Tag Archives: A Network for Grateful Living

Q: It is very hard for me to not be discouraged and depressed. It is a time of seeing truths and hopefully growing in spirit, but the truths are very negative. It is seeing self-centeredness in people, especially my family, which breaks my heart, and a lack of love. I examine myself, and feel I’m putting love out, but since it doesn’t come back, feel a lacking in myself. I long for closeness, caring, I pray and meditate on positive instead of negative results, but have yet to experience those results. — G.

A: Dear G.,

“Discourage” comes from Latin roots meaning to be torn apart from your heart. So let me give you some heartening news: It’s not a bad thing to be disillusioned. Your seeing of truths and growth in spirit – which allow you to make even difficult observations – are part of a process of waking up. What hurts is the shattering of fantasies: that someone else might fill a lack you feel, that what you give comes back to you with some degree of immediacy. For you to go through grief under the circumstances seems perfectly natural: You want love in return, and it doesn’t come, at least not in full measure; you want closeness, and instead you meet up with others’ self-centeredness.

Your grief marks a turning point in which you can clearly see reality and, rather than let life come to you, rise to meet it by building in yourself confidence, hope, and fortitude. You’ve already started this process by focusing on the positive, especially in your relationships with your family. What causes your discouragement and depression is that you hope these changes in you will bring outer results. Reality is proving you wrong. It does sometimes happen that when you change, you tip the balance in your relationships and they improve. But it also happens that you can change and others refuse to budge.

That’s exactly when you need to “take heart” and remember what a wise friend once told us, “Life is good so long as you remain strong.” Find what nurtures you and draw it to yourself. Build a prayer or meditation practice. Walk in Nature’s healing splendor. Find an animal companion who loves you for who you are, no holds barred. Read inspired literature; listen to uplifting music. Eat foods that bring you health. Be charitable, in the trust that the ripples you send into the universe DO come back to you even if you don’t feel or recognize them because it’s often a roundabout process. Let yourself feel outrage when reality doesn’t match your expectations, and then use that outrage as fuel for building a better world. Rest when you need to, even if only for the space of a few quiet breaths. Clothe yourself in the qualities you wish you could see in others, knowing that this adornment will “catch on” in any other hearts open to change.

In all these ways and more you can build your courage to become the kind of person you wish to know. And then, you will always be in the good company of at least one person (you!), and, by virtue of resonance, you’ll gradually find others around you who also know how to inspire by their presence. There’s the paradox: You can’t count on things getting better, but if you don’t lose heart, they naturally will get better.

Blessings on your journey,
Patricia Carlson

Grateful to Whom?

October 21, 2010

Reader: Your web site is very informative and interesting. I believe in living in gratitude and I try to practice it every day. My question is: to whom are you asking us to be grateful? God, god, gods, nature, the universe? Thank you for your help. — Danny

Answer: Dear Danny,

Thank you for your kind words about the website and for your commitment to practice gratitude. Let me turn your question around and ask: To whom are you grateful? The answer differs from person to person. One person may come from a strong religious tradition which praises God for all the gifts of this life. Another may recognize how much has been given by her ancestors or the Earth, and she may direct her gratitude to these abundant sources. Yet another may say, “I don’t know to whom I am grateful! All I know is that sometimes my life seems to overflow with a feeling of fundamental well-being, even – oddly enough – in the most difficult moments.” There is no rule book that deems one of these approaches as more valid than another.

Twelve Step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous and Al-Anon speak of turning to a Higher Power, “whatever you conceive that to be.” To understand this from a gratitude perspective, you can use the metaphor of receiving a gift. Sometimes the source is obvious. You are grateful to water for quenching your thirst. You are grateful to the golden oak for the inspiration that its beauty is to you. You are grateful to your best friend for his companionship.

But some gifts are less obvious: To whom do i owe my ability to love? To whom do i owe my very life? Throughout time these gifts have evoked in the hearts of human beings a great sense of wonder. You may even wonder why there is anything at all! If you do not already have a perspective on who the Giver of All Good Gifts is, then why not live in amazement, as you would if someone gave you a diamond but did not leave their name? Is not your very astonishment at this overwhelming, secret generosity its own form of gratefulness?

Imagine what a different world this would be even if we were just grateful to the obvious sources: If we valued and respected the Earth for her bounty! If we revered elders for their years of hard-earned experience ripening into wisdom! If we appreciated children for their refreshing insights, sheltering them as we would a rose given to us by an angel! If we could affirm ourselves for our attempts to know and understand life better! Whether or not we believe in an unseen benevolent Power, we need only look right before our eyes to get started on a journey of thanks-giving.

Kind regards,
Patricia Carlson

Patricia Campbell Carlson and Br. David Steindl-Rast contribute to A Network for Grateful Living (ANG*L), dedicated to providing education and support for the practice of grateful living as a global ethic. Visit www.gratefulness.org.