Thursday, November 20, 2008

Stimulating a Grateful Heart


Yesterday, one of our ministerial students shared something profound he heard at a recent spiritual gathering. It is one of those wisdoms we should learn when we are very young and then spend our lives putting it into practice. The sentiment went like this—you should never leave a conversation with someone thinking badly about someone else.

Simple and profound, isn't it? There is a Cherokee tenet of a similar flavor that reminds us to "Speak only about the good of others." I know from experience that when this tenet is put into practice within a community, the gifts each individual brings to the whole become seen, reinforced and honored. Imagine living in a community where more attention is given to your strengths than is given to your perceived flaws. Imagine how much more gratitude wells up from within you when you are focusing on each other's gifts and how you are helping each other grow spiritually.

At SpiritQuest, an annual gathering for people wanting to experience Native ceremonies, we put this tenet into practice for a week. Because many of us in camp are holding space for people who are questing, we make a commitment to maintain peace and harmony with each other in camp. By maintaining sacred harmony, we are creating a safe energetic space in which our questers can dive deeply into the Mystery.

Because we are human, issues do arise—our own as well as issues our questers may be resolving in their journeys into the sacred, and then reflected through us within the camp. We know that as we bring those issues into resolution as a community, we are creating the sacred container for our questers' healing. As a result, we endeavor with great dedication to recognize and resolve the issues that come up to be healed.

More than once, I have seen someone make their way to the sacred fire to quietly pray and meditate with the emotions stirring within them. Many times, I have seen two people take a walk together to share from their hearts what they are experiencing, and listen with their hearts until together they find peace. Sometimes, an individual needs a little help sorting through their experiences and emotions, so they find someone they trust to listen and offer counsel.

When we are having a particularly difficult time with someone, we follow this general guideline. Let's say I am frustrated with someone else. It is understood I many need to speak to a third party individual about what I am experiencing—not to make the person wrong or to try to change them. Rather, I speak about my frustration in order to understand the lesson my frustration is teaching me. I seek to understand what perceptions or actions I need to engage for myself, so that I can live in harmony with the one who is frustrating me.

The person, who is listening to me sort through my frustration and dilemma, is in effect, being asked to remain neutral and to help me find my way. It would be inappropriate for either of us to leave the conversation with ill thoughts about the person I am frustrated with, because the issue is not about them. This issue is about how I am being triggered. In integrity, I address how I am being triggered and what I need to do about it.

The year that we adopted this approach, the gossip and backstabbing that had previously been taking place in the background during our ceremonial week disappeared. With this approach, we do not gloss over problems, nor do we turn them into dramas with perceived enemies. We use our problems as means for personal transformation, and in doing so create a sanctuary of sacred space. In that sacred space, we can become grateful for the challenges (and the individuals presenting them) so that we can transcend.

Imagine with me, will you, a world where we take responsibility for ourselves in such a way? Imagine what it would be like to create a world where each of us received less criticism and more acknowledgment for our talents and contributions to our community. Imagine living in a world where you never leave a conversation with someone thinking badly about someone else. And what would the world be like if we went one step further, making sure that at the end of our conversations, someone felt better about themselves because they had been acknowledged for who they are, the challenges they are overcoming, and the gifts they bring to the world?

During this Thanksgiving holiday, I will be making sure I take ownership for what I am feeling without making someone else wrong. I will be thanking the very people who intentionally or unintentionally are challenging me to grow. I will also be focusing my attention on the talents and gifts people bring into my life and thanking them for being who they are, meeting their challenges, and being a part of my life. I know the kind of community this practice creates, so I gladly make this commitment to focus my attention this Thanksgiving week in stimulating my grateful heart. Will you join me?

For a prayer to stimulate the awakening of your grateful heart, I recommend the morning prayer, if you have not read it yet at: http://newdreamfoundation.com/forums/index.php/board,38.0.html