Open to surprise.

surprise

How much do our expectations get in the way of our gratefulness? If we were expecting nothing, would our eyes open more to all the gifts we receive each day. Brother David Steindhal-Rast explores just this link between surprise and gratitude:

Have you ever noticed how your eyes open a bit wider when you are surprised? It is as if you had been asleep, merely day-dreaming or sleepwalking through some routine activity, and you hear your favorite tune on the radio, or look up from the puddles on the parking lot and see a rainbow, or the telephone rings and it’s the voice of an old friend, and all of a sudden you’re awake. Even an unwelcome surprise shakes us out of complacency and makes us come alive. We may not like it at first, but looking back, we can always recognize it as a gift. Humdrum equals deadness; surprise equals life. In fact, my favorite name for the One I worship in wonder – the only name that does not limit God – is Surprise.

Right this moment, as I remember spiritual giants I have been privileged to meet – Mother Teresa, Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day, His Holiness the Dalai Lama – I can still feel the life energy they radiated. But how did they come by this vitality? There is no lack of surprises in this world, but such radiant aliveness is rare. What I observed was that these people were all profoundly grateful, and then I understood the secret.

Surprise is a seed. Gratefulness sprouts when we rise to the challenge of surprise

A surprise does not make us automatically alive. Aliveness is a matter of give-and-take, of response. If we allow surprise to merely baffle us, it will stun us and stunt our growth. Instead, every surprise is a challenge to trust in life and so to grow. Surprise is a seed. Gratefulness sprouts when we rise to the challenge of surprise. The great ones in the realm of Spirit are so intensely alive because they are so deeply grateful.

Gratefulness can be improved by practice. But where shall beginners begin? The obvious starting point is surprise. You will find that you can grow the seeds of gratefulness just by making room. If surprise happens when something unexpected shows up, let’s not expect anything at all. Let’s follow Alice Walker’s advice. “Expect nothing. Live frugally on surprise.”

To expect nothing may mean not taking for granted that your car will start when you turn the key. Try this and you will be surprised by a marvel of technology worthy of sincere gratitude. Or you may not be thrilled by your job, but if for a moment you can stop taking it for granted, you will taste the surprise of having a job at all, while millions are unemployed. If this makes you feel a flicker of gratefulness, you’ll be a little more joyful all day, a little more alive.

Once we stop taking things for granted our own bodies become some of the most surprising things of all.

Once we stop taking things for granted our own bodies become some of the most surprising things of all. It never ceases to amaze me that my body both produces and destroys 15 million red blood cells every second. Fifteen million! That’s nearly twice the census figure for New York City. I am told that the blood vessels in my body, if lined up end to end, would reach around the world. Yet my heart needs only one minute to pump my blood through this filigree network and back again. It has been doing so minute by minute, day by day, for the past 75 years and still keeps pumping away at 100,000 heartbeats every 24 hours. Obviously this is a matter of life and death for me, yet I have no idea how it works and it seems to work amazingly well in spite of my ignorance.

I do not know how my eyes adapt, yet when I chant by candlelight they are 100,000 times more sensitive to light than when I read outdoors on the porch at noon. I wouldn’t know how to give instructions to the 35 million digestive glands in my stomach for digesting one single strawberry; fortunately, they know how to do their job without my advice. When I think of this as I sit down to eat, my heart brims with gratefulness.

From the humble starting point of daily surprises, the practice of gratefulness leads to these transcendent heights.

In those moments, I can identify with the Psalmist who cried out in amazement, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” (Ps.139:14) From there it is only a small step to seeing the whole universe and every smallest part of it as surprising. From the humble starting point of daily surprises, the practice of gratefulness leads to these transcendent heights. Thomas Carlyle pointed to these peaks of spiritual awareness when he wrote, “Worship is transcendent wonder” – transcendent surprise.

Surprise is a seed; let it sprout and blossom today to color your life with gratitude.

 

 

Thank you, God, for most this amazing day.

amazingday

Today is a gift. Soak in the beauty all around you. Treasure the people in your life. Hold on to gratitude that you are able to be here, now, with all that there is.

In the words of e.e. cummings

i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any–lifted from the no
of all nothing–human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

e.e. cummings

And then take just a moment to watch this beautiful video. Happy Today!

Opening to gratitude.

joyroot

What can take us out of our gloom and melancholy? Sometimes the veil is pulled back and we can glimpse a larger picture, a connection between all things, an appreciation for the here and now, and we are grateful.

Brother David Steindl-Rast explains how these jolts into a different reality can change a day, and, perhaps, even a world:

My vision of the world? My hope for the future? This topic sounds a bit big. Allow me to start small—say, with crows. They are my special friends. Just as I am writing these lines, one of them, the shy one among my three regular guests, is gobbling up the Kitty Fritters I put out for them. This brings to mind a short poem by Robert Frost that might provide a stepping-stone for our deliberations about world-vision and hope for the future—if any.

The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree
Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.

