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Spirituality Essay:

The Gratitude Cycle    ( October 2009 )

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Gratitude is one of our most powerful spiritual tools. It's so easy to skip over all the good things we have in our lives, to take them for granted, and to focus our energy on instead on what's wrong: our problems, pains, and failures. It's natural - and indeed healthy - to direct attention to what's wrong in our lives so we can fix it, and grow.

But it's a question of balance. Good stuff is also always happening that seems to pass beneath our radar. Generally, our days are filled with hundreds of good things - all the times when things are OK, where we're content, productive, happy, at peace - or even better, when those exquisite moments of joy, laughter, intense pleasure, rich personal connection, and delight break through.

Take a moment to think about your day. Identify some of the activities that happened that gave you pleasure. They don't have to be grand - just pleasant. There are probably lots of them. Most likely, they're actually happening most of the time.

It seems we're often prone to letting them go by unnoticed, unappreciated, as we go through our tasks, filling our days with our activities. Or our problems.

So at night, just before going to sleep, when we're winding down, is a wonderful time to take a few quick moments to pause, reflect on our day, and express our gratitude for the day we were given - and the joys we felt. Let your mind quickly scan over the day and ID two special times that stood out. It doesn't matter what they were - and they don't have to be big -- just two moments where you felt grateful to be alive to have that moment. A laugh with a friend, the taste of a good dish, the pleasure of a warm shower, the satisfaction of a job completed - how wonderful to be alive to have that special moment! Some day, you won't be able to have that pleasure ... I think you'll find that in just a few sessions, those two special moments will quickly pop up for you.

Then, of course, honor those moments with your appreciation. Your gratitude for being alive and for the gift of pleasure you felt in those moments.

I think you'll find you'll sleep better. I've heard your dreams get "seeded" with those good feelings ... so you're more likely to wake up feeling better as well.

But more importantly, it's that spiritual practice of recognizing and expressing gratitude that sets in motion a greater awareness of and deeper connection with similar experiences in your day, the ones happening all day long. You'll likely find yourself noticing those moments of pleasure as they happen and enjoying them more ... creating an ever-enlarging and continuing cycle of pleasure, awareness, and gratitude, each one feeding into the next.

This is one in a series of essays on spirituality by Rick Childs, lay leader of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of the Mendocino Coast. You may want to:
Read more Spirituality Essays
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