Thursday, November 28, 2013

November's Interview: Carole Kretschman and Longing for Spiritual Practice

On the fourth Thursday of each month I will introduce you to someone whom I look up to as a spiritual friend and teacher. The focus of my questions is on their spiritual practices and what nurtures their deepening spirituality.

This month meet my current spiritual director, Carole Kretschman, whom I first met when I took a class about Centering Prayer at Holy Wisdom Monastery in Madison.  Along with being a spiritual guide, Carole is a Benedictine Oblate. She graduated from the Spiritual Guidance Training Program in Racine, WI, and from the Spiritual Deepening for Global Transformation program at the Christine Center in Willard, WI. I am so grateful she has been willing to meet with me as one of her spiritual directees. 

What do you identify as your main spiritual practice?
At this time my main spiritual practice is centering prayer/meditation for 20 minutes twice a day. I have been faithful to this practice since 2004. I do two different meditations: centering prayer and a meditation given to me at a retreat by Sadhguru, a guru from India. That meditation is a combination of breath work, chanting, and silence, preceded by a few yoga poses. Both centering prayer and this type of meditation have similar effects, bringing me back to that space within which is sacred.

You introduced me to both centering prayer and Sadhguru's meditation, and I have used each at various times, finding them both to be just the right practice at the right time. Please elaborate more about how this practice became integral to your spiritual life.
I longed for a meditation practice for at least 5 years. I first attended silent retreats about 20 years ago, and I noticed how whole and at peace I felt after being on retreat. I wanted to incorporate the practice into my daily life.

I was experiencing some health problems at the time, and I inherently knew that a meditation practice would be good for me. Of course, Thomas Keating says that centering prayer does not cure a thing, except maybe pride. I suspected my pride could use some work as well! 

Just because I wanted to do this, however, did not translate into success. I tried starting with five to ten minutes a day with the intention of adding more time, but that technique did not work. I would start out with the best of intentions, just like a New Year's resolution, but was not successful. Finally, I came to the conclusion that just longing for a meditation practice was also a practice. I began to talk about the fact that no matter how hard I tried, I was unable to sustain a discipline. And yet, there was this growing desire within me. 

So how did the jump for longing for a practice to practicing meditation itself happen?
In 2004 I attended a retreat in Ohio led by James Finley. On our drive home I sat next to a retired UCC minister. I told him how I wanted/desired to do this and yet, I was unable to envision arising before 5:00 a.m. since I was still working at the time. He turned to me and said, "Why don't you just do it on your days off?" I thought, "I could do that!"

An Ah-Ha moment!
Yes. The following Saturday I began, and I have been faithful to that practice ever since. When I told myself I did not have to do it everyday, I was able to do it every day. I think "grace" paid me a visit. 

I love the paradox of not having to do it everyday leading to doing it everyday! What have been the fruits of this practice for you?
I have more energy and more creativity since adopting this practice. I am more in touch with my intuitive self. I feel my life's journey unfolding before me. It takes no effort. It just happens. And, I am more content to live in the question or the mystery of the moment and not need answers. I am more comfortable living in the "in between spaces."

Are there other practices that are or have been important to you? 
I do free writing at least five days a week. This practice, which I do by hand and not on the computer, cleanses my soul. The thoughts come out of my head and onto paper. I find I have fewer traffic jams in my thinking and fewer compulsive thoughts.

Also, I would be remiss if I did not mention the spirituality of the 12 Steps. Being a member of 12 Step programs was and is key to my spiritual growth.

The 11th step is "Sought through prayer and meditation to improve my conscious contact with God as I understood God, praying only for the knowledge of God's will for me and the strength to carry it out." Working the steps helped me discover what of my faith tradition was helpful and what needed to be changed. It is a wonderful way to live. It encourages us to be honest with ourselves, to take the blinders off and appraise our role in relationships and life. 

At a particularly difficult time of my life, when I was relatively new to recovery, I decided that I would pray the following for six weeks, kind of an experiment. I prayed for 1. guidance, 2. an open mind to receive it, and 3. the strength to carry it out. I did this twice a day for six weeks on my knees. I thought that it would be worth a try, and I would only lose 5 minutes a day, if it did not work. My life started changing almost immediately because I finally got out of the driver's seat.