Surely you will remember a similar experience of your own: some quirky little incident made you smile, changed your mood, and suddenly the world looked brighter. If this ever happened to you, the key for understanding a causal chain of great consequence is in your hand:  any change in attitude changes the way one sees the world, and this in turn changes the way one acts. When Robert Frost claims that the crow’s little trick “saved” part of a day he had rued, or of which he repented, he means this in the full sense of a redeeming change of heart. When he got home, I’m sure he greeted Mrs. Frost in a better mood than he would have been able to do without the crow’s nudge. And there is no telling what this did to her—and to the way she treated the dog afterwards, or talked more kindly to her neighbor.

He continues to suggest five small, easily adopted ways to bring this gratitude into your life and, consequently, into the world:

1.  Say one word today that will give a fearful person courage.

All gratitude expresses trust. Suspicion will not even recognize a gift as gift: who can prove that it isn’t a lure, a bribe, a trap? Gratefulness has the courage to trust and so overcomes fear. The very air has been electrified by fearfulness these days, a fearfulness fostered and manipulated by politicians and the media. There lies our greatest danger: fear perpetuates violence. Mobilize the courage of your heart. Say one word today that will give a fearful person courage.

2. Make a firm resolution never to repeat stories and rumors that spread fear.

Because gratitude expresses courage, it spreads calm. Calm of this kind is quite compatible with deep emotions. In fact, mass hysteria fostered by the media betrays a morbid curiosity rather than deep feeling—superficial agitation rather than a deep current of compassion. The truly compassionate ones are calm and strong. Make a firm resolution never to repeat stories and rumors that spread fear. From the stillness of your heart’s core reach out. Be calm and spread calm.

3. Make contact with people whom you normally ignore

When you are grateful, your heart is open—open towards others, open for surprise. When disasters hit we often see remarkable examples of this openness: strangers helping strangers sometimes in heroic ways. Others turn away, isolate themselves, dare even less than at other times to look at each other. Violence begins with isolation. Break this pattern. Make contact with people whom you normally ignore—eye-contact at least—with the cashier at the supermarket, someone on the elevator, a beggar. Look a stranger in the eyes today and realize that there are no strangers.

4. Give someone an unexpected smile today

You can feel either grateful or alienated, but never both at the same time. Gratefulness drives out alienation; there is not room for both in the same heart. When you are grateful you know that you belong to a network of give-and-take and you say “yes” to that belonging. This “yes” is the essence of love. You need no words to express it; a smile will do to put your “yes” into action. Don’t let it matter to you whether or not the other one smiles back. Give someone an unexpected smile today and so contribute your share to peace on earth.

5.  Listen to the news today and put at least one item to the test of Common Sense.

What your gratefulness does for yourself is as important as what it does for others. Gratefulness boosts your sense of belonging; your sense of belonging in turn boosts your Common Sense—not the conventional mind set which we often confuse with it. The common sense that springs from gratefulness is incompatible with a set mind. It is just another name for thinking wedded to cosmic intelligence. Your “yes” to belonging attunes you to the common concerns shared by all human beings—all beings for that matter. In a world we hold in common, nothing else makes sense but Common Sense. We have only one enemy: Our common enemy is violence. Common Sense tells us: we can stop violence only by stopping to act violently; war is no way to peace. Listen to the news today and put at least one item to the test of Common Sense.

The five steps I am suggesting here are small, but they work. It helps that they are small: anyone can take them. Imagine a country whose citizens—maybe even its leaders—are brave, calm, and open towards each other; a country whose people realize that all human beings belong together as one family and must act accordingly; a country guided by Common Sense. To the extent to which we show ourselves not hateful but grateful this becomes reality.

Who would have thought that a prankish crow shaking down snow from a hemlock tree could inspire this vision of a sane world? Well, if we leave it to the crows, there is still hope.

Small steps; big pay-off. And, to remember, keep your eyes open for the birds. They are there, singing songs of hope.

 

Cultivating a gratitude practice.

blossom

We think of gratitude as something for the high points of life. But what if it is a practice we cultivate, day in and day out, for all the moments in life? What if we actively look for the good in a dismal situation? What if we seek out the positives that came from trauma? Perhaps bad experiences led you to meet someone who has become important to you or to be able to help others going through something similar. Somehow, someway, there is good to be found in any situation.

As we practice building up our gratitude muscles, we become more resilient.  In this lovely article by Kristi Nelson, she says:

Gratefulness, like mindfulness or yoga, is an awareness practice and a way of training, deepening, and directing our attention. The point is not to become an expert in grateful living—never wavering from a grateful outlook—but to recognize that gratefulness can offer us a “touchstone” for life (especially in difficult times) where we can return our awareness again and again in order to shift or expand our perspective. Like other forms of practice, gratefulness makes us more resilient and flexible, and also offers a way to frame and learn from everything that unfolds in our lives. Through practicing over time, we gradually become more and more able to recognize the opportunity in every moment. Practice helps us to deliver on presence, and being present leads to so much else that is beneficial.

If you have a moment, enjoy this lovely video to welcome you into your day with gratitude and love.