Gratitude as a Spiritual Practice

March 30, 2021

“It is through gratitude for the present moment that the spiritual dimension of life opens up.”

– Eckhart Tolle

Early in my career as a minister I ran into a severe roadblock from my denomination. Twice I failed to negotiate a hurdle and they told me I could not proceed on my path. I was devastated and I was angry. I made up all kinds of rationales for their decision. I placed blame on others and opened a wide gap between me and the powers that were. Finally, I accepted my loss and continued to live my life.

Several years later, I picked up on this path to chaplaincy, and I needed the support of my denomination again. I dug the rejection letter out of my files and, instead of reading it with anger, I read it with gratitude. I read their criticism with a whole new mind and I found treasure in their words. I found weaknesses I could address, I found things I did not understand that I could learn. What I missed when I read that letter with anger, I found when I read it with gratitude.

Often when we suffer a critical loss in our lives, we respond with sadness and anger. These are two of the states of grief that we commonly speak about. Sadness and anger, though, tend to separate us from the others in the world. We withdraw when we are sad and we push away when we are angry. In the immediate aftermath of loss, these are healthy short term responses. But we are human beings that cannot stay separated for long, we must reconnect with others in order to survive and thrive. Connection with others is an essential nature of our spiritual being. When we are disconnected, gratitude can help bring us back together.

When I am feeling disconnected from my loved ones, I settle myself into a chair and engage in an exercise of gratitude. I start small: I’m thankful for the chair, for the roof over my head, for water to drink and air to breathe. If someone is irritating me, I look to that person and find a reason to be thankful they are in my life. Sometimes it’s just that the irritant makes me mindful that something is out of place. There are many other approaches to expressing gratitude. You might write in a journal, draw a picture, sing a song you’d forgotten you knew. As Eckhart Tolle says in his quote above, the expression of gratitude opens up the spiritual dimension of our lives. And it is the spiritual dimension that connects us to all there is around us.

There are many resources and books that speak on the topic of gratitude. One of my favorite books is Grateful: The Transformative Power of Giving Thanks by Diane Butler Bass. You might also investigate the Gratefulness website. Finally, the On Being website have posted several good podcasts on the matter. Just search on “gratitude.”

When we are suffering, it is natural to want to withdraw from others. That distance cannot be sustained, however, and gratitude will help find the way back to spiritual connection.

Contact Unity Hospice at 800-990-9249 to speak with a chaplain or visit our website here to learn more about how we can support you.

This blog post was shared by Mark Richard, a Chaplain at Unity Hospice.

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