Reflections on gratitude as a spiritual practice: final week of Taste & See series

Wear gratitude like a cloak and it will feed every corner of your life. ― Rumi

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

PRAYER

O my Great Elder, I have no words to thank you,
But with your deep wisdom I am sure that you can see
How I value your glorious gifts … when I look upon your greatness, I am confounded with awe. O Great Elder, Ruler of all things earthly and heavenly, I am … ready to act in accordance with your will.
— Excerpted from Kikuya Prayer (Kenya)

Savoring the Small Stuff: Ordinary Gratitude as Spiritual Practice  (excerpt from full article) — Carl Gregg
 … ways that we can be more intentional about noticing and responding to the parts of our lives for which we are most (and least) grateful. I. Noticing… What do you tend to notice in your daily life? And why? … we could notice at any given time — different sights, sounds, smells, tastes, touches, or emotions — but our personalities shape what stands out to us and what fades into the background … you can amplify the power of this practice — and keep yourself accountable to regularly noticing what you are grateful for — by making a commitment to share your daily gratitude (or gratitudes) with someone else, whether it is a child, a partner, or a friend.

II. The Awareness Examen

… one of the most consistently helpful ways … is a practice called the Awareness Examen … It helps you weigh the value of various aspects of your life. The examen was first detailed by Ignatius of Loyola, the 16th century founder of the Jesuits … shorter and more accessible book by Dennis, Sheila and Matthew Linn called Sleeping with Bread: Holding What Gives You Life. In short, the examen encourages you to respond to two questions at the end of each day either around the dinner table with your family or silently before you go to sleep: … you can ask “What am I most grateful for today?” and “What am I least grateful for today?” Over time, to add nuance, you can ask variations on your consolations such as, “Where did I feel most connected, most alive, most energized, or most loved?” Correspondingly, you can ask “Where did I feel most isolated, most enervated, or most taken for granted?”

… And as you notice patterns of what consistently makes you feel connected, alive, energized, and loved, the invitation is to find ways to cultivate more of that person, place, or activity in your life. … As you notice patterns of what consistently makes you feel isolated, enervated, or taken for granted, an invitation is to consider if you should find ways to have less of that person, place, or activity in your life.

III. The Spiritual Practice of Savoring

This practice of noticing and choosing what is life-affirming over what is life-negating can seem particularly simple or obvious: structure your life to do morefrequently those things that bring you consolation and do less frequently those things that bring you desolation … gently think back through my day, and name those things I’m grateful for. It’s honestly a great way to fall asleep: savoringthose things you are most grateful for. … Of course, all this talk about gratitude and savoring is easier said than done. Cultivating ordinary gratitude, noticing our consolations and desolations, and savoring them are all practices that happen over time. As with practicing the piano, practicing basketball, or practicing yoga, method and frequency matter … “Practices doesn’t necessarily make perfect, but it does make permanent.” … Practice makes permanent by ingraining habits that are difficult to break.

Application

For now, with the potential stress and joy of Thanksgiving still a few days away, I invite you to spend a short time practicing the art of savoring. Ask yourself, “What am I grateful for?” Then, pause in the silence, and listen. Allow yourself to be potentially surprised about what emerges for you as a source of gratitude. As you do so, remember the guidance from Buddha’s Brain: “Make [your consolation] last by staying with it for 5, 10, even 20 seconds [or longer].” Savor this source of gratitude with your whole self. “Focus on your emotions and body sensations…. Let the experience fill your body and be as intense as possible.”

  • What are you grateful for in your life?
  • What do you need to savor?

Other articles on gratitude:

  • Gratitude practices by Deepak Chopra (full article)“What am I grateful for?” is one of four key questions that practitioners pose to themselves prior to entering into meditation. Such practices of gratitude bring awareness to and appreciation of the positive features within and around us, helping us to embrace life as it is with all of its imperfections. Other practices to consciously cultivate a grateful life include journaling, counting blessings, savoring positive moments, and behavioral expressions of gratitude such as thank you notes, to name a few. By cultivating gratitude, we cultivate wellbeing.
  • Start a Gratitude Practice — Melissa, Lionheart Life

For Abundance

In ordinary life, we hardly realize that we receive a great deal more than we give, and that it is only with gratitude that life becomes rich.  – Dietrich Bonhoeffer 

One can never pay in gratitude; one can only pay ‘in kind’ somewhere else in life. — Anne Morrow Lindbergh 

How I show love has always been through food. That, for me, has been the foundation of how I express gratitude for anybody around me. — Antoni Porowski

