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Complementary Corner

Acknowledgement, gratitude, and joyfulness

Renee Lehman

(8/2016) Last month’s article covered the concept that in the Traditional Chinese Medicine’s (TCM) Five-Element framework, summer was associated with the natural element of Fire. Fire gives us light, hope, and warmth. Also associated with the element of Fire was the Heart, and the emotion of JOY!

In the article, it was described that the Chinese name for joy was Le. The character Le is drawn as a drum over a wooden music stand that has beautiful bells on each side. Le represents joyful music. The drum is a ceremonial drum that is used in various sacred rites and ceremonies. The sound of these large drums were used to invite all the ancestors to come and join in the ceremony. Everyone was influenced by their ancestors’ greatness and wisdom. It is this joy or Le that allows the Heart to connect to spirit (from Characters of Wisdom, by Debra Kaatz, The Petite Bergerie Press, Soudorgues, France, 2005). When this connection is lacking, then there is said to be great disharmony of the Heart. The Heart then becomes full of useless desires. When we are in harmony with all things around us (thus understanding our connection to all things), our Heart becomes full of joy. The Heart is healthiest when it is peaceful, full of unconditional love and joy!

So, how do we go about understanding our connection to all things? Acknowledgement and gratitude are just several ways to be in harmony with everything around us, and to create a peaceful and joyful Heart.

Acknowledgement can be defined as the action of expressing or displaying gratitude or appreciation for something. Gratitude can be defined as the feeling of appreciation or thanks (Merriam – Webster Dictionary). Acknowledgement of our connection to all things leads us to be grateful for all things visible and invisible.

First, in order to truly acknowledge and be grateful for everything around us we must be humble. It was the 12th century French philosopher, Bernard of Chartres who said, "We are like dwarves perched on the shoulders of giants, and thus we are able to see more and farther than the latter." To me this means that we are who we are because of everything that has come before us (including people and events). Everything? Yes, everything!

It is common to acknowledge and be grateful for our families, our teachers and mentors, our friends, and anyone else who’s helped us to get where we are in our lives. What is less common is the much broader acknowledgement of our community, nation, world, universe, and specifically, the invisible deeds done by others that have allowed us to be who we are, where we are, etc.

For example, let say that you just had successful knee surgery. It may occur to you to acknowledge and be grateful for the surgeon, the nurses, and the operating room/recovery room staff who was intimately involved with your surgery. However, how about all of the people in the surgeon’s/nurse’s/staff’s lives who have allowed them to be all that they are? How about all of the people behind the scenes of the hospital from those who decided to build the hospital, those who built the hospital, and those who run the hospital? How about the people involved in creating the materials that were used during your surgery, and all of the peopled involved in transporting these materials, let alone those individuals who were supporting all of the people who created and transported the surgical materials? I could go on and on! Can you now see how we are connected to all things visible and invisible? Can you see how it can be SO easy to feel grateful?

Nothing happens in a vacuum or in isolation. If you do believe that things happen in a vacuum, this allows for a false interpretation that your accomplishments were because of doing it on your own (on a small scale). Sure, there are people and things that we would rather not acknowledge, because of various reasons, but they did have an impact on us. They help us to move toward or away from something. They are a part of who we are.

Also, it may feel awkward to be grateful for "bad" things like violence, war, the loss of a friend, etc. You don’t have to be grateful for this event. You can be grateful for being given the opportunity to rise to the occasion, to learn something, and to practice awareness that all things are connected. To practice patience, love, and forgiveness – to put into practice things that create a peaceful heart. All things, positive and negative are part of what gives us fullness of life.

When we are grateful, then we can understand our connection to all things in the Universe. This leads to a joyful Heart and greater life satisfaction. Research actually has demonstrated this.

Dr. Robert Emmons (of the University of California, Davis) and Dr. Michael McCullough (of the University of Miami), have done much research on gratitude. In one study, they randomly assigned one group of study participants to keep a short weekly list of the things they were grateful for, while other groups listed hassles or neutral events. Ten weeks later, the first group enjoyed significantly greater life satisfaction than the others.

Another study done by Dr. Martin Seligman (of the University of Pennsylvania), tested the impact of various positive psychology interventions on 411 people, each compared with a control assignment of writing about early memories. When their week's assignment was to write and personally deliver a letter of gratitude to someone who had never been properly thanked for his or her kindness, participants immediately exhibited a huge increase in happiness scores.

So how can you cultivate gratitude? Write a thank-you note. Acknowledge someone, express your appreciation for the impact that they have made in your life.

Keep a gratitude journal. Write down your blessings, the gifts that you have received – all that you are grateful for.

Meditate and/or Pray. Focus on the present moment, your connection to everything in the Universe, or what you are grateful for. This nurtures your heart and allows the heart to be more peaceful. Even consider mentally thanking someone or including them in a prayer.

As David Steindl-Rast said in his 2013 TED Talk entitled, Want to be happy? Be grateful:

"A grateful world is a world of joyful people. Grateful people are joyful people, and joyful people -- the more and more joyful people there are, the more and more we'll have a joyful world."

Renee Lehman is a licensed acupuncturist and physical therapist with over 25 years of health care experience. Her office is located at 249B York Street in Gettysburg, PA. She can be reached at 717-752-5728.

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