One of my daily practices is to remember to look for the good no matter what is going on in my life. It helps a great deal that I’m married to someone who does his best to remind me of this on a regular basis. It also helps that I am a naturally optimistic person, in good health, with many other lifestyle advantages. But even then, I still need to be reminded on a regular basis to stay focused on what’s good, rather than its opposite. That’s why nearly all my writing here on SMART Living 365 serves to re-enforce the positive over and over. Still, what I seldom acknowledge is the huge helping of grace that makes it all possible.
I don’t use the word grace much in my writing. I’m aware that it is a trigger for some people like my husband Thom, to a former religious perspective that created pain and skepticism rather than comfort. I certainly never intended to use the word in the title of my first work of fiction, Finding Grace. But after the main character ended up naming herself, and as her journey unfolded, no other title came even close to fitting as well. That’s how grace often works. When we follow the trail of what seems to be good, we end up with the grace of unexpected gifts.
How do I define grace? While the usual definition attaches all sorts of religious interpretations to the word, it is equally possible to accept it as a commonplace way of describing a serendipitous stream of unexpected good. In a similar way that the word graceful is used to define elegance, refinement, and flow, grace-full can be used to describe an unhindered movement toward the unexpected and unearned rewards of a happy and fulfilled life.
Without giving much away, the “Grace” in my novel is a woman who, while exploring her options and searching for happiness, eventually finds the treasure within herself. That goal is one that is worthy for us all. But like I repeatedly write, it takes a bit more than saying you agree with me to make it a habit. It takes an ongoing practice.
So what do I recommend? Five things that I think are necessary to be open to grace all 365 days of a year are:
1) Train your mind. A couple of weeks ago I explained how the Buddha arrived at the conclusion that all life is suffering. The good news was that he never expected us to stay there. Instead, he clearly taught that the experience of suffering comes to humans because of their erroneous thinking. Shakespeare agreed, saying, “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”
One of the best ways to “train your mind” is to meditate. Just the act of quieting our mind and training our focus on our breath teaches us that we are so much more than our thinking. A teacher I used to read and study years ago named Stuart Wilde suggested that every single day you pick a time and then go out and move large rocks across the yard. Move them all to the right side of the yard one day. Move them back to the left side the next. Why? For no other reason to get your ego under control and show it that you are consciously choosing to do something to “train your mind.”
Another way to explain this is to discipline your thinking and create habits that support you rather than letting your monkey mind run the show. There are dozens of ways to do this, but again, first you have to want to, and then discipline is necessary. Fortunately, like Arianna Huffington says, “We all have within us the ability to move from struggle to grace.”
2) Let go of the idea of original sin and embrace the concept of original blessing. Another teacher I studied in the past was a priest named Matthew Fox. Central to Fox’s teaching is an idea called Creation Spirituality where he suggests “The Universe is fundamentally a blessing.” Citing what he calls an ancient wisdom tradition that embraces both the latest in scientific understandings, along with mystical teachings from around the world, Fox celebrates the good. While traditional religions tend to see “sin” as the norm, and goodness the exception, Fox argues for the message that goodness and continuous grace are the norms, and “fallenness” the exception.
Fox doesn’t deny that evil exists, or that sin is evident in the world. Instead, he continually puts the focus on the Light, Love and Creative passion that he attributes to God. Instead of letting the dark side of humans (or God) seek to control us or beat us into submission, he suggests we celebrate and focus on the good, beauty and love that helped to create everything that exists.
Whether we choose to see the world according to Fox’s definition or a more traditional religious perspective, it boils down to Albert Einstein’s question: “Do you believe you live in a friendly universe or not?” A friendly universe overflows with unexpected goodness or grace. Our thinking decides how we see it and the choice is ours to make.
3) Stay flexible and open to change and possibility. I’ll admit that the longer I’m on the planet the more tempting it is to think I know things. Like you, I have quite a bit of experience in certain areas, I’ve read a ton of books and studied several areas of interest throughout my life. But just remember how boring it is to be around anyone who thinks they know everything. A mind that thinks it knows everything has no room in it for grace.
Learning, growing and staying open to change is actually where many of us touch our creativity and imagination. Those attributes go hand-in-hand with a mindset that believes that we all are creative beings with something unique and wonderful to offer the world. As we allow our imagination to lead us in new and unexpected ways, we often stumble upon more grace that we ever could have planned.
But remember, grace isn’t like winning the lottery. We can still be challenged and disappointed. There are no guarantees we will become rich, famous or even recognized for what we’ve done. Instead, the grace we witness enables us to see the good in the world exactly as it is, and where we fit into the whole. As Eckhart Tolle says, “To offer no resistance to life is to be in a state of grace, ease and lightness.”
4) Spend time in nature or a places of incredible beauty. A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the experience of awe or wonder and how important it is to our psyche. There’s a good possibility the reason it is such a necessary element to our happiness is that it leads to grace. It is almost impossible to be in a place of incredible beauty without feeling something deep within that extends far beyond the routine of every day.
Ever seen a photo of some insect or creature found deep in a rain forest or miles below the ocean surface? Just looking at the intricate design, the vivid colors or the unique features is enough to convince one that the universe is not only inherently creative, but fanciful! Grace is like that. It can show up in the oddest places and reveal a surprising and surreal result. And nowhere is that more evident that in nature. Regardless of where we see it, if we look we are reminded, as Abraham Herschel said, “Just to be is a blessing. Just to live is holy.”
5) Stay grateful every day no matter what. The more we acknowledge the beauty and perfection around us, in even the most challenging circumstances, the more we experience grace. But make no mistake, this isn’t a matter of pretending or lying to ourselves that trouble doesn’t occur. Instead, it is zooming back to look at the big picture and thankfully seeing the nature of all life as something amazing to behold and cherish. As a teacher named Ramakrishna said, “The winds of grace are always blowing, but you have to raise the sail. “
When I wrote my novel Finding Grace over ten years ago, it was with these five elements in mind. While it took my character Grace quite a few years, she eventually finds the grace she was seeking as close as to her as her own breath. I believe we all hold the same potential. And while it might not always be easy or clear, it is SMART to remember to look for goodness each and every day. When we do, we’ll see that grace has always been there waiting patiently for us to notice.