“If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.”
– Meister Eckhart
Have you ever deeply observed the natural world at work? When I watch the birds and the trees the clouds and the sea – the very earth itself – I am always struck by a fundamental principle and characteristic of life: we live in a giving universe. Consider the sun and the live-giving light it shines on the earth; or the oxygenated air that keeps us alive and the trees that work tirelessly in this task; or birds that give with the simple pleasure of their song.
It is not just the world out there either. Consider also the miraculous worlds within us that work hard to keep us alive. I am always awed and humbled when I consider the complexity, beauty, and brilliance of the human body: the brain with its capacity for language, creativity, and perception; the digestive system turning food into energy; the heart pumping blood around the body keeping the whole system going; and the lungs and the respiratory system that keeps our cells nourished with oxygen.
We tend to focus on threats and lack in our lives and in our world because of the inherent negativity bias in the brain. While there are many threats to our well-being in the world, there is much more in the universe that is seeking to keep us alive that which is seeking to kill us! Every moment we are receiving life-supporting and life-enhancing energy that we rarely recognise or pause to notice. Life and the world is fundamentally a generous and giving system of complex interconnections.
Instead of taking all this for granted, we are well advised instead to take it as granted and pause to reflect on all the good that we are being given in each moment. This will not only help us appreciate how lucky we actually are to be alive but it can dramatically improve our own health and happiness as well as acting as a powerful antidote to stress and feelings of lack.
Begin each day with the question: “What am I glad and grateful for today?” Do not immediately grasp at answers but meditate on the question. This is a form of mindful inquiry; ask the question and see what answers emerge from your mind and heart. The act of asking opens your mind and counter-acts the negativity bias by orientating our mind toward the good. The very asking is enough to transform your mind and mood.
After this initial reflection, we can then get more specific. We can begin to list those blessings, big and small, that grace our lives: our health; people in our lives; a sunny day; the house we live in; material comforts; our talents; opportunities; the future we are creating; our passions; nature; food; coffee – anything that adds benefit and value to our life in some way no matter how small.
However, it is not just the ‘good’ things that we can be grateful for. We can also be grateful for challenges, adversity, and difficulty. The task here is to view everything that arrives at our doorstep as a gift. Some gifts have pretty packaging, others less so. The pretty packaging, we can enjoy straight away, but others we may need to unwrap to unveil the beauty inside.
The key is to find some way of shifting our perspective such that we can see some benefit in experiences and events in our lives that are unwanted or ‘negative’. There is always some opportunity hidden in everything – it just depends on how you interpret and frame it. Perhaps a challenging or difficult situation is priming us for growth. Ask yourself when faced with challenge: What is the opportunity here? How can I use this situation to help me grow? Can this situation be used to my benefit in some way? Remember it is only through challenge that we grow strong and develop.
When we change the way we look at things, the things we look at change. Imagine that the universe is conspiring to help you, that you are being given the very thing you need to grow and flourish, that every experience has something important to teach you. Give thanks for your difficulties and watch them transform into blessings.