We often think of gratitude as something we give to another as a thank you for a gift or a kind deed, an appreciation for someone’s presence in our lives. But why not allow ourselves to see it as a gift for ourselves, as well? Someone once said that love is the most selfish thing we can do for ourselves, meaning that we have the opportunity to get so much out it, receiving exponentially more in return than we give. And the same is true of gratitude. In the giving, we automatically receive tenfold and that is true grace.
It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day rush of things we need to get done. We each have our lists of what we need to accomplish today, so that everything that throws us off our schedule becomes more than just an unexpected event but a challenge to our goals that we must battle into submission. The car cutting us off in traffic, the slow person checking out at the grocery store or the chatty neighbor who waylays us on our way to the house can either be hindrances or help depending on how we choose to experience them.
The car cutting you off and making you miss the light gives you those few extra minutes on your way to work to set intentions for the day and arrive energized and focused. The person taking his time at the grocery checkout allows you to strike up a conversation and make a connection. The neighbor who always wants to talk reminds us of the value of community when someone is willing to check on your house while you’re gone or loan you a lawn mower when yours goes out. Suddenly, the day that could have felt hassled and harried is a day full of small gifts and kindnesses- gifts that you gave yourself by being in gratitude.
The grace of gratitude is not a grace that we must ask to be bestowed upon us by some outside force. This kind of grace is an inside job and well within our power to grant to ourselves by allowing the goodness and richness of life in everything. This season, grace yourself with the gift of gratitude, and its effects will radiate out far beyond what you can see.
What holds you back from identifying primarily as your Divine Self rather than your personality self in this body? Intellectually, we may believe that we are all One, all connected through the same energy source, and yet may find that we are still attached to our identities as individuals.
You are God expressing as Jane or Bob, not Jane or Bob who is allowing God to express through you.
The language seems subtle but the difference is profound. We are very accustomed to our identities as physical beings: I’m a tall man, I’m a long-haired woman, I’m a mother, I’m a husband, I’m an accountant, I’m an athlete. All of these descriptions carry some level of expectation and belief as to what they say about us. They can also limit us. Any of these phrases may describe your current form or role but they are not who you are. You are God.
“I am” is a very powerful statement. In the Bible, God identifies as “I Am” or “I Am that I Am.” No descriptions or identifiers. No qualifiers- simply I Am. It might be time to take a look at the language you use when you declare “I am” (insert word). How you identify yourself and the language you use may be re-enforcing old patterns, old beliefs, old energies and limitations. Even our identities as members of a spiritual community can be limiting: I am a teacher, I am a healer, I am a visionary. You may have come to be a teacher or healer and share your gifts, but it is still not the sum of who you are.
Identifying these roles can be a very useful tool in getting clarity on what you came here to offer as your service, but to the extent that it holds you in the belief that it’s who you are or that it sets you apart from others, then it’s just another limitation. Take a look at all of the labels you ascribe to yourself and ask if they are still useful to you.
Try seeing yourself through the eyes of your Divine Self; not as a woman or a man, not as an American or a Russian, not as a husband or sister or daughter, but simply as a bright, beautiful aspect of God. Because from the spiritual perspective we are pure energy. We are all One. We are all God.
Al-che-my- noun– a power or process of transforming something in a mysterious way
Most of us have heard of the practice of alchemy- most notably as the medieval science of transmuting base metals into gold. There is another definition of alchemy- a power or process of transforming something in a mysterious way.
When something changes in nature, there is a corresponding action to create that change. The fallen tree must give way to rot in order for the new growth of mushrooms and ferns to be supported by it. When pressure builds along a fault line, one edge gives way until a slab of earth juts up and creates a new mountain. Once we understand the laws of nature and what goes on behind-the-scene, the outer changes we observe are really not so mysterious or miraculous after all.
Likewise, once we understand the spiritual laws, manifesting new things in our lives is not so mysterious, either. The new relationship that blossomed when you met that new partner “by chance” is actually the result of a lot of inner preparation to be ready for that relationship once the time came. The sudden success in your career is not that miraculous once you remember all the things you learned in your previous jobs and the confidence you gained to prepare you for that exciting opportunity once it did come. Whether you were conscious of it or not, you became a new person through your own choices along the way and thus attracted to yourself new experiences that reflected those changes.
