In this episode, Erin and Chelsea explore navigating the unexpected (and sometimes unwelcome) moments of life. These moments can crack open unexpected spiritual practices that teach us the desires, needs, and benefits of intentional practices. Listen as Erin shares how deep grief led her to the practice of gratitude. This shift in perspective after overcoming the loss of a child led her to an unexpected moment of desire, the desire to pursue gratitude as a spiritual practice.
Chelsea Whipple 0:17
You are listening to the contemplative motherhood podcast, my name is Chelsea, I'm a teacher, practitioner, spiritual director, and pilgrim.
Erin Thomas 0:25
And I'm Erin, a creative homeschool educator, counselor, and spiritual seeker, listen in as we dive deeper into the contemplative lifestyle, through hearing about each of our lives.
Chelsea Whipple 0:38
You'll hear our triumphs, failures, practices, and mistakes as we journey together. You might even hear a kid or two in the background.
Erin Thomas 0:47
So grab some coffee, tea, curl up and take off your shoes. You are welcome here. Now let's get started.
Chelsea Whipple 0:54
Welcome to this episode of The contemplative motherhood podcast, I'm Chelsea, and I'm here with Miss Erin, and you know we both are feeling a sense of gratitude that you are here with us listening right now. And if you've noticed the title for this episode. Yes, that was a purposeful intention just for you. So today, Erin is going to lead us on how sometimes unexpected moments, bring us unexpected spiritual practices that can draw us deeper into ourselves. And for Erin, this came in the form of practicing gratitude. So Miss Erin, can you take us deeper into your practice of gratitude and how it came about for you.
Erin Thomas 1:39
Yeah, I can, so you know this is kind of an interesting and heavy subject matter. We like to go big or go home. So, um, I want to share, first of all, a little bit about gratitude as a spiritual practice, is a lot like many of the other practices that we've discussed and it's not something that has really enveloped my everyday life from the very beginning, this was something that has sort of developed over time so I think it's important to mention that. I think when we discuss the contemplative life or contemplative life, our interchangeable words. I think one of the things is that I often feel is that we refer to it a lifestyle for the primary reason that it infiltrates the way we look at our life in multiple ways.
So that's where, where we sort of start with this. And in a way, it changes the way that we see the world. As a result, and I know that sounds like a huge grandiose idea. But it is my personal belief that we really can start with small practices, and see, major, major fruit from beginning these in the first place. So anyway, I think it's the concept of mindset applies to gratitude as well as what I'm trying to say so, over time, you may find that this is something you want to implement in your daily practice, and your vision will change as a result of it, you will see things differently in the world and then there are other practices that may not have the same result for you and that's okay. So, I think it's always good to sort of talk about that in the practical sense, so. But the vision changes one of the most important things I want to share is that so often we begin these practices and how often have we thought like, Oh, this looks really silly. This can't possibly be very good.
Chelsea Whipple 3:59
right, or am I doing it right?
Erin Thomas 4:02
right. I'm doing it right or following the script, I'm like, I have to follow the guideline, if I'm not following the guidelines, it's not gonna work.
Chelsea Whipple 4:10
Erin Thomas 4:11
It's not a prescription, yes.
But it does change the way in which we view everything around us, and that is what is part of the transformation process and the contemplative life. So, just wanted to plant that seed right in there.
Chelsea Whipple 4:28
Yeah, and I appreciate you know, this change of vision, because I've never thought about that before that the change of vision, as our practice start to change how we see and interact in the world. And notice the circumstances that can envelop us. Now can you talk about how you notice the need for gratitude in your life?
