. Make it a habit to let go of tension, worry, and anxiety so that you can rest in the present moment. You will move through the rest of the day feeling centered, grounded, and more at peace with whatever comes your way.
For the past three years I was enrolled in a course of study called Formation in Direction. Nine of us students graduated in June 2018 as Spiritual Directors. That’s an old term for something that has existed for centuries: meeting with folks in a comfortable environment in which they can explore their spiritual lives and matters of the heart. I feel comfortable with the term Spiritual Companion, because even though I am helping others think about spirituality, I am learning from them as well.
As children we acquire a view of the universe, the nature of God/Goddess/Yhwh/El Shaddai/Spirit/Allah/Ra/Jesus/Big Bang/Mystery/The Maker/The Kind . . . and on through dozens of names that try to capture ultimate meaning in a way that makes sense to us. As we grow older, many of us learn that there are as many ways to understand questions like these: Where did we come from? What is our purpose? Why do bad things happen? What happens when we die? Should we pray, and how? To whom?
We wonder whether our lives reflect our values. We are often way too busy for reflection, anyway!
With the help of my own Spiritual Director (for 3 years so far), I have developed new spiritual practices; I have heard and read poetry that taps wordless parts of me; and I have seen how ordinary routines, done mindfully, can also be spiritual. Our monthly meetings have gradually shaped my daily life to be more centered, mindful, and spirit-filled. It has been a good investment.
Now I’m ready to offer that guidance to others. Through this blog and through sessions with individuals or small groups, let’s learn together about spirituality that goes far beyond religious beliefs.
Spiritual growth: For me it comes in fits and starts. Meditation? Monkey mind leaps into action and rarely stops for more than seconds at a time. But I show up and sit comfortably. I light a candle and set a timer with a pleasant sound for 22 minutes. Then I slow my breathing and count breaths to 10 and start over and over.
I started with 5 minutes. As soon as my monkey mind started to slow down a little, the timer went off. It occurred to me that 5 minutes was too little time for me to quiet my mind as well as my body. Every few days I would add a minute and try again. Twenty two minutes feels like the right number for me.
Years ago when I was introduced to Zen meditation, a Buddhist tradition, we would sit quietly for 20 minutes, then get up to walk in silence for 5 before repeating the cycle twice more. Then our teacher Ruben Habito, a Jesuit priest and a Buddhist master, would speak to us of some aspect of Buddhism. We would close with a tea ceremony.
Occasionally I attended a weekend sesshin–2 1/2 days of silent meditation, walking, chores, and meals. At the end of the weekend my senses were finely tuned to the colors, textures, and sounds of life.
By spending these 22 minutes a day, most days, I tune into an ancient practice that has multiple formats all over the world. It is a prayer without words, simply listening to the wisdom of the ages.