Learning Gratitude

Is it possible to learn gratitude or does it come naturally?

Maybe, it’s both.

If I asked you, what do you think you’re likely to answer?

More and more I hear about gratitude as a practice, something you incorporate into your life, so when I read a book recently that focused some attention on this, I decided it was time to see what it meant to me.

While in Maine this past summer on vacation I came across an intriguing book. It’s written by Chris Gentry and is titled, The Little Book of Prosperity. It’s divided into twelve chapters, which I discovered were organized in a very thoughtful progression. It starts with goals and dreams, then taking action and growth. These chapters are followed by self-confidence, gratitude, and positive self-talk. The book escalates into a chapter on master mind (groups) and concludes with positivity, decision, perseverance and giving back. I dutifully read and did the encouraged exercises in order with one exception. I waited until the end to complete my dream collage.

I found each chapter provided a great deal of inspiration and support for my earth adventure. When I arrived at the section about gratitude I decided to proceed slowly.

At the end of the chapter, Chris recommended that readers commit to a daily practice of gratitude for ninety days. He suggested that each morning a journal be kept where you would record at least five things you were grateful for. The items could be anything, big or small, quick or long lasting, it didn’t matter as long as they were true for you.

I decided to embrace this practice and see what sort of change(s) it made in my life. I confess it was difficult to do every day because sometimes I got distracted or felt too busy. I had to remind myself of my commitment and that I would never know the worth of this if I didn’t give it my best shot.

So, in late September 2021 I began keeping track. I noticed that the ‘quality’ of the items I chose varied substantially and their range was extremely wide. As a sometimes overachiever I added some items in the evening and occasionally noted more than the suggested five items. Since I was doing this for me and not as an assignment to be handed in, I felt fine with setting up my own rules.

Several times through the first ninety days I lost steam and considered abandoning the challenge. That only lasted a day or two and I ended up sticking with the program and being very grateful that I did.

When the ninety days was up, it wasn’t even a consideration as to whether to continue or not. I found the practice to be so valuable that I incorporated it in my daily routine. When I’m too rushed, I give myself permission to record my five (or more) items when I get to it, as long as it’s the same day. It’s now been 146 days and I can foresee this continuing far into the future.

Why? And what could be in it for you, if you decide to embrace this as one of your practices?

My simple answer is…A LOT.

The most striking impact this had on me is the change it brought about in the way my day began. It helped set an extremely positive tone. It raised my conscious awareness of how many wonderful things I experience in my life. And although this was a morning practice, my attitudinal shift stayed with me throughout the day. I found myself feeling thankful for so many things I’d previously taken for granted, which added remarkably to my positive outlook on life. It also broadened what I considered valuable and worthwhile and helped make me more aware of expressing gratitude to others.

And I discovered that the changes in me were reflected in who and what I encountered during the day, which was a huge bonus.

If you decide to give this a try, I’d love to know what your experience is like. And if you know or ever stumble across Chris Gentry, please be sure to tell him how grateful I am for his contribution to me and the world.

PS- I did try to reach out to him but wasn’t successful.

Broken Hearts

A broken heart can seem like the end of the world. But, if you give yourself a chance, it can also be the beginning of a new world.

Sometimes we don’t feel we have the ability to defend ourselves from a broken heart. Things just happen to us. They come and overwhelm us, sometimes making it hard to breathe. And it can seem too challenging to believe there is any way to reassemble our lives and reclaim our heart.

I have a story to tell you about this.

My sister, Alison, and I like to try out various art classes. We decided it would be fun to do some stained-glass work, so signed up and when the time came, showed up at the studio. As is often the case, I was the only man present. I’ve grown accustomed to this and the mothering I usually receive from the women taking the class.

There were seven or eight of us present. The instructor was very pleasant and helpful and guided us through the process and various techniques we would be using. When she was done with her introductory comments, she asked us to wander around and choose the glass pieces that appealed to us.

It was a lot of fun seeing all the various sizes, colors, and textures of the glass pieces. I gathered what I thought would be enough to complete my project and sat down next to my sister.

At first, I began randomly placing pieces in my frame. I really didn’t have any preconceived idea how my project would turn out. I was just ‘winging it’. At some point I realized I didn’t like how it looked, so I tipped out all the pieces onto the table.

