Br. David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine monk, teaches about the transforming power of living gratefully not just when something wonderful or special happens, but every day no matter what is happening.
I've recently been involved with two people whose lives were challenged by adversity, and seen grateful living's power sustain one of them and begin to lift the other. One was a friend and one is my sister.
My friend seemed in good health when she received a fatal diagnosis, a disease with no cure, no effective treatment. She had all the emotions that a tragedy like this brings, but she also had a powerful antidote to despair, a gratefulness practice that gave her "the happiness that doesn't depend on what happens."
My sister was in increasingly poor health, but nothing life-threatening, although she did have a very painful knee. Her life was in danger from her defeated spirit. She was bed-bound, getting weaker and weaker. Fearful, angry and depressed, she felt out of options for recovery.
My friend wrote online daily, sharing frankly her increasing difficulty and discomfort. She also wrote that her increasing immobility gave her more time to notice what was happening, and be grateful for small things. She was of course grateful for the love and help of family and friends. But also for time to see the sun rise and watch the birds in her yard and talk with friends and eat all the chocolate she wanted.
No opportunity for gratefulness was wasted.
She taught that gratefulness is not a false cheerfulness. It's taking every opportunity to celebrate the blessings of small things, the abundance that is already ours. We can be grateful for the challenges that help us develop compassion for each other. Life is a precious gift.
She repeatedly blogged that she was, in many ways, happier than she had ever been.
When she wrote about "the worst day," she ended with "life is still a lovely gift." She died later that day.
I read my sister a few of her messages. I was careful not to say, "Why can't you be more like her?" and just let the words do their work. I'm grateful to say that an attitude of gratitude began to replace anger and fear. I believe that this played a major role in my sister's healing.
We can't be grateful for all that happens, things such as war, disease, poverty, abuse. But we can practice gratefulness for life itself, for all we can learn to deal with, for all the ways we can help each other grow and heal.
Here's a simple way to begin. It's called 5-3-1. Every day take 5 minutes to sit quietly, open to God's presence. Let your mind chatter if it needs to, but open your heart and breathe quietly, focusing on your breath. Every day write down three things you're grateful for. Every day do one act of kindness.
For more ideas about grateful living, visit Br. David's website at www.gratefulness.org.
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