I have so appreciated the wisdom based on the 12 Steps you have shared in our sessions. What hints do you have for someone developing a spiritual practice?
Be gentle with yourself. We are called to be who we are. Wherever you are on the continuum is perfect in God's eyes. You are loved deeply just as you are. If you long to be more and do more, be present to that. "Here I am, and I so want to have some kind of a spiritual practice and it is not happening." Just be present and give that part of yourself who longs for more a hug. 

Any book titles or other information you care to share?
Lately, I have been reading and studying evolutionary consciousness, and I feel excitement about where we are going as a global community. In addition, here are some book titles that have supported me.

* Comfortable with Uncertainty: 108 Teachings on
  Cultivating Fearlessness and Compassion by Pema
* In the Sanctuary of Women by Jan Richardson
* Reaching for Personal Freedom, the new Alan-on

Thank you, Carole, for sharing your insights about spiritual practices, especially the role of longing in the creation of spiritual practice in one's life. You are a blessing in my life, and I am so grateful you are an active and loving companion on my spiritual path. 

An Invitation
What questions do you have for Carole? What are you longing for in your spiritual life? What experiences have you had adapting a spiritual practice in your life. Post your comments and questions. 

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Tuesday's Reflection: Giving Thanks

Does your family normally pause and give thanks before the beginning of each meal? Have you ever noticed a family in a restaurant hold hands and bow their heads and say grace before digging into their burger and fries? I don't do that, but often I whisper a blessing as I am preparing a meal for us to eat on trays in the den while we watch HGTV or a movie.

Thanksgiving seems to call for an intentional grace, a way to acknowledge the blessings in our lives, as well as the blessings of the day. 

A Sampler of Graces
Consider these:

Be present at our table, Lord.
Be here and everywhere adored.
Thy creatures bless and grant that we
May feast in fellowship with thee. 

Lord, some people have food
and no friends.
Some people have friends and no food.
We thank you that on this night we have both. 

Lord, of all, to Thee we raise
This our hymn of thanks and praise.
In the world's confusion
May we know the Grace of God.

Help us to do the things we should,
to be to others kind and good,
in all we do in work and play,
to grow more loving every day.

God is great, God is good.
Let us thank God for our food.
By God's hands we all are fed.
Give us Lord our daily bread.

Our hands we fold.
Our heads we bow.
For food and drink
We thank God now.

We give you thanks, O Lord, 
For all things bright and good,
The beauty of your world,
The bounty of your world.

Gracious God,
Thank you for the food before us,
The friends among us,
The love between us,
and Your presence among us.

Creator of the universe, you give us this gift of food to flourish us and give us life. Bless this food that you have made and human hands have prepared. May it satisfy our hunger, and in sharing it together may we come closer to one another. 

Lord, may our fellowship be the revelation of your presence and turn our daily bread into bread of life. 

O Thou,
Sustainer of our body, heart, and soul
Bless all we receive
In thankfulness.

The ritual is One.
The food is One. 
We who offer the food are One.
The fire of hunger is also One.
All action is One.
We who understand this are One. 

I love this one often recited by our grandchildren. Hear their sweet voices as you read this:
We thank Thee Lord, for happy hearts,
For rain and sunny weather.
We thank Thee, Lord, for this our food,
And that we are together.

Your tradition may be for each person to offer something for which they are grateful or someone may lift up a personal and original prayer, but whichever grace is recited at your Thanksgiving table, may it end with a resounding AMEN! 

An Invitation
What are your memories of table graces? Do you have any favorites you wish to share? How does saying grace make a difference or does it? If saying grace is not your family's tradition, how do you think suggesting it would be received? 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

November's Book: Speaking of Faith, Why Religion Matters--and How To Talk About It by Krista Tippett

One of my spiritual practices is reading, using a meditative, devotional, or thought-provoking book as a guide for exploration and reflection. One Thursday a month I will share reflections with you from my current reading. 

One of the best aspects of driving frequently between Madison and St Paul is listening to good radio. I am one of the millions of National Public Radio junkies and am grateful for my subscription to Sirius radio in my car, for even when I am in the "dead zone" around Tomah, WI, I can still listen to public radio! One of my favorite programs is On Being hosted by Krista Tippett. Originally, the program, which offers spacious conversation about religion, meaning, ethics and ideas, the big questions at the center of human life, was called Speaking of Faith. That is also the title of Tippett's first book,  Speaking of Faith, Why Religion Matters and How to Talk About It.

