We’ve just returned from being evacuated from our home during Hurricane Irma, and our ice-maker is working! Be aware this is no small thing—it has never worked before. It is something to be grateful for. We went to Jacksonville to spend our banishment with daughter Catherine and her husband Randy in their home. Our other two daughters also live in town. It was not a hardship. Early on, Catherine’s home lost power. Randy rigged a system from the neighbor’s generator to power the refrigerator, and, alternately, a small room air conditioner in the den. The water and the toilets worked— something to really be grateful for. We were so grateful to return to full power at home on Thursday, and no water intrusion. We are feeling blessed.
For that reason, today I am sharing Chapter Nine of my book “Walking Your Walk” called “Gratitude.” The opening poem is one I wrote, “I Am Grateful” that was published in the Tampa Review. I believe that in this trying time, being grateful is the more difficult and most important thing as we attempt to return to our lives in a more fully aware way. Action is necessary. Answer the question posed by Mary Oliver in her beautiful poem “Have You Ever Tried to Enter the Long Black Branches?” The question is:
Listen! Are you breathing just a little and calling it a life?
Gratitude: The Expressway
When you open yourself with the golden key of appreciation
God will fill your heart with treasures unlike any you have ever imagined.
Alan Cohen, The Healing of the Planet Earth
I Am Grateful
for the apricot cheek of my youngest daughter,
the down on the neck of my grandchild, sleeping. Yet I fail
to block the delicate fear that glides up my spine at the sight
of my son sliding limb-first like a greased sheep towards the net
and the goalie who awaits him. It’s a fine art, this mastery
of gratitude, essential to a life well lived, a peace-filled heart.
I am grateful to a friend who tells me I look sensual
as I walk out the door to meet with my ex-husband. Small
things matter. Nothing can be said of pelicans flying straight
across the mango sunset, for it is one of those everyday
events that steals breath and brings on prayer, reminding me
there is no such thing as the everyday. A new bloom
slowly reveals perfection on my camellia bush.
How have I been so blessed? Doubt goes into hiding
on a day like this, and I find gratitude for my mother
being in a better place, a place I can’t reach by phone
or letter; and I see her dancing on the patio
when she thought we were all asleep, lifting her skirt to her
knees in front of Dad’s friends that entranced summer evening.
I am grateful to have labored and presented gifts to earth
six times, a contribution rivaling Hercules and longer lived.
There is not enough space for all this thankfulness; it blazes
towards heaven. Was there anything better than the glass of chill
lemonade on a night in August when the grass fell down
in a swoon and the corn fields cried out for rain? I was so
grateful, there were no words, but letters trickled down
my throat with the zest of lemons. I will be grateful
for as long as I live, and beyond, but it is trickiest
in the hard times, times for which I will only be grateful
years later, and then, only when I know why it must be so.
I wrote that poem less than a year after my divorce when I discovered the healing power of gratitude. I had always been grateful for the things that were obvious, like good health or the birth of a child. But I hadn’t learned to be grateful for the smallest things, and even those things that appeared to be negative and awful in my life. How to learn to express gratitude in a meaningful way when what was happening caused pain of the highest order? Where was the surge of joyous thankfulness when your husband left you or the bank repossessed your house? “It is trickiest in the hard times” may be a profound understatement.
I keep a Gratitude Journal, and you will amaze yourself with the insight you can feel, usually some time down the road from the actual incident. However, on a daily basis, you can fill pages. I’ve found the magic in awakening in the morning and thinking first of what I am grateful for, and leaving the “to do” list for after breakfast. On my tougher days, I could at least be thankful for the fact that the sun rose and I hadn’t been called in the middle of the night to attend to a family crisis! A year after the fact, I could be grateful that my ex-husband saw more clearly than I that we needed to be apart. My life has grown immeasurably since the divorce. It took slightly longer for me to bless his life and wish him happiness, but it came. I credit the “Gratitude Attitude” for speeding the process.
I’m no saint! There are days when I grumble about getting out my book, but then I read some of the things written there and wonder how I could be grouchy with so much to be thankful for. I accept myself as I am, but the Gratitude Journal nudges me towards a me I like better. It was difficult to learn to accept that those who cause us the most difficulty are usually our best teachers. Being calm, happy, and joyful feels good, but where is the growth and the lessons learned? I can see and believe this sporadically, but my goal is to know it whole heartedly.
One of the things I am most grateful for, after family and friends, is my ability to commune with my guides. It took some time for me to accept that they were there, just waiting for me to acknowledge them and ask their help. Once I did, they were there whenever I sat in prayer or meditation and asked them to come. Early in the process, I credited them to my imagination. But one day, as I tried in vain to find my “financial guide,” the truth manifested itself. One of my guides, my creative guide known as Clarissa, put her hands on her hips and said: “I am your financial guide. If you follow your creative spirit, you will be financially successful. End of story.”
I never said the guides talked like the Old Testament! I got in touch with my guides the old fashioned way–I asked them to show up. Many spiritual teachers believe we come into this life with guidance in the form of souls who are here simply to aid us. The fact that we let them languish in darkness would cause them a lot of frustration if they were still in their human bodies. One theory is that we have one for each of several areas, including finance. I know people who simply call on that guide every time they make a financial decision, and walk into it with full confidence that they are doing what is in their own best interests.
I began to ask my guides to show themselves to me in the period right before sleep when I am most open. The first night, Clarissa showed up. My consciousness was like a dark stage and suddenly there she was, emerging from the shadows into a spotlight. I see her now, red-haired, flamboyant, sassy, draperies flowing from her as she dances into my mind. I know she lets me see her in a way that pleases me and represents my creative side, and that’s fine with me. Her first words were: “It’s about time.” When I question what I should be doing in the creative arena, she always has an answer. The more I call on her, the easier it is for her to appear.
I have accessed three of my guides at this point, and as I struggled to find my financial guru from the other side, the three I knew told me they were already the answer. If this exercise in finding our guidance system is not for you, you must be true to your own belief system. Intuition is an easy enough explanation for knowing what is right, and following our own lead in love and gratitude. It gets easier all the time to recognize the lessons we are learning and to be in gratitude for that recognition. Some days it is not there. Let it go and just be. Gratitude will return to you when you are open and when you can handle it. Just be grateful for yourself. It is enough.
Soul Practice: Identify a person in your life who is particularly difficult for you. Ask yourself what part of your self is reflected in or from this person. In what way can you be grateful for the person’s behavior? What are you learning from him/her, whether it be a boss or a family member? Don’t forget, sometimes the lesson is to see what they are doing and choose not to do it yourself. Can you, at the very least, recognize some part of their background that causes them to behave the way they do? If you can’t find anything, you may be in strong denial of a trait in yourself that you don’t want to see, or a lesson you are not ready to learn. Let it go. Try again when you think you might be more receptive. Be grateful for your own ability to move on, if that is the only alternative. You may simply be learning to be discerning in who you bring into your life.
Affirmation: Each day upon waking, I will call to mind and heart at least one thing that I am grateful for. I will do this with the goal of living in gratitude as many minutes of the day as possible.