An attitude of gratitude is a valuable holistic tool.
Dancing joyfully between your life’s mission and your daily tasks, the big picture and the details, your long-range aspirations and recycling your trash is one way to describe holistic living. When I’m in that holistic zone, I’m feeling really good, dancing inside like Snoopy’s best cartoon
jig. Then there are those times when I’ve morphed into a Velcro ping-pong ball on a Velcro table: stuck, stuck, stuck. Doesn’t matter whether it’s the big picture or the little, stuck is characterized by frustration, or angst, or despair, or ___________. (I invite you to fill in your “favorite.” Seriously, why not grab a pen right now and get personal? Moving muscles demonstrates willingness, which in turn opens new nerve pathways for new thought patterns.)
Gratitude is the metaphysical Leatherneck tool to keep your dance soaring or to free you from the detail dregs of the deepest drudgery dumpster. 100% guaranteed. And it’s an easy tool to use right now. I’m grateful for the vision and neuromuscular coordination to compose
this article. Now, it’s your turn: “I’m grateful for the vision and neuromuscular coordination to read this article.” Speak it out loud if circumstances permit. If it rings flat, explore other treasures awaiting you in this edition of Living.Well. If you feel some gratitude, read on for many, many more benefits you’ll get from this virtual gratitude apprenticeship.
~ User Friendly, Universally Compatible ~
Holistic living is my passionate orientation because I (and anybody who wants to) can use what’s right here, right now to enjoy this moment regardless of worldly circumstances. Nothing to buy, assemble or study. User friendly, compatible with any value system, geographical location, or economic status. Spanning the ages, the tool of gratitude is the subject of songs (“I fall asleep counting my blessings”) and stories (the Zen monk ~ dangling from a weed on the side of a mile-high cliff just beyond the reach of a voracious snarling tiger ~ plucks and savors a luscious wild strawberry growing nearby).
Gratitude for some, like that fabled monk, may be a natural way of life, an innate character trait like optimism or creativity or resourcefulness. For me, gratitude takes practice. Inspired over a decade ago by one of Oprah’s guests, Sarah Ban Breathnach, I began an actual practice of counting my blessings. A few years later, someone I’m only slightly acquainted with had a bunch of copies of Breathnach’s year-long Journal of Gratitude*, and handed me one.
I struggled daily to record five items I felt grateful for. At first, I could only write a short phrase on each of those five lines. “Awakened feeling refreshed; Bronco runs good; Washed kitchen floor; Ate wild berries picked last summer for breakfast.” This simple task seemed soooo difficult. Not difficult like learning to ride my Harley. Difficult like walking through knee-deep Vermont snow one UCONN Spring break to an A-frame deep in the woods. Whatever the payoff from this gratitude endeavor, I doubted it would justify my arduous investment. But I felt compelled to give this strategy a rigorous and thorough testing.
~ Enjoy the Journey ~
When I skipped a day or two, the burden of recollection to eke out five gratitudes felt almost unbearable. “Enjoy the journey,” I reminded myself. “How can I lighten up about this? Hmmmm. How can I make this easier?” I wondered. After filling in the missed days, I used one
line for the current day to appreciate having caught up. I did indeed feel good about giving this experiment a consistent trial, about being true to my year’s commitment. I recorded my gratitude for my lifelong ability to persist with even a reluctant willingness to pursue my need for personal
I appreciated small daily accomplishments that have become part of my healthy lifestyle representing decades of healing progress ~ like drinking enough water, blissfully preparing and eating sumptuous meals of delicious natural foods, celebrating each euphoric victory of a polar bear plunge. When my phone went out for three days after a storm, I discovered I felt grateful for the respite. At times, I logged gratitude for business booming, for the service I could contribute. Other times when business slackened I wrote thanks for free time.
