Monday, November 21, 2016

Toolkit for living: gratitude and forgiveness

It's Thanksgiving week, and while in some ways it seems like the world is falling apart, there's much to be thankful for in my small piece of it. I often hear, you create what you focus on. If indeed that's true, it bodes well for all of us to focus on what's working, and what we want more of, although sometimes that's easier said than done.  

We have no blueprint for living...

...just good tools.

No matter how well we plan, or how clear our goals, we still just make it up, each one of us, every day. I have no doubt we all aim to do the best we can, and we make the best of the circumstances that shape and change us. Each day presents a new opportunity to start again.

Some schools of thought say we ask for these experiences before we take our mortal form, that we choose our families and the lessons we want to learn. Others say we're not given more than we can handle, or that it's the painful experiences from which we build more character. Still others say we create our circumstances, that everything we experience comes from our choices, even when those choices are unconscious.

We create what we focus on. 

While 'creating what we focus on' is not completely straightforward, good tools can make a difference. They help us get past those unconscious beliefs that direct our choices, or move us beyond our challenges.

Today I'm fretting because I don't always live up to my own moral code, although I do my best every day. Today, I regret a minor violation of integrity, one of my essential values. So, while I owned my stuff and 'fessed up, I am still spinning and beating myself up, temporarily forgetting all the good in my world.

This isn't what I want to focus on. So, how to move on? I have tools, new tools, that are better than my old tools to help me get off the hamster wheel in my head, and again focus on the good. I'm sharing them here so maybe they'll help you, too.


Writing a gratitude list has been a daily practice for some years now, but thanks to a class I'm taking, I've learned another way. I now have a 'gratitude partner', someone with whom I  exchange messages about all I'm grateful for each day. This is different than the journal entries I'm used to making, where I acknowledge just the good. This list includes anything that came up that had power or emotion around it. I reframe mine to see the lesson, but you don't have to. Just owning your experience and being grateful is enough.

Today I'm grateful for the awareness that my behavior, while unintentional, was less than stellar, and that I can do things differently in the future. 

The only rules: write what's meaningful, don't respond, just read and witness. This is really powerful and I invite you to try it.

Bless, Forgive, Release

My inner mean girl is much harder on me than anyone else. A recent workshop provided this new tool for letting go. So now, when that damned wheel in my head goes on overdrive and I'm berating myself, or if I feel angry, resentful, or frustrated with someone and I continue to spin,  I can say:

I bless you, I forgive you, I release you. 

Depending on the issue or the person, I may say it once, or a thousand times a day for weeks at a time. Say it anytime the feeling comes up until it weakens and dissipates. While it's always felt odd to me to say I bless something, because, well, who am I to bless anything... but why not? Especially if it works.

These are just two of my new tools for living, and in the short time I've used them, they've already made a difference.

Our greater good...  

These tools can and do apply to what's happening in our wider world. Those of us in the US who feel like things couldn't be worse, politically, have a lot of work to do in the years ahead, and we have to be clear headed and effective. Right now we're a nation divided, and we aren't looking for common ground. It feels too painful, too personal. And on some levels, it is personal. But this fight isn't just ours, individually. There are many of us, now more than ever, united in what we believe is right and just.

So what do we focus on? 

Anger and fear can be motivating, but they can also eat us alive from the inside out. I don't want to live in fear, nor always come from anger. I don't know if I can ever understand those who are so politically different, who spew rhetoric so hateful I feel physically ill, but I have to focus on where I can make a difference and what I can do, rather than what I can't. I have to trust that in the big scheme of things, we'll find a silver lining. We can't change what we can't see, and now, nothing is hidden. Perhaps it's some crazy blessing that we'll only understand in hindsight. Something I do know? Good prevails. Maybe not immediately. But always.

Truly, there's a lot to be thankful for. With gratitude and forgiveness, the impossible somehow becomes possible.

Credit for these new tools goes to Amazing Grace, a Center for Spiritual Living affiliate.