With Thanksgiving just around the corner, a time for counting for our blessings, I offer this stunning video by Br. David-Steindl-Rast, Austrian-born Benedictine monk, to help put you in the "gratitude mood". Especially now, in the midst of great turmoil and uncertainty, we owe it to ourselves and each other to return to "the blessing place" within. Take a five-minute mental health break and watch:
I was born in dark times, just after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1942. I have lived through dark times: the Vietnam war, Watergate, Kent State, the assassinations of JFK, MLK, RFK, September 11th, the war in Iraq and certainly the past eight years qualify for the list of top ten dark times in history I've witnessed.
Today, with all that has unfolded during these past eight years, America finds itself in shambles. And so, one wonders, what is there to be grateful for?
And then I watch this video and am reminded that in spite of all that isn't good in the world, in the midst of so much suffering, there is still beauty, there is still goodness, there is still kindness, and, it in fact, it is all around us. We need only open our eyes to the present moment to receive its gifts.
What we have in this present moment, is a ray of hope, a tiny ray of light at the end of the tunnel. Not to pin it all on Barack Obama, the man, for he is after all, still a human being, subject to the same faults and imperfections as all of us. But rather, the hope is that our country has turned a page. That as author Marianne Williamson so aptly put regarding this moment, "It will be seen as one of the shining points along the evolutionary arc of the American story."
As we turn the page and chart our course in a new direction, it seems so fitting that we selected as the captain of our ship, a man who's very name, Barack, the anglicized version of the Swahili name, Baraka, means "blessing. Is this a good omen? We hope and pray it is.
And so we come to "The Blessing Time", a time to be grateful for what we have. A time to see beyond lack and fear and allow our hearts to open to the abundance that is right before us. A state of gratitude in fact, is the key to accessing the present, as to enter it requires that we leave our past at the door. No lingering resentments can make it through the portal to gratitude as anger, sadness, depression and self-pity are rendered through the sieve of love and distilled into the nectar of abundance, peace and grace. As Br. Stendl-Rast encourages us, "open your heart and drink of this".
According to author Melody Beattie, there is no direct line to happiness; only gratitude will get us there. She says:
"Love creates forgiveness
Forgiveness creates acceptance
Acceptance creates gratitude
Gratitude creates happiness"
So just what is this "state" called "gratitude"? A few tidbits from the "science" of gratitude:
According to experts who study the art of happiness, health and overall life mastery, gratitude is one of the highest emotional states possible and a strong medicine- a state of mind that releases seratonin and helps combat the stress of uncertainty.
Behavioral experts say that gratitude can alter the body's biochemistry, easing the flow of adrenaline in our system so that the body can become aligned and find balance. In a study of organ recipients, researchers from UC Davis and the Mississippi University for Women found that patients who kept "gratitude journals" scored better on measures of mental health, general health and vitality than those who kept only routine notes about their days.
Likewise, Drs. Michael McCullough and Robert Emmons, of Southern Methodist University and UC Davis respectively, who conducted the Research Project on Gratitude and Thanksgiving, found similar results: daily gratitude exercises resulted in increased levels of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, optimism and energy. According to their findings, people who feel grateful are also more likely to feel loved and express reciprocal kindness, since one act of gratitude encourages another.
I am reminded of my trip to India in 1996. I was staggered by the amount of suffering I saw, yet also taken aback by how graceful the people were in the face of such suffering. I was there with a group of "pilgrims", a distinction made to us that trip by Marianne Williamson, who accompanied us. She reminded us we were not "tourists", but "pilgrims". This shift in context made something clear that had been obscured before. To be on a "pilgrimage" is to travel to holy lands, to see through the eyes of holiness and thus, all that is seen becomes sacred.
Without the lens of my Western filters, I could truly see the people and witness their exquisite beauty, even as some begged for money, most had little food and lived in mud homes. They brought us into their homes; we sat on rugs on top of dirt floors and shared what little food they had, prepared using dried oxen dung for cooking fuel.
I knew during that experience it was a "blessing" moment; one I would remember for the rest of my life. Although we shared neither culture nor language, we shared the one language human beings have in common: the language of the heart. In the presence of such generosity, even the words "thank you" seemed inadequate. Then and there, I decided to make the rest of my life a pilgrimage. And so it is. My cup runneth over.
In that the coming Thanksgiving holiday is a time to reflect upon one's blessings, it also offers a wonderful opportunity to launch a conscious gratitude practice. Check out www.gratefulness.org, for ideas on how to enhance your gratitude practice. I especially recommend you click on the candle icon, light a candle and leave a blessing.
Gratefulness.org offers the following suggestions for increasing awareness of gratitude on a daily basis:
• Begin and end your day with a gratitude prayer and a clear intention of being more
grateful. Say "thank you" to the present moment throughout your day.
• Practice present-moment awareness. Be here now.
• Write "thank you" notes to friends, family members or co-workers just because.
• Do at least one random act of kindness for a stranger each day. Have fun with this!
• Keep a gratitude journal. List 10 (or more) things you're grateful for in your journal
each day - focus on people, situations or events.
• Take someone out to lunch or dinner as a gesture of gratitude. Buy someone coffee.
• Practice "beauty appreciation". While on a walk or driving, look for the beauty around
you. Allow your self to absorb and connect with that beauty.
• Establish a regular prayer or meditation practice
• Make time for yoga, tai-chi or other "mind-body" practices.
• Keep a "gratitude rock" in your pocket. Let it remind you to be grateful for each
On a final note, I'd like to express my own deep gratitude for this venue at the Huffington Post to share my thoughts and hopefully contribute, to Arianna Huffington for the creative genius to bring it forth, to all the bloggers, editors and readers for making this a vibrant community of co-creation.
Last, but certainly not least, I'm grateful to my two amazing daughters, Mia and Gina Mazza, for being the stellar woman they are, who occupy and own the very center of my heart and soul, and for my dearest and oldest, and ever-growing community of new friends, who help to make my life rich and meaningful.
Would you like to share a blessing? Please feel free to leave one in the comment section below.
May you have a Happy Thanksgiving and may your blessing cup runneth over.
Follow Dr. Judith Rich on Twitter: www.twitter.com/dr_judithrich