Erin Thomas 4:53
Yeah, so that's a really interesting story and I'll tell you this is probably one of the most personal stories I've told on the podcast so far so
Chelsea Whipple 5:02
Erin Thomas 5:03
Right?, I want to give you a little bit of background so if I'm looking down it's because I'm looking at my notes, but, um, just to give you a bit of background on how this gratitude practice came about for me. Um, we've talked about before in the podcast I know many of us have felt especially in the last year that there have been extremely difficult times, whether it was life altering times, whether it was time periods in which there were just significant life events that shifted the way that we did things on an everyday basis, And that really was true for me as well so I know a lot of us can kind of resonate with that. But, you know, in addition to crisis and trauma and all of those fun words that we use during the pandemic time. It's there, often I think that we find that a crisis or trauma changes our priorities. It changes our life events. It changes the way we view our lives, and the way we view our relationships. And so whether or not we want to do an inventory, sometimes we're sort of thrust into that inventory of like this has happened.
Now, where do we go from here, right.
Chelsea Whipple 6:31
Erin Thomas 6:32
Ironically enough, the gratitude practice came to me during that time when I had gone through a significant period of grief and to share an honest transparency, I, I lost a child by stillbirth, and I was in a place of grief that I did not even know really existed, you know, it's one of those things that you feel like you're watching yourself on TV. And you can't imagine this actually happening in your life right we read about these things, and there I was with this film reel in front of me, but noticing that it was actually my life. And so I know that those of us who have experienced that sort of significant loss that deep grief, whether it's, you know, we've lost a person, or we've been through a traumatic event, or major lifestyle change; maybe we've gotten a divorce, or our community has left us, or we've lost our health, for you know so many people in the last year that's been true. We know that grief in and of itself has a way of rearranging our priorities.
And what really becomes our focal point as a result, and even beyond the life changing event of losing a child. There's layers upon layers of prior loss, that, that often resurface right. Isn't that true, it's so often when we have a, an event that happens that's a trauma, or a crisis, it brings up so much, and I'm a big fan of therapy. I say that because I think it's important to notice that when these specific events occur. We are often placed in this sort of inventory of, where was I, where am I now. And how did I get here, you know, I also on top of that had been parenting is like, you know you have this difficult parenting seasons right maybe that you have. And the newborn season, maybe you have a colicky Baby, baby, that's been in the nicu, baby that's maybe you've gone through an adoption are your fostering or something like that I was in a difficult season of parenting. I was parenting a medically complex child. On top of this, we moved away from a faith community that we had been with for years, and I lost several members of my family just back to back to back. And so, again it was that feeling of, Is this real life, you know. And so while I don't think it's super important to go into the extensive detail of processing grief because we all know that that's a journey and not a destination. But one of the things that happened as a result is that you find that things that were important to you before, just not for you now. And that, that will change your life.
I want to say, your vision changes, in essence, quite simply, in the way that you view certain lifestyle elements, Whether it's material, or whether it's relationships. You just do a complete turnover in the sense of what you valued before may not be what you value now. And I want to pause here for a moment and share with you that I think it's important to know that when you sort of find ourselves in the situations that it's very easy to shut down, right, it's very easy to be like I just I can't do this like I don't want to do this, I don't want to do the work.
Chelsea Whipple 10:40
Erin Thomas 10:40
I don't want to go forward. But when we find ourselves in these situations. Oftentimes, I have found that that is exactly what I need to implement a spiritual practice, even if it's for the routing, and the anchoring of what that brings to the everyday life, you know, was not the thing.
Chelsea Whipple 11:01
Yeah, and just acknowledging like I, I can't do this, I, I need a break, you know, even saying those words and like you know just being present to that moment.
Erin Thomas 11:13
Yeah, that's even hard for us to say right because we are a consumerism society and we are focused on our product and our efficiency, and sometimes it's okay to say, I cannot produce at this. Yeah, and that's, I think a lot of us have found ourselves in that place. So I can share that the practice of gratitude obviously found me in a sense, in an incredibly sad season of my life. I mean how much more contradictory. Does that sound right.
Chelsea Whipple 11:51
Erin Thomas 11:52
The practice of gratitude in the midst of grief. But this my friends this sort of inventory that we talk about. This is the checkpoint of our souls and the inventory of our very being, is what's so important. I think contemplation, coupled with inner work of the soul, and that's simply scary. That's sometimes really scary, and sometimes very life altering. So, take it slow. If you need to take it slow.
