My heart is full this morning as I look out at the frost covered rooftops of neighbors’ houses. The colors of yet another spectacular sunrise spread across the horizon and begin to reach up into the sky. Snow is coming to the high country tonight and into the weekend, but so far only some cold air has bled over the peaks and down to the altitude at which I live.

“Dear God,” I think, “Please watch over my friend Joanne and her family members today as they face the overwhelming difficulties before them and the reality that in the not-so-distant future a circle of ten siblings might become fewer. Please watch over my friend Denise and her heartbreak as she makes the decision to end the suffering of her beloved dog, Murphy, and the cancer cutting short her companion’s life.”

My sweet New Jersey friend, Lisa, posted pictures in Facebook of the devastation Hurricane Sandy has wrought upon the places she knows and loves. “See that roller coaster sticking up out of the ocean water?” she asks, “That’s only a few miles from where my family lives…”

It’s not that I don’t ordinarily carry around a feeling of compassion for the people I know and love, and through them for people everywhere and even the planet herself. It just becomes so much more real and personal when big things hit my friends and family, or me personally. I feel guilty sometimes because I can feel grateful for the blessings in my life at the same time I feel pain for the ones who are suffering.

Amazingly I find gratitude pulls me out of the pit of my own suffering if I but take the time to notice the small things. The color of the sky as I walk out of my house, or the way my dog clutches her paws to her chest like a human child as she sleeps on her blanket can bring a profound shift in who and where I am mentally. The suffering can melt away.

But I’ve come to realize that for me, gratitude requires a certain mental discipline. It requires a space of mental quiet that sometimes takes work to achieve. I can’t slip on my morning meditations, even if I only spend five minutes sitting in a chair watching my breath. I have to read two or three pages of my morning readings. Sometimes I write a few pages in my journal. The ritual itself can bring a quiet mind. When I am most distressed I have to work the hardest. That adage, “bring the body and the mind will follow,” has proven true more than once for me.

In the past few years I have made an even deeper and more helpful discovery. Praying for others is most beneficial of all to me. This is pretty remarkable to me since I didn’t have much of a relationship with a “Higher Power” for many years. A prayer practice deepened my own relationship with God.

I first learned this as a volunteer for Hospice. I became a volunteer at the suggestion of a friend who suffered with me after the death of my brother, and then the decay and ending of my marriage. I realized the best thing I could do for my Hospice patients was just to be with them in a place of acceptance. I would pray for them and thank them mentally for the opportunity to be of service. I don’t mean “prayer” as I think of it in religious terms. I just sit, and think, and sometimes I ask for specific things, like the requests at the beginning of this writing, but not always.

I reach inside and try to find that place of inner quiet. Then I think of the people I love, or the people I work with, or the billions of people everywhere I will never know or love but who might have things they need help with. I ask for help and comfort and peace; like that moment when you are falling asleep and you are wrapped in a warm blanket, in a soft bed, and your body and mind are quiet.

You can surrender everything then, to sleep, to God. There is no work to be done, or cures to be begged for, but there is that place of connection. Heart to heart, for a second or a minute or a lifetime. “Hello, fellow human being. I see you. I walk with you. You are not alone. You are loved. We are one.”

Thank you, Higher Power, for the opportunity to be part of something so much greater than I am, my little self, my fears and struggles. Thank you so much for the opportunity, (maybe, I certainly hope so, even if I don’t see exactly how it works), to help someone else.

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