Tippett is a journalist and former diplomat in West Germany and received the M.Div degree from Yale. A project with the Benedictines at St John's Abbey in Collegeville, MN, led her to imagine the kind of radio program that became a reality in Speaking the Faith. The book is a chance for Tippett to extend the radio conversations during which she primarily is the listener. "With the book, I show my hand...The conversations I have with my guests are powerfully revealing, and I felt that I had a kind of obligation to do this--to trace the line I ask my guests to trace between religious ideas and real life." (p. 4 of the Reader's  Guide.)

Religion and Spirituality 
One of the topics the book explores is the difference between religion and spirituality. For many people there is no difference, but Tippett describes religion as the "containers of faith" and spirituality as "faith's original impulse and essence." (pp. 173-174) She remarks, however, that she prefers not to be too rigid in that distinction. 
      Religious traditions are bearers of manifold beauty and
      a weight of human reverence across time. They sustain 
     disciplines and rituals human beings crave as much as 
     they crave raw encounters with the divine. From our first 
     breath, we need structure and routine as deeply as we 
     delight in mystery. In some mysterious way, 'containing' 
     religion helps to unlock the sacred within us. It enables 
     us to participate in the human encounter with the divine 
     even when our own spirits are dry even in those times, 
     we can say the words and sing the songs and find courage 
     in them, borne along by the hope and trust and company 
     of others. p. 174

Metaphors for Religion and Spirituality
I like the idea of religion as a container, for it makes me aware of how not only what fills the container can change, but also the container itself can change. Sometimes the container is not big enough and what is in the container overflows and, in fact, cannot be contained. Sometimes what is in the container is shallow and is barely noticed, but the container can protect what remains. 

Over the years of my spiritual journey my container has changed and continues to change. In fact, the container is not as important to me right now as it has been in the past. That is not to say that in the future the container, its shape and size, may not resume more importance or priority in my life. I suspect it will. 

When I have given workshops on spiritual practices or led spiritual direction groups, I offer another metaphor for the difference between religion and spirituality. Think of religion as marriage and spirituality as love. It is possible for one to be in a marriage without love and and also for there to be love without marriage. For many people it is important to have both. 

Tippett offers Rabbi Sandy Eisenberg Sasso's illustration of the difference between religion and spirituality. Sasso says Moses had a direct encounter with God on Mount Sinai and that was a spiritual experience, but the Ten Commandments he received through that experience are religion.  

One Definition of Spirituality
I think the essence of spirituality is the way I experience the connection to the sacred aspect of life, the spirit of life. That connection takes a variety of forms:
* The connection to our own inner, creative core,
* The connection to other people,
* The connection to nature,
* The connection to a greater power, the Divine, God,
* Or any combination of the above. 

How do you define spirituality?

Ongoing Conversations
 Thanks to Tippett's "conversation partners" on the radio program, as well as those from the past she has read and studied, she has learned that "everyone has relevant observations to make about the nature of God and ultimate things--that the raw material of our lives is stuff of which we construct our sensibility of meaning and purpose in this life, of how the divine intersects or interacts with our lives, of what it means to be human...I believe that we have too often diminished and narrowed the parameters of this quest We've made it heady or emotional and neglected to take seriously the flawed, mundane physicality, the mess as well as the mystery, of the raw materials with which we are dealing." p.127

Sometimes when I am asked what I do, and I say I am a spiritual director, I may hear the response, "Well, I am spiritual, but I'm not religious." I have yet to hear "I am religious, but not spiritual," but does that mean one is naturally spiritual if one is religious? 

While reading Speaking the Faith that question became a conversation not only with Tippett, but also about or with many of my spiritual heroes, such as Thomas Merton, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Karen Armstrong, Elie Weisel, Joan Chittister, Parker Palmer, Roberta Bondi, Thich Nhat Hanh, Rachel Naomi Remen, who figure in Tippett's own spiritual journey.  And in these conversations come ongoing opportunities to explore my beliefs about religion and spirituality and their roles in my life. 

