Recently I watched a short video clip of Oprah and Brené Brown talking about vulnerability and the practice of gratitude & joy. Hmmmm... my brain starts to churn... what are the actual things that I practice to foster spiritual happiness? What do you practice?
In this reflection I'm attempting to look at some real life, down to earth ways that I remind myself to practice gratitude and openness. I hope you enjoy the reflection, and I would love to also hear what you practice, practice, practice...
When you hear the term "practice, practice, practice" being used what do you think of?
Any practice that requires discipline to achieve and reach goals; perhaps a sport or musical instrument?
In my days of teaching snowboarding I clearly remember hearing the classic three p’s being shouted by a trainer (albeit in a decidedly dodgy eastern European accent!). I remember practicing the drills he gave us, crouching down over and over in a certain way in order to gain better edge control and practice feeling the glide of my board at speed in a new way.
My eyes winced in the early morning -10c temp as the muscle strain reached my brain. Now, looking back I can not only ponder how the heck I was so happy at -10c! I can also see that it taught me that perseverance creates change (my turns improved dramatically), and that it takes practice, practice, practice to create positive change.
Click the Play button below to watch the short Oprah and Brené Brown video:
After watching this clip I found myself running at sunrise the next morning in Sydney and thinking about how I practice gratitude - what are things I actually do to foster spiritual happiness?
I’ll be honest, a few years back I had some dark days, and it really was the act of creating a daily practice to seek and find gratitude that helped me to open up to the path of grace.
Some examples of the practical things that i do…
1. First prayer: first of every day is one of ’thank you God’
2. Atta Girl e-mail folder: I have a folder in each email address called ‘atta girl’. I file any email of thanks or encouragement there. If I’m ever feeling low, I just open up that folder and see how much support and gratitude I have around.
3. Gratitude jar: You can write notes of positive things that have happened and put them in the jar - you can look at these notes to remind you of how blessed you are at any time. I have just started a new one for our house (see photo below).
4. Examen: I pray an examen every night (description below).
> I use an Examen App; It's well worth checking it out and is free to download:
>> CLICK HERE for iTunes App // Apple ------ >> CLICK HERE for Google Play App // Android
These practices stayed in my mind as we recently focused on the practice of discernment // examen recently at Kairos (Study Program with 12 other Novices from various congregations). We learned that the word discernment (‘Cernere’ in Latin), has a variety of meanings. It’s a process and a practical way to listen, sift, gather, get to know, journey, and be guided.
St Benedict reminds us that listening and being open to feelings is the key to discernment:
"To listen with the ear of the heart”
St John of the cross reminds us that to discern is not to only listen in prayer - people around us can be our teachers. We must be open to them too:
“The language of God is the experience that God writes into our lives”
Examen is a simple practice of reviewing the past 24hrs. It is usually done at night or first thing in the morning. It is always directed at God and is done in thanksgiving, and helps to foster grateful openness.
EXAMEN (5 steps)
1. Gratitude :: Grateful for God’s Blessings (God, Thank you)
2. Asking for Light :: To see & understand (God, send your Spirit upon me)
3. Review the Day :: Look for God in all (God, let me look at my day)
4. Look at what is wrong :: Facing failures or shortcomings (God, Let me be grateful and ask for forgiveness)
5. Resolution for the day to come :: Where do I need God today? (God, stay close)
Purpose of prayer and examen is asking the spirit to help us see with God’s eyes. When we examen we are asking for grace to obtain awareness, to know what we really want and to be free through awareness.
The practice of examen + seeking and finding gratitude is surely crucial to fostering spiritual happiness.
But, as I keep up my daily practice of gratitude it has recently become super apparent that I also must practice, practice, practice openness. It’s so easy to say NO to things, to think, yea, na… What if something bad happens?
St. Augustine was saying that we should always look to discern, we are always changing, but God is not - Gods love is ever the same. It’s important that we practice gratitude, but also to practice openness too;
“O God, ever the same, let me know myself, let me know you”
Accepting, saying YES, creating an open mind cultivates acceptance of mystery. Embracing mystery opens our hearts to Gods ways - which are certainly now our own. As they old saying goes "If you want to make God laugh, tell her your plans!"
Patrick O'Sullivan SJ perfectly explains how embracing mystery can lead us to new experiences in his book Sure Beats Selling Cardigans ; "Our big temptation is to turn mystery into a problem. We solve a problem, get on top of it, but we cannot get on top of a mystery. We surrender to it by accepting its invitation to see things differently, to be open to something more, some deeper meaning. A sense of mystery leads us to accept the invitation to experience life not on our terms."
Some examples of the practical things that I do to foster openness & accept mystery…
1. Avoid the auto-pilot "No" response :: Take your time, consider saying yes to something new. Wait to respond to an email, or simply say to someone "I'm not sure, I'll get back to you"; this will give you time, perhaps you can ponder the request, pluck up the courage to say "Yes".
2. Try to see things from another point of view :: When meeting someone new notice their shoes. Think about how they started their day, what they've seen, why they put those shoes on? View with the eyes of another.
3. Accept another point of view :: Remember that you might actually be wrong on occasion. There is no shame in that, you don't own the universe.
4. Wait to think about a response :: When listening to someone, wait until they're finished. Take time to respond, don't work up an answer in your head before they're finished...
When I’m open I have found that I loose my ego, through that loss I can see things from the perspective of another and I’m more adapt to change. Yeh, it’s definitely scary in some ways, but I've found that if I embrace that fear and allow myself to acknowledge my fears, then that vulnerability opens the door to excitement too.
For me it's a daily reminder not to be afraid, to practice, practice, practice - as my old trainer would say:
"Janey, bend zee knees!"... feel the burn, choose to try something new, to persevere and focus on the positive exciting part of what if? Just imagine a smile gracing your face, your eyes twinkle and you realise you have the luxury of being able to choose the clap happy, can't sit still version of "OMG, What if?"
"It is better to die on your feet than to live on your knees." ~ Emiliano Zapata
Saying YES to gratitude and the mystery of openness is a daily thing. I often have epic *face plant* fails, and having no idea how things will work out has become a regular thought pattern. But, with courage I'm discovering that my practice of gratitude & giving mystery a strong embracing hand shake makes life feel joyful & ineffable.
Please do share any practical things you do to practice gratitude or openness - I hope you'll join me?
"Bend zee knees", practice, practice, practice - one step, one day, one thank-you, one YES at a time...
If you haven’t heard of Brene Brown before then please please do yourself a favour and check out her now famous Ted Talk titled >> The Power of Vulnerability (see video below)
+ more talks:
>> Why Your Critics Aren't The Ones Who Count
>> The Price of Invulnerability >> Listening to Shame
Jane Maisey rsj