On February 6th, I had the privilege of leading an InterPlay workshop as part of the Midwest Women Spirit 2016 conference held in Chicago, IL. Since I wanted to make sure that I was onboard with the general theme of the conference, I arrived early enough to hear the keynote presentation given by Kate Braestrup. Kate is a UU Minister, a New York Times best-selling author and a Chaplain with the State of Maine Warden Service where she provides ministry to law enforcement officers and those they serve. Prior to becoming a UU minister Kate was married to a police officer who was killed in an on-duty accident leaving her with four children between the ages of 3 and 9 to raise on her own. Before his death her husband had been wrestling with a call to enter the ministry and their long conversations had evidently ignited a spark within her, because sometime after his death she entered seminary and was eventually ordained.
Since the theme of the conference was “Recognizing Our Calling” Kate had many powerful insights to share, from her own experiences and those of her children as they grew and matured. But the thing in her presentation that stood out the most for me was her challenge to us -especially those of us who feel some call to bring more peace, justice, hope, love, compassion and healing to the world- not to fall into the trap of despair and hopelessness regarding any of the many major problems we face. She shared some specific examples of the ways we as human beings have come together to avert almost certain disasters in the past, and her absolute confidence that we could do so again.
Then in the Q & A that followed her talk someone asked her about the environmental challenges we are currently facing and how she could have hope in the face of these. I don’t remember most of what she said in answer to that question, but I do remember the story she shared. To the best of my recollection it went something like this:
When I see a picture in the newspaper or magazine or watch a TV image of a disaster of some sort, in the midst of all the pain, suffering and devastation, I look for the helpers, those people who are there to offer comfort, medical assistance, food, shelter and the like. Helpers are always there! Sometimes I am one of those helpers and sometimes I just need the assurance that a helper will always come.
For some reason this image replayed itself again and again and eventually had me thinking about gratitude which led me to a book titled, Attitudes of Gratitude, that’s been on my shelf for many years. As I thumbed through the pages of the book, I discovered again many powerful testimonies from the author about the power of gratitude to transform us body, heart, mind and spirit.
One of the quotes the author shared from Susan Jeffers (“When we focus on abundance, our life feels abundant; when we focus on what we lack our life feels lacking. It’s truly a matter of what we focus on, ) seemed to link back to the story of the helpers in the midst of the disasters, so, I decided to focus my two online Dancing Our Prayers classes for the week on gratitude.
As we moved into each class I invited participants to focus on gratitude and then holding a tiny spark of gratitude in their hands to dance with it and allow it to grow and expand and carry them wherever it would. Each participant in both of the classes noticed the deep sense of joy, peace, ease and grace that seemed to take them over. It was like mixing a basic solution with an acidic one, gratitude neutralized the stress and tension many of them had been experiencing prior to the class.
I too felt this transformation. I had awakened at 3am Monday morning to get ready to drive to the airport to fly back to Boston, so I would be there in time to teach the online class that night, only to discover that my flight had been canceled! Now I really wanted to get back to Boston and I needed to be in a place with good internet in order to teach, so I let this stress me out. I was, therefore not even remotely close to being in a place of calm, peace or gratitude when the class began. But little by little as I danced with the feeling of gratitude that at least I hadn’t been stuck at the airport or on a plane, gratitude began to work its magic. By the middle of the class I felt a deep sense of peace and joy. But that’s not the amazing part of the story!
The next morning I made it to the airport without incident and my plane took off pretty much on schedule. Once in the air, I did my usual bit of playing some games on my iPad and then reading one of my Kindle books. But then about an hour into the flight my eyes were tired (I had after all gotten up at 3am for the second morning in a row!) so I put on some meditative music and closed my eyes and just began breathing gratitude. With each breath my gratitude seemed to grow. With each breath my feelings of peace and joy deepened. With each breath my heart and mind seemed to expand. Then completely out of the blue came the absolute knowing that I needed to open a new document and begin working on the design for a new online class focusing on the wisdom contained in the book Move to Greatness: The Four Energies of a Whole and Balanced Leader. For the next 30 minutes the ideas came in a steady stream. (This seemed especially astonishing since creating this design had been on my “to do list” for more than a few months.)
Since that day, I have been taking between 5-10 minutes some time each day to breath gratitude, to dance gratitude, to sing gratitude. Sometimes I think of specific things for which I am grateful, but sometimes I just dip into the well of feelings and pull up gratitude. Sometimes it happens quickly, sometimes its a bit slower. But in every case the transformation that gratitude brings is northing short of a miracle!