How are you finding gratefulness a source of support during this challenging time?

This is the question we asked our board members, staff and international partners at A Network for Grateful Living the week of March 16, 2020 as the world goes through rapid changes in response to the spread of COVID-19 around the globe. We offer this question as a check-in of sorts — an opportunity to connect through our shared interest in gratefulness and our grateful care for one another.

We hope that these voices resonate with and/or inspire you, and we invite you to contribute your own response to the question at the bottom of the page.

Sheryl Chard, board

The sun is setting at the edge of the endless New Mexico sky, and I’m thinking of it rising somewhere else around the world. And I’m imagining the women and men and children there tucked away in homes luxurious and humble – or no homes at all – tending their worry with food and music, water and prayer. The truth is that our connection is no different today than it has ever and always been, but tonight their lives arrive at the edge of my awareness with a poignancy that cracks my heart open. There’s a virus traveling, labyrinthine, around the globe. We will lose something or someone we love. We will be changed by this. Gratefulness? It turns the viral tendrils to carefully-spun threads that weave the tapestry of human existence. It highlights how profoundly democratic the biosphere is. It reminds me that my life and your life and all lives are like the roots of Aspens, so holy bound to one another. For a time, we have the chance to say a wholehearted yes to what already is.

Alberto Rizzo, board, Vivir Agradecidos (Argentina)

Always, and especially in difficult times, the middle path is the most appropriate one. Between the denial of thinking that this pandemic is not so dangerous, refusing to take basic hygienic measures, or the panic of disappearing to save ourselves, without thinking about the needs of others, there is a very broad path. We have been presented with a unique opportunity to responsibly respond to what Life proposes to all of us now. And as always, gratitude shows us that middle path.

Life is presenting a challenge that generates in us an immense anxiety. An anxiety of the unknown. Humanity has lived for thousands of years with the challenge of plagues. It’s in our genes. The response to this anxiety can move between precaution, a logical and rational attitude that teaches us how to take care of danger, to the extreme of fear, which makes us irrational. You can go from one to the other in a second. By letting ourselves be bombarded by so much unfounded information on the web or being tempted to want to save ourselves, we can easily panic. Stop. Look. Go. gives us an excellent recipe to travel that middle path.

Full confidence in life that emerges from the practice of gratitude teaches us that, in the face of great challenges, dancing with what life offers us is always another opportunity to become fully human. To discover the gift of this new opportunity that this moment presents us. Stop. Look. Go. can teach us that both fear and denial not only do not serve us, but complicate general well-being. Life is showing us a unique opportunity to be aware of the incredible interdependence of everything with everything. What happens to us happens to the other. What happens to the other happens to us. Today this is so clear that it’s a unique opportunity for humans to learn the great lesson of humanity. The answer to this challenge is that we all dance together, with Life, taking care of each other and responding consciously. As Nora Bateson put it beautifully:

“Simultaneously: We now need to be apart in ways we have never been apart before, and we need to be together in ways we have never been together before. Without knowing how. Just learning together.”

Pear Urushima, board

During the past week especially, gratefulness has been a welcome shoulder to lean on. A reminder that it’s a good time to help out our fellow humans.

Lately, I find myself grateful for things, people, and circumstances that don’t normally cross my radar as I would normally take them for granted. For example, I am grateful for the restaurants that stayed open so I could eat lunch. I am grateful for the extra large bottle of hand sanitizer at the bookstore I dropped in. I am grateful for the people working extra hard to stock and restock shelves and freezers full of food, disinfectants, and paper goods. It’s times like this that I find gratefulness and kindness playing off each other. Yesterday, I was so grateful to have a hot lunch of noodles during the limited hours a favorite restaurant was open. So I tipped an extra $20 knowing the servers would not be making their normal tips for a while. A token way of helping them out.

It dawned on me this is a great time to enjoy our planet, take a leisurely stroll in nature, stop and observe animal creatures, flowers, and plants – perhaps even look up into the sky and find the shape of an elephant. I also think this is a good time to be grateful in advance, to envision life with the COVID-19 virus contained and manageable, tests freely available for all regardless of income, every insurance provider covering the testing costs under their plans, and hospitals able to treat those inflicted with ample resources.

