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Gratitude: Brother David on God, Love, Hope, and Faith

A deeply profound conversation on Love, God and Gratitude. Join CJ and Brother David, a Benedictine monk, as he shares his spiritual journey and his thoughts on why gratefulness is the key to life. Learn how grateful living can lead to a life with more presence, joy, and love.

Brother David YouTube INTERVIEW on his spiritual journey

Brother David YouTube- What is Love?

Brother David YouTube- Why Gratefulness is the key to life?

What is gratefulness?

Gratefulness is when we experience something valuable that is freely given (not bought or earned) to us. The trick, however, is not about being grateful, but to live gratefully. If we can see every moment of life as a “gift” and opportunity for us, then we are living gratefully. Brother David explains that the opportunity is the true gift and that every moment is an opportunity.

“Gratefully living is noticing this opportunity moment by moment. When we are awakened to this opportunity, we can feel a sense of enjoyment or become moved to action. We miss the opportunity when we rush through life. The life challenges that we face are our callings to rise to the opportunity, stand up, suffer, and learn from those events.

Gratefulness is the only appropriate response to that which is given – and this life is a given. Every human being can realize that: We didn’t make ourselves, We didn’t even choose this life. If you train yourself to be grateful for every thing and every moment, then you become better equipped to deal with the things that you don’t like. You become privy to the gift within every gift, which is opportunity. It may not be an enjoyable opportunity but it will be the opportunity to do something about it.”—Source: http://www.gratefulness.org/resource/all-in-the-same-boat/

In Ted X interview, Brother David Steindl-Rast talks about the basic human need to be happy. He suggests that gratefulness makes us happy and joyful.


When does Gratefulness happen?

According to Brother David, gratefulness happens when the heart and mind merge together and thoughts cease.  He describes this state as the “space between the thoughts”.  He illustrates this idea by contrasting a cheetah running in the wild. The cheetah does not think; it just runs. He compares this to a ballet dancer who, when in this same state of mind (no thought just acting with heart and mind), demonstrates the same grace. Gratefulness happens when we witness the moments of grace.

How is gratefulness different than giving thanks?

According to Brother David, gratefulness is more than giving thanks. Gratefulness is being fully aware of the present moment, whereas giving thanks is being thoughtful.

Brother David explains the difference in this passage from one of his blog posts:

“Why do I call that wild joy of belonging “gratefulness”? Because it is our full appreciation of something altogether unearned, utterly gratuitous — life, existence, ultimate belonging – and this is the literal meaning of grate-full-ness. In a moment of gratefulness, you do not discriminate. You fully accept the whole of this given universe, as you are fully one with the whole.”

In the very next moment, when the fullness of gratitude overflows into thanksgiving, the oneness you were experiencing breaks up. Now you are beginning to think in terms of giver, gift, and receiver. Gratefulness turns into thankfulness. This is a different fullness. A moment ago you were fully aware; now you are thoughtful. Gratefulness is full awareness; thankfulness is thoughtfulness.– (n.d.). Retrieved June 28, 2015, from http://www.gratefulness.org/resource/thankful-or-grateful/

Why Practice Gratitude?

Based on research conducted at the University of California, Davis by Robert Emmons, the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude, demonstrates the following benefits of experiencing gratitude or feeling grateful:

• Stronger immune systems
• Less bothered by aches and pains
• Lower blood pressure
• Exercise more and take better care of their health
• Sleep longer and feel more refreshed upon waking

• Higher levels of positive emotions
• More alert, alive, and awake
• More joy and pleasure
• More optimism and happiness

• More helpful, generous, and compassionate
• More forgiving
• More outgoing
• Feel less lonely and isolated.

Forbes article on gratitude entitled, “7 Scientifically Proven benefits of gratitude that will motivate you to give Thanks Year Round, presented the following findings:

  • Gratitude opens the door to more relationships.
  • Gratitude enhances empathy and reduces aggression.
  • Grateful people sleep better.
  • Gratitude results in fewer aches and pains
  • Gratitude improves self-esteem because gratitude results in less social comparisons.
  • Gratitude increases mental strength and higher resilience

Here’s a quote from one of Brother David‘s blog posts on the benefits of gratefulness:

“All gratitude expresses trust. Gratefulness has the courage to trust and so overcomes fear. The air has been electrified by fearfulness these days, a fearfulness fostered and manipulated by politicians and the media. There lies our greatest danger: fear perpetuates violence. Mobilize the courage of your heart, as the truly awake ones are doing. Say one word today that gives a fearful person courage.

