Count your blessings. I know. It sounds lame. You need a whole life makeover. You need to win the lottery, find a new job, or discover the cure for cancer. Humor me. Do it anyway. Hold up your ten fingers, or however many you have. Count out loud one blessing for each finger.
Now that you are warmed up, take out a piece of paper and get to work filling it up with things you are grateful for. Just put down whatever pops in your head. Keep at it. Include the most specific details – water actually flowed from my faucet at the flick of my wrist when I was thirsty this morning; I can see the mourning dove pecking corn outside my window; my cup of coffee tastes delicious – dark, aromatic, and hot.
A sure way to find hope in a dark time is to count one’s blessings. This simple spiritual practice focuses our attention not on what has happened or what might happen, but on what we can discover to be thankful for in this moment. Gratitude awakens mindfulness, which calms and focuses us on simple pleasures and the miracle of life itself.
Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos into order, confusion into clarity…. It turns problems into gifts, failures into success, the unexpected into perfect timing, and mistakes into important events. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow. Melodie Beattie
I can recall some pretty anguished nights in my life. I flailed about rehearsing imagined scenarios, practicing speeches to give to various people, and writing scary science fiction. To what end? Nothing productive. I only became more and more entangled in my own hysterical drama. Some of us come to a point where we are being eaten up by worry and fear. This can be the key to a wonderful discovery. Right about when we say, I can’t live like this anymore, we discover we do not have to. Peace is a choice. We have the freedom through an act of our wills to choose peace of mind.
So much about the spiritual life and happiness in general depends upon where we put our focus. We get to choose what thoughts we entertain and which ones we sweep out the door. At the same time there is tremendous competition among multiple influences to occupy the center stage of our minds. Consider for a moment who or what influences are in charge of your mind? The mantras of our consumer culture? Some nasty critical, negative inner voice? A whiny, fearful, abandoned child? A tangled root of bitterness?
The psalmist puts it succinctly, “Do not fret – it only leads to evil.” Psalm 37: 8. Spiritual teachers of many traditions teach the practice of gratitude. Jesuit priest Jeanne Pierre de Caussade, who died in 1751, advises: The great principle of the interior life lies in peace of the heart: it must be preserved with such care that the moment it is in danger everything else should be abandoned for its re-establishment, just as when a house is on fire, one leaves everything to extinguish it.. . . And the reason of this is that great peace and tranquility of spirit alone give the soul great strength to achieve all that God wills while trouble and disquiet turn the soul into a languishing invalid.
De Caussade’s image of the languishing invalid cracks me up. That is exactly what I become as I succumb to fear and anxiety: infected with negativity, unable to make clear decisions, confined to a bed of worry.
If the only prayer you ever pray is thank you, that would suffice, wrote Meister Eckhart. It seemed to work for Jesus. Remember that embarrassing moment when there were only two fish and five loaves and a huge hungry crowd to feed? The disciples quickly turned into languishing invalids. Jesus takes what he has, lifts his eyes to heaven, and gives thanks. After everyone had enough, they filled twelve baskets with leftovers.
That was Jesus’ miracle. Why don’t you go work a few of your own today?
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