~ Passionate Transformative Force ~
Breathnach’s preface declares, “Gratitude is the most passionate transformative force in the cosmos. When we give thanks to God [or The Force if you’re a Star Wars fan, or Nature, Life, Great Spirit, the Tao, Universal Mind, Cosmic Consciousness, Higher Power, a guardian angel, etc.] or to another human being, gratitude gifts us with renewal, reflection, reconnection. Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life (is it abundant or is it lacking?) and the world (is it friendly or is it hostile?). Once we accept that abundance and lack are parallel realities and that each day we choose—consciously or unconsciously—which world we will inhabit, a deep inner shift in our reality occurs. We discover the sacred in the ordinary and we realize that every day is literally a gift. How we conduct our daily round, how we celebrate it, cherish it and consecrate it is how we express our thankfulness….”It’s really true! That year of journaling did create an inner shift. As months rolled by I more easily identified gratitudes, filled each line with details, wrote smaller and out to the page edges, as well as above and below the designated lines. Then, I used highlighters to draw background designs complementing one or more of my entries. By year’s end, every page was crammed full of enthusiasm. My book got sooo full of gratitudes, its binding actually collapsed from my
~ Gratitude Grows Good ~
Since I’m a long-time journaler, I’ve continued extolling my blessings in my regular journaling practice, watching the Law of Attraction multiply them. “Good, the more Communicated, more abundant grows,” (poet John Milton) is one of many inspiring quotes Breathnach shares. “Gratitude helps you to grow and expand; gratitude brings joy and laughter into your life and into the lives of all those around you.” (Eileen Caddy) And from Robert Louis Stevenson: “There is no duty we so much underrate as the duty of being happy. By being happy we sow anonymous benefits upon the world.”
IT’S REALLY TRUE! Find out for yourself. First, make the conscious choice to cultivate gratitude. Then take action to demonstrate that you are choosing to foster appreciation, which feeds happiness. You may not be into journaling, but there are many ways to prime your own gratitude process. For example, whenever you say a perfunctory, “Thank you,” generate a bigger, deeper feeling of appreciation than you might normally be aware of. Exercise those imagination muscles. Place post-its declaring “THANKS” on your steering wheel, bathroom mirror, microwave, etc. to remind yourself to vocalize it. Then practice, practice, practice.
“Feeling grateful or appreciative of someone or something in your life actually attracts more of the things you appreciate and value into your life. And the more of your life that you like and appreciate the healthier you’ll be. Science is now documenting what women have known intuitively for millennia: that ‘thinking with your heart’ will lead you in the right
direction.” (Christian Northrup, M.D., author)*
~ Write a Thank-You Note ~
I recently reread an old Norman Vincent Peale book, Treasury of Joy and Enthusiasm (©1981) in which he suggests writing a letter of thanks to someone who has been helpful to you as a means of shifting your life into a better-feeling gear. “To speak gratitude is courteous and pleasant, to enact gratitude is generous and noble, but to live gratitude is to touch heaven,” Breathnach quotes contemporary Lafayette scholar Johannes aertner.
So, I decided to dedicate the whole month of November to writing notes and letters giving thanks. I’ve got about half a dozen people in mind, including leaving one in my mailbox for my postal carrier. There was an English teacher and his wife back in high school that I feel grateful for influencing my life. I think of them from time to time, and want to hand decorate a note of appreciation to them. In my experience, a thoughtful hank-you out of the clear blue reaches authentic depths within both giver and receiver much greater than any Christmas or birthday card.
I’m also including my long deceased parents in this month’s campaign of appreciation. I may write it in my journal, or ceremoniously ignite a note to carry my sentiments into Universal Consciousness. Once, I used a spatula to deliver a folded photo into the ground next to my mother’s gravestone, but this month I’ll not be traveling to Connecticut. A more contemporary thank you goes to dear friend Marsha who graduated from my Holistic Massage Practitioner Course decades ago, served on staff awhile, relocated to Texas, became an ordained minister, whose daughters weddings I attended in Huston and Belize, and spent a whole year not so long ago supporting me an hour or two every week while I fumbled through a drastic life transition.
~ Appreciate Appreciation ~
Making time for six or eight thank you notes ~ a couple a week ~ also feels like a good way to satisfy my appetite for appreciating the appreciation that comes my way. Filled with gratitude, I eat much less food and enjoy the celebratory Thanksgiving feast much more. “Gratitude is a twofold love—love coming to visit us, and love running out to greet a welcome guest,” wrote Henry Van Dyke, 19th century American minister educator and author. Breathnach also quotes him a second time, to preface her November section, “Gratitude is the inward feeling of kindness received. Thankfulness is the natural impulse to express that feeling. Thanksgiving is the following of that impulse.”
*Sarah Ban Breathnach, The Simple Abundance Journal of Gratitude, Warner Books, Inc. NY, NY 1996.