Gratitude for the present moment and the fullness of life now is the true prosperity.  – Eckhart Tolle 

None is more impoverished than the one who has no gratitude. Gratitude is a currency that we can mint for ourselves, and spend without fear of bankruptcy. —Fred De Witt Van Amburgh

Gratitude is riches. Complaint is poverty.  – Doris Day 

Gratitude is the healthiest of all human emotions. The more you express gratitude for what you have, the more likely you will have even more to express gratitude for. — Zig Ziglar

Happiness cannot be traveled to owned, earned, worn or consumed. Happiness is the spiritual experience of living every minute with love, grace, and gratitude. – Denis Waitley

When you are grateful, fear disappears and abundance appears.– Anthony Robbins 

What separates privilege from entitlement is gratitude. – Brene Brown 

When I started counting my blessings, my whole life turned around. – Willie Nelson

 Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough. —Oprah Winfrey

As with all commandments, gratitude is a description of a successful mode of living. The thankful heart opens our eyes to a multitude of blessings that continually surround us. – James E. Faust 

As Connection to Holiness

Perhaps nothing helps us make the movement from our little selves to a larger world than remembering God in gratitude. Such a perspective puts God in view in all of life, not just in the moments we set aside for worship or spiritual disciplines. Not just in the moments when life seems easy. — Henri Nouwen

All human bodies are things lent by God.  With what thought are you using them? — Terrikyo. Ofudesaki 3.41 

I acknowledge my feeling and gratitude for life by praising the world and whoever made all these things. — Mary Oliver

I acknowledge with great gratitude the peace and contentment we can find for ourselves in the spiritual cocoons of our homes, our sacrament meetings, and our holy temples. — James E. Faust

Be not like those who honor their gods in prosperity and curse them in adversity.  In pleasure or pain, give thanks! — Midrash, Mekilta to Exodus 20.20

O you who believe!  Eat of the good things that We have provided for you, and be grateful to God, if it is Him that you worship. — Qur’an 2.172

‘Thank you’ is the best prayer that anyone could say. I say that one a lot. Thank you expresses extreme gratitude, humility, understanding. — Alice Walker

It is God who has made the night for you, that you may rest therein, and the day, as that which helps you to see.  Verily God is full of grace and bounty to men, yet most men give no thanks.  It is God who has made for you the earth as a resting place, and the sky as a canopy, and has given you shape–and made your shapes beautiful–and has provided for you sustenance of things pure and good; such is God, your Lord. So glory to God, the Lord of the Worlds! — Qur’an 40.61, 64

Gratitude exclaims, very properly, ‘How good of God to give me this.’  — C. S. Lewis

As Action

As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them. — John F. Kennedy

Thankfulness is the beginning of gratitude. Gratitude is the completion of thankfulness. Thankfulness may consist merely of words. Gratitude is shown in acts. —Henri Frederic Amiel

You cannot do a kindness too soon because you never know how soon it will be too late. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

If future generations are to remember us more with gratitude than sorrow, we must achieve more than just the miracles of technology. We must also leave them a glimpse of the world as it was created, not just as it looked when we got through with it. —Lyndon B. Johnson

Feeling gratitude isn’t born in us – it’s something we are taught, and in turn, we teach our children. — Joyce Brothers

Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it. —William Arthur Ward

As Mindfulness

Give yourself a gift of five minutes of contemplation in awe of everything you see around you. Go outside and turn your attention to the many miracles around you. This five-minute-a-day regimen of appreciation and gratitude will help you to focus your life in awe. — Wayne Dyer

For me, every hour is grace. And I feel gratitude in my heart each time I can meet someone and look at his or her smile. — Elie Wiesel

The discipline of gratitude is the explicit effort to acknowledge that all I am and have is given to me as a gift of love, a gift to be celebrated with joy. — Henri Nouwen

Gratitude is an antidote to negative emotions, a neutralizer of envy, hostility, worry, and irritation. It is savoring; it is not taking things for granted; it is present-oriented. – Sonja Lyubomirsky 

I don’t have to chase extraordinary moments to find happiness – it’s right in front of me if I’m paying attention and practicing gratitude. — Brene Brown

Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things. —Robert Brault

It is through gratitude for the present moment that the spiritual dimension of life opens up. — Eckhart Tolle

The roots of all goodness lie in the soil of appreciation for goodness. —Dalai Lama

Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world. — John Milton

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

As Practice



If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, “thank you,” that would suffice. — Meister Eckhart

Being thankful is not always experienced as a natural state of existence, we must work at it, akin to a type of strength training for the heart. – Larissa Gomez