So Chelsea I want to I want to pause here and I want to allow you to interject, because I know you've come across this too. Have you ever found that there are times of need that you know you need to implement a spiritual practice, but it seems the opposite, according to what's actually happening in your life. Right, yeah,
Chelsea Whipple 12:49
yeah I mean, I feel like every kind of life altering situation, you know it's that, you know, finding the meaning, and suffering or grief, which to me doesn't happen for a long time. And this isn't the example I'm going to use but like for example, my dad passed away, almost two and a half years ago, and I feel like that's still processing as to what has kind of come out of that, you know, I still feel very much in the midst of that, and not even able to grasp and define and process, you know, in order to kind of talk about what meaning came out of it,
but what I do want to a time that I have now found experience, and you know in most of the time. In those situations, you know, but not all of them, it's kind of about what you referred to earlier. You know I like to use the word desire, you know, in a desire kind of opens up in your life when you're most likely to notice. And when does that noticing come about, which is, you know what you said, a loss, a change in priority, you know something significant has shifted and left you bare, you know, and in this bareness, you know I were, I would refer it to as vulnerability. But you are able to notice a desire, and maybe not name it, but you notice it, you know, it can take some time to realize this desire as in a new practice like gratitude, but it's present there. And so after kind of the first noticing. You can't seem to escape that desire. So just one quick example for me. You know I had gotten let go from a job. And this is the first time I've ever been let go, and I was seven months pregnant. And just the stress and embarrassment of the circumstance, pushed me into labor nine weeks early. So it was literally two days after I was let go I went into labor. So, you know in compounded stress after that, you know, not only losing a job, I mean honestly, I lost my maternity leave pay. And now I have a nine week preemie, who was in the nicu for over five weeks, and it was my second child so still balancing first child, second child in the hospital, and recovering, you know from the birth and all of that so this was a very vulnerable time in my life. And I felt that bareness, you know, and that bareness, in turn, After a while, kind of led to this unexpected desire. And it was slowly processing, you know, to really find a deeper connection within this world, to feel at peace, and kind of to feel as one, you know, and for me, it led to the practice of meditation I just happened to stumble upon a book that talked about centering prayer. And so slowly over time. You know I wasn't working, I think I took about a year off from the workforce, and used this time for this practice, you know, and slowly found the desire to really live into my gifts. So to really find what I offered the world. And in return, what the world could offer me in terms of joy and fulfillment. So, you know, listening and noticing that small crack of opening to the faintest desire, you know that led me to a practice, and then really to where I am right now, and that is speaking with you all. You know in this, I want to say, this sounds as if this practice of meditation was an intense shift, but at the time, it was just that small crack of desire, and finding a practice that did not quench the desire, but really shift that desire into a greater more for me. You know, so my practice in itself is kind of a small act that brings a shift in perspective, you know, a shift in vision, you know So Erin, you know what, what do we do, really, when we notice this desire and times of fairness or in times of vulnerability.
Erin Thomas 17:23
you know I love this, you know I love the words. I'm just stuck on bareness and vulnerability. Like I completely think tuned out now for a little bit. Just so significant to me that we bring that up. Ultimately, as human beings, those are two of the most difficult things that we could possibly ever imagine, handling, right? And depending on your personality, some of us are open books, and some of us are, you know, some of us have more challenges with vulnerability and some of us don't. But I think it's just a general acknowledgement that, that it's there. And noticing that there are certain signs and certain checkpoints, and which, this is something that I need to look into. Right. And that's sort of why I feel like we start, I think, overall, it's important to sort of prepare yourself in the sense of, don't jump in headfirst into something that you feel like it's just gonna overwhelm you. Yeah, that's not the point of a spiritual practice, I want to make sure that that's super clear. Because when we talk about spiritual things, we often feel this responsibility or a general feeling as though we need to do A, B and C. In order to get the results that we want, or to get the results that we feel like we're supposed to have. And I could go on about that for days, that's a can of worms in and of itself, right, and it might be another episode, it might be.
