In most corners of the world we’re entering a time of celebration, for thanksgiving, family gatherings, festivals of light and a new year approaching.
No matter where you sit on the spectrum of tradition, or at what angle you look upon personal and spiritual growth, the notion of the importance of gratitude has likely woven its way into your psyche.
You might even keep a gratitude journal, in which, at the end of the day, you list 5 things that you are grateful for. The idea being that this cultivates the feeling of gratitude and brings good things your way. This practice approaches gratitude from a psychological perspective. But what if gratitude is more than a mindset?
“I can’t find it in my heart to be grateful” said my client. He was talking about his alcoholic uncle who was frequently abusive to his wife. The family had tried to intervene on a number of occasions, but the dynamic between the couple was rigid and both had made it clear that they were happy with their relationship.
Accepting that he couldn’t change his uncle’s behavior, my client turned his attention to what he could change; his inner attitude. Having occupied the role of a minister for over 30 years, it would be reasonable to assume that he’d mastered the feeling of gratitude through his years of spiritual practice. As he talked it became obvious that he knew that gratitude for the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ in life was the path to healing, but, when it came to his uncle, he was stuck. He reasoned to himself that if he cultivated gratitude towards his uncle, he was somehow condoning his uncles behavior, and this is not what he wanted to do.
The human heart is designed to pump. And, with little or no thought on your part, it will, 24 hours a day, sending vital blood and oxygen around your body. Energetically speaking, your heart is designed to flow gratitude. And it will, with little or no thought on your part, if you let it. An open heart doesn’t assess what it’s grateful for, it doesn’t single out some people or life events as more deserving than others. It simply flows gratitude because gratitude is a natural outflow of a clear heart.
However, if a heart is blocked, let’s say the arteries are clogged, its capacity to send blood around the body is also blocked. And, so it is with gratitude. If there are thoughts and feelings in the way of gratitude, the flow of love will be limited. No matter how many things you think of to be grateful for… if there is a blockage in your system you’ll end up in a state of trying, or worse, pretending that you feel grateful when you don’t… running the risk of spiritual heart failure – the inability to feel love.
A little heart massage
I suggested to my client that we give his heart a massage. I invited him to take a look at what he really felt towards his uncle. No censoring, no hiding. Just an honest look at what was in the way of love.
This simple invitation allowed his deeper emotions to surface. He got in touch with anger and hatred buried under his professional role. Tears welled up as his heart began to open to the truth, followed by compassion. Compassion for the suffering in his family, and for the pain of covering up his true feelings.
His anger and hatred dissolved in the flow of compassion, and within minutes he felt a wave of relief and certainty. In that instant he felt gratitude for discovering how to clear the violent emotion in his own being. His heart became crystal clear that it was possible to love his uncle without colluding with his uncles violence.
My client went away with a fresh understanding that true gratitude is not tied to an assessment of whether this or that person, or situation deserves love.
As this realization sank in he felt blessed to have his uncle in his life. The more he allowed himself to feel blessed, the more his heart opened to flow gratitude towards his uncle. With this flow came clarity about how to relate to, and interact with his uncle in constructive ways.
Sometimes reaching for gratitude is too far a stretch when deeper contrary feelings exist. A more constructive practice is to allow yourself to be totally honest about how you feel, at least to yourself, and then bless yourself… for simply being who you are.
Bless yourself for no reason other than you exist. Not for how good you are, or how spiritual you are, or how loving you are. Simply that you exist. Practice receiving your own blessing. Every time you bless yourself and others, you give your heart a massage which pumps a little more love around and through your life.
Thoughts? How do you massage your heart? Come share in the comments.
needed to read this.. bless yourself for just existing.. been beating myself up all day.. so i needed to read this thank you GReat idea.
Am so glad this helps, Roslyn. That you exist is the purest expression of Love. Blessing yourself is to recognize this fundamental Truth.
Wow! I had tears in my eyes reading this article. Talking about loving ‘whether or not this or that person deserves love’ reminds me of a story my father told me years ago about a mentor of his in the field of non-violence who told him ‘if I can’t love Hitler, who CAN I love?’.
For many years now I’ve been ‘estranged’ from my sister (i.e. she won’t talk to me). My reactive response was initially one of self defense (‘but its not not my fault…). It gradually dawned on me that I could not change her attitude towards me, but I could change how I dealt with it. When I let go of self-defense I just felt love and gratitude for her presence in the world. I don’t know if we’ll ever be close, or even ever talk again, but its OK; I just feel love whenever I think of her.
Beautiful, I’m touched by your story, David. Many variables are at play in personal relationships, not least – the state of mind or consciousness of your sister, but ultimately your closeness is measured by the love you feel towards her.