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by Amy Z. Rowland

December is a month of magic. Even as winter deepens all around us, blasting cold wind and whirling snow over the landscape, we gather together to celebrate the holidays – the Winter Solstice, Hanukah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, and the coming new year. We sing carols. We attend parties. We give gifts. And sometimes, we overextend ourselves physically, mentally, and emotionally – and we become anxious, tired, and too stressed out for words.

How can we reclaim well-being and serenity? There are some obvious answers: rest, meditate, pray, practice yoga, do some spiritual service, strive to live in the present moment. All of these steps can help us to return to center, ground us in the here and now, and invite peace, contentment, and inspiration into our lives.

However, there is one more spiritual solution to the problem of feeling overwhelmed or overwrought that merits consideration: the practice of gratitude. Anyone, young or old, well or ill, rich or poor, satisfied or not, can practice gratitude. We all have the capacity to feel appreciation for our lives, however full and abundant or reduced in circumstances our lives seem.

The healthy young woman who has just learned that she is pregnant with her first child certainly has reasons for rejoicing, but so does the older woman, who will never be pregnant again, who has managed to create a wonderful dessert for a family dinner, despite the arthritis in her hands. The man newly hired as short order cook in a vegetarian restaurant has a right to be happy that his work is creative and satisfying, but so does the recently retired man who is discovering woodcarving as a hobby.

As children, we often take life’s many blessings for granted, but as we grow older and experience loss, we can learn to celebrate even life’s smallest blessings with truly heart-felt appreciation – and this practice brings with it a different kind of happiness than the natural exuberance of children. Instead, this awareness of gratitude enables us to feel contentment, empowers us to claim peace of mind, and opens our hearts to joy.

Gratitude is at once a natural response to life’s satisfactions and pleasures, and it is also a learned response, a spiritual choice. When we are faced with personal difficulties, challenged to help someone else in crisis, or called upon to tap our inner reserves of strength to cope with disaster, we can enter into gratitude as a sanctuary and emerge spiritually transformed and renewed.

In Japan, some Buddhist orders practice “Naikan,” a form of meditation that begins with quiet reflection on gratitude. We can as well, making the conscious recollection of the blessings in our lives a morning ritual that helps us prepare for the day. Or we might count our blessings in a daily gratitude journal, as recommended in the international best-seller, Simple Abundance, by Sarah Ban Breathnach. Or we might deliberately let ourselves recall the day’s best moments with appreciation as we drift off to sleep. These are all excellent ways to make a habit of the attitude of gratitude.

However, there is a more radical way to claim gratitude’s power to shift consciousness from negative to positive. Wherever you are, no matter how upset, overwhelmed, irritated, annoyed, or afraid you may feel, take five minutes to deliberately refocus your thoughts on the good in your life. As you do this, you will notice your breathing changes, becoming slower and deeper; your physical body begins to relax; your emotions begin to calm. Keep going. Keep recalling blessing after blessing, great and small. Allow yourself to enter into gratitude and claim the peace of the sanctuary within you.

Spend some time there – let five minutes extend to fifteen minutes or more. Feel your own energy become more positive as you filter out all the negative thoughts and feelings simply by your deliberate intention to focus on the good. As you revel in this inner light, your body, mind, and heart will rest. As you consciously remind yourself that there is beauty, love, friendship, kindness, and direction in your life, your sense of connection to your spiritual source will be renewed. When you choose to return to ordinary awareness, you will find that you feel stronger, calmer, and more confident – at peace in the world and ready to face whatever problems had seemed overwhelming before you made the choice to go into gratitude.

The practice of gratitude, on a daily basis or as an emergency intervention, is both transformative and empowering. When we recall the good in our lives and deliberately deepen our feelings of appreciation, we invite greater good into our lives. Gratitude is also good in itself, and the more gratitude we feel, the more conscious we are of being in a state of grace. This is a joyful awareness that may inspire us to do our best, to be light-hearted and cheerful, to be optimistic and courageous, or compassionate and kind – all because we feel so blessed ourselves.

During this holiday season, enjoy all the celebrations with family and friends, and when you feel a need to retreat for your own peace of mind, remember the power of gratitude. You need only make the choice to enter into gratitude, as you might a church, a synagogue, or a mosque, and to sit in the quiet recalling life’s blessings, to discover the power of gratitude to replenish and renew you.

Author Bio: Amy Z. Rowland, M.A., ABMP, is the author of Reiki for the Heart and Soul: the Reiki Principles as Spiritual Pathwork (ISBN #), which will be in bookstores in December 2008 and an Usui Reiki Master. This article is based on a chapter in that book on gratitude, one of the Reiki principles, familiar to many energy healers from the history of Reiki. Rowland wrote about Reiki energy healing in Wisdom earlier this year. For more information about her or her teaching schedule, please visit www.traditionalreiki.com .

Amy Z. Rowland

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