Practicing gratefulness in
Welcome! Perhaps you have read one of those “good news/bad news” tales: A peasant receives a sorely needed horse from a friend: good news! But the horse soon becomes seriously ill: bad news. A kindly aunt offers to pay for the poor animal’s medicine: good news. But as the peasant travels to the apothecary, robbers attack him. So the story goes, on and on through many changes of fortune. The concluding message – “Good news, bad news: Who knows?” – applies readily to gratefulness. We naturally give thanks for things we perceive to be beneficial, whereas we tend to balk at misfortune. But if we could see the grand interweaving of the events of our lives, we might be surprised. Opportunities for gratitude lie imbedded in “bad” news just as often as in “good”.
Take a moment to notice the details of your surroundings here and now. Look carefully. Can you see them as if it were for the first time? When you are ready, let your thoughts stretch beyond your immediate situation to things that have happened to you recently. What have been your greatest joys lately? Your toughest challenges? Bring these joys and challenges clearly to mind in descriptive words or images.
Now narrow your focus solely to whatever you’re finding hardest to handle. Ask yourself: What qualities does this obstacle call me to develop? Can even bereavement or job struggles, for instance, call forth a creative response? The loss of a loved one can make you aware of bonds from heart to heart which neither distance nor death can break. A job or class you consider impossible can teach you much if you rise to the challenge. In fact, it can show you more about your competence and courage than three dozen self-help books can. Think of any hardship as an invitation. You only need to shift your perception to see the difference. Any difficulty you encounter can draw out the highest good in you.
Now carefully name one personal quality you will most need in order to meet the difficulty you face. You have a host of possibilities from which to choose: flexibility, patience, hope, humor, kindheartedness, devotion, simplicity, strength, humility, discernment, truth-telling, sensitivity, confidence, forgiveness…. Did you find what you need? If not, add to the list; there are hundreds of choices.
Once you’ve named one, plan on a time of day when you will regularly have a few moments alone with your thoughts. If possible, make this a quiet time when you’re sure to be undisturbed. But don’t worry if your “aloneness” needs to be in the midst of a crowd: for instance, on a subway or while you’re doing the dishes with family members nearby.
Make up your mind to devote your chosen time every day to drawing up the quality you need. Imagine drawing it up from your heart, like buckets full of water from a deep well. You can do this in a number of ways. You can simply repeat to yourself, softly or silently, the name of the quality. Repeat it many times. Or you can envision yourself embodying this quality in a crisis. Or you can hold in mind a symbol of it, such as a sunlit June meadow for contentment or a granite boulder for steadfastness.
In your “alone” time each day, call upon your chosen quality as if it was right there within you, ready to emerge when given attention. You will find this “as if” to be absolutely true. As you focus your attention on this quality, it does arise. It will lead you to hidden blessings in even the most trying circumstances. These blessings may be internal -- you surprisingly discover within yourself resources to rise to a difficult occasion -- or even external, like struggling through a traumatic move only to meet someone who becomes your best friend. Will you allow yourself to pay attention, each day, to love, mercy, dedication, or whatever else you most need? Set your mind now on doing so for the next month.
Is your difficulty one you’d like to share? If so, please write about it in our Grateful Living message board. If not, you can simply give thanks there for the quality you chose above and read about steps others are taking towards grateful living.
Click Grateful Living message board to open a new page. To finish, close the message board page, come back here and click "OK" below.
We all face challenges every day that build our reserves in both small and impressive ways. Occasionally, we may face extreme circumstances. Even there, this principle of “blessing in disguise” holds true. Many of the people we most respect have honed this principle to a fine art. Such a person was Dutch writer and mystic Etty Hillesum, who from the concentration camp at Westerbork wrote, “You have made me so rich, oh God, please let me share out Your beauty with open hands….Sometimes when I stand in some corner of the camp, my feet planted on Your earth, my eyes raised towards Your heaven, tears sometimes run down my face, tears of deep emotion and gratitude….The beat of my heart has grown deeper, more active, and yet more peaceful, and it is as if I were all the time storing up inner riches.” As you read about her life, you can see how even the worst circumstances can be transformed when we believe that all things work for our good.
Take a moment to conclude by sending love and hope into a difficult situation, your own or someone else’s, past or present, by lighting a candle on this website.
Your loving thoughts will touch others around the globe, as well as giving you fresh courage to face life joyfully.
You have made the unquenchable light of gratefulness shine in a dark corner. You can spread the light by telling a friend about this practice. And your generosity in helping this website will spread the light even further. This will be good news, indeed.