Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Amazing Grace

The concept of grace has been surfacing regularly in my conversations during the past month, which prompted me to reflect on the term. My first thought about the word grace was a memory of the old hymnal from my days of exploring organized religion. I recall being able to belt out quite a soulful rendition of the hymn “Amazing Grace”. However, as I began to recall the exact words to this song, it occurred to me that they had the concept all wrong! The very first stanza states: “twas grace that taught my heart to fear”. Fear? Can grace coexist with fear? On the contrary, it seems that grace would be the absence of fear.

Most of us spend much of our lives reacting in fear. We lock our doors, in fear of intruders. We clutch our purses more tightly when passing a stranger on the street. Fear is ingrained in our thinking. Grace, however, is often not so intrinsic to our lifestyle. Grace exists where there is no fear. It is difficult to be graceful if we are fearing the worst. For example, a friend calls and suddenly cancels a long standing lunch date. Fear tells us to feel hurt, angry or bitter. Grace, on the other hand, puts us in our friend’s shoes and allows us to accept the outcome kindly and perhaps plan for a future lunch date. Grace doesn’t second guess. Grace doesn’t make assumptions. Graciousness, means accepting things as they are. Grace sees others as human and allows them to be who they are in the moment.

So how does one become more gracious? It certainly takes practice. It also takes mindfulness…being aware of your thoughts and reactions. When you are faced with a situation which requires grace, it is important to assess your emotions. Are you reacting from fear? If so, try rethinking the situation. Allow yourself to just “be” and view the situation as it unfolds, without judgment or blame. When we react from a place of fear, we are in a state of “doing” rather than a state of “being”. Grace requires replacing our state of fear with a state of love and acceptance.

Finding grace also requires reconnecting. When we reconnect to our spirit or “higher self” we are in a state of grace. We weren’t born with fear. We were born knowing that we would be loved and cared for. It is the events that occurred as our lives unfolded that replaced grace with fear. Through our experiences, we may have learned disappointment, distrust and lack. It is these things that, in essence, taught our “hearts to fear”. If we allow ourselves to reconnect to the innate knowledge that we are valuable, important beings then we begin to lose that fear. We begin to see the world from a more graceful perspective. Scarcity and fear are replaced with abundance and love.

Perhaps the most important step to finding grace is gratitude. It is difficult to be fearful when we are grateful. Grace lies within that absence of fear. Gratitude helps us recognize abundance. It also helps us recognize grace in those around us. Grace is something that is received as well as given. Opening ourselves up to receiving and appreciating grace, allows us to react in kind. Being thankful for even the “little things” in our lives changes our perspective and allows us to see grace in others as well as ourselves.

For me, the most difficult part of finding grace is extending it to myself. We will all at times “fall from grace” and find ourselves not reacting in the kindest, most gracious ways. It is in these moments that we should be gracious to ourselves. A state of grace, just like any state of “higher being”, isn’t always constant. So if you find yourself reacting with less than graciousness, relax, forgive yourself. Be grateful and be mindful. The next time you are faced with a similar situation, you might just surprise yourself.

The five steps to “finding grace":

1) Gratitude. Be grateful each and every day. I keep a gratitude journal in which I document at least ten things I am grateful for each day. It is easy to find grace when you are able to be thankful and see the wonder in life.
2) Seek grace in others. I often find that when I am running late, someone will allow me to move ahead in line or if I am rushed and frazzled a stranger will smile at me. It is in those small moments of grace that I am reminded of my own worth and that no matter what the perceived struggle, there is kindness and hope. The more you find grace in those around you, the more you will find grace within.
3) Be not afraid. Yes, I know that sounds ironically Biblical…but it is such a powerful statement. If we approach life and others in the absence of fear, we begin to see things differently. Grace is simple if you aren’t worried about whether someone is trying to hurt you or compete in some way. If we see others as fallibly human, we begin to view them with grace.
4) Be still. Often when we are at our least graceful, it is when we are trying to “do” something. We are in a hurry or we need to “fix” some sort of issue. Finding grace is as simple as finding the stop button. If we allow ourselves to take a break and just “be”, then once again our perception changes. With stillness comes grace.
5) Have faith. Whether it is faith in a higher power, in one’s own wisdom, or in the human spirit, just believing in a positive outcome allows us to react with grace. Knowing that things are not always as they appear on the surface gives us the ability to let go and find grace. Accepting the moment is an important key to finding grace.