Thursday, April 9, 2015

Spiritual Practices A to Z: Gratitude

For the seventh spiritual practice this year, I am focusing on Gratitude. These ideas came from the Spiritual Practices website which has a wide variety of ideas for bringing this practice to life.

Spiritual Practice: Gratitude
Enhances: Satisfaction
Balances/Counters: Greed, Entitlement

The Basic Practice

The spiritual practice of gratitude has been called a state of mind and a way of life. It basically covers all our daily activities. To learn the spiritual practice of gratitude, practice saying "thank you" for happy and challenging experiences, for people, animals, things, art, memories, dreams. Count your blessings; and express your appreciation to everything and everyone you encounter. By blessing, we are blessed.

A sunrise at our farm.

Why This Practice May Be For You

According to the Spiritual Practices website, "The continuum of words related to gratitude go from greed and jealousy; through taking things for granted and feeling entitled; to appreciation, acceptance, and satisfaction. The practice of gratitude would be an appropriate prescription whichever one of the above describes your attitudes."

Gratitude can sometimes be puzzling. For example, instead of rejoicing in what we have, we greedily want something better, more, or different. We can't be grateful because we are making comparisons and coveting other possibilities.

When this happens on a personal level, when it's our ego that is dissatisfied, then we are ungrateful. But when we want something more, better, or different for the benefit of the community, this greed may be a manifestation of our love, devotion, or yearning for justice.


Joy is the simplest form of gratitude.
— Karl Barth in Joy by Beverly Elaine Eanes

I think the dying pray at the last not "please," but "thank you," as a guest thanks his host at the door.
— Annie Dillard in Super, Natural Christians by Sallie McFague

Continuous practice, day after day, is the most appropriate way of expressing gratitude. This means that you practice continuously, without wasting a single day of your life, without using it for your own sake. Why is it so? Your life is a fortunate outcome of the continuous practice of the past. You should express your gratitude immediately.
— Zen Master Dogen in Enlightenment Unfolds edited by Kazuaki Tanahashi

Gratitude is the intention to count-your-blessings every day, every minute, while avoiding, whenever possible, the belief that you need or deserve different circumstances.
— Timothy Miller in How To Want What You Have

Look closely and you will find that people are happy because they are grateful. The opposite of gratefulness is just taking everything for granted.
— David Steindl-Rast in The Music of Silence


There are a couple of books that I started reading this month that I will be working to finish:

In Living in Gratitude: A Journey That Will Change Your Life, Angeles Arrien, presents a tribute to the practice of gratitude and its related qualities of thankfulness, appreciation, compassion, generosity, and grace, through a a month-by-month practice of gratitude.

Naikan - Gratitude, Grace, and the Japanese Art of Self-Reflection by Gregg Krech. Gregg Krech is Director of the ToDo Institute, an education and retreat center near Middlebury, Vermont. He is a practitioner of a method of self-reflection, attention, gratitude, connections, kindness, and compassion developed in Japan during the 1940s by Ishin Yoshimoto, a devout Buddhist of the Pure Land sect. David K. Reynolds introduced Naikan to the United States in the 1970s.

The Japanese word Naikan means "looking inside." This practice of self-reflection is based on three questions: What did I receive? What did I give? What troubles and difficulties did I cause?

"We hurry through our day giving little attention to all the 'little' things we are receiving. But are these things really little? They only seem so because, while we are being supported, our attention is elsewhere. But when there is no hot water for a shower or we lose our glasses, these little things grab our attention."

When we consciously pay attention to what we have received from others, the realization dawns on us how dependent we are on others.

When our days begin to reflect gratitude, it becomes much easier and more natural for us to give to others in acts of kindness, generosity, and compassion.


The Spiritual Practices website recommends The Lively Garden Prayer Book by William Cleary which is a collection of poems in which plants, beetles, dogs, cats, worms, and aphids sing their praises to the Sky and Earth. The blessings range from A (Acorn) to Z (Zucchini).

A chipmunk we saw when we took a trip 
to Grand Marais in 2010.

This book is unavailable through libraries in Minnesota, but there was an except on the Spiritual Practices website:

"Among the deeper mysteries of life is the mystery of manure, how awful it smells, how disgusting it looks, how repulsive it feels — yet how delicious it is to our vegetable cousins in the garden: the tomatoes, the corn, the carrots.

