Can living in the spirit of thankfulness really change your life?
I was at a conference several years ago. The luncheon speaker took the stage and introduced herself. I sure wish I had written down her name because I’d love to see all of the good I’m certain that she has done in the world since that day. What I do remember is that she had long, thick, shiny, silver, hair. Her eyes sparkled and she smiled and laughed easily and often. She was a talented story-teller. She opened her talk with heartfelt gratitude for the privilege of speaking and shortly thereafter referred to her Jewish heritage. It was a large audience full of people focused on emotional healing and growth. Within a moment of taking the stage, she said, “Lately I’ve been studying love. I’ve been thinking about love, reading about love, talking about love, singing about love and praying about love. I want to learn everything I can about love.” Her voice was melodic, centered and strong as she shared with us, her mission to learn everything there is to know about love.
Over the past several years, I can’t begin to count how many times I’ve mentally replayed her words… Her words, and even her tone come back to me…“Lately, I’ve been studying love, thinking about love, reading about love, talking about love…” I can’t think of anything else that could compare to this if your goal is to maintain your center of peace, serenity, clarity and joy…your conscious awareness that we are all connected to all that is alive.
This radiant, older, Jewish woman, (whom I gave the name Rachel, because I think she deserves a beautiful name to fill the void left by my limited memory), told us stories of her past with her recovering alcoholic husband from before her healing journey had begun. Their younger life was full of chaotic, confusing, painful, times that she shared in colorful detail and magnificent humor. The audience roared with laughter and with many nods of “me too”, along the way. This ability to laugh about things that once brought us to our knees in pain, only happens after a certain amount of healing and growth. It’s a beautiful, sacred experience when shared in a room full of others who understand like only a recovery circle can.
I’ve repeatedly retold a part of this woman’s story to help others. I’ve been amazed at how often and how varied the contexts with which it has come up from within me while listening to others. She was talking about how rigid and controlling she was as a young mother of two children while living in denial of her miserable marriage. Her husband, their father, was a pass out drunk and it was not uncommon to find him out cold on the kitchen floor. Her kids, of course saw this craziness on a regular basis. If you aren’t familiar with alcoholic or chaotic family systems, it might surprise you to find that this dysfunction can be compartmentalized while other parts of life are lived out in contradictory, even functional ways. In this case, she took great care to make sure her children ate only nutritious meals. She didn’t allow any added sugars or highly processed food, and this was in the 80’s, when nutritional awareness was not at all common. They had no television at home either because she wanted them to read, play, and be outdoors rather than influenced by television. She laughed at herself as she shared the contradictions in her life at that time. She went on to describe her first meeting with her new sponsor. She chose this woman because she saw in her a glow and a peacefulness that she wanted for herself. She had to bring her children with her to their first meeting at her sponsor’s house. They were 6 and 8 years old. Her sponsor greeted them at the front door and joyfully walked them to her family room where she turned on a cartoon and put two big bowls of candy in front of them. One with Skittles and the other with M & M’s. The kids looked bewildered. They did not know what to do with two giant bowls of candy and a cartoon on the television in front on them. Her sponsor beamed her radiant smile, leaned close to them and said, “Say thanks and you’ll get more shit!” I can still hear Rachel’s laughter as she shared this with us that Saturday afternoon. In one fell swoop, her new mentor, had trounced on this illusion of the perfect mom that Rachel had been playing to keep up her denial about how chaotic and miserable her life had become.
Little did she know, her sponsor had given her a real pearl of wisdom that I’m not even sure Rachel held in awareness the day she told this funny story. She was simply poking fun of the way she lived before she did her Self work. That is an important story as well. Especially for an audience of those in recovery from codependency. But I took something else out of that message and it’s the part I most often use to support and encourage those who are new to loving themselves with the mindful intention. “Say thanks, you’ll get more shit”, is the pearl of wisdom. Living in the energy and spirit of mindful, intentional thankfulness will generate more and more reasons for you to be thankful. Are you remembering to stop and say, “thank you?”
As you heal, you experience such a shift in the way you see yourself, and eventually others. When you get to the place on the path where you feel deeply compassionate for the old you – the part of you that suffered and did not know a better, different way, you are coming into a breakthrough. That is when the lesson on how to love yourself takes on more powerful, practical meaning. Even though you may have previously heard the advice, “you must first love yourself”, until this breakthrough, it’s unlikely that you’ve applied it or even fully understood it. Once you have, your thankfulness and gratitude is ever-expanding, which in turn brings you more for which to be thankful. “Say thanks, you’ll get more…”
The Energy You Carry Inside is What Expands and Returns to You
You see, it’s true. We create patterns in our lives based on our energy. Before we heal, many of us create patterns that sustain unhappiness, discouragement, and sometimes even suffering and misery. We can easily see this in others. Do you know someone who complains about their lot in life? They expect things to go poorly, whether that be in their relationships, their finances… all the way down to their certainty that they won’t find a place to park on a busy street. And you know what? They usually get what they predict. This is rooted in the energy they carry inside and bring to their day to day experiences. The energy of “I’m not worthy”, “things never go my way”, “you have to protect what’s yours because everyone’s on the take”. This mindset gets cemented in because the energy of this person expands as more and more experiences prove him or her right and round and round it goes.
On the other hand, maybe you know someone who seems to always get the breaks. They always seem to be in the right place at the right time, they get the primo parking space, the great deal, the good treatment of strangers, shop owners, and those they interact with in daily life. They come into many exciting experiences and opportunities. They bring positive energy into their day to day life and they are oftentimes rewarded with more of the same. Their love, joy, peace and positive energy expands into all areas of their life. In the same way, the fear-based person who thinks they do not deserve good things or who predicts they will be mistreated, gets back more of what they expect. It’s the energy that each of these individuals carries and emits that attracts back to them more of the same. This is a very important element of emotional health and healing.
Alice Miller, in her book, The Truth Will Set You Free, used the term, “Enlightened Witness” to describe the role of a person who helps us recognize the injustices we’ve suffered, to give vent to the feelings of rage, pain and indignation at the harmful or abusive things that happened in the past. She goes on to talk about how our bodies hold old painful, often childhood memories on a cellular level. If we do not connect with an enlightened witness (a therapist, mentor or trustworthy friend), these unprocessed experiences and their energy stay contained inside us and remain a part of our unconscious. This sets us up to continue repeating painful patterns. It is for this reason, I believe people carry the unworthy, negative, self-beliefs and connected energy that so often keeps them stuck in unhappiness, bad relationships, under-employment, financial strain, and any number of other painful circumstances. If you heal those old wounds and you begin to really love yourself you will begin to shift on an energy level. That shift is life-changing. That shift will build momentum for more positive energy and change the way you experience yourself, your partner, your family and friends… the way you experience strangers on the street and those in positions of influence or power around you. You can begin right now by pausing throughout your day to give mindful, intentional thanks for the small gifts you receive and have up until now taken hurriedly or without thought.
If you haven’t had the breakthrough I’m writing about and you’re intrigued, I welcome connecting with you. If you’re new to practicing self-love or you’ve been practicing for many years, I’d love to read your stories about your first act of self-love or your regular practices.