An Invitation
What do you think about the difference between religion and spirituality? Do you think there is a difference? How has the dynamic between religion and spirituality been alive in your life? 

I look forward to your comments. 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Tuesday's Reflections: Three O'Clock A.M. Musings

Before moving Dad into his new apartment in a senior living facility, he told me he didn't go to church one Sunday because he had not fallen asleep until 3:00 A.M. So many thoughts about his upcoming move were racing through his head. He has never been a sound sleeper, so I was not surprised, but who wouldn't be making lists in one's head with such a major change days away? 

I empathize.

Falling asleep is generally not my problem, although I, too, lately have had a hard time emptying my mind and setting aside today and tomorrow. The more common problem, however, is returning to sleep after the inevitable bathroom trip around 3 in the morning.  

When I was staying at the St Paul apartment by myself not long ago,  I couldn't return to sleep. Therefore, I decided I might as well turn on the light and write. I was full of lists, questions, plans, visions of what was to come. Behind all those pragmatic issues were anxieties and doubts, as well as desires to be on the other side of all that had to be done. 

The Moving Theme
Here's what was racing through my head.
1.     Dad's move to his apartment.
2.     Our move out of the St Paul apartment, which will happen Thanksgiving week.
3.     Our move from the apartment into a house in St Paul. Closing is the day before Thanksgiving.
4.      The beginnings of a move from our Madison home to the St Paul. No, we haven't sold that house yet, but we hope by buying this house we give a mighty signal to the Universe, "We are serious. We are ready."  
5.      The dispersal and emptying of Dad's house of all that remains, in order to put the house on the market after the first of the year. That's a lot of possessions. Trust me, a lot! Have you started getting rid of all you have accumulated over the years yet? Don't wait another minute, even if you are reading this at 3:00 A.M.  
6.       The dispersal of what we can't use in the St Paul house, which our grandson Peter calls The Little House and is considerably smaller than our present house--an intentional choice.  But what do we do with all the excess to accomplish this downsizing goal?
7.       The move to a small apartment in Madison once the house is sold,  since Bruce will continue to work at hospice four days a week. 

No wonder I couldn't sleep!

Time to Pause and Reflect
If I were at Dad's, I could have packed another box or two, but I wasn't there, and frankly, there was a more important task at hand: the task of breathing myself into letting go, of finding peace with where I was at that very minute, of treating my body to restorative, necessary sleep, of remembering Julian of Norwich's mantra, "All will be well." 

One of the tasks was to remind myself of my own lecture -- take one step at a time -- and to remember that I am not taking these steps by myself.

At that moment the middle of the night was the time offered, a clearing the space time to remember the reasons for all these moves; the Big Picture that continues to feel right. In the quiet of night before morning light was the perfect moment to give thanks for all the blessings in my life, including the tangible treasures that were yet to be packed and moved from one place to another.

I was awake in that early morning hour in part, I think, because I had not carved out the time in the day for my usual routine of meditation, study, and writing. My body and my heart knew that and so gave me a signal to wake up. Wake up, so you can rest. A reminder that we each truly know what we need.

Geof's Example
I recall a story about our son Geof when he was 4 years old. His normal routine when I took him to his day care center in the morning was to join a group of kids and enter into play. Suddenly, he changed that routine and went off by himself instead to read or play quietly with a puzzle. His day care teachers were concerned and wondered if something was going on at home. Of course, I worried about that all day at work without coming up with a reason, until we went home that afternoon. 

His normal at home routine was to go play quietly by himself till dinner, but winter was becoming spring, and his buddies were waiting for him to play outside. I realized Geof had figured out what he needed to do to get the quiet time he needed. He adjusted his day, his normal routine, to accommodate his needs. Such a smart kid--and I was delighted to explain the change to his teachers the next day.

Back to Sleep
I know I need time to reflect, to process, to empty out, to sit quietly in reverence and during the days of my Dad's move, 3 o'clock in the morning, although not ideal, was the available time. I needed my daytime energy, for each day was impossibly full, but it was still important to be alert for ways I could adjust and create that space for myself. That will be necessary for quite some time, I suspect, for moving is the ongoing theme in my life. 

