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Cultivating an Attitude of Gratitude… Even on a Bad Day

18 08 2006

Way of Peaceful WarriorDan Millman, author of Way of the Peaceful Warrior, described a time when his mentor, named Socrates, challenged Dan to sit out on a large, flat stone until he had “something of value” to share. Dan sat out on the rock for hours and hours. On more than one occasion, believing he had come up with something, he went to tell Socrates. Each of these times, Socrates decided the statement was not good enough, and he sent Dan back to the rock for more hours of pondering. Finally, Dan had an insight that he knew was something of value. When Dan shared this insight, Socrates looked up, smiled, and welcomed Dan back inside. The “something of value” that Dan had realized was this: “There are no ordinary moments.” This is the essence of gratitude. No moment, nothing in life, should be taken for granted. In developing gratitude for every moment — for the simple joys, and even for the challenging times in our lives — we come to truly enjoy and appreciate life. Then we are able to see the magic that surrounds us every second of every minute of every day.

There were times in my life, especially moments when I was “wowed” by the beauty of a mountain view or a sunset over the ocean, that I genuinely felt grateful for being alive. But I never really thought about consciously cultivating an attitude of gratitude until

December of 1998. I was listening to an audiotape set based on the book, Manifest Your Destiny, by Wayne Dyer. I began a daily meditation practice, described by Dyer, which includes an evening meditation focused on gratitude. Every evening, before I go to sleep, I try to come up with a few specific events that occurred that day (as well as some things from life, in general) for which I feel grateful. Some days, it is easy. Other days, it is more of a challenge, so I begin with the basics, like, “I am grateful for being alive.” As I give myself time, I always come up with more and more things — even on what most people would consider a “bad day.”

Like the day our home was robbed… My partner had just left town on business, so I was “home alone” for the next 12 days. It was only a month after I had left my friends and family behind in the United States and moved to the Caribbean, so I had not yet built up a large local support network. A couple, who were friends I had met through my partner, had invited me over for a barbeque. When I came home from their house, around midnite, I discovered that our apartment had been broken into. The place was trashed. In what I assume was their search for a stash of money, the burglars had gone through every shelf and drawer, and even pulled things out of the closet. It was a huge mess! The upstairs neighbor had called the police earlier, but it was now getting late, so he called them back and asked them to come in the morning. I did a quick initial assessment of what was missing, and then phoned the friends I had just left (one of whom happens to be our insurance agent). They invited me to come stay with them for the night — or for as many nights as I wanted, until I felt at ease again. Feeling a bit “shaken up,” I took them up on the offer.

That night, as I was preparing to sleep, I thought I would really feel challenged to focus and meditate on gratitude — especially after the shock of the mess I had just found. To my surprise, it was very easy. I was grateful for the time I had spent in good company during the early evening. I was grateful to have these new friends there to support me in a tough time. I was grateful that the burglars HAD NOT taken my passport or anything of great sentimental value to me. I was grateful I had not been at home when the burglars came, and, thus, had not gotten hurt. Also, I was grateful for my meditation practice, for I found myself, surprisingly, much calmer than I would have expected myself to be, given the situation.

Being in the practice of cultivating an attitude of gratitude has changed my life: I am much more happy and at peace than I ever had been before. I am certain that if you devote yourself to this practice, it will change your life, as well. Taking the time, each night, to think about the things for which you feel grateful is extremely beneficial. You are reminding yourself about what is good, and ending your day on a positive note. This positive attitude seems to carry over from one day to the next. Over time, you may notice that you feel happier, in general - that you feel down or depressed less often. You may observe a sense of calm within yourself. You may realize that “little annoyances” that would have disturbed you in the past, no longer bother you. The more you practice, the more you will notice, throughout the day, so many things for which you feel grateful.

The greatest fruits will come when you can begin to feel grateful, even on days that are more difficult and challenging. As my mentors in consciousness work stressed: “Use everything for your own growth and development.” There are no accidents: everything happens for a reason. Our “negative” experiences often bring to us the greatest teachings of our lifetime. Sometimes, our experiences of pain are meant to help us to understand and empathize with the troubles of those around us. Sometimes the challenges of our lives help to build character: I firmly believe in the saying that whatever doesn’t kill us, only makes us stronger. These are our initiations. Like the doctor slapping the newborn so it will take its first breath, sometimes life needs to slap us awake — or possibly kick us in the butt. Often, these tough experiences create a turning point in our lives, when we realize we need to go in a new direction or travel a new path. When you can stop in the middle of a “bad day” and say to yourself, “What am I supposed to be learning from this?” - and when you can trust that, if you don’t have the insight right in the moment, then you will understand it someday - then your life truly will begin to transform. When you can maintain an attitude of gratitude, even on a “bad day,” then the challenging days will not feel as bad… and the “good days” will just seem that much sweeter. You will realize, as Dan Millman did, that “There are no ordinary moments.” You will begin to see the magic of everyday life.

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