I know I will learn a lot from this experience, but mostly I want to not take any part of my precious life for granted. All in all, I will be grateful we all got through this together, with dignity, with kindness, and with gratefulness.

Rose Zonetti, staff

For me, life right now feels magnified with perspective and possibility. I find I simply have to step into it. I’m comforted–however strangely–by the reminder that death awaits us all–including me and my loved ones–someday, whether as a result of this crisis or not. The fact is always there and only true so long as we are alive now. When I find my thoughts spinning, leaning into gratitude for the now helps me make a little more room for gentleness and patience.

I try to embrace the opportunity afforded by every external circumstance and internal feeling. I feel the gift of “extra” time that comes with staying in as much as possible. With this extra space, I sit with feelings of confusion, fear, ennui, rather than pushing them away; gratefulness reminds me it all belongs. The crystallization of love as that which matters most helps me soften into moments of connection–however distant or virtual they may be–with loved ones and strangers alike. I find groundedness in the reminder that the ways I choose to show up for this moment–with presence, kindness, and compassion–are the ways I can choose to show up for every moment, long after this particular crisis passes, in times of both ease and difficulty.

Steve Rio, board

I find it helpful to zoom out from situations when they seem dramatic, out of balance, tumultuous, unfair, or any number of words we could use to describe some of what’s happening in the world right now. When we pull back far enough, we can see the natural order that is at play. The ebb and flow of evolution. The ever-changing exploration of the universal consciousness. For instance, when we look up to the cosmos and imagine the 100+ billion known galaxies that exist beyond ours, we see the perfect order and balance that we exist within. From this vantage point, the only appropriate response is love, gratitude, and awe, for this beautiful experience we call life. (For me, meditation and walking in nature are the portals to this space in my heart and mind.) Once I feel firmly rooted in feeling this love, gratitude, and awe, I can then zoom back in, and share it with everyone around me. I can heal myself and my community, and support those in need.

Mirjam Luthe-Alves, Dankbar Leben (Germany)

During this challenging time, the veils are falling. Gratefulness does matter. Trust in Life becomes a practice and a refuge at the same time. For many of us, fears that older European generations, other cultures on this planet Earth, and overall less privileged humans have faced, come our way kind of as a surprise now. We were not aware enough. Our generation probably has not seen empty shelves in food stores before; now we enjoy cooking creatively, healthy, and fresh again. Our bodies have been tired from running so much, and we did not even sense it; now we can rest and take a deep breath. Whereas person-to-person communication came to a standstill before, a blanket with a candle is now a new gathering place in our living room for our family to sit down and listen to each other. Beloved work projects have come to hibernate. Which ones actually required such a hurry before? Everything slows down and sinks to a deeper level. What counts now is truly seeing each other in our common humanity–our joys, our sorrows, our interwovenness with everything, our longing for connection. We start seeing underneath the color of our skin, career, religion, life path. A heart-felt smile from another human being on a morning walk; a child’s excitement about the new trampoline; the caring text message of a beloved being; the gift of practice and the existence of sangha — actually many sanghas; sparks of new learning opportunities where conflicts prevailed; the first conscious inhale of fresh morning air and scent of spring blossoms after the rain; light-green color of fresh shoots in nature; previously unheard songs of birds at dusk; trees breathing out oxygen for us… like every day, yet so much more intense for our senses — so tangible now. When the veils are falling, gratefulness remains. And out of gratefulness comes the call for action – a call to care.

Adetola Abiade, board

In this time of challenge with a global pandemic, it is natural to be consumed in the uncertainty, chaos, and deluge of information crowding our airwaves and our minds. As global citizens at this time of crisis we are all humbly reminded that none of us is separate and “we” are all unique AND critical players in this intricate and delicate web of our highly connected world. It is ironic that I say this, but I find gratefulness in just how much this shared crisis is bringing people together to help one another and focus on just how connected our personal lives, movements, actions, hopes, dreams, and communities are.

