by Karen Larré, Carla Garcia and Dave Weaver
The Healing Gift of Gratitude is more like a journey than a book. It walks you through one year of looking at yourself, others and the world a bit differently – through the eyes of deeper, more purposeful appreciation. No matter when you begin the book, you’ll have fun and end up loving and appreciating your life more than you do today.
Using The Healing Gift of Gratitude, you’ll not only find yourself being grateful for the typical things – your family, friends, career, and home. You’ll begin to see reasons to be grateful for other things such as the struggles you’ve faced, ‘bad’ weather, people you’ve never met, and even the simple things in life that you might be overlooking. This book guides you to go deeper, and transforms how you see a lot of things about yourself, others, and the world.
In 2000, Shannon Elhart was hit with the devastating news that her unborn baby was terminal. That experience was life changing in many ways. When her newborn son died, something awoke in her and she started a journey of self-discovery. For years, that journey was her passion and her life. Shannon now teaches people throughout the world how to live with more peace, happiness and presence.
Shannon offers programs that help people cultivate a happier, less stressful life in only a few months. She’s served as a teacher and a counselor and holds a Masters’ degree in counseling and psychology. Shannon is also a certified life coach, published author, public speaker, Reiki Master and intuitive who reads the Akashic Records. For more than fifteen years, she studied with gurus, attended retreats and learned about many alternative therapies and energy modalities. Shannon says, “It’s an honor to know that I’ve helped so many people live happier lives.”
Truly Alive: Can you please explain how the death of your baby has influenced your work and stimulated the writing of this book?
Shannon Elhart: When I was pregnant two things happened. Midway through the pregnancy, I found out my baby was terminal. I think that everybody needs to find their own truth, religion and spirituality. I don’t think there is one right way. Back then I was more into fundamental beliefs. I was taught that we baptize babies;. But I thought it odd that we would baptize my baby Jonathan. Why would we do that? He doesn’t have kidneys, though in my eyes he was perfect. The belief was that if I didn’t baptize him his soul would go to Hell. That claim caused me to rethink, “What do you believe Shannon and why?”
I had a very intense reaction to that statement about his soul. A gift Jonathan gave me was to ask, “Mommy, who are you”? Till then, I had been locked into my community and beliefs even though I was in my early 30’s. That event was a starting point for rethinking and questioning, “Who am I” and “What do I believe”? For me, what I had believed made no sense. I then released the fundamental beliefs and stepped more into spirituality. I chose to see God as an energy of love; a feminine and masculine energy. I connected with myself, with animals, people, nature, everything, at a more profound level.
The 2nd significant thing was the first year of grief. I attended a Baby Remembrance Service at the hospital while pregnant with my 3rd child. I wrote on a form the name and birth date of my baby. I noticed nearby a small group of women, some of whom were crying. I wondered, how long have they been suffering? Inquiring, I learned they had been suffering 6, 7, 8 years. I witnessed these women expressing deep feelings and grief. I thought, “will this never go away?” Suddenly, I felt like I was in a bubble of energy. Everybody and everything stopped. I heard a voice and I wondered…who and what is it, and why? Then I understood, everything is temporary. I have a choice. I can be like those women. I can choose to be distraught and be in mourning 8 years from now, or I can choose the opposite and figure out how to heal this.
I said, “Universe, I don’t know how to get through this”. I opened my heart and said, “okay, show me”. Then I began a long journey of healing. There were dreams, books and conversations that allowed me to dive into my grief rather than avoid it. I knew that I was at the end of this process when I could feel peace about Jonathan.
I wondered if this was his purpose – to wake me up. Maybe he is an angel to my 2 children who are now 19, and 16. Maybe he was protecting them when they were little. When my oldest was 2 she would say, “I am going to play with Jonathan today”. I remember she said, “he has curly hair like daddy”. My son who was born after Jonathan also saw him. Those experiences convinced me that we exist in so many ways.
Finding a way to heal made sense to me and is how I found peace. Of course, I would love to have him here. But this was his journey and it seems we agreed to do this, for me to be his mom. I found gratitude in things like getting to look into his eyes and his holding onto my pinky and feeling that connection. Others got to meet him too. His entire life of 12 hours was surrounded by compassion and love.
From this, I learned how strong I was. It launched me on my journey. The grief didn’t get stuck inside. I believe that time heals all wounds. My choice to feel my pain and heal my grief produced the beautiful shift around Jonathan. I found I wanted more and asked, “What more can I heal”? And because of my experience with Jonathan, I was able to release my father easily when he recently passed on.
I also had an opportunity to focus on and heal around other issues like alcohol addiction. Though I had a good outward social appearance, drinking had progressed to where I would black out and didn’t know what I was saying or doing. It was really tough to admit I was an alcoholic. I started drinking at age 14. I went back to that little 14-year old girl who was part of a broken family and was hiding behind drinking. This part of me was still hiding. Like so many addicts, I had a lot of shame, guilt and self-condemnation. I went back to stories that made me wince when remembered and learned to say, “I forgive myself”. I knew I had to go far deeper than ‘I want to stop drinking’. I wanted to heal the part of me that wanted to be drunk and I did.
A friend who relapsed came to me for help. She couldn’t understand how it was that I had no more desire for alcohol. I had healed so deeply that it wasn’t even a consideration (and still isn’t). AA is a wonderful place to go to get help. But if you really want to go deep to heal your addiction, go to the “why”. That’s what I found is needed to experience complete healing.
