Monthly Archives: February 2015

The Practice of Gratitude


The practice of gratitude is a powerful, profound spiritual practice.
Often, gratitude is not offered in this deep way.

It’s easy to be grateful, to give thanks to The Powers, when things are good.  It’s easy to give thanks when you get the job, when the wound heals, when your kid gets into the school you wanted, when life feels abundant, when you are happy.

It’s another thing, entirely, to give thanks when life is not giving you what you want.  Then, the true practice of gratitude kicks in.

Corrie ten Boom writes of her years in a concentration camp during World War II.  During those years, she survived by being grateful.  How does a human being survive the most dire, the most hopeless,  of all of life experience by being grateful?

“Be joyful always, pray at all times, give thanks in all circumstances…”

The deep practice of gratitude comes from the deep knowing that you, your small self, your ego, your desires and plans, are not in your control.  The deep practice of gratitude comes from the wisdom that there may be some power at work – something outside your ability to understand or to know – in the very circumstances you are given, whatever they may be.

A long time ago, I visited a woman, then in her 90’s, who was hospitalized for a grave illness.  Surely she would not leave the hospital to go home again.  When I walked into the room and walked toward her bed, I saw her back turned to me.  When I walked around the bed to let her know that I was there to see her, she turned toward me and said:  “I was counting my blessings.”

“Give thanks in all circumstances…”

I’m not suggesting that this is easy.  The spiritual path, that deeper journey, is not easy.  It takes work.  It takes surrender.  The spiritual path may ask that you surrender your most heart-felt desire to What Is.  We all know this is not easy.  This is hard work.  This is the real work of life, whoever you are, wherever you are, whatever circumstances you may find yourself in at this moment.

This work involves your facing your feelings, and giving thanks, even for those difficult and even painful feelings.  This work involves saying “Yes!” to life, whatever life brings.  This life involves staying with what is happening – inside of you as well as outside of you – and knowing this is what you are given, this is a gift, this moment, this life.

So often we have been promised a spiritual path that is no more than positive thinking.  We want to believe the suggestion that if only we believe this or that, if only we think the right way, or that if we think positively, our lives will change, we will be different.  That approach avoids the work of surrender, of gratitude, come what may.  That promise points to an easy grace, a grace that does not exist.

Without facing into the storm, you will not exit the storm.  This is truth, this is wisdom.

“For all that has been – thanks.  For all that shall be – Yes.”  – Dag Hammarskjold, Markings


Share resources


Yesterday I followed another car for about a mile, stopping at stop lights long enough for the logo in block print on the trunk to register with me: “Wheels when you need them.” City-cars are vehicles you can rent for a few hours or a day, only when needed. In some cities, parking is almost impossible for residents, in San Francisco, for example. Car-sharing of any sort is needed, to be sure.

A long time ago, an acquaintance mentioned his idea that tools and other implements could be shared, from neighbor to neighbor. For example, let’s say you need a lawn mower. Maybe one person on your block owns a lawn mower, so you use it when you need it, then return the lawn mower in the condition you received it. Why, my acquaintance asked, did every house on the street need a lawn mower, or a rake, or a bush trimmer? Why, indeed?

A close friend of mine “rents” her car to a friend one day a week. He has a set of keys, arrives at her house before she leaves for work on the regular day, and uses the car for the day to do errands, to take care of business he can’t make happen easily without a car. No, he doesn’t need a car all the time. No, it’s not a problem for my friend to walk to work on the day her car is otherwise in use. She gets to enjoy the mile walk down an interesting street to her office. At the end of the day, her friend fills the tank with gas and returns the car to its usual place in the driveway. Often, the two don’t see each other for weeks at a time.

Share resources. Such a simple idea. Share resources. Something we have not been accustomed to doing, in our consumer-driven, “each person for him/her self” culture. Why not share the resources we can? Deciding how to share resources can be a community decision. Why not have a few folks from the neighborhood over for a cup of tea one evening to share some ideas. “How can we share resources, the resources we already have?” In community, in a group, our ideas build on the ideas of others, and new ideas arise. This is how group-think works!

Maybe you’ve seen pictures or even a movie that portrayed “barn-raising.” Sometimes in the U.K. the day-long event was called a “raising bee.” On a given day, the community came together to build a barn – an essential for rural life, for animals and crops – to use the resources of the whole community. This custom still takes place in Amish and Old Order Mennonite communities in parts of the U.S. In depictions of “barn raisings” I have seen, the men work all day, “raising the barn,” while the women and children buzz around below, the women lifting colorful cloths from baskets filled with abundant food. All day, the men take time from their work to eat the wonderful food. At the end of the day, musicians magically appear to make music, and the worn-out workers, men and women, find second wind to dance into the night. That’s community. That’s sharing resources.

Sometimes it seems that we are people who have lost our creativity, as if we are marching along, all to the same, droning drummer. To share resources will require some creative thinking on our parts. We’ll have to begin to envision our resources and their use differently.

We’ll have to ask one another for help.

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A Life of Awe


This week, a group of scientists will be meeting at the University of California at Berkeley to talk about their research findings as they have studied “the science of awe.” Through their scientific research, these scientists have determined that spending time in nature is good for human beings; experiencing nature brings us to a sense of awe.

Is that why “awesome” is over-used in the conversation of so many of us these days? For example: “I’ll see you at two o’clock, then.” “Awesome!” That word, “awesome” infects our vocabulary. Listen for it.

Although our ordinary lives may cause us to forget, I think that most of us know the experience of awe when we experience awe! We know – as often as we may be guilty of “over-awe-ing” it – that some moments, some sights, some feelings, some fleeting bit of light brings us to a sense, an experience of awe. For that moment, we are stunned to find ourselves floating in a deep feeling that may over whelm us, with gratitude, with joy, with – awe!

And then, the moment passes.

I am sure that the good people of indigenous cultures knew awe as well as we know awe. While their lives were certainly not easy – one could argue that our lives are not easy, either, although for different reasons – there must have been moments when they were stopped in their tracks by a beautiful sunset, a shining tree, the birth of a baby, the first light of morning on the trees, the sight of their home after a time away. Perhaps they were stunned into awe to witness a healing, to witness a death. And so are we.

Awe = a feeling of reverential respect mixed with fear or wonder, a noun, according the the dictionary on my Apple computer.

Sometimes, life takes your breath away.  Sometimes, with tears running down your cheeks, you must completely stop what you are doing to fully savor the present moment, to see your child’s face light up with joy, to watch a deer leap into the woods, to see the light just-so as day passes into dusk.

I don’t need scientists to teach me about awe.  I’m sure you don’t, either.  The experience of “awe” seems almost primal, so basic to us that we know it when we receive it.  And awe does seem to have the element of gift, of being gifted, attached to it.  We receive awe, we receive the gift, we are grateful for the gift.

The practice of “awe” can be a deep spiritual practice.  Wait, watch, be present every day for the experience of awe.  This practice may take some slowing down!  Whatever you have on your list to do today, be mindful, watch!, notice that moment that may come when you must simply witness, you must be in awe, that state of presence/joy that stops you for a moment, a wonderful, rich, complete moment you could not have created yourself.  It simply is.

And, BTW – have an “awesome” day!