About 30 years ago, I had a beautiful three-hour conversation with the renowned Benedictine monk, Brother David Steindl-Rast.
We were driving to a monastery and retreat center along the Big Sur coast in California together. I had been struggling to manage my stress at work, and when the opportunity to be Brother David’s ride came up, I jumped at the chance.
Even though I wasn’t Catholic, I hoped the man of the Church might have some words of wisdom for my stressed heart and troubled mind. The innovative health company I directed marketing for had enjoyed tremendous success, but the success left me constantly running to keep up. I was tired and anxious much of the time, and I knew I needed some solitude and peace.
Though it occurred decades ago, that conversation with Brother David still fills me with gratefulness each time I think of it. Brother David spoke to me like a wise man from another century. In his long deep-brown robes and with his deep calming voice, he conveyed a depth in his heart, a warmth in his tone, and a sparkle in his eyes that I will never forget.
I have had some significant professional challenges and tragedy in the past few weeks — chaos and conflict surrounding the launch of an important program, the sudden loss of a brilliant young man I knew, the devastating destruction by fire of a beloved spiritual retreat center, and then another shocking loss of a dear friend, Rafael Bejarano, who was killed while leading others on a spiritual journey in Egypt.
It was almost overwhelming to experience so much challenge and loss in my path, but gratefulness helped me find some peace, understanding, and eventually grace.
"In daily life we must see that it is not happiness that makes us grateful, but gratefulness that makes us happy."
When I read this quote from Brother David, my heart knew the tender, sublime beauty of its meaning. In spite of the pain I and others have experienced — in spite of the grief and shock — there does not have to be suffering.
In spite of the pain, there can still be gratefulness for the beauty of those who gave everything to serve and inspire others, the outpouring of support I’ve received from friends, the beauty of nature, and the sun that rises later and later each morning now, giving me more time to rest and reflect before trumpeting the dawn.
I am profoundly grateful for the fact that I am alive, breathing, healthy, and full of love in my heart. Some would call this a miracle — I've endured cancer surgery, life-threatening staph infections, a double hip replacement, salmonella poisoning, the death of my mother after a long bout with Alzheimer's, and the ending of my marriage. It was through gratefulness that I healed. I felt gratitude for small victories in my health journey, for the cherry blossoms bursting forth after a long cold winter, for the beauty of frost on my deck.
Gratefulness can happen at any time if we only open to it and see all that there is to see. The HeartMath Institute found that attitudes of gratitude and appreciation can profoundly affect our own health and change our perspective of the challenges and crises we face.
It has become clear to me that, without the pain in my life, my heart would never have grown to be the resilient, radiant center of my well-being that it is. The beacon for me in the darkness. The light at the end of the tunnel, right in my own chest.
Pain has a way of reordering our priorities and transforming the trivial, annoying and irritating into simply "what happened." Life certainly brings overwhelming pain, but it doesn't have to bring suffering. Gratefulness can make the difference. And what a profound difference that can be.
Love those who are suffering. Love those in pain and grief. Love yourself through your own pain.
Be grateful that we all have a choice.
Check out these resources for more advice on achieving gratitude:
- 11 Ways To Feel Grateful For Whatever Life's Thrown At You
- 20 Ways To Feel More Grateful Instantly
- 23 Simple Pleasures You Can Be Grateful For, Even When You're Feeling Down
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