Have you ever had a GRATITUDE PRACTICE?
A couple of weeks back my sister gave me a 2022 Gratitude Diary. It’s beautiful, not just because the design is visually gorgeous but the cover is also bound in fabric, so it has this whole tactile thing going on. You know one of those diaries that feel so special you don’t actually want to write in it? So it took me a few days to get over my reluctance to mar its beauty with my scribble and actually use it for it’s true purpose. GRATITUDE.
The very first thing I wrote was I was grateful for my sister for gifting me this Gratitude Diary and for her constant support throughout my life. That sentence is pretty simple, but the actual thought process really helped me connect to the love I have for my sister and reflect on the gift of her presence through my whole life. She’s always been there and as I took the opportunity that morning to be grateful, I also realised how easy it was for me to take that for granted.
Little did I know how poignant this reminder would be.
That night came the moment when everything changed.
Every now and again you get those moments. As it happened that moment came the very same night I started my day with gratitude for my sister in the Gratitude Diary she’d gifted me only days earlier.
Although we didn’t know it yet, it turns out my sister has a brain tumour and that night was taken to emergency after what looked like a stroke but turned out to be a seizure.
Things moved pretty fast at this point and within days she was having brain surgery.
Brain surgery. It’s still so surreal it feels wrong to say the word, as if saying it is some kind of taboo.
But this is exactly WHY I wanted to share this with you because truth is, ‘bad’ life experiences like these are happening all the time.
There’s a dark side to life, but does it have to be bad?
There are life experiences that no-one wants and nothing can prepare you for. Until they happen, you don’t know how you’ll face such an event because up until that time you’ve not been through it. You haven’t had to face the darkness, the fear or grief or loss that comes when life throws you a curve ball and you’re left reeling, picking up the pieces.
Illness. Disease. Miscarriage. Death. Job loss. Marriage breakdown. Separation. Natural Disaster.
Bad events are as unwanted as they are an inevitable and unavoidable part of life. So why do we shy away from the reality of this?
I think one reason is because things like this remind us how power-less we actually are to control what happens to us in life. It can be terrifying to be confronted by our humanity. It’s way more comfortable to live under the illusion of being in control of what comes next than face the truth that it all can be taken away in an instant.
But here’s the thing, by ignoring the truth of the impermanence of life we also risk taking for granted the gift of all we do have in each moment.
So it follows that being willing to accept loss and the dark side of life also serves to remind us to be grateful for what is and teaches us how to live in the TRUE PRESENT, and this is where the miracle lives.
Using gratitude to find your way through the darkness
I’ve always thought of gratitude as a practice of counting your blessings in order to receive more blessings. You know, the whole Law of Attraction thing.
And yes, this is part of it.
But I’m going to admit to being a little superficial and entitled here, because now I’m starting to see gratitude in a whole new light.
My sister’s gift is a timely reminder that the power of gratitude isn’t limited to appreciating how good you’ve got it when life is going well. It’s showing me there’s also something here in the practice of gratitude that offers a light or a torch to navigate those darkest of times when you’d think gratitude would be the last thing you’d turn to.
I remember watching a documentary of the White Island volcano eruption in New Zealand that killed 22 people in 2020. For the survivors, the stories of injuries sustained as a result of the volcanic fumes were truly horrific. One story that really stood out to me was one young woman who not only suffered burns to 70 percent of her body, but also the devastating loss of members of her family who were with her that day. It’s hard to comprehend such loss, yet when interviewed all that she had to say was how grateful she was. The surgeons had been able to save her hands and for that she was immensely grateful.
It blew me away. Yet there it was, the spiritual power of gratitude. Grace.
Two weeks after brain surgery my sister glows with that kind of grace. Whilst she takes each day as it comes, the reminder to be grateful for the simplest of life’s blessings – and not take any of it for granted – is achingly clear.
Being grateful doesn’t mean denying your feelings.
There’s also a difference here between gratitude and your feelings.
Your feelings are your feelings and if you experience unexpected loss or tragedy or crisis you have every right to feel what you feel. This isn’t about saying you should focus on gratitude to the exclusion of your emotional reality, because that’s just going to create more harm than good.
No-one is saying you should feel grateful for the death of your newborn or that your husband died in his sleep or that your mate committed suicide or that you woke up with partial vision loss or that your home has been destroyed by floods or your life has taken an unexpected turn you didn’t want and have no control over.
Staying present to your feelings is an essential part of the healing process. Letting tears flow is an important pathway for the release needed to let go and find acceptance in what is however hard that may be. There’s a beautiful Chinese Medicine expression that says, ‘tears are the fluid of the Heart‘ and this expression reminds me of Kuan Yin, the Goddess of Compassion and how she’s usually depicted pouring water from a vase, the balm that washes away the pain. The Divine Feminine brings alchemical healing in tears.
So gratitude isn’t asking you to control or deny or minimise your feelings. What I’m coming to realise is that gratitude offers something to tether to through the storm of your emotional reality, like a beacon from the Heart that offers a glimmer of light to guide and protect and keep you going through the most difficult of circumstances and painful feelings.
Gratitude isn’t a feeling. It’s a practice of being thankful. This practice is a shift in perspective that allows you to see things through a different lens as a way of transforming pain or suffering by choosing to see things in a new light.
This transformational power of gratitude is where miracles happen.
In all honesty, it’s not easy to turn to gratitude when tragedy happens or when things simply aren’t going the way you want. I don’t mind being real and admitting that crisis can send me on a downward spiral and it’s easy to get stuck there. But I’m learning pain too has choice and if willing to give it a go, gratitude helps show how to glean the alchemical gold from the lead of human experience.
I’ve gained so much from gratitude in the brief period since my sister gave me the Gratitude Diary. Taking 20-30 minutes each day to write in my Gratitude Diary forces me to reach for and count my blessings and acknowledge the Beauty. This simple action feels to build me up inside, helps me focus on what matters, and this seems to act like a buffer that gets me through these uncertain times.
It’s simple and powerful and, more importantly a skill that can be learned. If you’re not big on journaling, a practice Ron gives his clients is to get into the habit of taking 3 photos each day of things you’re grateful for and why. Share this.
Life is full of ups and downs because the purpose of life is evolution and this means adaptation to change, both good and bad. The art of living well is building the muscle of INNER RESILIENCE in order to ride the changing tides of fortune with grace, finding the still centre point even whilst the storm is raging all around.
I’m the first to admit this is easier said than done, but I’m grateful to have a practice to show me the way.