Gratitude and Grief

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Gratitude and Grief

"So in this time of great planetary grief, how can we hold both our grief and our gratitude?  How can our tears be a healing balm that can wash over the pain of the planet and all its inhabitants? And though this, how can we anchor ourselves radically in gratitude, so that our love and appreciation for the things that we DO might be an offering, a prayer, an honoring, and part of the transformation of our planet in this time?"

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Ode to Gratitude

Gratitude is a constant prayer.  Whenever I drop into gratitude, my body relaxes, my mind stills, my heart opens wide, and my spirit remembers its connection with all things.  I enter into the present and into the realm of awe, wonder, and possibility.

Gratitude can be seen as the simple act of offering thanks.  However, in my experience it is more profound than just saying thank you or “thanks” in the ways that we commonly throw these words around in our culture.  It is thankfulness combined with deep reverence.  It is taking a moment to pause and look inwards, to find what it is that we authentically feel thankful for in that very moment.  It is an act of connection, of reaching both in and out to interact with the world.  It is experiencing that thankfulness in our very hearts, spirits, and bones.  It is both extremely simple and deeply profound all at once.

Gratitude practice can be linked directly back to the First Peoples of this land, and what is known as the Thanksgiving Address.  That beautiful Haudenosaunee address offers thanks to every aspect of creation- the birds, the trees, the water, the animals, and on.  It is a reminder to see and be thankful for our relationships to all of the beauty of creation that surrounds us, at all times.

Gratitude is learning to appreciate each and every situation, even when it is challenging or not what we had hoped.  It is finding the good in things, in the world, and in people.  It is reframing. It is approaching the world with a “beginner’s mind” and an attitude of appreciation and learning.  For example, I am really grateful that I got so sick last year, because it gave me an opportunity to rest and reflect that I might not have taken otherwise.  I am really grateful for missing my flights this morning, because without that experience this outpouring of reflections on gratitude might not have come forward and this post would not have been written.

Gratitude has saved my life.  There have been days when it was all I could do to get out of bed and put one foot in front of the other. Days in which I felt mired in hopelessness and a deep depression.  But gratitude was the fuel that kept me going.  As I trudged through the snow toward work, cold winds freezing the tears running down my face, wanting to do nothing more than to just lay down and give up, I would dig deep and remember- I am grateful for my legs, my powerful, healthy, strong legs.  Legs that are moving me toward where I need to go, even as the rest of me is filled with grief.  I am grateful for the great blessing of being able to walk on these two legs- a blessing that is not available for so many people in this world- for children of polio, the victims of land mines, the paralyzed, the ill.  I am so grateful for my strong, healthy legs.

This mantra, and other similar repeated mantras (for my eyes that can see, my arms that can hold my beautiful children,  my feet which hold me up, and so on) guided me like a beacon through those stormy days.  Sometimes it was not easy to connect to that gratitude, when all felt dark.  But there was always something to be grateful for, even if it is was as simple as my breath.

And now as things have become more easeful, I am still reminded time and time again to continually offer up my gratitude. Everywhere I go, everything I do, every small flower that I pass offers an opportunity to experience profound gratitude.

The thing about gratitude is that the more you offer it, the more you find to be grateful for.  You begin noticing things you are grateful for everywhere.  From gratitude for the laughter of a child to a helpful person on the street to the sun and the moon and the stars, it begins to flow like a river that cannot be stopped.  And that is when you really enter the Mystery- into a state of “wonder and amazement” that is fully present to the miracle of this great Creation.

Gratitude is revolutionary. It is evolutionary. It is a complete reframing of the world. It’s like putting on a whole new set of glasses.  It is seeing the world through the eyes of beauty, wonder and appreciation. It is an act of radical relationship- of giving love and appreciation and the energy of creation BACK to the world. It’s our very best way of saying THANK YOU to one another, the earth, and to GOD.

Anyone can practice gratitude. I have introduced gratitude circles in academic halls where rationality is the highest value and within minutes I have experienced those same academics drop into radiant joy as they connect with their own hearts and with one another.  I practice it with my children, and we go round and round and round sometimes for half an hour naming all of the things we are each thankful for.  I use it in my friendships, my relationships, my work, and my prayers.

Yes, gratitude is a prayer, and the more I remember to practice it, the happier I am and the more grateful I feel to be alive.

One final thing about gratitude…it is possible to offer your gratitude not only for the things you might currently see and have and experience in the world, but ALSO for the things yet to come that you long for in your heart. The key to this practice is to offer gratitude for those things as if they really already ARE.  To believe and have faith, that yes they are done.  Now, this does not mean that you are attached to the outcome- because, after all, if something different comes to pass, surely you’ll find gratitude for that too. But just by offering the gratitude for the longings you hold in your heart, it acts like a prayer-  you attract those things and create stronger possibilities for their manifestation.

What are YOU grateful for today??

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Gratitude and the beloved Thich Nhat Hahn

“Every morning we have twenty-four brand new hours to live. What a precious gift!” -Thich Nhat Hahn

What would it be like to awaken each morning in gratitude, aware of the precious gift that the new day has to offer us?