Because gratitude expresses courage, it spreads calm. Calm of this kind is quite compatible with deep emotions. In fact, the mass hysteria rampant all around betrays confusion rather than deep feeling — superficial agitation rather than a deep current of compassion.

You can feel either grateful or alienated, but never both at the same time. Gratefulness drives out alienation; there is no room for both in the same heart. When you are grateful you know that you belong to a network of give-and-take and you say “yes” to that belonging. This “yes” is the essence of love. You need no words to express it; a smile will do to put your “yes” into action. Don’t let it matter to you whether or not the other one smiles back. Give someone an unexpected smile today and so contribute your share to peace on earth.

What your gratefulness does for yourself is as important as what it does for others. Gratefulness boosts your sense of belonging; your sense of belonging in turn boosts your Common Sense. Your “yes” to belonging attunes you to the common concerns shared by all human beings. After the Wake-up Call, nothing else makes sense but Common Sense. We have only one enemy, our common enemy: violence. Common Sense tells us: we can stop violence only by stopping to act violently; war is no way to peace. Listen to the news today and put at least one item to the test of Common Sense. Source: http://www.gratefulness.org/resource/a-new-reason-for-gratitude/

BROTHER DAVID YOUTUBE Video Link – What is Gratefulness?  Why is it the key to life?

  • 20:35 What is gratefulness according to Brother David? STOP- leads us into the silence. LOOK- for the opportunity that life is offering you at this moment. G0- Respond to what life is giving you at that particular moment.
  • 41:47 What is the most virtuous aspect of gratefulness? How can those who have everything still be unhappy? Each one of us holds the key to joy and happiness in our hands.
  • 52:21Why does Brother David focus solely on gratefulness ( versus love, forgiveness, etc)?

How to Cultivate Gratitude/gratefulness?

Brother David offers a very simple way that even children can learn to cultivate gratefulness. The method involves three steps: STOP, LOOK, and GO. He describes these steps in his video and blog post:

  • STOP- Sadly, we don’t take enough time in our busy lives to stop. Instead, we rush through life not being able to appreciate anything because we are not present. Brother David explains that when we are running around we don’t have the steadiness to face things, people, or events. You have to STOP and hold still, even for a few seconds, to be truly present to a reality. By stopping, you interrupt the automatic flow of life by being present in the moment.
  • LOOK- Being present allows you to seek and discover the opportunity that is offered at that moment. It’s the moment of awe. Most of the time, it’s the moment to enjoy. This can be as simple as enjoying the person you are with, relishing the beautiful day, or appreciating the miracle of taking a breath. In addition to looking, we need to let go of our preconceived notions. Disengage all biased beliefs and allow reality to impress you. Brother David explains, “the moment you open yourself to reality, the moment you allow it to do something to you, you discover an order that is not your order. You discover in things an order that existed millions and millions of years before we ever came around; in persons, you discover that mysterious order of the other”.
  • GO- This means that you have stopped and seen the opportunity. Now, you must use the opportunity to do something. Most of the time, the opportunity is there for you to enjoy. But, sometimes you may be impelled to stand up and protest against something or asked to do something that could change the world. Brother David describes this stage as “saying, Yes of blessing (or Yes to Belonging). It is not necessarily the “yes” of approval. Approval may not be the appropriate response in a given situation, but blessing is always appropriate. And blessing in this sense is an inner Yes. It is, as I hope you will see, a worshipful Yes, the essence, in fact, of worship”. In essence, gratefulness is not only something that is personally satisfying; it just may be something that changes society.

BROTHER DAVID YOUTUBE – Demonstration of Gratefulness.

  • 22:11 Demonstration of Gratefulness: How drinking a glass of water can bring gratefulness?

STOP: How do we become mindful and still?