I am overwhelmed in my feelings of compassion for the world, our planet, and people from all walks of life globally who are sick, scared, suffering, who have died and are struggling to make sense of where we are and where we are going as a global community. As we navigate the complexity of “social distancing” I am mindful of just how distant we are not, and we don’t have to be as we now find time to meditate, get to know ourselves and our capacity for self-care as well as our ability to teach/mentor/coach others through change, and build stronger “virtual” connections with our loved ones in our tech-fueled world. With humility I meditate daily on Rumi’s poignant poem “The Guest House“…and take solace in how it reminds us that “being human is a guest house” and that it’s important to welcome all emotions and “be grateful for whatever comes because each has been sent from a guide from beyond.”

Katie Rubinstein, staff

Oh, GRIEF. A dear friend threw me a life raft by helping me to name all that I’ve been feeling recently.  This tempestuous me – one moment fine, the next all tears, a rageful beast, a flattened pancake. I’m exalting in birdsong, crying about dust motes, furious and sad and anxious and grateful about nothing and everything ad infinitum.  Unmoored and still all at once. 

 Naming grief (rather than thinking I’m losing my mind), allows me to hold the tumultuous waves in a wider embrace and have a deeper faith in my ability to cope, to be in this sea.  I am, we are, grieving for all that has been lost and all that is unknown. Tomorrow isn’t promised to any of us, not even the next breath is a given. I’m grieving the loss of the delusion that it is otherwise.

Letting go of delusion is a painful liberation. I know, deep in my bones, that there is a longing and an invitation to live more fully alive. There is an opportunity to lean into the poignancy of right now and to act accordingly – to learn how to be together, alive in this world, to act as if our lives depend on our ability to care for one another – because they do.

 If there is a gift in this pandemic, it’s that the machinery has slowed down enough for us to hear each other’s hearts beat.  Let’s listen closely and feel all there is to feel. And tomorrow, should we wake to the opportunity of another day, we’ll be braver and more capable of inhabiting this life together.

Matija Kurbanović, Zivot u zahvalnosti (Croatia)

I see here the opportunity to realize that we do not own our lives and that really we are not in control. This gives me the opportunity to experience another veil of illusion falling. On the other hand this is a good teacher in the class called “belonging together.” It is clearly visible that we are all together and, in a sense, One organism.

Another opportunity I find very helpful is the fact that we have to be more conscious now about our behavior — we have to slow down, and we have to learn patience, and responsibility for one another, and although we are not in control of our life really, we do participate and this is a clear demonstration.

I really felt joy waiting in a line for some food. All of a sudden we can’t rush and have it all now, and immediately. Then there is a chance to see that we really don’t need that much, that we can and should live more simply.

I also felt great joy seeing Venice online and the clear canals and fish and bright sky above Italy!

I only hope that this time we just might be able to make a little step forward and change as a species, and perhaps see that Coronavirus is only the beginning, that we should realize that we are also a kind of “Corona” for this planet most of the time and that perhaps we could still do something before we destroy the only home we have.

Kristi Nelson, staff

In times of uncertainty, gratefulness reminds me that all of life rests in mystery. Ironically, remembering this allows me to rest more deeply and to act more consciously.

At certain times, uncertainty becomes more vivid. The landscape I occupy shrinks, literally and figuratively. Recognizing that – no matter what – “this too is life” helps. Having been in a hospital bed for many weeks with an undiagnosed, worsening disease in my 30’s offers me a reference point for remembering the agency that was still mine – to acknowledge with gratitude what was not lost, to learn from everything, notice beauty, and to freely offer love. In hardship, holding close the heart of what matters most and can prevail was – and always is – of service to aliveness.

Times of intense fear and suffering can be wake-up-calls to what matters most in life. Grateful living reminds me that life is precious, unpredictable, and fleeting. It helps me better find and share cause for love, generosity, compassion, and gratitude directly in the midst of difficulty. To notice, treasure, and act on the opportunities that are available in every moment is grateful living – a practice that can serve all of us, at all times.