After that, I realized that my marriage was not doing so well and there was a healing opportunity around that. We had separated and eventually divorced.
Concurrently, I had a recurring nightmare every night, which was a complete recollection of when I was raped at the age of 18. I thought I had healed this by going to therapists for 4 years, punching pillows, screaming, etc. The recurring dream persisted because I hadn’t healed it completely back then. I still didn’t trust men. I fantasized about hurting this particular man. For 20 years, this perpetrator had affected me. I knew that the person hurting this man in my fantasy (by cutting off his penis) was not me. I am not a violent person. I choose to be the one who forgives. In an effort to heal, I worked with an energy worker weekly. As a 38-year old, I went back to my 18-year old self (and the experience of the rape). I talked to my young self. I would go into this closet, see an angel, put a white dress on the 18-year old me and go to this beautiful place. I was finally able to let go, relax and be more of myself in sex and relationships.
From my experience with Jonathan, I was able to heal the alcoholism, the rape and perhaps most importantly, my self-worth. The self-worth issue was a lifelong struggle for me, and it took until into my mid-forties to fully overcome my belief that I wasn’t good enough. When viewing my life as a tapestry, the self-worth issue is like the golden thread. It affects everything. It kept me in pain after the rape and it kept me drinking heavily. It largely determined who I was.
While going through the healing process on these major life issues, I would look for what I could be grateful for. OMG! How can I feel grateful for being raped? Well, I can give back. I can help other women through their crisis . And I do feel gratitude for being an alcoholic. That may sound crazy; I wouldn’t choose that again but I have learned so much from it.
In adversity I ask, “how can I go deeper? What can I learn? What can I feel grateful for?”
TA: Does focusing on gratitude relieve stress, specifically stress that is centered around money?
SH: Absolutely! I do stress reduction work in corporations. Gratitude always brings you immediately into the moment. In adversity, if you can feel grateful for what you have in this moment, the money you have now, the relationships. ,I don’t have to wait to find true love or make a hundred grand a year to be grateful because being grateful for what I have now, evaporates the stress. It brings you into the moment.
TA: Why do you suggest that we take time each day to appreciate “one thing that upset us”?
SH: When we are struggling or suffering, 100% of the time we have an opportunity to grow as an individual.
TA: Since emotions guide us, what can we do to handle anger, sadness, anxiety, hopelessness, jealousy, worry and fear?
SH: Most importantly, allow them! There is a beautiful poem by Rumi about this. When these emotions come knocking at your door, and they will, invite them in. We have been taught in our society to avoid them. We live with these weird notions, such as men aren’t supposed to cry, and women aren’t supposed to get angry. It’s ridiculous! I say, when you are feeling it, allow it some space in your life. Don’t direct anger at someone or hurt yourself or another. Allow yourself to be angry and you will find yourself immediately relaxing. The most important question is; “What am I thinking?” Thoughts precede emotions such as anger or worry. Let yourself go with the worry for the next hour and explore what’s behind the emotion. Discard the untrue thoughts and identify the ones that are actual. Focus on the thoughts where there is some ability to resolve, to influence or to control. If it’s worry about money, trust that you will be provided for. Ask the Universe for help. Work with it rather than allowing the worry to run away with you, like a wild horse. Typically, when I am upset, I find it is never about the present issue, it is about something else. That is one incredibly valuable thing I have learned.
TA: How does sorrow lead to joy and what is non-duality?
SH: Kahlil Gibran wrote of how deeper sorrow carves out your soul, and then there’s more room for joy. Joy and sorrow go hand-in-hand. They are non-duality. You can’t experience one without the other. These opposites are reliant on each other.
TA: What kinds of things make a bigger difference than we realize?
SH: Little things and painful things. Like sunshine, or your cat purring on your lap can have great, positive impact when you focus on them. Painful experiences are invaluable as well. Don’t deny or disconnect from them. Use them to learn what they are offering. Through them, we can become a better version of ourselves and get the benefit of all of it. How can I grow? How can I learn? These two questions are the guiding stars in my journey.
TA: Please explain why things happen “for” us and not “to” us?
SH: Things happen for us, they don’t happen to us. This is invaluable. There is no victim perspective in this statement. We realize we are self-responsible, self-determining, co-creators. I believe we choose our major life experiences before we are born and that we choose moment by moment how we will respond to life circumstances while we are here.
TA: Why is forgiveness a form of freedom?
SH: Forgiveness is in the top 2 out of 3 in importance. It frustrates me that we are not taught to forgive. There is a process involved with learning how. You have to forgive yourself and then forgive others. If we don’t forgive, we carry a chain of bondage. You cast shame and blame. That projection burdens us and the unforgiven person. Everything is connected. What do you have when you are not burdened by those chains? Freedom!
TA: Is there anything else you would like our readers to know about?
SH: I offer a free gift on my website that people can sign up for: Reclaim Your Happy: 5 Days and 5 Simple Ways. People rave about it. There is also the Healing Journey. This is an alternative to or a compliment to therapy. There are people whose trauma is so deep, that they need to work privately with a therapist. This is a compliment or alternative for those who know things in their past are holding them back and they want to address, heal and progress past that. It contains 8 specific steps such as exploring, and then a walk through for forgiving. It’s a program that helps heal the past, as well as the present when things come up in life.