“If you’re really mind-full, and you underline that aspect of fullness, wholeness, or wholeheartedness, it will reveal the gift character of everything. A partial view often misses the gift character of things. The full view consists of seeing each situation as purely gratis, and if you get that in mind, then your response is gratefulness.

Importance of mindfulness…We all spend a lot of time going from one place to the other. If we have our mind on the place we just left or on the place we’re heading to, half of our life is lost. Mindfulness is as simple as enjoying the going, walking, touching the earth with your feet, driving a car or riding a bike.” http://www.gratefulness.org/resource/all-in-the-same-boat/

LOOK: Be present to the opportunity


  • 4:06  Brother David shares how his structured monastic life helped him learn to become more present. He describes how he would stop when it was time to move to the next activity. If he were writing, he would stop without dotting the “I” or crossing his “t’s”. Similarly, he describes how before he starts another activity, he stops, listens, and then goes onto the next stage of his day.
  • 53:24Brother David shares some tips he uses to remember to STOP and listen.
  • 15:58Why listening to music is akin to experiencing God? Brother David explains how music is connected to feeling the awe of an experience. A moment of magic is experienced that is beyond the words, meaning, and context.

GO: WHAT is LOVE? How do we “do” something with the opportunity?

We must Open our hearts to opportunity

During a video interview, David describes what it means to open our hearts to the opportunity.

“Every human being has experiences of communion with the Ultimate. Moments in which we are perfectly happy because we feel totally at home in the universe. And those moments are mystic moments. The people that we greatly admire, resilient people, creative people and the known mystics in society, they make something out of these moments. They allow the experience with the communion with the ultimate to inform their life, to flow into their life. They live out of this experience. And that is the task for all of us. – (n.d.). Retrieved June 28, 2015, from “http://www.gratefulness.org/resource/essential-people-brother-david.

Brother David explains in this quote what happens when gratitude comes from our heads versus our hearts.

“When you are grateful, your heart is open—open towards others, open for surprise” Source: http://www.gratefulness.org/resource/vision-for-the-world/

“Wholeheartedness” is the English word that expresses better what mindfulness as a technical term means; that you respond to every situation from your center, from your heart – that you listen with your heart to every situation, and your heart elicits the response:” Source: http://www.awakin.org/read/view.php?tid=353


  • 13:01What were Brother David’s Aha’s about God, Spirituality, and Love after these inter religious dialogues?
  • 19:07 What is Love?
  • 23:28 GO: What is inspired action? The first step is to really ENJOY what you have stopped and looked at. After you enjoy, then your next step is to make a commitment to do something.
  • 26:30 What is Love? Love is saying Yes to belonging and acting in alignment with life. We belong and live in the Universe as one unit. If I belong in the universe, then I act in the way that one acts. Think about your own family. If someone is hungry, feed them. Brother David reminds us that we are ONE human family.
  • 28:33 How does Love develop over time? Love has lifelong growth. It progresses as your relationships deepen and expand out to the world. Cultivating these relationships is a YES to belonging, and a way for your love to deepen.
  • 29:38 How do a Buddhist and Christian describe love?  They believe that we are all one. Christ lives within each of us. This is the human truth that expands across religions. The key is to ACT as if we are all one.
  • 32:01 What is the challenge to our ability to GO? The problem is that we don’t STOP to see this human suffering and we fail to remember these important realities.
  • 32:35 How is the act of LOVE not about guilt and shame? Inspired actions of love are not about guilt. Relish in the pleasure of JOY so much that there is no room for guilt. Then, experience the desire to share that enjoyment with everyone else.

Other Gratitude or Gratefulness practices

Here’s a laundry list of practices you can try. The essence of these practices is what Brother David calls putting  “STOP signs” into our lives.

  • Place yellow stickys with reminders of life’s miracles (running water, hot shower, etc) in various places.
  • Keep a weekly gratitude journal
  • Learn prayers of gratitude.
  • Make eye contact with people you would normally ignore to establish connection and realize that there are no strangers.
  • Write a thank you or gratitude letter to someone you are grateful to and deliver it.
  • Every month, express your appreciation of someone’s impact in your life.
  • Send a mental prayer or a mental thank you to someone.
  • Reframe the situation by looking at the opposite perspective. If you are in doubt, look at faith. If you are in anger, look at peace.
  • Meditate using the metta meditation
  • Meditate and appreciate focusing on  all the people you love.
  • Contribute your share to peace on earth by giving someone an unexpected smile today
  • Make a firm resolution to never repeat stories and rumors that spread fear. From the stillness of your hearts core, reach out, be calm and spread calm.