I am particularly aware of the potency of this quote by the beloved Vietnamese Zen master and teacher Thich Nhat Hahn, as he himself is facing the threshold between life and death. As he is in the hospital in France, I feel deep gratitude welling up for his life, for all of the teachings he has brought to millions around the world, for his humility and modeling of what it really means to walk in gratitude and mindfulness each and every moment. I am grateful for my friend Tobias who first introduced Thich Nhat Hahn to me in college, and for the awareness I’ve held since that day to “wash the dishes” when I am washing the dishes – for otherwise, how can I really be present for anything else in my life? I am grateful for my friend Melina who served as a nun at Plum Village, and who helped me remember when, as a new mom of two I was feeling angst about not being able to sit in the morning without a toddler climbing on top of me, that practicing mindfulness doesn’t have to mean having a 30 minute sit every morning – it can be as simple as taking a breath with each “mindfulness bell” throughout the day -the cry of the baby, the ring of the phone, the change of the diaper, the traffic light. It’s all an opportunity to practice.

Breathing in, I am grateful. Breathing out – I am grateful.

I am also reminded at this time of the precious opportunity I had to walk with Thay (as his devotees call him), just over a year ago in the Santa Cruz Mountains, in which thousands of us wound slowly through the redwoods, following his careful footsteps. Peace emanating throughout the forest with every step.

Thich Nhat Hahn invites us to “Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet.” I brought this teaching into the hike we took at the Gratitude Retreat I led last year at this time, at Avalon Hot Springs, in the Mayacama Mountains. Fifteen of us practiced walking in Thay’s tradition – letting our feet kiss the earth. With each step we said “Thank you.” Right foot, “Thank.” Left foot, “You.” Right foot, “Thank.” Left foot, “You.” Over and over.

As I walked, I felt my relationship with the earth deepening with each step. I felt the truth of my words amplifying each time I spoke them. With each mindful step, my love for the land underneath my toes grew – the words felt truer and truer. Yes. THANK YOU. Thank you earth. Thank you for holding me up every day. Thank you for all that you do. I love you. Thank you.

In my experience, this is the magic, alchemical power of gratitude. By giving voice to, and being in the practice of noticing what we are grateful for, our gratitude and feelings of joy and appreciation grow. In other words, “What you appreciate appreciates.” Or as illuminated by Thay, “Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.” We can CHOOSE to create more joy, love and happiness in our lives simply by choosing to notice what it is that we are grateful for around us.

So here’s an invitation, to consider remembering Thay’s words each morning – to awaken in gratitude, aware of the precious gift of having 24 new hours to live.

It’s an invitation to consider, how would our lives be different if, rather than rolling over to turn off the alarm and immediately getting pulled into iPhonelandia (as I so often do), we instead always began with thanks? What would it be like o start the day with gratitude for my children that have run in to wake me up (sometimes earlier than I might like!), for my beloved who is laying beside me in bed (or often already up making me coffee =)), for the sun, for the rain, for our bodies, for the shelter over our heads, for food in the refrigerator, for all of the sacred work that is awaiting me in the day, for a whole new day to be alive and in practice, in which I get to experience the precious gift of life. Indeed, what a gift.

And it’s a way to honor the life of this beloved teacher, as he is on the threshold. May we all live our lives in such a state of humble grace and gratitude.

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A Weekend Immersed in Gratitude ~ My Thanksgiving Retreat (by participant Owen Millado Donnahoo)

“When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.” -Lao Tzu

This past weekend, a group of people from all over the Bay Area and one wonderful gal from Calgary, Alberta gathered together in the name of gratitude. We sat in community, reflected on what it means to be grateful and explored the countless possibilities and ways to practice gratitude in our everyday lives. Each and everyone of us came to the circle fully present and open: open to all the sharing, the kindness, the beauty, the grace and the gifts of seeing the present and what is to come with grateful eyes. We lifted our hearts, stretched our hands and bodies through our morning yoga practice and released anything within us that is not cultivating gratitude. Then with feet and knees planted deeply on the ground, we touched our hearts and minds to the open space beneath us and sought in earnest, support for our intentions.

It’s been days and I am still in bliss…I am still soaking in gratitude. I am so thankful to have come to Avalon, this magical place so giving and so healing with its rustic peace and magical spring waters flowing from the earth. I feel so rejuvenated and invigorated. And most of all, I feel my heart open…I have experienced non-stop gratitude from both Avalon and my new friends and have been bathing in joy since.  I wake up with a yearning to live more consciously, more mindfully;  to appreciate everything that I have, and to show appreciation daily. I feel so connected and such an integral part of this expansive universe. I am blessed and there is nothing more that I can ever want. Thanksgiving is this Thursday and I couldn’t ask for a better way to prepare for this wonderful season of love and generosity. And before I end this post, I would like to say that I am so grateful to my children, my parents, my family and friends.  I am grateful to the wonderful children, women, men and families who have allowed me to photograph them. I am grateful for my lines of work, my colleagues, my clients. I am grateful for my talents, my challenges, my body, my mind, my soul. I am grateful for my home and the food on the table. I am grateful for my faith, my community and my country. I am grateful for my joys and my fears, my insecurities and my accomplishments. I am grateful for my health and my life. I am grateful for every day that I get to wake up. I am grateful for you reading my blog. I am grateful for kind words, and honest advise. I am grateful for caring and not so caring people. I am grateful for technology. I am grateful for books. I am grateful for music, and rhythm and songs and words.  I am grateful for everything.

Last but not least, I am truly, truly grateful to Katia Sol for helping me establish a foundation to continue a daily gratitude practice and for teaching me to go deep into thankfulness.  A huge thank you to Salina Espinosa-Setchko for the yoga, the “bed”, the “scaffolding”, and the body tapping.  And to my new friends, I am grateful for your vulnerability, strength and courage.  I cannot wait for our check-ins and learn where our individual journey leads us.  Love to you ALL. 

By Owen Millado Donnahoo

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