~Sue Staropoli, November 2020
I’d like to invite you to think of a time when you received a gift from someone – flowers, candy, a holiday or birthday gift, a simple present made by a child, or whatever gift or situation that comes to your mind at this time.
Now, think about that situation. What carries the deepest meaning for you? What are you most grateful for? Is it the gift itself, or the care and love of the giver?
I suggest that whenever you receive a material gift, especially from someone close to you, the real meaning is the feeling behind it, rather than the gift itself. The old expression, “it’s the thought that counts”, rings true. You can feel it when a gift is given from the heart rather than as an obligation. The true meaning of genuine gift-giving is about relationships, connections at the heart level.
When you receive a gift whole-heartedly, touched by the love of the giver, something shifts within you. The energy of love, the sense of whole-hearted connection, lifts your spirit. Even recalling such an experience can bring a smile to your face and joy to your heart. You can claim that gift any time in your memory, especially bringing forth its light when you’re feeling down.
When you think of giving a gift to someone, you want it to be a genuine expression of knowing and caring for that person, reflecting what would bring them joy or somehow convey personal meaning. For example, several of my own children know how little I need or want “things”, so for holiday gifts they make donations in my name to organizations they know I believe in and want to support. Such gifts show how well they know my values and what brings me delight. Sometimes it is the precious gift of spending time together - we all feel joy and profound connection in that kind of gift exchange.
As your mind and heart open around the nature of gifts, it becomes possible to contemplate and appreciate that everything is gift.
As Carl Sagan said, “If you want to make an apple pie from scratch, you’d first have to invent the universe.”
If our lives are surrounded by gifts, what keeps us from noticing and receiving all these moments of joy and beauty in the world?
Often, we are too busy. Theologian John Shea noted that “in our culture we are experience-rich and reflection-poor.” We are so busy filling our days with activity, that we fail to notice and savor the gifts that come our way. The moments that touch our hearts. The experiences that remind us that “this is what life is all about.” It’s interesting that the Chinese character for “busy” is “heart-killing.”
Then, there’s the common tendency to focus on problems, to fixate on what’s wrong and what you don’t have, rather than appreciating how much you actually do have and appreciating it as a gift.
How much do you look at the world through eyes of gratitude and how much through eyes of negativity and complaining? If there is one thing I have learned, it is that how I experience the world is really a fundamental matter of choice about where I focus my attention.
So I offer a simple yet powerful practice to build the capacity to notice the gifts all around and nurture an attitude of gratitude. Every morning when you wake up, express your intention to notice the ordinary (and sometimes extraordinary) goodness that comes to you throughout the day. Then, as the last thing before you go to bed, look back and recall some of those moments and count them as gifts. Perhaps you had an experience of great joy, spontaneous awe, or simple pleasure.
All the better to write these experiences down in a gratitude journal. You may find it meaningful to end your day focusing on the beauty and goodness you have received, rather than on the problems and hard times you may have faced. That positive energy is then what you bring into your sleep.
This practice is likely to ground you in whatever belief system gives meaning to your life. No matter what or whom you’re inclined to “thank” in those moments of gratitude, you acknowledge that life is full of gifts waiting to be received and appreciated.
Living in gratitude has a transforming effect, opening your heart to gifts of wonder and joy, and connecting you with the oneness of life.