Gratitude. It’s at the top of my list of traits that can change the world. Number one is Love. Really “seeing” others and practicing genuine kindness; those things come from a place of love and can make the difference between peace and war. But gratitude–honest-to-God appreciation for the things in my life–is crucial. Giving thanks is one of the most powerful catalysts for change. I really believe that.
When I was a kid and going through First Communion Class (the Lutheran’s version of Catechism in the Catholic church), my pastor said something to us that has always stuck with me, even (especially) now as a non-Christian adult: Always start prayer by giving thanks. Gratitude shows humility and appreciation, which allows room in your heart for acceptance and growth.
I am blessed to have had a life-changing experience involving acceptance and appreciation. Well, many experiences, but one major experience stands out in my mind. It was during a “conscious connected breathing” workshop with Jack Fontana. Before we got started, Jack talked to us about what we might expect and explained that, “There is no such thing as pain; only intensity.” During this group exercise, we were guided into a breath- and music-induced altered state of consciousness. (Note: If you’ve ever considered doing such an exercise, please don’t let my personal experience scare you. What happened to me happens to only a small percentage of participants. Mine was just particularly… intense. And it was a powerful experience.) During the height of my experience, I felt a lot of “intensity.” I began to tighten up. Everywhere. I had spasms in almost every muscle in my body. I imagine I might have looked like someone with cerebral palsy. Trapped in my own body and subconscious…
I wanted out.
But then something occurred to me. I was holding on so tightly to the very thing I wanted to get away from that every muscle in my body clenched up, clinging on for dear life. “Stop fighting,” a voice told me. Accept and embrace. So, remembering what Jack had told us beforehand, I did just that. I knew I wasn’t going to be hurt. I knew I was safe because it was “me.” My mind, my body, my spirit. I wasn’t trapped at all.
So rather than trying to fight against my body, I pushed into it. As much “intensity” as I was feeling in my muscles, I tightened them even further. As I did this, I began to feel a sense of power I’d never felt before. The thing in my subconscious that had come into the light–the thing I wanted to retreat from–became nothing more than a fragile, pitiful little thing, and I embraced it. I thanked it for the purpose it had served, but knew that it was no longer needed. And it was in this moment–a moment of true, humble appreciation–that everything began to relax. My arms slowly uncurled and I felt a tingling sensation that worked its way down from my shoulders through my fingertips, like someone was peeling off a layer of ick. The fire in my legs was slowly put out. Even my face had been frozen, but was now starting to ease into a neutral position. I had done it. I had let go, and I was free.
I simply turned the tables. I then knew on a very deep level that this thing didn’t own me. I owned it. And if I’m going to own something, I own it. Ownership is at the heart of responsibility. Taking ownership of the things that happen in our lives brings a sense of contentment and control. But this realization could not have occurred to me had I not started with acceptance and imbued it with love and humility to create–you guessed it–gratitude.
Gratitude allows you to let go and look to the next thing, the next step, the next stage. When you focus on the stuff you don’t like by “wishing” it away, there’s no room in your life for the thing you want to replace it with. But it isn’t about simply ignoring the bad stuff. If you ignore your heating bill long enough, you’ll find yourself in the cold. Instead, may you be grateful for the resources you do have, find contentment in knowing you have enough and know that there is more in store for you.
Enlightening (and storytelling) from the bungalow,
There are so many more interesting things that happened during that experience, but it would be beyond the scope of this post to go into too much detail. But what about you? What are you grateful for? Or, how has gratitude changed things in your life for the better?