After writing for awhile, taking time to breathe, to pause and give thanks, I  turned out the light and slept soundly till the alarm went off later in the morning. 

An Invitation
In what ways is the theme of moving showing up in your life?
What are your 3 o'clock thoughts?
In what ways do you need to adjust in order to give your body, mind, and spirit what you most need? I invite you to comment.  

Thursday, November 14, 2013

November's Reflection: The Season of Shawls

I like the expression "keeping a season," which according to Sarah Sarah Ban Breathnach in her book Romancing the Ordinary, A Year of Simple Splendor, refers to the "traditional ways people in the country restored their bodies and nurtured their souls by honoring in their daily rounds, the rhythm of the natural world." p. 43. One way I do that as fall turns into winter in these November weeks is to get out my shawls.

Sweaters may come and go from my wardrobe, but my shawls 
remain. My clothing size may change, but my shawls always fit. 

I wear a shawl when I am reading, when I am meditating, when I am napping, when I am watching tv, when I am writing. I wear a shawl over jeans and turtleneck, over pajamas, instead of a robe, and sometimes I even wear one when I get dressed up and go out for an evening. When we flew to Paris, I created a cozy and quiet space for the overnight trip by wrapping myself in a shawl, and when I go on retreat a shawl goes with me. 

Shawls I Know and Love
Over the years my collection of shawls has grown, but there are three that have become icons in my life. 

One even has a name, the Joaneth Shawl.  My dear friend Joan knit it for me in the early years of our friendship. As someone whose hands are meant for clicking on laptop keys or stirring batter in a bowl or holding hands with a grandchild, but NOT for sewing or knitting or painting or other creative hands-on gifts, I am in awe when someone gives me something they have made. This multi-colored, earth, sky, and water-toned shawl, my Joseph's Coat of Many Colors shawl, of softest yarns is layered with love and connection. Over the years this shawl has stretched and expanded, and I can wrap myself in it twice over. In many ways that is what has happened with our friendship, too. 

A second shawl is one that the writer Natalie Goldberg sent me many years ago after I helped her organize and publicize a writing workshop she did in Minneapolis. This shawl with a rougher texture in purples and reds with touches of turquoise makes me think of open air markets in the Southwest and draws me closer to the guardian angel an intuitive once told me sits near me when I write. His name is Tony, and he is Native American. 

The third shawl was a Christmas gift from my husband one long ago year--a generously sized and rich colored Pashmina. Another woman might think it too luxurious to wear everyday, but not me. I wrap myself in its Burgundy-wine density and feel worthy of it even when wearing flannel pajamas. 

The Warmth of Shawls
Along with the physical warmth of wearing a shawl, I feel its emotional and spiritual warmth. By wrapping myself in a shawl, I nurture, protect, and comfort myself. The shawl creates sacred space, especially when I sit at my desk to write or when I close my eyes to meditate. 

When I wear a shawl, my personal vestment, I almost feel as if I am wrapping myself in wisdom. I imagine myself as a woman of wisdom, a crone, and I am glad to meet her.

Becoming a Crone
Marion Woodman in Coming Home to Myself, Reflections for Nurturing a Woman's Body and Soul describes a crone as "the wise older woman who has lived long, suffered loss and pain, survived to tell the truth to herself (and others if they are ready to hear), laughed with kindness at herself, learned to let go of expectations, and forgive herself, and others for their shortcomings." (p, 136)
                           The Crone has seen enough
                           to be able to separate 
                           irrelevance from essence
                           She has neither time nor energy
                           to waste on superficialities.

Jean Shinoda Bolen, M.D. in her delightful and wise book Crones Don't Whine, Concentrated Wisdom for Juicy Women says it is time to reclaim the word "crone," from the Grimm Brothers Fairy Tale images.
          To be a crone is about inner development, not outer
          appearance. A crone is a woman who has wisdom,
          compassion, humor, courage, and vitality. She has a
          sense of truly being herself, can express what she 
          knows and feels, and take action when need be. She
          does not avert her eyes or numb her mind from reality.
          She can see the flaws and imperfections in herself
          and others, but the light in which she sees is not harsh
          and judgmental. She has learned to trust herself to know
          what she knows.  (p. 4)

I was given each of these shawls before I reached the Crone age. In fact, when I received the shawl from Natalie Goldberg, I was still the mother of school-aged children, oh so long ago, but perhaps I was already striving to be a Crone. Perhaps, I was a Wisdom Gatherer, which is what Sue Patton Thoele calls the stage between Mother and Crone.
            In this phase, our souls invite us to mature in spirit,
            acknowledge and build on our unique gifts and 
            talents, and glean wisdom from our experiences
            through thoughtful contemplation.
                                    The Woman's Book of Soul,
                                    Meditations for Courage, Confidence,
                                    and Spirit, p. 174.

