One practice that I use sometimes – say, in my dentist’s waiting-room – I call The ABCs of Grateful Living: I go through the alphabet and note for each letter the first word that comes to my mind. Then, I try to make a connection between that word and my practice of grateful living. It’s a kind of game I play with myself…
A – AMAZEMENT
I mean that vibrant sense of wonder that triggers gratefulness. Mary Oliver expressed it so well:
“When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.”
B – BEAUTY
Not prettiness, but beauty as of a thunderstorm gripping my heart with a sense of mystery – this is the deepest root of gratefulness.
C – CHERRIES
Shiny red, big, and plump cherries, or even the tiny wild ones, so sweet on my tongue, are for me, as long as I can remember, an image of all that nature’s abundance bestows and our heart leaps to receive with gratitude.
D – DEATH
Living and dying belong together. Learning to live is learning to die. By learning to live gratefully, we learn to die peacefully.
E – EARTH
What a gift is this planet of ours! Gary Snyder speaks of it as the Earth Household. Earthworms, sunflowers, humans, lions, supernovas — all members of this household are gifts to one another. Gratitude of each to each – simply for being there – holds everything together.
F – FIREFLIES
Or should I have said Fireworks? I’m thrilled by both. Once on a 4th of July I heard the sound of fireworks and went out to see them. But a hill blocked my view. Instead, I noticed thousands of fireflies in the meadow around me. Aren’t surprise and gratitude almost synonyms?
G – GIVING
There are three levels of giving: Giving away makes you free. Giving thanks makes you joyful. Forgiving, the most intense level of giving, makes you fully human.
H – HANDS and HEART
Among all the wonderful things that human hands can do, giving gifts is the noblest activity. But, as an African proverb says: “It is the heart that gives, the hands merely let go.”
I – I AM
I have not brought about, or bought, or made myself. From the start I discover myself as a given – one big gift given to myself. What else should I make of my life but one big thanksgiving?
J – JOURNEY
Life is a journey. Grateful living turns life into a pilgrimage. The success of a journey depends on reaching the goal. But on a pilgrimage every step is the goal.
K – KNEELING
Gratitude makes us want to kneel from sheer delight. Again, Mary Oliver puts it perfectly in The Summer Day:
“I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention,
how to fall down into the grass,
how to kneel down in the grass…”
L – LEAVE-TAKING
The more we become aware that every moment of life is a leave-taking, the more we learn to appreciate life gratefully.
M – MUSIC and MYSTERY
We cannot grasp music intellectually; yet, we can understand music, if it, in turn, “grabs” us. Likewise the Great Mystery that some call God: We cannot wrap our mind around it, but we can gratefully allow it to embrace us – and thus understand.
N – NOW
The greatest gift of all is the present moment. All spiritual practices lead to living gratefully in the Now.
O – OPPORTUNITY
The gift within every gift is opportunity. We cannot be grateful for everything. But we can be grateful every moment for the opportunities it gives us – if not to enjoy, then to learn, to grow, to serve.
P – POTHOLES
Potholes in the road give us the opportunity to slow down. That’s a great gift.
Q – QUESTIONS
I’m grateful for questions, especially unanswered ones; they keep me alert.
R – RAIN
Makes plants grow; gratitude makes human relationships grow.
S – SIMPLICITY
Grateful people live simply – so that others may simply live.
T – TRUST
Life inevitably brings anxieties. If we resist anxiety because of fear – a lack of trust – we get stuck. Trust in life lets us move through the narrow passage of anxiety into a new birth.
U – UMBRELLA
Evening rain tapping on my yellow umbrella: The “little” gifts of life, how big they are!
V – VOTING
Yes, I know, voting is made difficult for the poor and the system is riddled with injustice. All the more, I stop and look for the opportunity to promote justice, and go voting.
W – WIKIPEDIA
Sharing all knowledge for free! Do we support this project as it deserves? We can transform giving money as payment into giving money as thanks.
X – Gratitude is an “x”
A multiplication sign: It multiplies our joy as many times as we “stop, look, and go!”
Y – YOU
We can learn to say “you” gratefully. Without you, the very word “I” would make no sense. In a love poem e.e. cummings says: “i am through you so I.“
Z – ZAP! You are it!
Now it’s your turn to play this ABC Gratefulness Game…
This practice is from Br. David’s introduction to Stop-Look-Go: A Grateful Practice Workbook and Gratitude Journal. Experience the joy of grateful living through practical instructions, exercises and essays. Using the STOP, LOOK, GO technique gratefully borrowed from Br. David Steindl-Rast, the book offers 32 exercises adapted from A Network for Grateful Living and The Greater Good Science Center that explore all aspects of grateful living. You can purchase Stop-Look-Go: A Grateful Practice Workbook and Gratitude Journal at Amazon. Br. David says: “My heart overflows with gratitude to my dear friends, Candice Fuhrman, Karie Jacobson, and Gary Fiedel for their nine-month labor that gave birth to this promising baby. It takes practice to achieve gratefulness…”
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