This Sunday after Thanksgiving we explore gratitude as a spiritual practice. Kelly LoGiudice talks about how appreciation can transform your mood, your perspective and your life. The sermon includes prayers and practical exercises to use in your everyday life.
Kelly LoGiudice returned to Pennsylvania five years ago after a 10-year walkabout that included living in the Bay Area in California and in Rhode Island. Originally from the Bethlehem area, she was raised a Quaker but is a Unitarian Universalist Wiccan at heart. Kelly is passionate about marriage equality and other LGBTQ concerns. A Worship Associate here at UUCDC, Kelly is also a Nationally Certified licensed massage therapist, Cranio-Sacral therapist, Reiki Master Teacher and Advanced Angel Light Messenger. A Penn State alum, Kelly worked in psychology before switching fields. Her unique bodywork treatments create space for healing of mind, body and spirit.
This time of year reminds us to be thankful. The title of the holiday even has the word thanks in it. To me gratitude is an acknowledgement. It is a remembering or taking time to appreciate all the gifts we have and the small joys in our lives.
So I must admit that the last thing on my mind when my power went out was being grateful. Our power actually went out even before Hurricane Sandy hit. We weren’t ready: we hadn’t charged our phones (we were planning to do that in the afternoon before the storm); I was irritated by the inconvenience and annoyed at how quickly our home became cold. Well, fortunately, within two hours our power came back and stayed on. I did a little dance of gratitude, and admitted to myself that I really enjoy modern conveniences, like electricity.
Well, all that got put into perspective as I heard stories from family and friends who had a much worse experience with the storm. I am sure we all have stories like these. My cousin’s home in Cape May was safe but her workplace was flooded and her coworkers totally lost their homes. As she drives to work, she drives by seaside communities that are no longer there.
My friend Barb in Seabright, New Jersey was evacuated for two weeks. Barb said, “When the National Guard, The Army, The Marines are in your home town, checking ID's and protecting your town, you know something bad has happened!” Barb lost most of her home but what was surprising is throughout this disaster, she stayed grateful and focused on helping others. She was helping her neighbors clean up their completely destroyed home. She gushed with appreciation for FEMA and other volunteers from other states who are not leaving or going home until their job is done, and she blessed the clean up crews and the power companies working to tirelessly to repair lines and restore power. I love how amazing she is that in her own pain she could reach out and help others and be thankful for all the aid she was receiving.
Research has shown that grateful people have a sense of resilience in the face of difficulty. Also when we see someone else struggling, then it helps us put perspective on our own stresses and worries.
For some this is a busy and joy-filled time of year. For others it is a mixed bag. For me, I get excited to spend Thanksgiving dinner with my family. Then I walk into the house and: dogs are wrestling and racing about, too many cooks in the kitchen and of course all those sibling rivalries come right back. Then there is arguing with my more conservative relatives. And trying to talk over the latest football game blasting from the TV. I usually come home exhausted and stuffed and feeling guilty after eating more food than I should have. I realize that in comparison with many people I am lucky.
Let us remember that this time of year is difficult for many of us. Maybe you lost family or friends or are unemployed and struggling with finances. Maybe you are estranged from family, or recovering from addiction. Maybe you are unsure where your next meal is coming from or if you will have shelter tonight.
I do remember other holidays that were more painful. Like the first Christmas without my grandmother and since her house had been the gathering place, our family traditions had to change. Then there was the year my youngest sister got divorced and that awkwardness of being angry, sad and relieved for my sister all at the same time while not knowing what to say to her and at the same time missing her ex husband who was my friend.
Even in my anxiety and pain, I realized that with loss everyone became even more precious to me. That sometimes I get forget all the blessings I have in my life and difficulties remind me to be more appreciative.
That was emphasized for me again this year when another one of my sisters Kim fell and fractured most of her spine. Holding her hand in the hospital, not knowing if she would ever wake up or if she did whether she would have a brain injury, I was determined to relish each moment we were together.
During her recovery it was remarkable to see how this crisis brought my family together. That in the midst of this horrendous accident, we were challenged to bring out the best in each other and to have deep, meaningful connected conversations. Every time I see her walk I am reminded of how close we came to losing her. I don’t want to miss a day without letting her and those I love know how much they mean to me.
A loss or close call often has this effect of helping us cherish what we do have. And allows us to change perspective, to get outside our own minds, routines and daily stresses.