How can we be grateful during hard times?

Saying “yes” to life is not easy. What happens when we have to face things we aren’t grateful for like war, climate change or betrayal? Brother David suggests we go back to the 3rd step and say “Yes” to the opportunity. Hidden in these challenging life events or circumstances is an opportunity to learn and grow. Your actions may range from asking questions to protesting. Gratefulness is not about unconditional acceptance of the situation. It’s about availing yourself to the opportunity. (http://www.gratefulness.org/resource/essential-people-brother-david/)

What do we do when we have lost faith?

There are times when we feel alone and alienated as if God had abandoned us. Brother David suggests that in these moments, it’s extremely important that we seek help from others:

“Our faith, our trust in life must be supported by other beings who show us love, compassion, and trust. Our trust must be boasted by other people’s trust in us. In that respect, there are periods in life, when God seems absent and when our own presence and the other presence of other beings is the only way in which we can mediate the emptiness of some Divine presence. But it’s always present, it’s only our consciousness that it should be absent because life itself is that mystery, so as long as we are alive we are embedded in that mysterious reality”.

At other times, we feel depressed and have lost our trust in God. Here’s what Brother David shares:

“But I have suffered a lot from depression and so I know the situations where you do not feel that trust. You know it in your head, and that it will change again, and that life supports you. Especially in difficult situations (death of a child, death of a friend) is when I feel myself challenged to trust in life. (I say to myself ) This is what is and this is an opportunity to learn what life is really like and to show great love to those that suffer. This is an opportunity to go with experience. We know that through the most difficult experiences we grow the most. We can go back to our lives and look at some catastrophe and know that, that made us who we are. We need not despair, but it’s a very difficult situation, and it’s precisely those moments when we need to trust in life. We don’t know where it is going to go. We are open to surprise, but we trust. If we realize how small we are with regard to the mystery that’s around us simply on a natural level (he uses example of how it’s a mystery that we are capable of digesting our breakfast and how life digests his breakfast, how we breathe even if we don’t want to, how our finger nails grow). We are embedded in something so much greater than we ourselves are, so when we become of this, it is difficult to make ourselves judge and say “this should not be so” and “this should be so”. We just look. This is what is. It is very sad. It is very painful. But to say life is unjust, doesn’t make much sense? Because (when I think of injustice) I make myself bigger than life and then judging life. And yet I can’t live one more second without life living me.”

YOUTUBE VIDEO LINK: BROTHER DAVID on how to deal with “evil”

  • 38:45 How do we love even when confronting something challenging? The first step is to understand, encourage, and establish relationships. Once we establish a relationship, things will improve. The next part is to understand our own contribution to the dynamic and relationship.
  • 35:05 How can you move to JOY in the face of evil? What is another way to think of evil? Brother David explains that it has to do with how we see things that are not “good’ in the world.
  • 36:53 How do you deal with evil? Do we look at evil as something we must combat?  A very common approach is to compete, destroy, or fight the opposition.  However, the feminine approach towards “life denying” is to look at things from a mother’s perspective. We can see the hardship as “not yet good” and create a space where something can grow.
  • 43:43 What do you do when you come across something you cannot be joyful about (aggression, lies, violence)? The key to working with these hard events is to be grateful for the opportunity to learn and grow,or to stand up and protest.

How do you be grateful for unexplained catastrophes (like a tsunami)?