Michael Barton, board

I don’t practice gratefulness in the way we commonly speak of it. Instead I think I experience it. On any day, I’m grateful for a call with a beloved, grateful for the amazing comfort of my bed, grateful for Aretha Franklin, grateful for the way my brain works, grateful for a perfect cup of coffee, grateful for a poem that plucks truth inside me. That happens for me throughout every day, but it’s not a practice. It’s just natural and unconscious, like breathing, or noticing a breeze across my skin. I have a more conscious, purposeful version of gratefulness that I use when “bad” stuff happens; the stuff that happens when I forget wisdom and create expectations; the stuff that comes to remind me that the world does not obey expectations. My practice in these times is to ask, “How is this serving me?” Or “What is the lesson here?” Or “How did I create this?” Or “What is Universe telling me?”

These questions lead me to a wake up call, a mirror being held up in front of me, a slap in the face. I am always truly grateful for the truth and insight. I am sorry that I was so asleep that Universe had to turn the volume up so loud. I am grateful that I get to be here when this massive change comes, and I commit to energizing it.

Rosa Pang, Chinese Translations, (Hong Kong)

In the past few months, the whole world has been facing an unprecedented crisis arising from Covid-19, a new virus which is still, unfortunately incurable! Hundreds of thousands of people are now hospitalized and are desperate to find out if they could survive or not. I must, foremost, thank all the medical doctors, nurses, assistants and volunteers for their sacrifices and for risking their own lives in curing and helping the patients. I am most grateful to every one of them for their brave, unselfish, persistent, and ongoing care and support given to the patients all around the world. Also, my heartfelt thanks to the scientists who are striving to find out a solution to end this global tragedy as soon as possible.

While most people focus on the virus infection, I very much believe that it is a powerful opportunity to reflect upon our behavior, and stop taking things for granted. To me, I believe that life is a journey and we can be grateful at all times. We have been given this unique opportunity and we can make full use of it now while we can.

Serafina Restaino, staff

When my eyes first open in the morning my beautifully active brain presents me with a platter heaped high with worries, hopes, fears, “to-dos,” gratitude, ideas, and joy. Some brains, like mine, are wired in such a way that they inevitably choose sour milk (worries and fears) over a sweetly fragrant peach (gratitude and joy).

I am not a fan of sour milk…yet I often find my mouth full of it before my feet even touch the floor. Knowing this about myself, I know how I can quell the impulses and bring myself back to now. A few tools I use to subdue the cacophony:

Open my email and read today’s Word for the Day. And breathe.

Place my hand on a loved one (human or feline), allowing appreciation and love to flow through my hand. Sometimes I place a hand on my own heart and gently pat my way back to now. And breathe.

Watch A Grateful Day. And breathe.

Step outside. Tread softly…look, feel, sniff, and listen. This morning’s rain tickled my lashes. A pattering chorus with each drop sounding different: on the squirrel baffles… chimes, the roof plunkit plink plunkit, and on the leaves it seemed to say, shhh shhh… shhhh…quiet little one, you are here… now… the drops gravitate towards one another and merge…trickling like a laugh in the gutter overhead. And breathe.

For this moment, right now, amidst the fret, I can find and enjoy the peach and be grateful.

Annemarie Verschoor-ten Dam, Dankbaar Leven (The Netherlands)

The corona crisis has a huge impact on our lives, on societies all over the world. All of a sudden many things that are so often taken for granted, have become less natural. This causes a lot of uncertainty and fear and some people get scared, act selfishly, hoarding food and medicine. Others act irresponsibly and don’t follow the advice given by experts to prevent the virus from spreading. This makes me really angry. But then I say to myself, hold on: Stop – Look – Go! The words brother David tells us to use as a practice for grateful living.

I’ve found that gratefulness helps me regain my inner calm and resilience more easily when I get angry, worried or sad. In these difficult times it helps me to notice how in all kinds of places many people voluntarily offer help, come up with ideas to creatively face the problems caused by corona. And feeling grateful also lights a flicker of hope that this crisis will lead to a better world for all humans and for all nature.

