The Power of Gratitude to Change Our Livessam
by Joyce and Barry Vissell
Barry and I have just returned from Assisi, Italy, where we led our second week long retreat with musician and friend, Charley Thweatt. Similar to last year, the retreat in Assisi was life-changing for both of us. Assisi, the home of St. Francis and St. Clare, is a very inspiring place and lends itself to inner reflection and a desire to create a more fulfilling life.
After each workshop session in the morning we walked to various sacred places as a group, singing together when we could. In each holy place, I prayed for guidance on how to deepen my spiritual life. The answer came when we visited San Damiano, the convent of St. Clare, where she lived her entire life in prayer, contemplation, and healing work. The answer was a reminder to live my life more fully in gratitude. The simple act of gratitude in our daily lives has the power to transform any situation, relationship or personal challenge.
Last year, Barry and I were having a difficult time financially. The economic situation of our country suddenly affected us in a big way. We wondered if we could hold onto our home and continue to pay college payments for our son. At the same time all three of our dogs and our elderly cat had major veterinary expenses, our car broke down and needed a lot of repairs, and Barry found out that he needed a very expensive dental procedure. It was not a happy time for us.
During the biggest crisis, we sat on our couch one Sunday morning and pledged to not do anything else until we had spoken everything for which we were grateful. We stayed there for over an hour. Once we started the gratitude process, we could hardly stop. At the end of that time, we saw and felt how truly abundant we really were. True, the money was not coming in, but we were rich in other ways that were important to us. We held onto this feeling of abundance, even when our financial situation worsened. The gratitude saw us through a very difficult time and eventually things turned around for us financially as well.
A practice we do as a couple every day is to notice and thank each other. Sometimes it is in the area of simple things like doing the wash or computer work. And then there is also the deeper gratitude and appreciation of being able to be each other’s partner. We have a friend whose husband was injured when his private plane crashed thirteen years ago. He suffered brain damage among other injuries. He is confined to a wheel chair, cannot talk, and communicates very little through a special device. His wife cares for him on a daily basis. She could understandably feel like a victim of circumstances or even want to leave the relationship for a more exciting life. Instead she has transformed the situation through gratitude. She is grateful that he is still alive and grateful for each tiny communication that comes from him. She is grateful they can continue their love in a silent way communicated through eye contact. Her sense of gratitude has transformed the tragedy into a sacred place of love. We recommend the practice of gratitude to all couples who come to see us in counseling or in our workshops. Those that have taken up this practice notice a beautiful change in their relationship.
We have also used gratitude in raising our three children. Throughout their childhoods we have thanked them for the amazing gifts they have given us. I never wanted them to feel a sense of guilt for all we have given them through our time and money, which is sizeable if you consider private school and college costs. But I wanted them to know that the gifts they have given us just by being our children have transformed our lives. We have a male friend whose mother is never happy with the amount of times he calls her. When he calls his mother she typically remarks, “After all I have done for you, the least you could do is to call me more often.” Imagine if this man called his mom and instead she said something like, “I am so happy to hear your voice. I feel so blessed to have had the privilege to be your mother, for you have brought me so much joy.” He would probably call her every day. It is never too late to thank your child for the wonderful gift of their presence in your life.
Barry and I have a very old hot tub that we go in every night before going to sleep. Lately we have been using that time together to discuss business concerns. In my time in Assisi I received the message to bring just one more part of my life into gratitude and I would be making a major step in my spiritual and emotional well being. I chose that hot tub time. Those 15-30 minutes in the hot tub are no longer used as a business meeting. Now we are spending the time in gratitude, reflecting on all the gifts of the day, so that when we fall asleep we will sleep with this feeling of gratitude. It is a simple practice and doesn’t require any more time, yet I truly believe it is blessing us.
In what way can you add this quality of gratitude on a daily basis? Is there something you do every day that could be turned into a gratitude time? St Francis always greeted people with the phrase, “Pace e Bene,” which means peace and goodwill. I truly believe that gratitude has the power to bring about Pace e Bene within our hearts.
Joyce & Barry Vissell, a nurse/therapist and psychiatrist couple since 1964, are counselors near Santa Cruz, CA, who are widely regarded as among the world’s top experts on conscious relationship and personal growth. They are the authors of The Shared Heart, Models of Love, Risk To Be Healed, The Heart’s Wisdom, Meant To Be, and just released, A Mother’s Final Gift: How One Woman’s Courageous Dying Transformed Her Family.
Call Toll-Free 1-800-766-0629 (locally 831-684-2299) or write to the Shared Heart Foundation, P.O. Box 2140, Aptos, CA 95001, for free newsletter from Barry and Joyce, further information on counseling sessions by phone or in person, their books, recordings or their schedule of talks and workshops. Visit their web site at SharedHeart.org for their free monthly e-heartletter, their updated schedule, and inspiring past articles on many topics about relationship and living from the heart.