Friday, December 9, 2016

on the topic of gratefulness (and changing your life)

Hello dear friends ...has it really been weeks since I've been here?

Sigh, I haven't been a very good blogger lately and I've missed sharing with all of you.

And frankly, it's hard to know where to begin after all this time--I wish we could share a pot of coffee and catch up the proper way, but I'll start by plopping you into the middle of my personal December challenge.

And I hope there's something here that you can use in your own life.

I've always found December to be such a special month and yet, it’s so easy to get caught up in a constant sense of busyness where I find myself looking at the calendar, and wondering where the days flew by.

Does this happen to you too? Well, I don’t like that feeling of not fully remembering these precious hours or days of my life.  So I've been consciously doing a few things differently this season.

One of the changes I'm making this month has to do with my focus on being grateful.

My inspiration for my "gratefulness challenge" came to me after I listened to Brother David Steindl-Rast interviewed by Krista Tippett in her On Being podcast series. 

I was so intrigued-- not just by this man's incredible life—but by his suggestions on how to practice gratefulness in our daily lives. Yes, that's what I like. Easy to use ideas that I can incorporate into my day.

I was so impressed by the depth of his work in this field, and because I worry that the topic of gratitude is in danger of becoming a pop cultural fad, I thought I’d share a few of his ideas with you today.

becoming aware of your fountain bowl

First of all it helps to be aware of what gratitude actually feels like when we’re experiencing it—in our bodies and our minds---and Brother Steindl-Rast uses a few words to explain his two components of gratitude, called gratefulness and thanksgiving.

Have you ever stopped to think about how "gratefulness" actually feels---so you can recognize it when it's happening?  The reason this is relevant is because we now have so much research telling us the profound impact gratitude has on our happiness.

Brother Steindl-Rast uses the analogy of a fountain bowl brimming with water to talk about how we experience gratefulness. So that we can think of ourselves as being this fountain bowl that has the ability to fill up with these wonderful sensations of joy and gratitude.

Most of us can recognize this experience as a warmth or a glow of happiness that expands inside of us although at this point, it's still what Brother Steindl-Rast calls “unarticulated joy,” because our feelings ("the water inside the bowl") are mostly quiet and still.

However, similiar to water when it reaches the top and begins to gush over, becoming louder, bubbling and glistening---so do our emotions get stronger, letting us know that we’re feeling something positive and good. 

This is his analogy of gratitude welling up in our hearts and overflowing into joy. He calls this the ‘thanksgiving’ component of gratitude.

But here's the crucial part.

In our day-to-day living we need to be aware of how our bowls can change their size. When we keep a small, humble bowl size, it is able to be filled up easier. And we’re able to walk around feeling in touch with gratefulness and joy for even the littlest things.

However, when we fall prey to consumerism and comparisons to our neighbors—our bowls become harder to fill up; the water is there but it can never reach the top and spill over if we are always seeking more quantity, if our bowl is always growing wider and deeper with all our wants and dissatisfaction.

It’s a simple analogy. But I love this visual image because it stresses that living a grateful life is a chosen response. We can chose to stay aware of our fountain bowl size. We can chose to remain aware that real joy comes from quality not quantity as our water level inside our fountain bowl reminds us.

But what happens when life gets hard? And when gratitude simply feels out of reach,?

For those who struggle to feel gratitude Brother Steindl-Rast makes this distinction.

Not everything that’s given to you—can be something you can be grateful of, he says, certainly  war, violence, sickness… are a few things you would never consider a gift. 

So when people ask him,

“Can you be grateful for everything?”

“No, not for everything,” he says, “But in every moment.

This is how it works.

The Stop-Look-Go practice

for feeling gratefulness in our daily life


This only takes seconds. But it's a game-changer. Because when we’re rushing though our day, busy juggling our lists and schedules it’s impossible to appreciate any opportunity for gratitude. That's because we’re not grounded in the present moment. So the first thing we need to do is simply stop.


