Monday, October 31, 2016

Finding Spiritiual Gratitude and Joy in Every Moment

 Far to the north, or indeed in any direction,
strange mountains and creatures have always lurked—
elves, goblins, trolls, and spiders: —we
encounter them in dread and wonder,

But once we have tasted far streams, touched the gold,
found some limit beyond the waterfall,
a season changes, and we come back, changed
but safe, quiet, grateful.

We all experience moments of great well-being where we seem to come alive more than usual, in which it feels like something wonderful is filling us up within, filling us with joy, not yet articulate, to a point where the heart overflows until we break into song or say thank you to someone. Once in awhile, out in nature, out of nowhere, we get caught up in a moment where we feel this indescribable oneness with everything. Everyone has these times; for some of us they are all too fleeting, all too few. So how can we invite more of these times into our lives?

The answer is actually quite simple. Stop, Look, then Decide to Act. Attend to the moment. Listen. Behold the now. Breathe. Most of us are caught up in schedules, deadlines, rushing around; busy, busy, busy; the first thing we must do is pause..............really pause........... to appreciate the opportunity presented in each and every moment. Once you behold the opportunity you can make a decision to do something about it - to act. If you practice this, you cannot help but become happier moment to moment because such a purposeful response offers you the immediate reward of joy.

There is much to be thankful for, certainly, but there are many important experiences for which you cannot be grateful, as well. You cannot be grateful for war or violence or sickness. But you CAN be grateful in any moment if you pause to appreciate that you can learn something from even the most challenging experience. Gratitude is not just about living in the moment and saying thanks for the good things, but, just as importantly, seeing the opportunity every moment presents, whether good, bad, or ugly. If the experience causes you to grow or allows you the opportunity to protest and take a stand in a situation in which things are not the way they ought to be, there is good cause to be grateful. You may not be grateful for everything, but you can be grateful in every moment.

Gratitude is not a reaction to the present moment. That would be something automatic. It is a chosen response to not just what has happened in the moment, but also to the opportunity that has been presented. This secures the kind of joy that does not depend upon what happens. There are things that happen that can make us unhappy, yet we can still be joyful. There can be inner peace and joy in the midst of the worst sadness in each of our lives. For instance, there is a great sadness in the death of a family member or friend, yet there is a joy and comfort in appreciating the love you gave and received from that person. Happiness is not a steady condition in life, but joy can be a condition that lasts through the ups and downs.

Gratitude is inextricable from the notion of belonging. It implies belonging to not only one another, but belonging to an extensive order beyond ourselves. The grace that Buddhists pray before a meal: "Innumerable labors brought us this food, may we know how it comes to us. Let us receive this as a blessing." When practiced, before you partake of the food on your plate, you realize there is no end to our interconnectedness. Everything we take into our bodies originally is derived from the earth through the effort of others. When you consider the network of people involved in growing, harvesting, processing, packaging, delivering the foods we eat each day, there may be thousands of people involved who play a necessary role in bringing the food to your plate. There wouldn't be anything on your plate if not for these many gifts. Offering gratitude connects us back to the great mystery of which we are all a part.

Mysticism can be said to be the experience of limitless belonging. Mysticism is not something abstract. Everyone of us is a mystic when we have this experience of belonging, feeling a part of something larger than ourselves, however elusive and unexplainable. The great mystics differ only from the rest of us in that they let these special moments of oneness determine and shape every moment of their lives. They never forget it. They keep the moment ever present in their heart and mind. Most of us tend to forget it. If we could keep it in mind and give in to it, we too could find lasting joy from that single experience. Everyone is called to be a mystic. It is not a special calling, but the birthright of every human being. A mystic is not a special kind of human being. A human being is a special kind of mystic.

The divine mystery that you are confronted with and experience can never be grasped or adequately put into words, but you can understand it by going with it. You can understand music, for instance, but you really can't grasp it or even talk about it. You can let it take hold of you, but you cannot adequately put it into words. Whatever the great mystery of life that all of us confront we can understand by allowing it to do something to us. That silent openness to the mystery of life is a wonderful form of prayer. Prayer, after all, is simply whatever lifts your heart. When we experience gratitude it is because something lifts up our hearts. Joy is a form of prayer because we are lifted by it. If it is fishing that lifts up your heart, then fishing is your prayer. If it is dance that lifts your spirit, then dance is your prayer. If trail running lifts you to joy, then that is your prayer.

Any expression of gratitude presents us the opportunity to appreciate our connectedness and dependency on the rest of the world. There really is no independence, from any point of view. Gratitude is saying yes to being embedded in this network of all things. It offers a way of re-seeding the joy that you receive back into the universe to its source. The more gratitude you give back, the more gifts you receive to be grateful for. What goes around comes around. It is simply how the universe works.

Concluding with an affirmation from Maya Angelou: "This is a wonderful day. I've never seen this one before." With it you celebrate the uniqueness of every single day, every single moment. Another day! We can't take it for granted. Begin with this. Look in the mirror upon rising. Smile and remind yourself that you have arrived at the doorstep of adventure into a new day, no matter how it unfolds. There is always great cause for wonder and celebration. Be grateful for the opportunity to continue another day on your learning journey. Give thanks to all things and advance confidently with great expectation. Begin by just being thankful for your next breath. Take nothing for granted. Find joy in every moment, for to miss the joy is to miss all.

 * Poem from “Allegiances” by William Stafford

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