"We put manure right into their bed. They not only welcome it, but they take it in, and through the life powers within them, absorb its very substance into their individual beings, transforming its smelly and disgusting substance miraculously into bright shining red tomatoes, yellow luscious corn, sweet wholesome carrots.

"Miraculously, that execrable manure has now turned into something humans can eat: nourishing, sweet-smelling food, delicious to the mouth and life-giving to every part of our bodies — a magic we might expect to find only in mythical Eden."

Children's Books

In Three Hens and a Peacock Lester L. Laminack wrote about three hens and a peacock who try an experiment and come away with new respect and gratitude for each other. The hens think the peacock has an easy job attracting the attention of potential customers to the farm, while the peacock think the hens have an easy job of laying eggs.

After switching jobs for a day, they realize that they are meant to do the things that they are gifted and skilled with...not something that another animal is meant to do. It's an interesting story about the assumptions that we make about others' roles in life and how we believe that we sometimes could do a better job.

Yet, when faced with the responsibilities and challenges that another person has to go through, we often become aware that the journey they are on and role they play in this life is equally as challenging as our own and we are grateful that they are able to do their job and roles so effectively and with such grace.

A beautiful white peacock at a wildlife sanctuary at 
Oak Leaf Park in Glenco, Minnesota.
(Taken on June 8, 2012.) 

A book I found at the library when searching for ones about gratitude was Giving Thanks - Poems, Prayers, and Praise Songs of Thanksgiving edited by Katherine Patterson. Below are some poems and prayers that I liked and/or brought back memories from childhood:

For each new morning with its light,
For rest and shelter of the night,
For health and food,
For love and friends,
For everything Thy goodness sends.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Earth who gives to us this food,
Sun who makes it ripe and good,
Dearest Earth and Dearest Sun.
We'll not forget what you have done.
- Christian Morgenstern ("The Waldorf Verse")

'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free,
'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
'Twill be in the valley of love and delight.

When true simplicity is gain'd,
To bow and to bend we shan't be asham'd,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come round right.
- Shaker Song by Elder Joseph Brackett ("Simple Gifts")

Morning has broken, like the first morning
Blackbird has spoken, like the first bird
Praise for the singing, praise for the morning
Praise for the springing fresh from the world

Sweet the rain's new fall, sunlit from heaven
Like the first dewfall, on the first grass
Praise for the sweetness of the wet garden
Sprung in completeness where his feet pass

Mine is the sunlight, mine is the morning
Born of the one light, eden saw play
Praise with elation, praise every morning
God's recreation of the new day
- Eleanor Farjeon ("Morning has Broken")

Oh, the Earth is good to me,
and so I thank the  Earth for giving me
the things I need,
the sun and the rain and the apple seed.
The Earth is good to me.
- "Johnny Appleseed Grace"

To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee, - 

One clover, and a bee,
And revery.
The revery alone will do
If bees are few.
- Emily Dickinson

O heavenly Father, protect and bless all things that have breath: guard them from all evil, and let them sleep in peace. 
- Albert Schweitzer (when he was a child) ("A Child's Prayer")

The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart.
- Helen Keller

Blessed are we who can laugh at ourselves,
For we shall never cease to be amused.
- Author Unknown

Give me a sense of humor,
Give me the grace to see a joke,
To get some pleasure out of life
And pass it on to other folk.
- Author Unknown

When I rise up
let me rise up joyful
like a bird.
When I fall
let me fall without regret
like a leaf.
- Wendell Berry ("Prayers and Sayings of the Mad Farmer")

Do all the good you can
By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
Too all the people you can,
As long as ever you can.
- John Wesley

May all who are sick and ill
Quickly be feed from their illness,
And may every disease in the world
Never occur again.
And now so long as space endures,
As long as there are beings to be found,
May I continue likewise to remain
To soothe the sufferings of those who live.
- Dalai Lama

Do your little bit of good where you are; it's those little
bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.
- Desmond Tutu


I didn't have the time to watch two movies that were recommended for this spiritual practice. However, I do want to mention them because at some point I'd like to watch them:

=> Wings of Desire - a story about an angel who sheds his wings and takes a leap of faith into a worldly existence. He's drawn by a desire to experience the sources of gratitude — from the pleasures of a cup of coffee to a love relationship with a woman.
=> Harvest of Fire an FBI agent is sent to investigate several barn burnings in an Amish community. A local sheriff believes that it might be a hate crime. At first the FBI agent finds the Amish very formal. They are, after all, a religious community that is uneasy with outsiders whom they call "English."
       One of the Amish widows whose barn was burned down, befriends the agent and for a brief time lets her stay in her home during the investigation. In the end, the real drama is not about the crime but about the friendship which forms between these two very different women. As the widow tells the FBI agent, "When two lives touch, they can never again completely be separated."