This is when we ask ourselves this one question.
“What is the opportunity in this-given-moment?
Only this moment. Right now.

This is the stage of ‘beholding.’  This is when we look, listen, and attend to the moment in front of us, with the purpose of discerning the opportunity for gratefulness.

Remember that surprise is often the beginning of gratitude.
Think of the uniqueness of the moment and ask yourself.

What is the opportunity I can take away from this?

Brother Steindl-Rast reminds us that even in the most difficult situations we may ‘see’ an opportunity to learn something.
To Understand.
To grow in a deeper way.
Even to take a stand on a topic that matters to you.


This is the action step.
The crucial step that changes your life.
If you can see the opportunity, then you simply act. Do something with it. You avail yourself of this opportunity and as Brother Steindl-Rast says,

“If you try practicing it at this moment, by tonight you will already be happier because the immediate feedback is joy.”

Clearly Brother Steindl-Rast and his message about gratefulness touches something deep inside us. We sense truth in his words and that’s why an astonishing five million people have listened to this Benedictine monk’s Ted Talk. 

I think the longer we live-the more we recognize that life is messy and inherently out-of-our-control-- but the mere act of choosing our response to any situation empowers us, it offers us a tremendous way to grow. 

So this is what I've been doing this month.

Nothing too intense; I’m keeping this casual:

I’ve been waking up earlier than usual for a little yoga and meditation time.


I’m trying to actively use the Stop-Look-Go in my daily interactions


I begin each day using Brother Steindl-Rast’s own words to remind myself not to take anything for granted:

        Try saying this a few times over your morning coffee. It's pretty powerful.

Well friends, I'd love to hear your thoughts on this post. In the meantime, you can follow me on instagram (gwenmossblog) where I'm currently more active.

Love and Peace to you all



Sarah said...

Excellent post for all. Living with gratitude gives my days focus and provides an amazing feeling of calm. I've an abundance for which to be thankful, and I try to keep my heart focused on that.
Wishing you a very merry holiday, Leslie. Your home looks clam and refreshing.

Unknown said...

I love that powerful mental image of the bowl of gratitude, Leslie. Smaller bowls allow us to feel the sense of joy more thoroughly--love that! I agree, it's easy to get overwhelmed with ALL the to-do lists, partygoing, hosting and all the prescribed merrymaking of the season. Speaking from the vantage point of one who has gone through a huge life change (retirement/reinvention) in the last 6 months, taking personal time for reflection each day is essential. I like your focus on gratitude. In a sense, I'm taking a less is more approach to many elements of life this year and it feels good. It's the simple pleasures in life - family, friends, travel, love - that mean the most and keep me grateful.
Wonderful post!
Your home is looking festive and cozy. I still wish we were neighbors! ;)
Have a wonderful weekend, Leslie!

Karen said...

What a great exercise. I feel like I've learned to live in the moment way more than I used to, and I remind myself daily of little things I'm so thankful for. But I can see, especially during this time of year, where one can get caught up in commercialism and the constant barrage of 'buy this, buy that', and that would begin to make one (me) feel the need to buy more. That doesn't work...budgets, etc. and could make me feel inadequate, etc. I will be practicing this throughout the rest of the month. Thanks for sharing.
Best to you and your family this holiday season!

Vannessa@Luxuria said...

OMG!!! Such a fabulous post. I've noted down the words in the last quote.
I write in a gratitude journal "most" nights and also meditate, but I love the simplicity of how he explains gratitude in "the moment" because very often I don't think about gratitude until late at night when I am about to write in my journal. But I love the idea of stopping throughout the day and drinking in the moment. Love this post so much and love hearing about new podcasts I can add to my listening list.
Thank you for your lovely comments as always over at mine xx

La Contessa said...

I find the word GRATEFUL is used A LOT In todays world .................
In fact I would say THAT is the WORD of 2016.

