The Practice of Gratitude

Eileen Flanagan in her book, The Wisdom to Know the Difference speaks about changing one’s habits. She tells the story of Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi who had an experience of getting fired from his first congregational job. “For years”, he said, “my mind flashed red with anger whenever I thought about this act of human unjustice.” But over time he realized that the opportunities that came to him as a result would have passed him by. “If my so-called malefactor had not fired me, I would probably still be in my first pulpit.” Flanagan said that she once heard Shachter-Shalomi share that he has a thanksgiving party in his mind each year in which “he imagines all those people whom he could hold a grudge against and thanks them for whatever gift their actions brought. This action helps him to feel peace.”

Those in recovery programs are often told that if they have a resentment against someone, they should pray for that person. I have tried to do this and have found that it is indeed the shortest route to forgiveness. It also brings one into a place of openness where one can see the offending situation in a different light – stepping into the other person’s shoes. This may be guesswork as we try to understand where they were coming from, but when we do this, it makes forgiveness easier, nurtures humility in us, and clears away the blocks that stand in the way of our seeing the goodness in the other person. This process can be difficult and long, but in my experience, the outcome is compassion and love.