By Br. David Steindl-Rast, OSB
The following practice is from Br. David's introduction to Stop-Look-Go: A Grateful Practice Workbook and Gratitude Journal (June, 2016). In it he writes: "Enthusiasm is too weak a word for the thrill I feel about this Practice Workbook. 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..."
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…
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. From the foundations of gratefulness to being grateful in hard times, this workbook and journal provides the building blocks to a grateful life. You can purchase Stop-Look-Go: A Grateful Practice Workbook and Gratitude Journal at Amazon.
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Five science-based strategies for the holidays (and the rest of the year).
A detailed account of a conversation about “Everyday Mysticism” that took place in San Francisco on the occasion of Brother David’s 90th birthday.
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