Wednesday, November 23, 2011

If you concentrate on finding whatever is good in every situation, you will discover that your life will suddenly be filled with gratitude, a feeling that nurtures the soul. - Rabbi Harold Kushner (from the essay “God’s fingerprints on the Soul”. Source: Handbook for the Soul)

Finding gratitude in unlikely places this Thanksgiving....
My last blog post touched on the idea of gratitude and blessings.  Rabbi Kushner’s thoughts seem to be turning up in many of my readings recently.  In the last decade I’ve learned to note those serendipity's and gentle nudges.   I’m not nearly as evolved as the Rabbi in my ability to find something meaningful in life’s disappointments, and tragedies, but I do believe, just being willing, is meeting God half way in our quest for understanding.  It’s much easier to do this when the sea has calmed and you’re miles up the beach looking back. But it is possible to engage some gratitude in the midst of the storm.  This year, in honor of Thanksgiving, I want to give it my best shot, examining those less obvious blessings. 
In the past I’ve ticked off my gratitude like a shopping list essentially parroting the same things year after year.  Not to minimize them because they aren’t givens.  They’re gifts.  I am immensely grateful for my family, a roof over my head, plenty of food on my table, good friends, experiencing a great love, and living in a free country (as challenged as it appears at times).  In hindsight, I have had a year of ambiguous blessings which packed a big, spiritual punch.  Many joys peppered with a  few profound sorrows has enabled me to practice Rabbi Kushner's search for good in every situation.   That’s been the biggest blessing of all;  an emerging awareness asking me to look for the gems.  To do that, I have to pay very close attention to the moment and the people in it:  listening intently, observing, and tuning into others.  I also had to consciously look at my life as a giant university teaching me about my real essence which is not my physical body and ego.  I do get caught up in the lure and shallowness of that from time to time.  Challenges arise, giving me exactly what I need, to expand me, exactly when I need it and my soul is growing as I navigate life.  Sometimes I need to  repeat a class or two over (and over) again!  Yet, something really shifted this year.  
I am attributing this shift to that state of willingness, and tuning in as an observer rather than a judge.  When my appreciation is drilled down that simply, no matter what other chaos is happening around me, I can generally find some gems.   Things aren’t always what they seem, and the times which are ugly, buried beneath all the pain or suffering, is a timeless heirloom we get to carry with us for the rest of our lives when we really look for it.  
Here is a small sampling of my gratitude list for Thanksgiving 2011.  I am grateful for:
Knowing Unconditional love. We all want that.  Some of us struggle thinking we aren’t worthy of it and often aren’t capable of recognizing what it is and means. Unconditional love does not mean tolerating abuse or unacceptable behavior.  One of my most profound moments came from an unexpected source.  My beloved brother. In a late night discussion, I revealed some thoughts about why I seem to settle for so much less than I deserve.  His response to me was, “Rather than trying so hard with someone who doesn’t appreciate the beauty of you, or wants to change you, why don’t you look at the unconditional love you already have in your life?  I love you.  My family loves you. Your family loves you.  The best part, we all love you exactly as you are and will always love you no matter what you do.”  This kind of love gives me permission to try, make mistakes, make changes, succeed, regress, become.  If you love something, set it free.  If it comes back to you, it’s yours.  If it doesn’t it never was. This kind of love could change the world.  It did mine.  Finally recognizing how well I am loved eliminates any desire to settle for less than what I already have...... from anyone.  Shine on! 
An example of how to live a joy filled life.  My young, beautiful cousin passed away this year.  The prototype of her life,  well lived, surrounded by love, in a  state of surrender and acceptance, are now daily aspirations for me.   Could I apply those qualities, especially in the minutia of my life?  If she could live and die in this kind of grace, I surely can remember, most of what I find myself upset or obsessing about, isn't important and if I can take no positive action to change it, I’ll be much more at peace if I surrender to it.   When I want to put off until tomorrow what I could/should be savoring today, I am also reminded that the happiest, emotionally healthiest individuals, are those that recognize today is all we have. Live in it.  
Experiencing Rejection.  I’ve had a few of these this year.  It wore on me and played nasty tricks on my self-esteem.   By mid year, thanks to an angel who said to me, repeatedly,  Rejection is God’s Protection....I not only now believe it myself, but I understand it!   If I am not given what I think I want in this life, a particular job, man, material object, or friendship, there is a reason.  It’s not mine to be had.  I am not supposed to be there at this time. It’s not a fit or perhaps, good for me.  I get that now.  Not only do I get it, I am also grateful for the protection.  I know the best things for me, are yet to come and I don’t need to keep banging on boarded up and dead bolted doors.  Perhaps I have just learned to trust in the Architect's design for my life. 
Learning to Welcome Change.  My moniker has always been The Queen of Change.  It’s a fact; I have had to adapt to a great deal of change in my life.  Much of it forced upon me by unfortunate circumstance.  Looking back, I’m immensely grateful now for the gift of emotional flexibility change has taught me.  This all ties in with God’s protection of me (see above).  If change happens, its simply time to do something different and grow.  I trust change as a necessary process in the evolution of my soul.  I am grateful for putting down my sword and making peace with change.    
My faith and an intimate connection with my Creator. I’ve always known there was something larger than me running things. I just really didn’t feel comfortable having a relationship with anything that powerful.  Power, equaled control and authority, something I’ve  rebelled against all my life.  My perception of God was, he was either my dad- restricting and punishing, or in times of burning desires granted, Santa Claus. When I did begin to view God in a more positive manner, I still just thought I wasn't one of His chosen.  I was the red-headed step-child, treated a little differently.   Something evolved in the past few years. The relationship I have now is one of communication, and the purest, sweetest love imaginable.  For me, God is not "out there", an authoritarian figure sitting on a throne doling out judgement or blessings.  God is a part of me - the holy spirit which guides me, comforts me and most of all shares with me.  All I need to do is tune in and listen rather than doing all the asking and talking.  (More reflections on the God of my understanding are forthcoming as the holidays near). 
In review, this year has again brought many earthly treasures into my life, and I am so  grateful for those riches.   Sometimes, though we have to dig a little deeper to unearth the heavenly gifts that will sustain far longer than a roof over our head or food in our belly's.  
Happy Thanksgiving to all!  May you take time to reflect and identify the good and your gratitude for those things that may not be so apparent this holiday season.