To be GRATEFUL one must be HAPPY within themselves..............and I truly BELIEVE That comes later in LIFE.
The older WE become THE WISER WE ARE.

Stonecropsister said...

Hello Leslie,
A really lovely post. I will definitely do more Stopping and considering the moment I am in. It is so easy to allow one bad thing carry into so many hours, emotions, and thoughts, and to allow it to spin for days. Refocusing on the present moment, and all the good in front of us is so key to having some peace.
Love your instagram pics, you're a joy. xx Nancy

Susan Nowell @ My Place to Yours said...

Leslie, I couldn't agree more that gratefulness is crucial to well being.I've listened in awe as many of our neighbors who lost everything in the Smoky Mountains wildfire have chosen GRATEFUL as their response. In the midst of such tragic loss, I am thankful to see people live in the present (rather than even the recent past) and choose to move forward -- positive rather than bitter. Your post is a great reminder during this busy season.

JoanMarie said...

Hello Leslie - how wonderful not only to hear from you but also these amazing words of wisdom. It is true that the days fly by one after the other and before you know it, a span of time has passed and finding memories in those days becomes harder and harder. I love the daily steps and especially the quote you shared - another beautiful practice for our "everyday"....thank you Leslie for this reminder...they are strong thoughts I will carry with me with gratefulness for your sharing and everything around me.

Laura said...

I am grateful for you Leslie.
I always learn something from your posts that I can not only take to heart but also apply in my daily life as well. What a gift:)

Merry Christmas!


designchic said...

I love it all, Leslie! Great reminder especially this time of year. Happy weekend!

Blondie's Journal said...

Thank you once again, Leslie, for giving me so much food for thought. This is a guide to every day living in the moment and feeling grateful.

Sometimes I do feel powerless in the face of everyday problems, how ever small. And I won't even go into the bigger things as far as the way our country is transitioning, the violence and insanity going on in our world. But gratefulness is a very real way to change our focus on what we can personally manage. In all my years I have learned that we can't change people but we can find the goodness they bring into our lives. And if we embrace change inside ourselves and in our hearts, understanding how every day is played out will make us feel very thankful.

Yay. You have elevated gratefulness to a new level. :-D


Vickie @ Ranger 911 said...

This post could not come at a better time, Leslie. We just received our annual Christmas letter from my husband's aunt. In it, she tells what's happened in her life and the lives of her extended family over the past year. One of their daughters was diagnosed with breast cancer and her husband is in the beginning stages of Alzheimers, yet the tone of her letter is so upbeat and I guess I'd have to say "grateful". Tonight we'll attend a Christmas gathering at their lake home and I'm grateful to be able to spend time with these special people. I do believe it's a choice we make as to how we view our own lives and your post is a wonderful reminder.

Thank you and have a wonderful weekend, Leslie!

michele said...

Gratitude is a sacred gift. i know this personally because of a season i was unable to access it at all, not a bit. there was no bowl. i was also unable to feel love, and can there be anything more painful? to be locked out of the garden of gratitude feels like death, and for me, it was due to depression. i couldn't get out of my head or put my head in my heart. when others around me discussed their thankfulness or suggested i count my blessings, i felt shame which overwhelmed and grieved me. so it's complicated, and i gained so much compassion for folks who struggle with depression and can't seem to find their bowl. especially around the holidays. it wasn't gratitude that healed my depression (it was grace) but it did return when the condition lifted, and in such abundance i became grateful for the experience of gratitude! i'm rambling but maybe your post reminded me how a person who seems ungrateful may not necessarily lack humility or virtue but simply be in a very deep hurting place, disconnected from this most natural gift. it feels sooooo good to be able to feel grateful, and your words here have resonated in a lovely way. xox

karen@somewhatquirky said...

Well since I can't seem to remember anything, I have little choice but to live in the present! So good to read you today Leslie. I love the idea of unarticulated joy. It feels good just to think that. And that quote...I'm going to have to use it!

