October 2012: Living “An Attitude of Gratitude”

by Brad on October 1, 2012

“A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.” — Greek proverb.

The Dalai Lama travels the world speaking about living with compassion and gratitude. Countless books, workshops, websites and even Facebook posts offer similar inspiration. Despite the draw and potential of these ideas, however, we continue to experience a world filled with divisiveness, war, personal conflict and road rage. Clearly, the ability to live “an attitude of gratitude” eludes most of us. Is it really that difficult? How do we change? Here’s my take.

It’s easy to be grateful when things are going our way. The Dalai Lama, however, invites us to uphold a personal standard we commonly see as impossible – to live with compassion toward all, and with gratitude toward our lives, regardless of life’s circumstances. Even as we believe it’s not possible, he knows it is, because he has come to understand that it is not life that constrains us, but the way we think about life. Underneath his message is a belief in the power each of us holds to make major change in our lives, by transforming our thinking, from the inside out.

Through life-long conditioning, however, we’ve come to believe that, despite our uniqueness, or perhaps because of it, we are somehow separate from everyone else. Not only does this cause the stress that drives us to “make it” in life, but it also causes us to experience life through the question, “what’s wrong?” – in life, in others, in ourselves. It’s just this thinking that creates the divisiveness we experience. Because the conditioning lives in the unconscious, we don’t know we created it, so we don’t see that we have the power to change it. Unaware, we continue to blame others, only adding to the divisiveness. In essence, then, we are the cause of our own un-peace. How might we shift our thinking and to what might we look forward?

Living with gratitude comes from making the persistent choice to see life through a framework so broad that all of humanness is inside it, rather than outside. No longer can we view anything or anyone as separate. We are all in this together. This, I believe, is the natural state of humanness. So how do we get to this place? How do we learn to make a new “persistent choice?” The answer is simple, at least on the surface. By becoming more consciously aware of our thinking, we begin to notice the thoughts that create the divisiveness and separateness we experience. And as we do, we easily and naturally begin to choose new thoughts, ones broader and more inclusive in perspective. Without the practice at noticing, however, even the idea of this sounds elusive at best and twisted at worst.

Exercise: Toward living with gratitude. I’ve suggested this exercise before, and it’s perhaps the single most powerful way in which you can shift your entire life perspective. New perspectives create new possibilities – everywhere. Stop what you’re doing several times a day. (Use that annoying hourly chime on your cell phone if that helps you.) During just a few moments of quiet reflection, replay in your mind the thoughts you’ve had since the last time you stopped, as if a movie with you as its audience. Listen to what they tell you. Resist the temptation to change or even judge your thoughts. Just notice. That’s it. (In addition to doing this exercise many times a day, do the same at the end of each day, replaying the whole day with your noticing). With this regular self-observation practice, you will (1) come to know your own thoughts, (2) hear subtle messages of your inner truth, (3) see that only your thoughts determine your experience of reality, (4) separate life’s events from the interpretation of those events you created with your thinking, which releases judgment from your life, (5) see life from a far broader perspective, thereby creating a much bigger world, instantly, (6) make new choices easily and naturally (simply because you now can), (7) do this practice so often that you’ll come to see things as they occur, giving you even greater power and freedom to create the extraordinary.

This is one of the ways in which coaches help people create such dramatic change in their lives … by helping them to consciously see their own thinking in new and powerful ways.

A River Runs Through It  [Life lessons offered by nature]

This past week, I had the opportunity to visit a long-time client and friend at her home in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains. Talk about feeling gratitude! For a full week, we experienced majestic vistas, fall foliage, wild animals, great company and amazing food. The reverence, respect and caring among those of us sharing this time and place evoked feelings of gratitude and joy. And the silence of the mountains, along with its riches of scenery and wildlife, reenergized my connection with life’s meaning. There’s nothing like “hanging out” for a week in a place of beauty to truly absorb the magic of nature’s way.

No matter where we are, we tend to adapt to the pace and message of our surroundings. In the everyday world, we often end up adapting to frenzy, stress, competition and anxiety. But here, there is no model for any of those things, so our way of being seems to shift, often imperceptibly, toward a place of oneness, awareness, clarity and possibility … And oh yes, did I say gratitude?

I leave feeling deeply grateful, not only for the invitation and the depth of human connection, but for the bounty of gifts my life offers, all made so visible to me here, set against the backdrop of nature’s majesty.

Perhaps this is why I continually recommend quiet time in nature. True, a week in the Rockies is wonderful, but an hour in the woods, adopted as a regular practice, can bring us to the same place of awareness, clarity, and appreciation for life’s unity. From this place, the step toward living with more compassion and gratitude just doesn’t feel that big anymore.

Creating time to be alone with one’s thoughts opens the door.


Openings to New Possibility

My book: A Field Guide to Life: How to Live With Authenticity and Freedom in a World That Would Rather You Didn’thttp://www.roadnottaken.com/category/field-guide/ The only thing that can stop you from creating and living an extraordinary life every single day is a belief that it’s not possible. This book offers a path beyond that belief, and the ways of seeing and thinking that derive from it, so you can reclaim the authentic power of your deepest longing and create a life you love. Offered as an e-book for purchase, or free of charge as an on-going series of blog articles to which you can subscribe.

An invitation to bold possibility: I love to write about life-changing possibility, yet I am aware that most people will not integrate these perspectives into their lives on their own. I’m here to help. Good ideas are just that – good ideas. They become your own good ideas only by developing personal felt experience of them. It’s often a struggle creating this personal experience because, left to ourselves, we use the same thinking that got us where we are to get us somewhere else. If, despite workshops, programs and reading you’ve done, life still falls short of your dreams, consider a “guide for the unexplored territory” of your future. I’ll meet you wherever you may be on your path. Together we’ll challenge the thinking that holds you back, discover what matters most to you and chart a course into the territory of your potential. Contact me, and begin to shift forever your view of what’s possible.

The Road Not Taken website: Join The Road Not Taken Community, a no-cost subscription offering giving you an opportunity to stay connected, interact, be challenged, learn. Gain access to articles, newsletters and blog; you’ll find “new stuff” on a regular basis. This newsletter is found as a blog entry (under Purposeful Wanderings), along with several back issues. I welcome comment on anything you read; this kind of dialogue is an example of how we may all learn together. If you already subscribe to this newsletter, you’re enrolled.

Book of the monthHow to Be Compassionate, by the Dalai Lama. With references throughout this month’s article, this book offers an in-depth look at causes of un-compassion, along with practices to lead you toward living with compassion and gratitude in all aspects of your life. . … And, if you’re on Cape Cod, you’ll find this book available at the Market Street Bookshop in Mashpee Commons – 508-539-6985.


Download October 2012 pdf

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