How to Receive Blessings (Or Not)
Four of Rainbows (Earth): Osho Zen Tarot and the Four of Pentacles: Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot
In the November issue of WINGS, I began a discussion of the importance of cultivating gratitude as an antidote to the fear, anger, and cynicism (which is really despair in disguise) that is rife in our culture.
For those of us who are awakened empaths, the daily assault on our senses and spirits can be especially corrosive. Like emergency first-responders, we must go to extra lengths to protect ourselves in what is often a hostile environment, while still being fully, courageously engaged in it.
And the most reliable super-shield I know is to cultivate the habit of gratitude. It is also the most reliable route to abundance because it is the only way to truly receive the goodness that is offered to us.
But it’s not always easy.
Psychologist Robert Emmons of the University of California at Davis, who I wrote about last time, has studied the remarkable physical and emotional effects of a gratitude practice. But he admits, “I think gratitude is a demanding quality, a rigorous quality. It’s a discipline, an exercise.”
Which means, yeah – you have to stick with it for a while.
The Gratitude Journal
To develop a strong habit of gratitude, one of the easiest, but most effective practices I know of is to keep a gratitude journal. Every night, before bedtime, write down five things that happened during the day for which you are grateful. That’s it.
My own gratitude journal practice began the year I first worked through the classic daily essays in “Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy,” by Sarah Ban Breathnach. In her view, if we are to flourish in our lives, whatever our circumstances may be, a gratitude journal is not an option — it is necessary.
It was a challenging time for me to start such a discipline.
I was spending about 10 days every three weeks away from my newlywed sweetie so I could drive to western North Carolina and help my dad take care of my mother, who was slipping away with stage four breast cancer.
As you can imagine, there were some hard, hard days. But as I hung in there, week after week, month after month, I found that reflecting and writing down five — only five — things that happened during the day for which I was grateful, right before turning off the light at night, became a peaceful, incredibly powerful practice.
It was a lifeline in a very tough time. But the real beauty was that in a subtle but fundamental way, it changed how I reacted to everything throughout my day.
Treasures Every Day
I found myself trusting that there would be five good things every day, no matter what. And with that mindset, I began actively hunting for the goodies to include in my list. Should I record spotting the first robin in late Winter? The amazing veggie omelet at the roadside diner? That sweet baby in the stroller at the grocery store that suddenly stopped crying, turned, and smiled at me?
So many gifts from which to choose! What a huge shift in focus!
It became like a game, or a private conversation between the Giver of Good and me — like hunting for Easter eggs or buried treasure. Only these gifts of grace were usually hidden in plain sight, and quite obviously picked out to fit me perfectly.
I can tell you that even the small act of jotting down in a small notepad the things throughout your day that make you smile or warm your heart will change how you pay attention. It intensifies your receptivity to what is good, and can prevent you from unnecessarily focusing on what is troubling.
It is important to write these incidents, rather than just reviewing them quickly in your mind. It not only deepens your appreciation as you do, but over time, you will be able to see patterns: the people, situations, and events that consistently bring you joy.
It then becomes easy and natural to reinforce those patterns. And you will give less and less energy to what is not to your liking.
Finally, make it a habit to share your gratitude. When people feel valued and appreciated, their level of defensiveness and aggression is lowered. They are more willing to make an effort.
In one study, waitresses who simply wrote “Thank you” (by hand, not a pre-printed note) on their checks received, on average, eleven percent more in tips than those who did not.
But even better, according to another study, when someone expresses thanks, they will have powerful, strong feelings of happiness and well-being as a result, for up to six months afterwards. The one who gave the thanks, not the one receiving the appreciation.
The hand that is clenched tight, like in the two versions of the Four of Pentacles above, cannot receive. And so one’s miserly resources are finite and doomed to eventual atrophy.
But the hand that is open in gratitude, allowing goodness to come in and go out, realizes that true wealth is a flow. Rather than by stopping the flow, but instead opening to it, giving and receiving, there is more available that we can possibly imagine.
Unconditional gratitude is at the heart of endless bounty.