Since becoming a member of the Orthodox Church in 1977, British composer John Tavener has endeavored to use music to praise the Creator. He wrote Akathist of Thanksgiving which is a hymn of thanksgiving. Tavener used poetry written in the 1940s by Archpriest Gregory Petrov shortly before his death in a Siberian prison camp. I had hoped to find this through the library system, but it was unavailable.

Since I couldn't find that particular CD, I checked out Tavener's Fall and Resurrection. There are ten tracks on the CD. Of those, I listened to Silence, darkness: In the beginning, before time; Representation of Chaos; The Serpent; The Lament of Mankind; and Cosmic Dance of the Resurrection: All is Transfigured.

Each song composed by Tavener completely captured the title and and part of the Creation story. I have never heard music that could so eloquently tell a story without words - just through a variety of music instruments and vocal sounds (but not words). It was quite engaging, and I'm glad I listened to it. This CD would not have been one I would have found on my own had I not being doing the Spiritual Practices A to Z challenge.


French impressionist Claude Monet's series of paintings of the waterlilly pond on his property are blessings of the natural world and blessings to viewers. The artist's gratitude for a special place seems to pulse through these scenes, embracing the water, the floating flowers, the reflected sky and clouds.

Monet painted this water garden extensively during the last 30 years of his life, catching it in different seasons and times of day, his appreciation of its pleasures apparent in every brush stroke.

Daily Cue, Reminder, Vow, Blessing

• Picking up a spoon to eat a meal is my cue to practice gratitude.

• Every time I walk in the door of my home, I am reminded to count my blessings.

• On my birthday, I vow to practice gratitude during the new year.

Practice of the Day

You say grace before meals. All right. But I say grace before the concert and the opera, and grace before the play and pantomime, and grace before I open a book, and grace before sketching, painting, and swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing, and grace before I dip the pen in ink.
— G. K. Chesterton quoted in Different Seasons by Dale Turner

To Practice This Thought: Begin each new activity with a brief grace.

Spiritual Exercises

One of the ideas for practicing gratitude is to "...reverse any tendency you have to make comparisons. Quit talking about what you don't have compared to what you have; stop whining about how you are doing career-wise, relationship-wise, or any other-wise in comparison to how a friend or enemy is doing. The next time you start chattering about wanting something more, better, or different, don't listen," suggested the Spiritual Practices website.

One of the people I write to through a prison ministry program wrote about this exact same issue recently. In prison, the comparisons that were so difficult to handle were such basic ones: being envious of those who had family members who visited them; those who could go to the "store" there and get whatever they wanted since their account bank account was being funded by their families; and those who were fortunate to be able to extra food to supplement what they received at meal times.

After I read the issues, I thought that it is no different than what you see in the free world - except in the free world those comparisons relate to often larger - more material - objects: a nicer house, a better car, "toys" - like ATVs, snowmobiles, or campers, and so forth. The list could go on.

And then there are the more quiet - often unspoken - comparisons as one ages: that others don't struggle with health issues like you do; that one's relationship with a significant other seems stronger and happier; that other families seem to do a lot more together than your family does.

I see it at the nursing home and with those who are homebound: wishing that family members would visit more - or simply visit them; that a spouse was still living; or that others get to stay in their homes, but not them.

I think this spiritual exercise - about trying to not make comparisons - is worthy of my time. It certainly would be a challenge on some days. Other days, I see no reason to negatively compare my life to others.

Journal Exercises

Keep a Daily Gratitude Journal. Every day before you go to bed, write down five things that you can be grateful for that day. In Simple Abundance, Sarah Ban Breathnach describes this journal exercise as a transformative process: "As the months pass and you fill your journal with blessings, an inner shift in your reality will occur."

I did this during 2014 and by my 48th birthday had 1,000 things for which I was grateful. Whenever I would pick up the list and read a few of the things, it would immediately bring me back to that moment. I could envision exactly what I read and that memory would flood back and I could relive it again.