Brother David offers the following advice from his blog post and video excerpt:

“There are so many situations apart from a great catastrophe like a tsunami when we don’t understand what is going on. We need to live with this realization that we do not know. What we also experience is that we can trust life. We can live with that even in the face of such apparently terrible situations. But we can also say that if we have the right concept of God, when anything suffers not just humans, but even mosquitoes, God suffers because everything is alive from God’s own life. So, it’s not as if God is completely unconcerned and happy. This is the wrong image of God. When anything suffers, God suffers. We are totally immersed in God, and God is totally immersed in us. When you realize that, then it’s a very different attitude towards pain and misery in the world. You still want to change things for the better, but it’s not just the idea that an unjust God inflicts on us. We have been brainwashed to a certain extent of this wrong image of God and we have to get rid of that because it’s why so many people shipwreck with their faith. They start off with the wrong image of God.” https://youtu.be/mifql9hIyE8?t=33m20s

Brother David describes how Picasso created his famous anti-war painting Genernica as a response to his “Yes”:

“For us here, the question this event imposes is decisive. Here was certainly an awe-inspiring event, but a terrible one. Here is something to which you can hardly say Yes. Or can you? What was it the artist said to this event? What was the inner gesture that produced a painting like this? Only when we focus on this most difficult point where the “and” that stands between art and the sacred becomes almost impossible to deal with will we be able to maintain the link between the two. And I must admit I have no glib answer at all. I am not offering you some easy answer: “Oh, that’s it. Well, that’s fine then.” No. I’m struggling with it and I invite you to struggle with me. Struggle with these questions: How can we bless in the midst of disaster? In the midst of apathy? In the midst of destruction? In the midst of decay? In the midst of stupidity? In the midst of the fearfulness that lies at the root of so many terrible things?

And yet, nobody can look long at this picture and fail to realize that it is a Yes. It is a Yes that includes and surpasses all the horror of the event captured in this imagery. How could Picasso say this Yes? Certainly he did not prettify the event and say, “Well, it wasn’t really that bad. There were some nice things about it.” He simply faced reality. He did nothing else but what we discussed earlier, only he did so in an extreme situation. He held still, but in this context that is a very special kind of holding still. It demands extreme courage. He discovered order, but he didn’t discover a facile order. He had the daring of a discoverer, the truth that there was some order he had not yet discovered, some order beyond what he might ever discover. He had the courage to bless, the courage to say yes in the midst of all this. This Yes, remember, is not necessarily one of approval, but it is an affirmation of reality”. http://www.gratefulness.org/resource/art-and-the-sacred/

 Why Love, Hope, Faith are the most important values to cultivate to be happy?


  • 47:08 Brother David explains why Love, Hope, and Faith are important to creating a happy life. When you don’t have faith that life is giving you great things, then you are constantly fearful. Fear doesn’t really lead you anywhere. Instead, it just leaves you anxious, sick, etc. Faith is a good starting point because life is alive, which means it is full of surprises. When we have openness to surprise, then we have hope. Hope allows us to revel in how everything is connected to everything (e.g.-internet, planes, etc). Once we say “YES” to all of it, then we have Love. A culture based on fear is one which is aggressive, full of rivalry, and greed. If you are grateful you become curious and fear cannot be part of the equation. If you are grateful, you are not fearful. If you are grateful, you are not aggressive. If you are grateful, you are cooperative and sharing because there is always enough for sharing.
  • 45:07 What is hope? Hope is the openness to surprise. When we have hope we are open to the unimaginable. Regardless if things manifest as we hope, we need not lose hope because our new findings are just feedback. We can move on to another hope.
  • 42:50 How Brother David defines Joy? How can we be joyful even when things we don’t like are happening?

What is God?


  • 46:36 Brother David shares his favorite name for God. SURPRISE. Everything that is alive is surprising.  God is life itself and it ought to be surprising.

Why gratefulness can change the world?

There is a wave of gratefulness and this can change our world because if we are grateful, then we are not acting out of fear, but enoughness, love, and respect. This shift alone could change the world.

YOUTUBE: Brother David’s Spiritual Journey

  • 0:26The life question that Brother David was hoping to answer by becoming a monk
  • 4:06Brother David learned from living as a structured monastic how to become more present and ALIVE in his day to day activities
  • 6:29 Brother David discuss how he integrates life as a monk and life as a world-wide speaker.
    10:19  How Brother David met Thich Nhat Hanh
  • 11:40The conversation between Brother David and Thich Nhat Hanh served as a basis for inter religious dialogue that fostered a manifesto
  • 13:01How Brother David unearthed revelations about God, Spirituality, and Love from these inter religious dialogues
  • 15:58Brother David explains how listening to music is akin to experiencing God

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