If you concentrate on finding whatever is good in every situation, you will discover that your life will suddenly be filled with gratitude, a feeling that nurtures the soul. — Rabbi Harold Kushner 

The way to develop the best that is in a person is by appreciation and encouragement. —Charles Schwab

We learned about gratitude and humility – that so many people had a hand in our success, from the teachers who inspired us to the janitors who kept our school clean… and we were taught to value everyone’s contribution and treat everyone with respect. — Michelle Obama

Reflect upon your present blessings, of which every man has plenty; not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some. — Charles Dickens

Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings. — William Arthur Ward

Let us rise up and be thankful, for if we didn’t learn a lot today, at least we learned a little, and if we didn’t learn a little, at least we didn’t get sick, and if we got sick, at least we didn’t die; so, let us all be thankful. – Buddha 

Two kinds of gratitude: The sudden kind we feel for what we take; the larger kind we feel for what we give. – Edwin Arlington Robinson 

He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has. – Epictetus

When it comes to life the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude. ― G.K. Chesterton

Reflections on neighbors, living in community, and Good Samaritan: themes from Luke 10

On the parable of the Good Samaritan: “I imagine that the first question the priest and Levite asked was: ‘If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’ But by the very nature of his concern, the good Samaritan reversed the question: ‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?”
― Martin Luther King Jr.

Link to the text for this week: Luke 10: 25-37
  Questions to consider:

  • With what families, kindred, groups, teams, clubs, faiths, organizations, tribes, nationalities, ethnicities, regions, businesses, workplaces, unions, schools, etc. do you affiliate, connect, identify and/or hold membership? Name them. How many ways do you belong to communities?
  • When have you felt like a ‘stranger in a strange land’ or an ‘other’ vs a friend or neighbor or a community member?
  • What changed helped you connect?
  • In a well-known story like this one, with thieves and a person knocked down and robbed on the side of the road, plus public figures who walk around the problem and leave the victim unattended as they make excuses, and another person from an reviled neighboring nation who pays attention and helps the victim by the road, plus an innkeeper who continues to care for the victim, with whom do you identify in the story? Who do you want to be? Who do you think you are right now?

Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood
(song lyrics)
It’s a beautiful day in this neighborhood, A beautiful day for a neighbor, Would you be mine? Could you be mine?   It’s a neighborly day in this beautywood, A neighborly day for a beauty, Would you be mine? Could you be mine?   I have always wanted to have a neighbor just like you, I’ve always wanted to live in a neighborhood with you.   So let’s make the most of this beautiful day, Since we’re together, we might as well say, Would you be mine? Could you be mine? Won’t you be my neighbor? Won’t you please, Won’t you please, Please won’t you be my neighbor?

Learn more: Cooperative models of evolution in natural world.

Learn more: About your own implicit biases via this Harvard site! Different tests/surveys for different topics.

Defining Implicit Bias (from Kirwan Institute, Ohio State University): Also known as implicit social cognition, implicit bias refers to the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner.  These biases, which encompass both favorable and unfavorable assessments, are activated involuntarily and without an individual’s awareness or intentional control.  Residing deep in the subconscious, these biases are different from known biases that individuals may choose to conceal for the purposes of social and/or political correctness.  Rather, implicit biases are not accessible through introspection.

The implicit associations we harbor in our subconscious cause us to have feelings and attitudes about other people based on characteristics such as race, ethnicity, age, and appearance.  These associations develop over the course of a lifetime beginning at a very early age through exposure to direct and indirect messages.  In addition to early life experiences, the media and news programming are often-cited origins of implicit associations.

A Few Key Characteristics of Implicit Biases

  • Implicit biases are pervasive.  Everyone possesses them, even people with avowed commitments to impartiality such as judges.
  • Implicit and explicit biases are related but distinct mental constructs.  They are not mutually exclusive and may even reinforce each other.
  • The implicit associations we hold do not necessarily align with our declared beliefs or even reflect stances we would explicitly endorse.
  • We generally tend to hold implicit biases that favor our own ingroup, though research has shown that we can still hold implicit biases against our ingroup.
  • Implicit biases are malleable.  Our brains are incredibly complex, and the implicit associations that we have formed can be gradually unlearned through a variety of debiasing techniques.

Thoughts on Neighbors & Good Samaritans

It’s good to remember that in crises, natural crises, human beings forget for awhile their ignorances, their biases, their prejudices. For a little while, neighbors help neighbors and strangers help strangers. — Maya Angelou On the one hand we are called to play the good Samaritan on life’s roadside; but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. ― Martin Luther King Jr.