There were a host of shrieks and everyone in the class turned toward me. They simply could not believe I’d done that and were upset on my behalf. Some thought it must have been an accident. Others were convinced I was upset or crazy. Once they knew it was an intentional act on my part, they all wanted to know WHY?

I told them I’d changed my mind. I looked at the assembled stained-glass pieces and I didn’t like what I saw. I told them I needed to start over and that it would be okay. They didn’t seem at all reassured and went back to their own projects, shaking their heads.

I began again. This time though the pieces fell easily into place. I noticed a surprising calmness inside of me. I’d followed my own inner guidance and as I looked down, an incredible thing happened. A beautiful image appeared. It was Mary, the mother of Jesus, dressed in a blue swirling shroud. I looked more carefully and noticed she was holding a broken heart in her hands. I knew she was mending it. I sat there in complete awe.

Of all the artwork I have created, it is by far my most favorite.

It speaks to me. I hear gently words she shared about how to mend a broken heart.

She told me that it is only when we choose to feel what we are feeling that we can begin. We know it’s going to be painful and yet, I feel there is a promise in this for us, that once we allow the pain in and recognize its presence, it becomes ready to leave us. We can let it go, making space for something new to take its place. And we can start over. We can be patient and watchful, looking for a new life to emerge. We can open our hearts, so we can experience new dreams. And, although it seems impossible to us, we can be grateful. Grateful that life does not end with a broken heart. If we allow it, our life can begin again. Our hearts can be mended.

I think about this every time I look at my beautiful stained-glass artwork hanging in my office window. Sometimes first thing in the morning the rising sun lights it up and I sense the truth that no heart is ever beyond mending.

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In Pain, Consider Gratitude

You may think I am crazy, and perhaps in some ways I am.

The thought of offering gratitude when you are in pain runs contrary to how we’ve grown up in the world and I was tempted to shy away from this post topic. But, I couldn’t, mostly because that’s where I have been for the last several days.

It’s one of those inexplicable cases where I felt fine one moment and not the next. No obvious precipitating event seemed to lead to my misery.

I simply had progressively worsening pain in my right groin area that made it extremely difficult to move, bend or raise and lower my right leg. As a consequence, I relied almost exclusively on my left side and upper body to carry my weight, causing additional problems.

I’ve had something similar to this happen to me before, but never with as much pain.

I tried to understand why this was happening to me. I recognize this is one of my default settings- needing to know the reason(s) for things in my life. But, I also recognize now how useless pursuing this line of thought is. It doesn’t resolve the problem, takes me away from helpful courses of action and even if I knew exactly how the problem occurred, what benefit would that serve at the moment?

So, I tried to take a step back and accept that something had happened and it was now up to me to choose how to react.

My first thought was to feel a little sorry for myself because I anticipated that the pain was going to be with me for several days, given how sharp and intense it was.

I’ve learned to try to follow my natural reactions, but not get caught up and stuck in them. So, I pushed a little further.

Yes, there was pain, but what else. Was there something hidden that could be revealed? Could I discover any reason(s) to be grateful for this experience?

Now that is a challenging question and one I don’t feel I was completely ready for. And yet, I knew it was important to consider it. So, I asked myself, what gratitude exists here for me?

The first thought that came to me was that there are folks who are available to me to help; my wife, chiropractor, doctor, family, friends, the pharmacy. I wasn’t alone in this.

I got into the spirit of this exercise.

Instead of being angry that I didn’t get my usual 7-8 hours of sleep, I was grateful for the four hours of sleep I did get. I was grateful that I would be able to seek medical help. I was grateful that my back was okay, despite the extra load placed on it, which is a huge thing for me.

I thought about the timing of this event and expressed gratitude that it had happened when it did, rather than during my recent vacations. It would have severely limited my ability to enjoy them fully. But it happened after them and long enough before our next vacation, so I have time to recover.

I continued listing reasons to be grateful and allowed my physical suffering to exist, but not to overwhelm me. I admit this takes a certain amount of commitment and concentration, but the value to me has been extraordinary, not only for this episode, but to carry with me into the future.

This idea may seem too challenging and not one you can easily accept, but had I not opened to the idea, I would not have discovered gratitude’s great power and beauty. I ask only that you consider seeing if it might offer you the same.

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