Angeles Arrien is a teacher, author, and cultural anthropologist. Her purview bridges the disciplines of anthropology, psychology, and comparative religion while focusing on the universal beliefs shared by humanity. Her books include The Fourfold Way and The Second Half of Life. Arrien is one of the Living Spiritual Teachers profiled at Spirituality & Practice.
In this thematically rich and spiritually rewarding paperback, the author presents a tribute to the practice of gratitude and its related qualities — thankfulness, appreciation, compassion, generosity, and grace. Arrien brings to this study her abundant knowledge of multicultural wisdom — "the shared values and the inherent positive beliefs of humanity." She defines gratitude as "the recognition of the unearned increments in one's experience." It often arises spontaneously but it is also a choice we make.
There are four universal portals to this practice and virtue: 1.) Blessings, 2. Learnings, 3. Mercies, 4. Protections. Arrien is convinced that the ample benefits of gratitude can be found in health and well-being; work environments and communities; financial stability; and relationships. All of these foster character development and spiritual growth. The chief obstacles to gratitude are envy, greed, pride, and narcissism.
The book is organized around the 12 months of the year with varied tools, maps, and practices that can help us cultivate more gratitude in our lives. Here's a very concrete and doable way to make gratitude your path for a year. After a Prayer and the main text for each month are sections on Reflections, Practices, and Review and Integration. This detailed and very practical approach enables us to mine the meanings of gratitude, a practice recommended in all the world's religions and touted in perennial wisdom.
In her treatment of August, for example, Arrien emphasizes the theme of cultivating peace. She points to the lessons of St. Augustine, Quakers, and various individuals and organizations that are setting the stage for nonviolence and the avoidance of conflict and aggression. Over time, gratitude "strengthens our capacity to face conflict and reduce fear." Arrien suggests looking for conflict resolution learning programs in your community and to try, every day, to "do something that increases a sense of peace for you."
October challenges us to let go and like the trees to accept the changes which come. It is a time for harvests and celebrations as expressions of community life. We are preparing things for the next generations, and we are grateful for what our ancestors have given us. Arrien suggests practices of releasing attachment and control. She also challenges us to express thanks to the Creator for what we have harvested this month.
Other chapters probe the impact of gratitude through examinations of renewal, love and the heart, compassionate service, mercy and atonement, the gift of grace, equanimity, embracing nature's healing purpose, opening to guidance and wisdom, the power of genuine seeing, and the mystic heart.
We affirm Arrien's treatment of gratitude as a conscious way of living and a journey of transformation. She concludes with this wish for readers: that "we share with those around us the unlimited healing power of gratitude and its ability to bring out and sustain the good, true, and beautiful within all human beings."