But I've shared a lot of times that you know we don't think of it, or as monumental, it's not like you just wake up one day and you're in a srobe of white, right? I just felt like the right image.
Um, but in reality, especially as a contemplative mother, like, let's lay it down, Here we are. Our implementation tactics are going to be so different than say, someone who has time to dedicate two and three hours to meditation, or two and three hours to centering prayer so don't let that deter you from digging into this spiritual practice.
Chelsea Whipple 20:06
And yeah, there might be days for meditation that you fall asleep and that's okay. I mean, alright I'm just gonna go ahead and sorry. I totally interrupted you. Go ahead.
Erin Thomas 20:17
No, but I think that's really important I believe that, um, maybe there's been a point of osmosis. I fell asleep on the book like that I would know it's just a grad school PTSD.
Anyway, I do but I think that's important to know like we are moms, and so what we do logistically it's gonna look different than someone who has that sort of time to dedicate, but don't let that run you away. For me it was just, I started with a few moments of gratitude journaling, that's how I started. It wasn't anything grandiose I didn't write for a long time, Contrary to the fact that I talk a lot. I don't write as much as I thought. Um, but it sort of became a great first step in cultivating this mindset of gratitude because it started with the logistical practice right, gratitude, journaling for five minutes, and then something shifted. And so when we go beyond that. One of the great things I think we notice as a mom is that your children will often notice a shift in you, and they don't always connect it to what you're doing right like they don't always think, Oh, Mommy is writing things that she's thankful for. And so now she's more thankful. That's just not how it works in a kid's mind, right? But I think it's important to to provide the opportunity to share these sorts of things that they can do as well. So for example at our dinner table, our family often tells one to three things that we are thankful for that occurred that day. And then we discussed one way in which we could have responded or acted differently. That's the fun one. But I realized that even in that short little time period of conversation. That was a window of even just logistical opportunity for us to cultivate this as a family practice.
So I'm interested Chelsea, have you found practical ways with your family to implement anything that may look like that, or what does that look like for you guys.
Chelsea Whipple 22:39
Yeah, so, um, I would say, our family meeting is kind of a simple practice that, you know, to me, I deem everything is spiritual, that is a spiritual practice, you know, and again, my kids are pretty young so family meetings are just sometimes a little stressful, because not everyone's gonna sit and listen. But we try and we attempt it and we attempted to do weekly, you know, because everyone has a seat at the table, everyone gets a voice, you know we say our silly family motto that we created together. And, you know, we everyone goes around and they say something they're thankful for or, or we could use that and even the terms of gratitude being grateful for the person next to them and so everyone gets a chance to talk and hear, you know what the other one says, and we talk about any issues that need to get resolved, usually they're the same issues; bedtime, meals, you know it, We, we collaboratively discuss ways to work together on issues and I have to say my kids are so creative, they come up with, just things that in my Mom Brain I'm like this isn't gonna work but we'll try it for a week and sometimes it does work sometimes it only works for a week and we have to talk about it again, but that's okay. You know we plan ways, okay, how could we spend time together as a unit. you know, we get to look at the week ahead together and then we close with a family prayer that you know everyone takes turns on leading the family prayer. you know, so everyone from the youngest to the oldest, you know they have a chance to be heard, You know, it's a great time for us to be as one. You know, to understand everyone's value in the family and to listen and learn. I learned so much from my kids, you know, so I'm very grateful to have that time and that established, You know kind of routine now that's now a ritual.
Erin Thomas 24:40
I love that so much. You know I'm nerdy.
Chelsea Whipple 24:43
If you don't, if you don't know what I'm talking about with ritual, then you have missed the previous episode. All right, so Erin, you know, kind of circling back you know thank you for allowing me to talk about, you know, being grateful for that spiritual practice with my family but circling back to your practice of gratitude. You know what specific ways, you know, have you found gratitude fruitful in your life as a practice and what specifically do you do?
Erin Thomas 25:11
Yeah, I mean that's a really good question. First of all, I'm nerding out about the feeling meeting because I love a family meeting so much.