Leslie Harris said...

Vickie I'm so sorry to hear about your aunt's situation. A daughter with breast cancer and a husband receiving the news about alzheimers. My god I can't even imagine. And yet as you share, life goes on. Her life. Their lives. Our lives. What I keep being reminded of when I grapple with stories like this is the inner strength and resilience that can be found in the midst of all this. Your aunt-despite everything-seems to be a perfect example of this. I'm just so drawn to people like this--they're living the essence of what Brother Steindl-Rast talks about in his discussions, of what I aspire to be today.. I hope you had a wonderful Christmas visit with them. Give my best to your family and you're yogi daughter :)
And thank you for sharing her situation, I hope that everyone reading this post will send a positive prayer in her direction.


Leslie Harris said...

Jane (Blonde's Journal)
I always walk away from your writing with a sense of kinship with you. Thank you for sharing your wisdom. And on the topic of all the insanity in the world, I actually stopped watching the news for awhile it was so depressing. Especially after this crazy election. And it really helped!

Leslie Harris said...

I know what you mean Nancy, I can get into my worrying mode which gets me totally stuck in a negative place. You know me. I always write about things that I'm working on myself, (I'm as flawed as they come :)... and that's the reason behind this gratefulness post. Although I guess we're all works-in-progress aren't we? But ever since I went through the yoga teacher training it has literally changed my life. Opened my eyes to the whole experience of being fully in the present moment--not just conceptually, but made it visceral and real to me--and I think that gratefulness is intricately tied up in this kind of peaceful, calm existence.
I'm so glad you found me on IG--I check yours to keep in touch. I hope the girls are well and that you have a wonderful holiday season my friend.
peace and love to you,

Leslie Harris said...

Sarah as long as I've known you, you've always conveyed a sense of joy about what you're doing. It seeps out in all your posts. Even when you thought you had to move quickly and were in the middle of lots of questions about your future, you seemed to maintain a sense of peace through it all. I've always admired this about you. Sending you lots of blessings for a happy and healthy Christmas season.

Leslie Harris said...

Heather I've been meaning to get by your blog for another visit. I've been seeing all the wonderful activity going on with your latest fashion endeavor and I'm so excited for you! I can't believe how quick you were --not just to identify a passion you could grow into a business, but then to execute it with such efficiency. Wow. That's pretty darn impressive!

Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts on this post, I'm glad you could connect with the fountain bowl analogy too. Hey. One of these days when you're down here for a family visit we'll have to meet!

Leslie Harris said...

Thank you Susan for sharing this about your neighbors. Yes, I also feel that sense of awe when I brush up against people who have experienced such tremendous loss --in this case, losing everything-- and still finding a way to be grateful. I always learn something from you and your beautiful writing on your blog.
love and peace to you and your family this Christmas season,

Leslie Harris said...

Thank you so much for raising this topic, to be honest I could do an entire post related to the feelings you bring up here.

Do you know something?
For a long time I used to wince whenever I saw the 'just be happy' kind of messages that we're inundated with on Pinterest. Even on blogs. And it's because I spent years in the therapy field working with eating disorder patients and I will never ever be far away from those faces and stories for as long as I live. To be honest, their story was my story in so many ways.
For me, professionally and personally--being immersed in a world where people were in deep emotional pain was the best thing- that could've happened to me in my twenties. Because I learned I wasn't alone. 

Seeing-- in the most intimate way-- all these women struggling with feelings that they didn't understand was powerful. Maybe it was sadness or anger and or even worse, the feeling of emptiness, and stark depression it all helped me develop a leeriness about throwing around the 'happy' word. Because I saw the pain that can cause. I saw how we can inadvertently put a lot of pressure on each other to 'be positive' and basically show the world that kind of 'happy" emotions that we all like to be around.

The bottom line is that this is so often at the core of our emotional pain.