… and to parents do good, and to relatives, orphans, the needy, the near neighbor, the neighbor farther away, the companion at your side… — Quran 4:36 (excerpt)

To be truly good means more than not robbing people …To be truly good means more than being righteously religious …To be truly good means being a good neighbor … And to be a good neighbor means recognizing that there are ultimately no strangers … Everybody is my neighbor! … Everybody is my brother! … We’re all connected. ― Brian McLaren

Like the Good Samaritan, may we not be ashamed of touching the wounds of those who suffer, but try to heal them with concrete acts of love. — Pope Francis

Stop acting so small. You are the universe in ecstatic motion. — Rumi

The Prophet, , said: “By the One in whose Hands my soul is, no slave of Allah has true faith unless he likes for his neighbor what he likes for himself.” — IslamicHadith

When we love and make loving commitments, we create families and communities within which people can grow and take risks, knowing that hands will be there to catch them should they fall.— Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

Good and kind people outnumber all others by thousands to one. The tragedy of human history lies in the enormous potential for destruction in rare acts of evil, not in the high frequency of evil people. Complex systems can only be built step by step, whereas destruction requires but an instant. Thus, in what I like to call the Great Asymmetry, every spectacular incident of evil will be balanced by 10,000 acts of kindness, too often unnoted and invisible as the ”ordinary” efforts of a vast majority. We have a duty, almost a holy responsibility, to record and honor the victorious weight of these innumerable little kindnesses, when an unprecedented act of evil so threatens to distort our perception of ordinary human behavior — Stephen Gould

So by all means let us name evil for what it is, let’s root out the sin and racism within us, let us fight for justice, but then let us turn the cameras toward the light, lest we become so consumed by the effects of evil that we miss the chance to be kind to a stranger, and we miss the chance to stop and read to our kids and we miss the chance to notice how acts of beauty and kindness out number acts of evil by the thousands, because in so doing we hand evil a bigger victory than it earned when in fact it has already lost. See, in the same 24 hour news cycle that only can speak of evil –

  • babies were born
  • and people feel in love
  • and someone put an old lady’s shopping cart back for her
  • and caseroles were bright to the home-bound
  • and prayers were said
  • and little girls made brand new friends
  • and someone paid for the coffe of the person behind them in line
  • and flowers were brought to the Dallas police department
  • and children made perfectly mis-spelled protest signs
  • and people made up
  • and someone in the coffee shop let me hold their baby because they could tell I needed it
  • and when … car broke down in the middle of nowhere during his vacation, someone came along at just the right moment and towed it 126 miles …

and Every second of every day our God arrives unannounced in the merciful and loving kindness of other people … — Nadia Bolz-Weber

A prospective convert to Judaism asked Rabbi Hillel to teach him the entire Torah while he stood on one leg. Hillel replied: “That which is hateful unto you do not do to your neighbor. This is the whole of the Torah, the rest is commentary. Go forth and study.” — Robert Avrech

Poem posted by ‘onlylovepoetry’ on hellopoetry.com:

I inquired of the holy dark where god hides
why my existence was just one unending question?

… could hear Him smile and communicate:
if not You, then who?

… love thy neighbor as thyself

… then, smiling, god extended his only finger, touching each of mine eyelids:

sleep, friend for we need your questioning dreams,
your faith unfurled unfulfilled
for in your unending inquiry
is all of our “in the beginning,”
the holy dark

Commentary on Good Samaritan Story

Locating our … inclinations … from the perspective of the different characters can be one … way to go — the priest, the Levite, the guy left in the ditch, the Samaritan, the innkeeper. We all want to be the Samaritan, but truth be told, we aren’t — at least, not all of the time. And, every once in a while, it does our faith good to stand in the shoes of the people whom we do not want to be (or hope we are not). — Karoline Lewis

Deep wounds are not easily healed. But the Good Samaritan poured oil and wine into the wounds of the stranger who lay helpless on the road to Jericho, and set him on the road to recovery. Each one of us can go and do likewise. ― John LaFarge

We have to go through life behaving as if we love each other. We can behave ourselves into love. This training of love for the world can start small. We might not start out by stopping for every stranger in need that we see or giving away all of our money and possessions or moving to the streets in solidarity with the homeless. We can start where we are. We can help out even when we don’t have to. We can stop keeping track of who has done what to wrong us or who is taking advantage of the system. Instead of keeping track of our losses, we can keep track of gratitude. We can share with people who haven’t had the lucky breaks that we have had. It’s not enough, however, to love the people who are easy to love. It’s much harder to love those who are have behaved in horrible ways. But we must love them too. In fact, it might be the more important task. — Kristen Berkey-Abbott

