*Talk given at Unitarian Universalist Church, Pittsfield, MA 11/21/2010

Did you realize that November is National American Indian Heritage Month? It’s also National Novel writing month, National Diabetes awareness month, National adoption month, National Alzheimer’s disease awareness month, AND OF COURSE-
National peanut butter lover’s month.

And of course it’s also the time we celebrate THANKSGIVING.
How are you doing this morning? Are you feeling thankful?

Yesterday morning I stopped at Lenox Coffee. I got their Vienna Roast, and of course said “thank you” to the young woman as she handed me my cup.

As I was walking to my car I took a sip – and man was it good!! And I found myself just having to say “Thank you” out loud.

I was grateful to have that hot cup of coffee and to live in a town that has a shop that brews such great stuff.

So, thanks to a great cup of coffee I was in touch with a sense of gratitude

There has been all kinds of research that confirms that developing an “attitude of gratitude” helps us in all kinds of ways: better health, less stress, increased happiness; even a longer life.

By now most of us have heard all about how gratitude is good for you, and I’m not telling you anything new.

But knowing it, do you make a point to do it?
Or is it like knowing exercise or broccoli is good for you?

What would it be like if you made it a point to notice all the things and all the gifts that have been given to you?

Sure, some of these things you can take credit for: The fact that you were smart enough to get that degree, and of course it was through all that hard work, and applying yourself. And thank Goodness you had the ability and the brains to be able to learn all THOSE THINGS!!!

But wait a second! Where did that particular brain come from? How about that talent, and that ability, and that predisposition…?

You get the point. We certainly play our part, but if we’re honest with ourselves we see that much of what we have is, in fact, a gift.

And sometimes this includes things that don’t seem to be gifts at all.

I cannot tell you how often I have heard from a patient that their illness although something they’d never have chosen-and wish they didn’t have- has also been a gift for the things it’s revealed
to them.

The actor Michael J. Fox comes to mind. In his book “Lucky Guy” he says that his diagnosis of Parkinson’s at the young age of 30 has actually been a gift-it led him to a very different way of living and seeing life-one much richer than his former life, and according to him, the kind of life that he is doubtful would have ever come about without the awful diagnosis.

None of us knows what the future may hold for us: What struggles or challenges we may face. But the odds are we each will face our own unique version.
I don’t think any of us gets out of here unscathed.
Maybe we’re not supposed to.

One of my favorite quotes comes from Leonard Cohen: “There is a crack in everything…that’s how the light gets in.”

In each of our lives there are cracks.

Can we use these cracks to help us find the light?

Gratitude will help.

Is there anyone here who hasn’t had something awful happen to them in their life?

Is there anyone here who hasn’t had something wonderful happen in their life?

Who (or What) do we thank?

When I walked out of Lenox Coffee yesterday, was I speaking to myself when I said “Thank you”?
No, I was thanking God. I use this term, this “name”, because it is comfortable for me. I’ve made peace with it. The baggage I used to carry has been unpacked.
I don’t blame God for what has been done in God’s name by people.

For me the term “God” is a simple way for me to acknowledge a Power Greater Than myself: What many people refer to as The Great Spirit, First Cause, Divine Source, Father-Mother,-God, Allah, Krishna, Shiva. These are all names people have come up with for
That which is beyond all names.

For me saying “Thank you God” is my way of thanking this LIFE that is LIVING THROUGH ME, AS ME.

This “IS-Ness” that is ALL THIS.
What IT IS I cannot say-
THAT IT IS I cannot deny, because everywhere I turn IT IS!
And for that I am extremely thankful.

In Taoism it is said that the Tao that can be spoken is not the true Tao. Exactly.
“IT” is beyond words.
That’s why we have music and poetry and art.

Names aren’t important –unless of course they are to you, and if so, choose the One you feel comfortable with.
But the point here is that you are going BEYOND yourself-getting out of your limited self-and acknowledging that there is SOMETHING LARGER & GREATER, and that you’re willing to acknowledge it and say Thank you.

So here are a few suggestions to help you on your way to a practice of “Thanks-living”:
Begin each day by acknowledging the life that is
living through you as you, and before you do anything else say a silent (or out loud) “Thank you”-do it as soon as you open your eyes, before you even get out of bed.

Then all through the day try to notice the little things that give you a lift (clouds, sunset, someone smiling), and when you spot one, simply say “Thank you”-silently or out loud-whatever feels appropriate.

At the end of each day make a point to list 5 things you’re thankful for. Let the last words you say in your mind before surrendering to sleep be “Thank you for this day”.
Start a gratitude journal.
If things aren’t good in your life, try saying thanks that they’re not worse!

As the Buddha said:
Let us rise up and be thankful, for if we didn't learn a lot today, at least we learned a little, and if we didn't learn a little, at least we didn't get sick, and if we got sick, at least we didn't die; so, let us all be thankful.

Begin the practice of “Thanks-living” today.
Cultivate an attitude of gratitude. Begin where you are, because of course there is no other place to begin!!

In order for something to become a habit it only takes 30 days of consistently doing it. So take 30 days, beginning today, and make a point each of these days to say thank you as often as possible.

Make it a point to let other people know you appreciate them. Tell them at every opportunity.

Take some time and reflect back on your life and recall those people who have been kind or helped you in some way. Then sit down and write a brief thank you note. It doesn’t matter if they’re alive or dead, (other than whether you mail it or not!).

Thank this Power Greater than Yourself for all that comes to you unbidden, like air and sun and rain and flowers and animals and stars. And keep looking because if you do you will see more things to add to the list.

Here’s my promise: If you’re willing to try this for 30 days I can guarantee you 2 things:
#1 You will not always feel grateful or thankful, and will at times feel the exact opposite and at times you will resist like hell doing this!
#2 If you push past #1 and do this in spite of those feelings, Your life will become richer, fuller, happier, And other people will look forward to being around you.

Continuing to cultivate this practice
past these 30 days will bring you even greater awareness of things to be thankful for. And you’ll come to know that whatever life may present you with, you will not only be able to face it, you will ultimately transcend it. And you will be better for it.

Let me end with the words of the minister John Henry Jowett
"Life without thankfulness is devoid of love and passion. Hope without thankfulness is lacking in fine perception. Faith without thankfulness lacks strength and fortitude. Every virtue divorced from thankfulness is maimed and limps along the spiritual road."
He also said: "Gratitude is a vaccine, an antitoxin, and an antiseptic"

I wish you all much to be grateful for. Thank you.