All this may be a lot to ask of a shawl, for I know I have a long way to go before I live up to the attributes of a Crone, but somehow wearing a shawl reminds me to honor the wisdom I have already acquired and to stay open to all that is yet to come. 

An Invitation to Comment
Are you a Crone? What does that word mean to you? How are you living your life as a Crone? 
Do you have a clothing icon in your life?


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Tuesday's Reflection: Where Do I Get My Ideas?

I write entirely to find out what I'm thinking, what I'm looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear. 
                                                Joan Didion

When people learn I write a blog, they often ask "Where do you get your ideas?" I am always a bit stunned by the question, because ideas are not the problem. Making time, taking time to write is much more of a problem for me. 

Ideas are scrawled on little scraps of paper in the car, and notebooks of all sizes are filled with pages of writing ideas. My journal overflows with drafts for further development, and now I even use my iPhone for noting something I heard or saw that sparks a thought within me. Ideas are NOT the problem.

I do appreciate the question, however, and it deserves a reflective answer.  Where do the ideas come from? 

The Writing Life
When I started keeping journals in a regular, ongoing way almost 40 years ago, Christina Baldwin, who has written brilliantly about journal writing, said to my burgeoning journal writing group, "The more you write, the more you find to write about and the more you find to write about, the more you write." 

How true that is! Writing requires living fully--being with family and friends and enjoying a diversity of activities and interactions, as well as time to do all the "stuff" of life. Just as important are gathering days, percolating days as ways to open to and relax in the possibility of new ideas and stimulation. Julia Cameron in her classic The Artist's Way calls these days Artist's Dates. 

Perhaps you are one of the many who are declaring days of the week or hours of the day as times of non-connection  meaning turning off the cell phone, staying away from all your tech devices. Those are times to let your mind and soul breathe, a kind of breathing essential to my writing life; times when ideas flow and develop and grow and then magically come to fruition the next time I sit down to write. In reality, those may be times of greatest connection, cosmic connection. 

Paradox and Gratitude
Being a writer is not without its paradox. How do I stay fully engaged with life and the life around me and at the same time be the listener, the observer, that opens my mind and spirit to ideas, which I translate into my writing?  Often I say in the midst of a conversation or activity, "I feel a blog post coming on," and in that moment I have removed myself from the present moment. Instead, I start thinking about what I am going to write. 

Trust enters this paradox. The need to trust that if my focus is  staying awake and bringing my full self into the moment, when the time comes to bring my full self to the writing, the ideas will be there. That is the moment when I feel immense gratitude, and each writing session becomes a way to give thanks.

I am often surprised, however, when I sit down to write by what idea comes to the forefront. I often think I am going to write about x and have been thinking about how to develop that idea and what resources I have in my library to support and expand that idea. When the time comes, I sit quietly at my desk and close my eyes before picking up a pen or opening the "new post" section of my blog. I breathe a deep cleansing breath and ask that my writing partner, Creator God, be with me. Sometimes something entirely different rises to the top and demands attention. It is in that moment when I feel fully awake and when my True Self feels alive.  

The Practice of Being Awake
Writing, and in particular writing this blog, is a spiritual practice and as with any spiritual practice, I need to be awake in order to bring myself to the practice. And not just awake when I sit at my desk in front of my laptop and declare the next hour or two as writing time, but all the time--as much time as possible. 

And not just caffeine awake either. 

The ultimate spiritual practice is being awake. 
Being aware. 
Being mindful. 
Being in the present. 

Listening with the eyes of my heart. 