What does the Good Samaritan do? Three things, I’d suggest. First, he sees the man in need, when he was invisible to the priest and Levite who passed him by. Actually, they did see him, and then promptly ignored him. They saw him, but not as a neighbor, perceiving him instead to be a burden, and perhaps even a threat. …  Second, the Samaritan not only sees the man in need as a neighbor, but he draws near to him, coming over to help. The other two gave this man in need a wide berth, creating even more distance between them. But the Samaritan instead goes to him, and becomes vulnerable in that closeness. Vulnerable should it indeed be a trap, but even more so, vulnerable in opening himself to see his pain, misery, and need. … Third, after seeing him and coming close, the Samaritan has compassion on him, tending his wounds, transporting him to the inn, making sure he is taken care of. Seeing is vital, drawing near imperative, yet the final and meaningful gesture is that the Samaritan actually does something about it. Compassion, in this sense, is sympathy put into action. And these three inter-related moves – seeing, drawing near, and having compassion – offer us an example of what it is to be Christ-like … — David Lose

And so Jesus brings this home by choosing the most unlikely of characters to serve as the instrument of God’s mercy and grace and exemplify Christ-like behavior. That’s what God does: God chooses people no one expects and does amazing things through them. Even a Samaritan. Even our people. Even me. Even you. — David Lose

Instead, Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan, the point of which seems to be that your neighbor is to be construed as meaning anybody who needs you. The lawyer’s response is left unrecorded. — Frederick Beuchner

It seems to me, contrary to our culture that is obsessed with all things “spectacular”, that it is when we are engaged in the most mundane activities that we make the most difference in another person’s life. When you get right down to it, that’s the only place we can really make much of a difference in the life of another human being. We mortals rarely achieve the level of influence that can truly make a difference for hundreds or thousands of people out there. For the most part, we have the opportunity to touch a life here, a life there. It is through the quality of our character, not anything “spectacular” that we may do, that we make a difference in another life. It is through the way in which we conduct our relationships, not through any great “achievement,” that we really have an effect on another human being. — Alan Brehm

This is a strange time for acting as actual neighbors. But that doesn’t change the point of the parable. It cuts through all our excuses about our customary practice, our usual public statements, and asks if we are doing mercy. Or not. — Richard Swanson

Reflections on humor & doubt, themes from John 20

What is the role of doubt and questioning in our spiritual lives? With whom do we keep company … some of the great matriarchs and patriarchs doubted. And then laughed. And hoped. Humor shines a light into dark places, becomes a wind sweeping through our souls.

(Reflecting on themes of humor and doubt from the Gospel of John while we celebrate Bright Sunday or Holy Humor Sunday: April 8. Wear bright colors. Bring a joke or riddle. Get ready to laugh out loud.)

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

— Rumi

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Reflections on ashes and dust: themes from Ash Wednesday & Lent

Ash Wednesday is the starting point of Lent. We are marked with ashes as we begin the season. We go from feasting to a season of fasting, praying, and giving.

Or perhaps we can think of Lent as a season of personal training, of discipline and preparation, to return to spiritual fitness. It’s a time when, through confession, we admit and wrestle with our issues, vulnerabilities and weaknesses … and get to know ourselves better. We seek healing and balance.

This is also an opportunity to understand that we are beloved for whom we are: messy and imperfect and broken. Just as we are beloved for whom we may become. Because the gift of this season, ultimately, is grace. We can prepare, we can focus … yet we cannot earn the boundless love toward which we are reaching. It is simply offered to us, regardless of how perfect or imperfect we are. Just because.

Ashes symbolize mortality, as well as humility and contrition. The proudest members of society, in many faith traditions, don sackcloth and wear ashes as signs of humility, to express sorrow, or to demonstrate a desire for reconciliation and forgiveness. Ashes represent, like “dust to dust”, our elemental origins and remind us that our bodies will return to the earth. Within our faith, we also believe that while our bodies are formed from organic materials, our living selves are filled up with and energized by Breath, Wind, or Holy Spirit, which animates life and connects all of us.

Traditionally, people receive ashes today, Ash Wednesday, as a smudge or cross on the forehead. We come to this season in a messy way, wearing our imperfection on our faces. Messy, sad, sorry, tired, angry, grateful, hopeful, happy, curious … we enter into this time of preparation, on the journey toward Easter.

Continue reading “Reflections on ashes and dust: themes from Ash Wednesday & Lent”

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