Albert Schweitzer said: On those days, when you feel your light has gone out, remember there is always a glimmer of hope and something to be thankful for. Sometimes our light goes out, but is blown again into instant flame by an encounter with another human being. Each of us owes the deepest thanks to those who have rekindled this inner light.
I wasn’t always comfortable with the idea of prayer. I used to feel it had to look a particular way and was linked to traditional Christian beliefs about God. As I grew up, I explored many religions on my way to Unitarian Universalism. And realized the huge variety of prayer in this world. This broader view helped me become clearer of my own Earth-based Wiccan beliefs and my UU faith.
A quote that resonates with me is by Meister Eckhart “If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.” I can get behind that! I am thankful for so many people and things in my life. I am comfortable with the idea of gratitude as prayer.
One birthday I received the Simple Abundance Journal of Gratitude. I began the practice of starting each day with writing down at least five things I was grateful for. Some days this was easy: I am thankful for a loving husband, for my health, for dear friends, for the quiet time spent watching a lightening storm. Other days I struggled. I woke up tired or grumpy, but I was determined not to write it down unless I truly felt grateful.
When I got stuck, I tried to remember more difficult times of my life and appreciate the ease of today. Or I tried to remember those less fortunate than I and be grateful for a roof over my head and food on our table.
As I stayed with this practice I noticed changes. On days I woke up annoyed or drained, by the time I was done with my list my mood changed and lightened. I found myself calmer throughout the day and handling change or difficulties with more grace.
I use this practice in many ways. For example, before I dive into the chaos of my family or an important meeting, I sit in the car and think of five things I am grateful for. This moment helps me ground and connect to my centered confident self.
I also say an affirmation of how I hope that day will go, for example “everyone gets along and there is laughter.” This in a sense is my prayer for the day.
Arvid Straubin said In A Spiritual Maintenance Schedule, : “ Prayer is simply getting in touch with the deepest desires and currents of the heart.” Speaking our deepest desires of our heart affirms our path and sends those vibrations out into the Universe. Many of us live extremely busy lives but even amongst all of the noise we can find a time to offer a wish, a plea, a petition to the Universe or to a Higher Power or in affirmation of what we desire to happen in our lives.
There are many simple daily practices we can use to shift our lives into gratitude. The books Living in Gratitude and Living Life as a Thank You have the following 9 suggestions
1. Keep a gratitude journal. Write five things you feel grateful for from the day: a smile, a hug from your child, a moment of laughter with a friend. Bring to mind those close to you whom you love, and how thankful you are that they are part of your life.
2. Pay it forward. Create a living prayer of thanksgiving by providing a service to a neighbor—shoveling their driveway, mowing their lawn, running an errand, or volunteering with a community organization.
3. Create a Top 10 list of the things you are most grateful for in your life. Carry it with you, or post it on your mirror, your refrigerator, or at your office to remind you daily of what you are grateful for. What you are grateful for will seemingly leap off the page at the times when you most need the reminder.
4. Connect with Nature. Take a walk and notice the beauty around you: a leaf, a bird in flight, sunlight, the color of the sky, or the softness of grass beneath your feet. Natural places have the power to heal our very souls.
5. Express appreciation: Write letters, call, or send gifts of gratitude to those who have provided blessings in your life. I did this by writing letters to those who mentored me as a massage therapist and by providing scholarship money to the massage therapy school I trained at in Boston.
6. Honor your ancestors calling upon them for support as you make changes in your life. Create honored places in your home for photos and mementos of ancestors with a candle to light when you are in need of connecting with them.
7. Extend gratitude to all you meet: I thank janitors and toll booth operators. When stuck in a long line in the grocery store, I try to think of something to help the cashier smile, acknowledging their long day. I thank those in military uniform for their service to this country (no matter my beliefs about a war),
8. Develop your own guide, prayer or creed that you believe in. Maybe it is the serenity prayer or like Heather a sorority creed, or a Buddhist chant or our seven Unitarian Universalist principles listed in the front of our grey hymnal.
9. Before sleeping Go to bed with a smile, thinking about all you appreciate in your life. Breathe deeply and relax as you do so. Breathe in Breath out when I breathe in I breath in peace, when I breath out I breath out love.
These are just a few ideas to get you started on this attitude of gratitude. When you are going through a tough time, it is harder to feel grateful. However, these gratitude practices can help to comfort you and transform your mood.
I want to take time now for you all to have an opportunity to write down a few people or things you are grateful for. We will take some time to do this, what matters is writing what has meaning for you, maybe you only write one thing or maybe you write many.