Chelsea Whipple 25:21
It's big, it's like a cute little family powwow. Oh yeah, everyone gets, we have a talking stick so you know, it's a maracas, you know how well. Yeah,
Erin Thomas 25:34
although I think my husband would say I might need a talking stick. I don't know maybe we could do that here.
you know, logistically speaking, one of the first things I look for is getting into that space, mentally, I think that's really important. But it doesn't have to be where I go and sit in the corner and tell my children like don't come in the room. Okay,we just all know that's not going to happen.
But I can share that I found that journaling is sort of a preference of mine. And it may not be a preference for all of our listeners, you may find that there are different outlets that help you cultivate gratitude. Gratitude, in your mind and then your spirit. It could be reading, it could be quotes, soaking in music, singing, and creation. So I more than anything, encourage you to open yourself up to wherever you feel led, And what feels most fitting for you. I'm defining my heart's intention is another thing I found that most often if I'm open to the Divine leading in all areas that, and I come without an agenda, right, I come without my task list of like, okay I'm gonna do my gratitude. If I come without my agenda, then I feel more often than not the Spirit will lead me to specific areas that I need to reflect on and be grateful for. And be thankful for. And this is where the shift sort of starts. It's funny how that happens. For me, I found that it's helpful to do at the end of the day, because I'm reflecting on the prior day, but you may actually find, if you're a morning person. That it couples greatly with setting an intention in your day, or having your morning solitude or morning meditation. It may be a great time to couple that together so logistically looking at that, that's often really helpful. and try several things I always say, try, try it more than one way if it's not working that way try it this way, don't throw in the towel before you try something that resonates with you, and so logistically obviously I said, I tried to find a quiet place. We all know how that works, right?
Chelsea Whipple 28:12
Erin Thomas 28:12
Find a quiet place great, but I start with the intention of asking the divine to increase my spiritual vision for reflection purposes, the sense of, I don't want to just look at what I'm looking at materially, or what's right in front of me. I want the divine to mediate this opportunity. And as a result, maybe I will be led to reflecting on a particular event of that day. Maybe I will reflect on a material thing, an event or a relationship. Oftentimes it's a relationship. And from there I just spend time in silence and journaling, those things that I am grateful for. And as a result I find in this action the gratitude in my spirit. It's that's what moves me to being more thankful. Beyond for what I can see not just everything that's in front of me, but to being deeply grateful for things that are beyond my mind's eye, you know, that's huge.
So as you continue to listen to our podcast I think you may find yourself overwhelmed, we've talked about that idea of adding anything to your day, right, you're imagine. I just want to go to the bathroom alone sometimes, you know, so I get it. But I, I encourage you to start small. Be hopeful and familiarize yourself with the definition and the concept of gratitude. That's super important. What does it mean to be grateful. And from there, I really cannot wait to hear what your experiences are honestly, I will say that some of the most profound moments in my life have been in a time where I reflected on something I was grateful for. And I'm grateful for this space right here, you know, Chels do you have any Invitational feedback for listeners that you want to share. Well,
Chelsea Whipple 30:25
you know, for me, um, so I can't even remember if I've mentioned this before but I recently finish the Ignatian spiritual exercises. And so within the daily exercises you have the daily examen and Erin, you actually did a great job describing the daily examen, I don't know if you've ever read anything about it. Yeah. Yes. Okay, okay. It's just you know it's very similar you know it has five components, and the first one, you start off with is gratitude. And it's here that you begin with a sense of gratitude. You know as you reflect on your day with the Holy One, you know, kind of that vision shift kind of that mind shift, you know, and St. Ignatius who created these exercises, believed that, you know God's desire is to give God's self to us, as much as God can, which is infinite, and that God never tires of giving. So with that perspective, you know, keeping in mind gratitude is, is our way of "affirming of God's unbounded love for us, and desire for our response, in love, to their love revealed in the giving, and I know that was kind of a compounded quote, and you know that quote is from Father Timothy Gallagher's book on the examen prayer, so if you're interested, I would definitely say that's a great book to start off with. Now, and that quote is just a fancy way of saying that gratitude is much deeper than just being grateful. I mean, obviously being grateful is part of it but there's something much deeper, when your entire mind is kind of shifted to this idea of gratitude and what, what does that mean. So gratitude is recognizing that boundless love the divine has for each one of us. And sometimes we can just be overwhelmed with a sense of gratitude in those moments that just kind of take your breath away. Maybe for like a perfect day in nature, a job offer you've been waiting for, or an answer to a prayer or something similar. But you know, other times, excuse me, sorry, other times gratitude is found really in that simple acknowledgement of a completed day, of putting your kids to bed, closing your eyes and breathing out your last awake breath going, oh my goodness, you know, a kind word from someone. Another or response from your kid without asking more than once. I am grateful for those moments, you know, and it's really you know Erin, you did such an amazing job about talking about that, that shift in perspective. You know it is in those moments that noticing our perspective can shift our desires fulfilled and our vision change. You know, so for me, looking at the day through the lens of gratitude for me, can be what feels like a monumental shift.
