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The Power of Appreciation

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Message Grant Lawrence

An Ancient Remedy Used By Traditional Peoples for an Ancient and Modern Malady

I firmly believe that it is important for people to have some idea of what is going on. This leads me to write and talk about some things that I know are often upsetting. I am driven to do this beyond even my own understanding. I guess some of it arises from a great love and respect for the Bodhisattva ideal of helping and serving others even at the expense of oneself. My view is that if I saw a house on fire, I would yell "fire" to the inhabitants and then take the appropriate measures to try to ensure that the people living there were safe. That is why I write so much about our present fascist, corporate societal structure and this military industrial complex. I try in whatever way that I can to let people know that there is a "fire" that is consuming humaneness, justice, fairness, and compassion.

But that doesn't mean that I also don't understand, enjoy, and appreciate the beauty and wonder of life. That also doesn't mean that I don't want others to understand, enjoy, and appreciate the beauty and wonder of life. In fact, being a counselor, I know that if a person doesn't have some sort of appreciation for something then they suffer a great deal.

I really gained a great understanding of the healing power of appreciation from working with my Navajo students. I have discovered a truism for myself and that is that what you give will come back to you in some way. Most often, the gain is nothing more than a good feeling that arises when you know that you have helped someone in some way. But often it comes in flashes of insight that can again be used to keep helping others.

A large percentage of my students suffer from some sort of depression, and it is common to see that suffering in the deep cuts on their arms and on their expressionless faces. Their sadness usually isn't given a voice in crying and in tears but is generally held in. The result is that their deep and profound sadness doesn't have the needed emotional outlet. It builds until it explodes possibly in an act of violence to oneself or others.

The Navajos have a type of emotional taboo against talking about the painful and the negative. There is a general belief that to talk of things like sadness, physical and sexual abuse, neglect, family difficulties, poverty, death, and the rest of life's pains and sorrows will result somehow in more of the same. There is a real fear of facing these things and life's difficulties are sometimes blamed on witchcraft. I think this cultural taboo arises from a belief that a person just has to endure suffering with out feeding the pain by acknowledging the problems.

So dealing with this cultural barrier confused me. I had to treat the pain and suffering of my students by respecting their cultural backgrounds. When I don't have that respect and cultural understanding then I have found that my students close down even more. Healing in a mental and spiritual sense is all about building a relationship with your client. A relationship can't be built by ignoring the student's cultural world. I found that I was able to gain some entrance into my student's "reality" by not dwelling on the problems too much and to use humor as a way to relax the student and get them to open up a bit. Building a relationship, using Rogers' 3 core conditions of therapy--empathic understanding, acceptance, and trust is an important foundation to entering another's reality.

But over a period of time, I found another aspect to healing that I had been missing. It came up when when I was working with one male 7th grade student having suicidal thoughts. We were going over the things that he needed to do when having these thoughts. I usually get them to sign a contract promising that they won't kill themselves and in that written contract, we go over things that the student can do when they get feeling bad, like talking to someone they can trust.

However, as I was working with one student somehow we got into the subject of praying and this student had no belief in God. I don't try to talk my students in or out of a belief in God but rather try to let them explore what their beliefs are. Yet, as we were talking, it came to me that this student didn't have to have a belief in God to get the benefits of prayer. A kind of knowing arose within me that a spiritual exercise of some sort would be helpful to this student.

So I decided to get the student to think of things that he appreciated. I asked him to go over all of the things he was thankful for but he really couldn't come up with anything. His life was one of poverty, parental neglect, drugs, loss, and now profound unhappiness. So I decided that we should think of the basics, like you are breathing and you are in good health now. You enjoy the sunshine and the rocks and the sage, etc. I asked that student to think of as many "thankful" things as he could before going to bed. The student had, like most people with depression, been having trouble sleeping.

The next time I saw that student, his personality seemed so much lighter. He was full of expression and smiles. I always ask a student that has been depressed to let me know on a scale of 1 to10 (10 being the best) how they are feeling. Well that student reported a 9 which was a bit better and the improvement came about much quicker then I was used to getting when working with depressed students.

So, I asked, "why do you feel so good?"
"I think that I feel better now because I know what I am thankful for," the student reported.

That response made a great impression on me. It was like someone turned on a light in my head. I knew that having a great respect and an appreciation for creation is very important to the Native peoples. Now I could clearly see how that same cultural tradition of appreciation had such a power over my student. The Native culture seemed to be creating such a barrier to counseling and healing, but the real barrier was coming from a lack of cultural understanding on my part.

I now never forget to use the power of appreciation when dealing with the suffering of depression. I use it all of the time for myself, as well. I have found that it allows me to see both sides of life. The power of appreciation doesn't blind me from the difficulties of life but it does allow me to see it with some perspective. Now I know that lives can be terribly difficult and painful but even in the simple act of breathing there can be appreciation.

The power of appreciation is a gift that has found cultural significance with the Navajos and the Native peoples. In the desert where life is brutal and food and water can be scarce for long periods, the Navajos discovered a psychological technique that helped them survive mentally and spiritually. Modern humanity, living under our present conditions, also face the brutality of life. But calling out to us from the past there is a medicine to help ease human suffering--thankfulness.

I offer this ancient remedy for your consideration if you haven't tried it before. I know that if you use it "religiously" that it will lighten your load. It is an ancient remedy being used again by a counselor in New Mexico treating an ancient and modern malady. Like the power of electricity it is always there but it just needs to be harnessed and turned on for the benefit of everyone.

The power of appreciation has shown itself to me to be an effective tool against depression and other psychic maladies. For that tremendous gift of insight that I gained from trying to help a depressed 7th grader, I am extremely thankful.

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