I had to learn this personal lesson too. And I still struggle with labeling myself in weak moments. The truth is, the issue is not having these darker emotions--lord knows we've all experienced them. But the problem happened for these women when they learned and believed that these emotions were "bad" and needed to be hidden. And so they did, often for years. In fact, many women walked into treatment completely disconnected from anything that felt like an authentic, real feeling, they were so used to wearing a smiling face and answering a quick "Fine" when someone asked how they were doing.

As someone who was once quite proficient at wearing a happy, competent mask myself, I know that there is nothing more painful than the sense of aloneness that happens when we feel we can't be utterly ourselves. When we go in hiding with some of our feelings, so even those closest to us don't know them. There's nothing worse than thinking, "oh is it just me?'  And closing ourselves off from a part of ourselves that hell yeah we feel. 

I know that as a person with a psychology background none of this is new to you.

But I also know that we're all human, and just because we have the intellectual understanding doesn't mean we can live it out in our lives the way we'd like. I know that from my experience with mothering. And dealing with my own anxieties and worries.

I do remember clearly that time when you were dealing with so much loss. My god. Not just your breast cancer but your mom's and then all the family testing and the eventual mammogram. Your courage was incredible, and if there was ever a dark time in your life--when as you say, "there was no bowl," I would get it. I'm not suggesting I even know your circumstances. But I do understand that no one chooses to feel as you described in your comment. And that there is no place for judging anyone who might be struggling this way because that's the worst kind shaming. I don't care what's it called. No one is being 'ungrateful' if they're in emotional pain and without hope. No one is sinning. No one is being "too negative." God. Don't get me going on these kind of judgments.

The bottom line is, I'm sorry you once felt so broken. I think I can relate. And I'm so relieved and happy that you are in a totally different place now. 
Hope . Now that's the ''gift" that keeps on giving....
Thank you Michele for reading my posts and leaving such heartfelt comments. I truly appreciate you.

Art and Sand said...

I hope I don't come across as smug, but I have been doing this, without anyone teaching me, for 19 years. I even know the date I really set it in motion. - October 8, 1997. That was the day our life changed by downsizing to our little beach cottage. We began daily walks on the beach and that meant 6:30 a.m. when we were both working, but the sense of satisfaction I felt when I headed to work knowing that I had already done something special for myself was precious.

As a beach lover, each day when I walk along the sand, I marvel at the beauty of the ocean, the seasonal changes and the fact that I get to see it every single day. The beach is something I never take for granted.

How Steve and I fight off the negative thoughts and talk of our crazy country these days is to say, "that's not in our script"! When one of us starts to rant (and that's easy to do with all the crazy news), the other brings it to a stop. It turns our negative thoughts into "wow, aren't we fortunate people".

The other positive is our love for our family. We spent the day with our son and his wife throwing pots - it was a joint birthday gift from them to Steve and me and it was such a special day. It's something we would never have thought of and our conversation was mostly about the potting process, but oh, those hours together were wonderful.

Leslie Harris said...

Carol thank you for taking the time to share a few of the ways you stay grounded and in touch with a sense of gratitude. Carving out time for walks on the beach. Staying away from a negative mind-set, and counting your blessings when it comes to family. I think these are all wonderful suggestions.

 I think that anyone wanting to know how to make grateful living part of their daily life could learn a few things from you and Steve. You two are a special pair.

Leslie Harris said...

I know what mean V, I also liked the idea of trying to catch myself during the day and re-directing my focus to those 'moments.' It's that component of mindfulness that i'm drawn to and it sounds like you are also. Possibly because you're already using a journal and incorporating meditation in your life. I really think you'll enjoy browsing through those podcasts, Krista Tippett is known for her interest in bringing the spiritual and science world together and interviews the most fascinating people.
On a personal note, I've been thinking of you during this holiday season, wondering how you're managing with your Dad's absence. I know he was such an important person to you. I know he is watching over you and must be so proud of his kind hearted, intelligent, resilient daughter.Sending love and healing thoughts your way...

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