Erin Thomas 33:33
Absolutely. I love that so much. Um, wow, I have so many thoughts right now, I mean we could talk about this for hours. I can't, I just don't want to understate how amazing this particular practices and and so I greatly encourage all of our listeners to to try it out and let us know how it's going. And to let us know how it's changing your life. Okay, so even if it's simple, even if it's I laid in bed and I took a deep breath. Yes, sometimes I don't do that, right. Yeah.
Chelsea Whipple 34:15
I love how. Yeah, and I love how simple it is like. It's really just that mindset of just being present, noticing all our favorite buzzword that we use.
Erin Thomas 34:29
hashtag words right yeah, I found this quote and it's not a coincidence that it talks about vulnerability because you did touch on that a little bit. One of my favorite books that I'm reading right now it's called Earth our original monastery by Christine pager. It says "to be in gratitude is to be vulnerable, to be expanded, to be open to be shown my dependence on others, other creatures, other people, and Earth herself to be grateful, it's to bow to my interwovenness with all creation. I think that's such a beautiful picture. The interwovenness that gratitude offers as a practice.
So obviously you know where we're gonna go with this, and every episode we do our practice right. Um, I think, let's flesh it out just quickly and then tiny bit. But for now, choose the time of day. Let's start there, decide what medium you'd like to use in the sense of, would you like to journal. Is it for reading is it through spoken word, is it with the examen, you know, all of these are opportunities that you can use to apply to whatever feels as though you've clicked and connected with that practice. And as you do this, as you choose this time, as you choose whatever method or form that you use. Invite the divine to show you areas where of gratitude, in spite of your hurdles. That's really hard, but this may be working for gratitude and asking for gratitude. Beyond negative thoughts or concern with material items. Comparison entitlement hurt. There's so many things that could be a hindrance. But take those hurdles and flesh them out into notions of gratitude as you flesh out this practice right. Take them and move forward with them. Where are we going to go. Then of course, as always, We'd love to hear your feedback about this, because we know that this is not a thing that you may be doing every single day. But taking the practice of gratitude. Finding a simple time period to do it using whatever method you feel works for you, and then let us know what happened. And right now, I'm just excited to see. So, thank you so much for joining us today and Chelsea thanks so much for being here with me and delving into some of these topics that are really hard right. Mm hmm.
Chelsea Whipple 37:33
Erin Thomas 37:33
Chelsea Whipple 37:34
Yeah, so we will connect with you guys soon.
Erin Thomas 37:39
Thank you again for joining us today on the contemplative motherhood podcast. with us your host, Erin Thomas and Chelsea Whipple,
Chelsea Whipple 37:56
to get regular updates on our podcast, hear new episode drops, interact with us about past and future episodes, and find our show notes, Make sure to go to our website, www .contemplative motherhood.org
Erin Thomas 38:02
As always, we appreciate your support of this podcast and then helping us share our journey with others. So if you enjoy today's podcast, make sure to subscribe, rate, and leave us a review. This helps us to cross paths with other pilgrim mamas across the board. So until next time.
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