This is something that I truly need to start doing again - even if it is one thing that I am grateful for each day. Sometimes having to write 3 or 5 things each day can get overwhelming...but just one thing is easy enough to do.

Discussion Questions, Storytelling, Sharing

King Faisal of Saudi Arabia displayed a flask of petroleum on his desk with a card saying "Allah's Bounty." What would you put on your desk as a constant reminder of gratitude?

Some of the items on my desk that have special significance.

When I look on the desk that belonged to my grandma that's in my bedroom, I have several items on it that reflect what I am grateful for:
=> family - especially those who have died (a hand-carved camel that my dad gave me when he went to see the Holy Land; a picture of my grandma with my sister, brother, and me; and a stuffed fox that my dad had when he had Alzheimer's Disease - it was the closest stuffed animal that I could find that resembled a corgi - his favorite dog; an emerald green lamp that my brother gave me); and
=> the ability and opportunities I've had to travel (a picture of a tawny frogmouth bird in Australia; a hand-painted globe from China);
=> my spirituality (prayer beads; an image of a statue of St. Francis that I did by using a slide transfer method and then hand-colored using colored pencils).

Household, Group, and Community Projects

Create a Gratitude Calendar for use in your household daily or weekly devotional observances. Set up a schedule of blessing emphases in a date book, perhaps having a different focus for each month: (1) People We've Known, (2) People We Do Not Know but Admire (living and dead), (3) Artists, (4) Service Providers, (5) Spiritual and Other Communities, (6) Our Bodies, (7) Places, (8) Animals, (9) Nature, (10) Food and Drink, (11) Things, (12) Opportunities.

I like this idea and the topics that the Spiritual Practices website suggested. This is a matter of being much more intentional in thinking about different people and things for which to be grateful.

 Identify creative ways to show your gratitude to the world:
- Send letters of appreciation to teachers or writers whose work has touched you. I did this each month throughout 2012 for people who had positively impacted my life or our family's life. What made the letters so meaningful for the recipients was that they didn't expect them (first of all) and that they had no idea the impact they had made on other's lives. Many of the people called or wrote back to me saying they were moved to tears by what I had written. In 2014, I wrote to several people as part of my 48 acts of kindness for my 48 birthday. Again, it was the same reaction but by different people who I sent letters to. It was well worth the time to write and share these thoughts with others.
- Thank your body by giving your feet a massage or blessing your skin with moisturizing lotion. I've been using a body cream from Watkins that has been wonderful in terms of moisturizing my skin. It's one of the best creams I've used and each time my skin just absorbs the cream - clearly needing and appreciating it.
- Show your gratitude for the gifts of nature by incorporating some of them — house plants, leaves, acorns, rocks, sand — into a table centerpiece. I used to do this when Sophia and Olivia were younger. However, Cooper and Aspen both have high separation anxiety whenever they are left alone and will start finding and chewing anything they can get their mouths on. So, no more nature displays or seasonal displays like I used to do on my grandma's bureau in the dining room. I miss that. Yet, I haven't come up with a solution to do this in a way that things won't be destroyed.

• Be a blessing by performing a service to a neighbor or a shut-in — doing a chore, running an errand, or delivering groceries. Sophia, Olivia, and I took care of our neighbor's dog while they were on a trip. This gives their dog the ability to stay at home, and saves our neighbors lots of money by not kenneling their dog. We do this for them many times throughout the year.

Extend your gratitude into your community. In appreciation for the good service of a grocery store, a cleaners, or a gas station, tell your friends about the place so that their business can grow. To thank public servants and community activists, attend meetings and fundraisers or volunteer to help in their offices. One of the big projects that we are going to start working on this month is a Barn Quilt Trail. Olivia has received several grants and donations to do this project.

The finished barn quilt at Gammelgarden Museum.
This is taken from the road looking over the pond.
The barn quilt is 7'x7'.

There will be seven barn quilts that range in size from 4'x4' to 7'x7' that are placed in three neighboring communities. This is a way to beautify these three towns, draw customers to the small businesses in each one; and bring volunteers together from a variety of different places.

Olivia by the finished barn quilt at Gammelgarden Museum. 

To see pictures of the Barn Quilt Trail as the barn quilts are being painted and installed, we set up a Barn Quilt Trail Facebook page. We may set up a website at some point if the project expands beyond the seven quilts.

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