Recognizing Unexpected Gifts on Our Path
My friend Dave Richo is a well-respected, even beloved, teacher and author of 15 books all pertaining in one way or another to resilience. Best known are How to Be an Adult in Relationships: Five Keys to Mindful Loving and The Five Things We Cannot Change: And the Happiness We Find by Embracing Them.
Dave’s latest book: The Power of Grace: Recognizing Unexpected Gifts on Our Path is a richly rewarding exploration, perfect in its pre-Thanksgiving timing, of the grace we have to be thankful for that moves, supports and shapes our lives.
From the introduction:
“Suddenly, the perfect solution just popped into my mind.”
“I can’t, for the life of me, figure out how it happened, but everything just fell into place.”
“While volunteering at hospice I have found myself sometimes saying something really right on, and I know I did not think of it on my own or know it before.”
“We have all said things like this and have wondered where the “special gift” came from. We have found out, again and again, that more seems to be going on in our life than can be accounted for by our own efforts or our own level of knowledge. We keep noticing that something more is afoot in the world than just ourselves and what we do. Our forward move on life’s path does not seem to be based solely on our accomplishments, merit, or our sense of worthiness. Something seems to helping us, an empowering force around us that yet seems to be within us.
“If we look back over the episodes and milestones of our lives, we notice that often something beneficial was happening that was not the result of our choice, effort, or expectation. We were somehow guided to or given an impetus to make a leap into something news. That special assistance, unearned, unforeseen, unplanned, often unnoticed, is a description of grace, the gift dimension of life.
“With or without religion, any of us can believe in – and most of us have noticed – a resource beyond our own will or intellect that helps us on our path. This is grace, a power that is beyond our control or ability to predict, something beyond mere chance, something that blesses us beyond our ability to bless ourselves. …Once we notice and acknowledge the workings of grace in our daily experience we begin to see it as an underlying element in all that happens and as an indispensable feature of human growth….There is more to life than we thought possible. We can only come upon it with an aptitude for immense surprise:
“More is present here than just you and me.
More happens that what we make happen.
More is afoot than what we see in front of us.”
Dave gives one possible definition of grace:,
“We can understand grace as an unearned benefit from a transcendent source meant for a psychological or spiritual purpose…”
and then spends the rest of the book unpacking occasional, ongoing, and continuous grace, richly drawing on Greek and Roman philosophy, Christian and Buddhist teachings, contemporary and mythological role models.
I like that Dave acknowledges that we have to contribute our own ingenuity and perseverance in order to navigate our lives, achieve our goals, and fulfill our destiny with grace. “Grace is not meant to do it all. Grace is a gift, but it recruits our effort so we can join in the enterprise. Grace gives us an opportunity; it is up to us to step up to the plate. This can mean acting with courage when the going gets rough. It can mean taking hold and holding on when the time has come to persevere. To know the difference is itself a grace….
“Our life is thus a combination of what comes to us unbidden and what we choose to do in response. So, for instance, it is the grace of synchronicity, a meaningful coincidence, that leads us to meet a suitable partner at just the right moment. This simply happens. Then it is up to us to form and nurture a meaningful relationship. We commit ourselves to continue the venture that grace began.”
Dave also explores experiences of grace in nature: I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found was really going in. – John Muir.
And then looks at grace both in our own wholeness and in our inadequacies, not as self-help but as self-acceptance, the alchemy of grace that transforms what seems least valuable into gold.
Dave offers a list of practices that help open us to grace, with an emphasis on openness.
“The practices on the list below are not ways of attaining grace. They are ways of placing ourselves in an optimal position for grace to unfold in us and come through to us. Our work is to open ourselves to everything and not to manufacture anything. We are actually all being helped by grace all the time, but we may not notice it. The more attention we pay to the moment, the more we will see grace at work. All we have to know is how to open to the unique greeting, happy or sad, in each moment.
* Playfulness: good-natured mirth, hospitality toward surprises, irreverence toward absolutes, optimism, spontaneity, not taking things or ourselves to seriously
* Attunement to what is emerging in ourselves, in our relationships, in the world around us
* Presence in the here and now with utter fidelity to its raw realness, all wishful thinking dismissed
* Aligning ourselves to reality just as it depicts itself, no matter how surprising or discomfiting
* Confidence in our own ineradicable goodness and creativity so that we keep trusting what is within us beyond our conditioning, projections, biases
* Inclusiveness toward both people and ideas
* Letting go of what we hold on to for safety and security; we recall Meister Eckhart: “Everything is meant to be let go of that the soul may stand in unhampered nothingness.”
* Revealing, to someone we trust, the facts and feelings about ourselves that we have kept secret because they do not match the persona we want to exhibit
* Greeting the events in our lives with the five A’s of Attention, Acceptance, Appreciation, Affection, and Allowing
* We ask for grace in prayer, affirmation, meditation, and practice
* We engage in some intentional silence each day: stillness with an attitude of listening, yet with no expectation of hearing anything. Thoughts flow through without attaching to them or forcibly expelling them. We do not turn to watch their path but let them pass by as we remain still. From silence becomes beholding, not simply seeing, but seeing into.”
Dave closes the book with a link between grace and gratitude.
The gifts or blessings of life are always there, but if we are not aware of them they don’t do much for us. That is where gratefulness comes in. Gratefulness makes us aware of the gift and makes us happy.
– Brother David Steindl-Rast
Happy Thanks-giving.[For those of you in the San Francisco Bay Area, Dave will be teaching on The Power of Grace at Spirit Rock Meditation Center Sunday, November 23, 2014. It will be a transformative day.]