Rocco Capobianco, board

As Brother David says, every moment is a gift…we have to stop, get quiet, look for the wonderful richness of our lives and then go forward with an awareness, a purpose.

How can one be grateful during these crazy times, with the endless news cycles; the stock market crashing, schools shutting down, and thousands around the world becoming infected with some dying? Many feel hopeless, helpless, and much stress right now. What can we do, how can we practice a Grateful Life?

It should be clear by now that every one of us is connected to each other. Every action you take carries with it an energy, an impulse, an intention. Imagine infecting those in your life with positivity, with gratitude, with hope and with love, for them to possibly share with their connections. It won’t take long for this energy to spread around the world. You, an individual, can have such a positive effect on the world. Your attitude, your energy, and your love matters; you can change the world.

Our world has slowed itself down for the first time in my lifetime. We usually spend our lives rushing from meeting to meeting, crisis to crisis, worrying about so many self-created distractions, we are simply responding to life’s demands; like the tail wagging the dog. As John Lennon said: “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

As our collective time has slowed down, I have appreciated this video from Brother David – Stop, Look and Go. Perhaps you will too.

Cintia Pelissari, Viver Agradecidos (Brazil)

Some days ago, I read an article — “Foods Can Boost Immunity” — and I thought to myself, if I only choose to eat certain immunity-boosting foods now, my body doesn’t have time to absorb all the nutrients. This reminds me that healthy meals are a daily practice. Similarly, to find gratefulness, I need to feel and practice it. Not just today but in all moments in order to deepen my understanding. I know in these times it’s more difficult to be alert to gratitude, but this is when I need to be more awake.

Yesterday I danced. Yesterday I talked with my parents. Today I was able to listen to birdsong. I have food to eat. I breathe. I pray. And In the midst of all this, I have cried. I have felt sadness. I have felt fear, anger, and anguish. The seed of gratitude is now and has always been in my heart. But like in a garden, cultivation is needed so that the seeds grow and blossom and give fruit.

I find gratefulness a support. When I try to practice day after another day, one at a time, the days are full of learning. I hope to be grateful enough to embrace this moment with respect and compassion. In this life nobody is alone because we need each other along the way.

Saoirse McClory, staff

The simple act of reflecting upon gratefulness instantly brings a smile to my face. And the surprise I experience as this happens deepens my smile. I recognize that the privilege I have of daily being immersed in practices and consideration of gratitude and gratefulness has had a profound effect on my life. Living gratefully soothes my nervous system; orients me to look for opportunities, lessons, and gifts (even and especially during challenging times); reveals my interdependence with all life; and contributes to a vivid sense of aliveness, joy, and care.

All this is not to deny the reality of this being a time of immense uncertainty and profound suffering for so many around the globe. This is as true as the beauty, courage, creativity, and kindness that is also on display. These days, I find myself resonating with Joanna Macy’s description of gratitude as “a stance of the soul.” Acknowledging that we face enormous challenges on our precious planet right now, I am appreciating the support of gratefulness with its wide embrace, as it warms and grounds me, providing a stance from which to greet this moment and the work ahead.

Chuck Roppel, board

I notice that when everything seems to be closing in around me, a good question to ask is: What’s the invitation? What’s being asked of me under these circumstances? And what is it to really live gratefully. It seems one obvious invitation is to “go inside” literally and figuratively. It’s the STOP, Slow Down and take a good soft look inside. What’s the longing of the soul right now? What’s being asked of the planet and our species right now? If it is to notice what’s being taken away my heart reels with appreciation for what I’ve had and have now. It opens me to deep appreciation of what has been and what will be. The suffering is enormous right now for so many. Actually, beyond our capacity to imagine and I know at some deep level all is “WELL.” We are finding our way to wholeness as our suffering clears away the debris and opens the way to the “Center.” To live gratefully now is to hold the MYSTERY as alive, conscious and trustworthy and to live in the question: What’s the invitation?

Please share your response to the following question in the reflection area below:

How are you finding gratefulness a source of support during this challenging time?

We’d love to hear from you!

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