Gratefulness is a setting of the heart, one that I can choose like a wavelength on the radio.  There are lots of channels from which to choose:  anger or resentment, dissatisfaction or apathy, complaint mode.  I choose to set my heart on the Gratefulness wavelength.  It makes life so much more enjoyable.

Having a grateful heart doesn’t mean I’ll never have to readjust the dial.  All kinds of life events can throw a person off kilter:  death, disasters, worries, illness, loss of jobs.  But, if I practice gratefulness and awareness in everyday life, I am better equipped to handle the events that come my way. I have found that the more I practice gratefulness, the less time I spend listening to mind channels that don’t sustain me, that don’t make me happy.

Six months ago, I attended a retreat weekend sponsored by the folks at A Network for Grateful Living in a beautiful setting in the Catskill Mountains. It was an inspiring weekend.  I was surprised when Saturday’s session began with a discussion of grief and gratefulness.  Odd, I thought, to combine the two.  Little did I know that by the end of the weekend, my grateful heart would be facing its greatest challenge.

We parted from the conference smiling and rejuvenated.  I stopped to buy fresh local asparagus and the season’s first strawberries, precious gifts from the earth to share with my sweetie.  That night with veggies prepped and berries washed, I received a call:  My fiancé had been in a motorcycle crash.  He’d been whisked via helicopter to the hospital.   Planning for a long night, I packed water and snacks.  Turned out I wouldn’t need them.  My sweet lover was on life support.   His family and I by his side, I got to say good-bye.  Was he already gone?  And then they shut off the machines and all was quiet except for the sobbing….

Why tell this story….because it’s a real life tale of life, loss, and gratefulness.  I know there are many similar stories in the lives of those reading this piece. I’ll never be grateful for Tim’s death.  I am grateful I was able to say good bye.  Grateful that maybe he heard.  Grateful for all we shared. If not for my pre-existing gratefulness work and meditation practice, I don’t think I could be writing this today.

[quote text=”A grateful heart cries; a grateful heart laughs. A grateful heart is open. Open to receive; open to give.”]

Gratefulness can’t make pain go away.  And maybe it’s not meant to. It can’t erase sorrow.  Sorrows and joys are part of every life, just like there can be no “in” breath without the “out” breath.   Gratefulness makes the sorrows easier to bear, the joys more amazing.  A grateful heart cries; a grateful heart laughs.  A grateful heart is open. Open to receive; open to give.

I am grateful every day.  Grateful for friends.  Grateful for this life.  For clean air and water.  For so many little things I might otherwise take for granted.  Gratefulness is sometimes like walking a tightrope.    It’s not always easy to maintain a state of gratefulness.  Thoughts arise, things happen, and one can easily fall off the wire of gratefulness into the abyss of craving and desire, of wanting things to be other than the way they are.  Resistance to life as it presents itself is an exercise in futility and leads only to unhappiness.  When we accept reality as it is, not as we want it to be, we are free.  Free to see the beauty in every day rather than be trapped by our cravings and desires. Free to be grateful for the wonderful things we have been blessed with.  Real freedom.  Yes, I can be happy and grateful when I accept what life has in store for me.  Acceptance frees me to be lifted up, back onto the high wire of gratefulness.  The view is fantastic…a little scary, but fantastic!

Gratefulness is a way of looking at the world.  Gratefulness allows me to see the beauty around me and feel blessed for the gifts I receive every single day.  I count my blessings often.  There are so many people less fortunate than me.  I don’t have to think of the poor and downtrodden half way across the world.  Right here on my path, in my family, amongst my friends, so many suffer. Every day at my work in nursing homes, I’m reminded of gifts I take for granted every day.  I can breath without a machine; I can walk; I can ride my bike; I can rake the leaves.  I can read; I can speak.

But even as abilities decline, gratefulness need never fade away.  Gratefulness is notdependant on external circumstance.   So many of my patients exhibit such grace and gratitude in the face of their debilities.  They exemplify for me a saying posted on my kitchen wall, “The winds of grace blow all the time. All we need to do is set our sails.”

I awoke the other day to the sound of heavy rain on the roof and the garbage can lids like crazy drumming.  Wow!  Sure is nice to have a good roof!  Not even out of bed and already a realization of a gift.   Why not set an intention to give thanks for one thing each morning before even getting out of bed?

Gratefulness encourages awareness and mindfulness, and these in turn enhance our state of gratefulness, like a spiritual spiral turning in and on itself, reinforcing each part.   Buddhist writer and environmentalist Diane Ackerman speaks of “deep looking.”  She reviews her day each night and notes that even on stressful days there are “glowing nuggets of peace, pleasure or joy!”   “We can’t enchant the world,” she writes, “which makes its own magic, but we can enchant ourselves by paying deep attention.”

[quote text=”This ethic demands that we carry forth our gratefulness in service to others and in caring for our world. “]

Look, really look at the scenery on your ride to work. Notice the beauty of the frosted weeds on cold mornings.  Notice the honking and formation of the geese overhead.  Notice the color of the sky, the shape of the clouds, the pattern of the raindrops or frost on your windshield. The smiles on your loved ones faces.   They’ll never be exactly that way again.  Don’t miss it!

Gratefulness encourages us to be present every moment.  This day, this moment.  The only moment we truly have. All around us every day, every minute, sounds, sights, smells all given as gifts.  Direct delivery.  The Universe to You and no delivery charges!

Rev. Galen Guengerich of All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church in NYC expressed his understanding of gratitude as a spiritual discipline which connects us to our past, to the gifts we have received each day.  The gifts that have made us who we are.  Gratefulness is a reminder of how dependant we are on all the people and the world around us.  He writes that from this understanding flows gratefulness as an ethic which connects us with the future.   This ethic demands that we carry forth our gratefulness in service to others and in caring for our world.  The world that takes care of us at no charge.

Why not add a daily gratitude practice to your to-do list?  Slow down, breath, cross things off your list. Decide what is essential. Offer a kindness every day.  Say thank you. Send a thank you note or leave one on someone’s desk who isn’t expecting it.

May the spirit of gratefulness guide and inspire you, today and every day. And thank You, thank you.  Amen.

Excerpted from a sermon by Susan Mazrolle. Suzy, a Registered Dietitian, is a frequent speaker at the Unitarian-Universalist Society of Greater Springfield, Massachusetts.   She can be found hiking, biking, and musing in the wilds of New England and beyond.