But we don’t have to wait for the realization to come in hindsight. We can consciously create change in our lives by consciously creating change within. Take a good look at the changes you’re wanting to make in your life, or perhaps those which you’ve started but are struggling to bring to completion. What needs to give way within you in order to make room for that new change? What base metals are you still holding onto that are ready to transform into gold?
Perhaps it’s an old habit, an old belief system, an old way of perceiving yourself that needs to change. Perhaps it’s the goal itself; an old goal that is no longer the right fit for the direction of your life. Are you ready to create change within to support the changes without? Are you ready to practice spiritual alchemy and be your own powerful force for change?
Have you ever experienced a situation where the plans you carefully laid out just didn’t go as planned and the times when you just decided to wing it went far better than you imagined? I call that the difference between being in the mental body and being in Divine Flow and Joy.
Back in early Spring, I planted some sunflower seeds outside my south facing window. I thought they would be a nice sunbreak as well as a bright spot of color. I waited and waited, but nothing came up. After a while, I assumed the squirrels who reside in the nearby trees probably had a little feast and that was the end of it. A few weeks ago, I noticed some green stalks triumphantly pushing their way up right in the location where I had planted the sunflowers. “Eureka!” I thought. Maybe they were just slow starters.
However, as I watched them grow and mature, I realized that these were the funniest looking sunflowers I had ever seen. Instead of being wide, flat and round at the top, they were oblong. Hhhmmmm. I kept watering and they kept growing until I finally recognized their shape. I have corn stalks! I looked up and realized what had happened. Above that same window, I also keep a bird feeder hanging and some of the corn seeds in the bird mix had managed to land on the ground and take root. Just by following the joy of watching the birds outside my window, I had unwittingly created a whole new garden!
I started thinking about my other gardening adventures and I realized that some of my healthiest, most productive plants are ones that I took home spur-of-the-moment “just to see how they would do.” Meanwhile, some of the areas that were more carefully plotted out according to which plants should do better in what amount of sun, haven’t done nearly as well. Hhhmmmm. Could it be that the line about following your joy in the moment actually has some truth to it? When the heart is truly open, the Divine speaks to us most clearly and those seemingly inconsequential inspirations are often the Soul leading us to some new creation we never imagined.
As I expand the metaphor to my other “gardens”, other creations in my life, I see the lesson for me in truly trusting those thoughtless little moments of joy. With less thought and more heart, I look forward to many more surprise gardens in my life.
When I was young, one of my favorite books was Happiness Is A Warm Puppy, which featured all of the Charlie Brown characters sharing their simple pleasures in life. Whenever I think of that book, it takes me back to a time when happiness just was. There was no searching for it or trying to figure out all of its components; it was just there. So, how did we lose that as we got older?
I recently saw two films which, though very different, had a similar key theme. The first was a wonderful movie by Pixar called “Inside Out,” which featured the inner thoughts and emotions of a young girl. The Joy character was always trying to make things better and happier by pushing away the experience of other emotions like sadness. She eventually came to realize the value that comes from not pushing away other emotions like sadness, but honoring them. Acknowledging sadness allowed for a rich opportunity of compassionate connection with others which ultimately brought about…. Happiness.
In “Hector and the Search for Happiness,” a stuck-in-his-ways psychiatrist goes on a global adventure to search for the keys to happiness to help his patients. He keeps a notebook of all the things that might bring people happiness. In his final revelation, he understands that true happiness is a combination of all his emotions and experiences, not just one. In other words, once he accepts the whole of his being unconditionally, without trying to engineer a specific situation or experience that he deems to be his source of happiness, he actually feels happy. As one of the psychiatrists in the movie puts it, we don’t find happiness when we’re actively searching for it but when we go about our lives in a way that’s connected, present and engaged. In that state, we realize our happiness.
So, maybe one of the keys to “finding” happiness is to understand that we never lost it. We may have gotten distracted, sidetracked, or maybe thrown a little off-course, but it was always there. We began to believe that we had to “do” something to get what once came completely naturally to us. In those moments of childhood wonder, there was no laundry list of things to do and no worrying about finding the meaning of life. If you felt sad, you cried and then were done and went back outside to play. Kids can get really enthusiastic about their tears and then get really enthusiastic about something else just as quickly. There is no judgment, just allowing the feeling to flow through. And that state of total acceptance of what is in the moment, is happiness. So, there really is no magic bullet or trick to any of it. There is no “one thing” that will bring us happiness. If we relax and accept all of it, we find that happiness just is.