Gratitude means thankfulness, counting your blessings, noticing simple pleasures, and acknowledging everything that you receive. It means learning to live your life as if everything were a miracle, and being aware on a continuous basis of how much you’ve been given. Gratitude shifts your focus from what your life lacks to the abundance that is already present. Research has shown life improvements that can stem from the practice of gratitude. Giving thanks makes people happier, more resilient. It strengthens relationships, improves health, and it reduces stress.
Let me start by expressing my gratitude. Thank you to all who have supported my work, my husband, my daughters, my staff, all who have read my books, taken my training and used my resources. Each has helped to move forward my desire to make this world a more healed place. For that I am thankful.
“When thou dost ask me a blessing, I’ll kneel down and ask thee forgiveness.”
~William Shakespeare- King Lear
“Give us this day our daily bread” had, for me, always been a prayer of both requesting and of gratitude. Among my fondest memories of childhood are my memories of smell. Primary of these are the aromas that wafted from mother’s homemade bread. Enshrined deep within the recesses of my brain are the sights and sounds that encompass those delectable whiffs. Growing up in a large farming family, we had limited material wealth, but of bread we were assured. Bread filled the Roger’s Golden Syrup pails that mother secured into the little red wagon to insure their safe delivery, by my brothers and me, to our father and his harvesting crews. Bread, which filled those same Roger’s Golden Syrup pails, fed our hungry bellies during school days. And warm newly baked bread greeted us as we arrived home on frigid prairie winter afternoons. Bread was central to our survival, and it was central to our celebration. While bread graced every meal, and the numerous snack times between, special breads announced festivity. Sweet buns awaited the Christmas Eve or the Easter Vigil mass. Their appearance indicated the time of fasting and abstinence had ended.
Even though bread was abundant, it was sacred. Never could we waste. Dried crusts were turned into bread pudding for ordinary days, and chicken or turkey dressing for feast days. Uneaten scraps fed the dog and many cats, or were soaked and softened in milk for baby ducks and goslings. We recognized that our daily bread was a gracious gift. We partook of it freely, yet we understood that bread graced our celebration tables and quieted our gurgling tummies only because of the love and the toil of each member in our family, and because of the graciousness of our God.
Bread is made of flour. Flour is made of grain. Our livelihood depended on the grain crops. We valued the soil, the rain, and the sun. These, in the right mixtures, were necessary for a bountiful harvest. We honored the labor of planting, harvesting, and milling. We appreciated the kneading and the shaping of large batches of dough. As a family, in the work of producing our daily bread, while some tasks were done by machine, others were too precious. These were mastered by love and human skill.
In our farming home, each meal began with a blessing. “Bless us Lord, and these thy gifts which we are about to receive.” And each meal ended with thanks-giving. “We give you thanks Almighty God for all the benefits we have received.”
From my parents I learned gratitude. From them I also learned mindfulness. As a child I was taught to pause in my daily work to recall the many blessings I had received. While there were times when I neglected this assignment, its value has come home to reside.
Each noon, we were drawn from the midst of our labors to be mindful of the abundance in our lives. As the bell in the church tower chimed, we paused to recite the Angelus. Of all the memorabilia in my mother’s home connecting me to the roots I treasure, I valued most the prints of the Angelus and the Gleaners.
While during my dark nights I could find little to be grateful for, the turning point tiptoed upon the heels of my intentional practice of relearning mindful gratitude. Whispering “thank-you,” as the spring sun streamed across my kitchen table was rewarded with warm golden glows of courage.
Pleading for help in my desperate situation, with the faith that somehow this could happen, and trusting just enough to hope for what I myself could not accomplish, I found the spark of gratitude which thrust me over the cragged peak of the mountain of grief. The arduous and treacherous climb through the ragging storm had all but ended as gratitude bore me to the summit.
Reflecting now, on this experience, I am reminded of the cornucopia, the Horn of Plenty, the symbol often used at Thanksgiving. As a child I learned that the Iroquois women wove the cornucopia baskets as a reminder to be grateful for the good things given to assist them in the physical reality. The Horn of Plenty, filled with vegetables, symbolizes the abundance that manifests itself in the physical reality from the abundance of the universe. Corn sustained the life of the Iroquois. Abundant corn was reason for celebration. They celebrated in gratitude the corn received, as my farming family celebrated the abundance of wheat.
My oldest daughter is a teacher. A few years into her professional career she was asked to give the Thanksgiving celebration homily to the students and staff at her school. On an evening walk we discussed what would be important to include in such a message. She wanted to make her words meaningful and the expression of gratitude real. We reflected on the abundance we had received in the past year, and we pondered the blessings for which we were grateful.
Her grandfather had been blinded following accidental radiation of his optic chiasm. We were grateful for our sight. My cousin now lived in a nursing home because she was unable to bear her own weight due to multiple sclerosis. We were grateful for our legs, and for our independence. My friend and colleague, whom my daughter knew and admired, had lost her hearing as a result of auditory nerve damage caused by allergic swelling. Hearing impairment had forced her not only to resign her chosen and much-loved career, but caused her to face enormous change in every aspect of life. We were grateful for our hearing.
While my daughter did not focus on any of these issues, her talk reminded the students of their many opportunities. Several in her classroom had come from third-world and war-torn countries. They shared their appreciation of the abundance in their new surroundings, and as a group they offered prayers of gratefulness.
When we learn that gratitude create the extraordinary, we recognize the truth seen by Albert Einstein. He noted that there are only two ways to live life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.
What miracles will gratefulness bring into your life?
Jane A. Simington, PHD.