When I am awake, so much more can enter into my being, and I become aware of Presence, which enriches and draws me further into specific practices. For me that is writing, but also meditation and prayer and study. And sitting in spiritual direction with a directee. For you that might be gardening or doing yoga or painting or working at a food shelter. 

I desire that kind of alert attention for every aspect of my life.

My intention is for my life to be one of spiritual practice. 

That's where I get my ideas. 

An Invitation
If you live a creative life, where do your ideas come from? In what ways is your creativity a form of spiritual practice? What are your intentions for living a creative life? A spiritual life?
I would love your comments about staying awake to your whole life.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Tuesday's Reflection: Focus on Gratitude

Gratitude is the most passionate transformative force in the cosmos. When we offer thanks to God or to another human being, gratitude gifts us with renewal, reflection, reconnection.
                                       Sarah Ban Breathnach

I carry the image in my heart of our granddaughter at a young age with her arms opened wide saying, "Thank you so much." I don't remember what we gave her, whether it was a birthday gift or a small "I love you" gift. No matter, for what I remember was her enthusiastic and generous ability to say "thank you." She felt it and meant it and showed it. I suspect a hug and a kiss followed the words.

When was the last time you said "thank you" with such openness and genuine appreciation? When was the last time you felt a lift of gratitude in your heart? When you felt that awareness of gratefulness, how did you express it? 

Giving Thanks
November is a month when giving thanks is part of our consciousness. We know at the end of the month the tradition is to gather with family and/or friends to not only feast, but to give thanks. It is the giving thanks that interests me right now. 

Gratitude's active partner is expressing the gratitude. Showing it. Living it. Giving it. How do you do that? What are some ways you might do that this month? 

Thoughts About Gratitude
The word "thanks" comes from Indo-European words for "think" and "thoughtfulness." The implication of that, it seems to me, is that in order to feel gratitude, we need to live with awareness, with a spirit of reflection.  Deciding to live with gratitude is a deep spiritual decision of how you want to relate with life, of adopting an attitude of not giving into life's inevitable ups and downs.

"A thankful person is thankful under all circumstances. A complaining soul complains even if he lives in paradise." Founder of the Baha'i faith

Living this way goes beyond being optimistic or a Pollyanna or in denial, or even the ability to see something positive in any situation, but instead the attitude of being ever thankful arises from an overflowing heart. 

We are grateful for the very fact of being alive. We are grateful for what was and yet will be. We are grateful for the love in our life and the love we are capable of giving. We are grateful for the breath in our body. We are grateful for our ability to feel a bit more alive each and every day. So many gifts.

And what do we do when we receive a gift? We give thanks. 

The feeling of gratitude opens the heart more than any other emotion, except perhaps love, and gratitude is the sister of joy. The more you find to be grateful for, the more you will open your heart and enhance your life, and the more you open your heart, the more you will find to be grateful for. What a wonderful circle. And in that circle of gratitude, the giver of a gift become the receiver of thanks, and the one who responds with thanks enlarges the gift. 

Gratitude as Spiritual Practice 
"Saying thank you is more than good manners. It is good spirituality." Alfred Painter

The ability to recognize life's gifts arises from what Buddhist's call "mindfulness." Gratitude as a spiritual practice (Note the word "practice.") is the intention to live in the present attentively, in order to see with the Awakened Eye of Thanksgiving. What will your Awakened Eye see this month of Thanksgiving and how will you express your gratitude for what you notice?

"Jewish tradition gives us a goal. We should say one hundred blessings each day. When we try it, we discover that it's quite difficult to find one hundred things each day for which to be grateful. So difficult, in fact, that we spend most of our time looking." Daniel I. Schwartz and Mark Hass 

Thank You
 I am so grateful to each of you for taking the time to read my blog and allowing me to enter your heart, mind, and spirit. Writing this blog is a spiritual practice for me and reminds me whenever I sit at my desk to give thanks for the opportunity to share my thoughts, hopes, and prayer.  

Thank you also for your comments and emails and for sharing my blog with others.
Please note that this week's Thursday meditation will focus on gratitude as a way to cultivate gratitude in your life. Watch for a new post on Thursday, November 7. 

An Invitation 
How will you live with greater gratitude this month of Thanksgiving? In what ways can you express your gratefulness?
I invite you to share your intentions by adding a comment on this blog post.