“Even in the most challenging of times, there is the opportunity to learn, to love, to breathe.… I do not want to waste my time wanting, and waiting for, reasons for gratitude. The gift of my life is at hand, and it wants me to be fully alive, and wildly grateful, now. And again now. Unconditionally,” says
Kristi Nelson, our guest in conversation this Thanksgiving Week.
Kristi is the Executive Director of A Network for Grateful Living
, a global organization offering online educational programs and practices which inspire and guide a commitment to grateful living as an engaged mindfulness practice, grounded in both wisdom and science.
Grateful living is, according to Kristi
, “very much about planting yourself exactly in this moment in a spirit of sufficiency – what if this is all there is?” The practice encourages us to approach every moment and interaction as sufficient – “What if this is all there is in terms of time? What if I am all that I am in terms of my identity and what I bring to the world, and I’m enough? What if the people that are right in front of me are the people I’m meant to love? What if the life I’m living is exactly the life I’m meant to occupy?”
Even if we are facing hardship or illness or grief, grateful living encourages us to ponder, “What is the situation forcing me to notice? What is the situation forcing me to learn? What is the situation forcing me to let go of? What is the situation forcing me to see as an opportunity?” As Kristi says, at some point we can remove the “forcing” in the questions and replace it with “allowing”, because “people that are most at peace are those who are looking at the moment for its richness – not at what is lacking…. [We all have an] impulse that I do not want to feel at the effect of my circumstances; I want to feel a sense of agency; I want to open myself to participate in my experience in a way that doesn’t keep me from life [but] that allows me to live life inside circumstances I may not be choosing – to still have my full sense of engagement with my life no matter what, unconditionally. That’s what we are all longing for. [Gratefulness practices] allow us to consider that and move toward that.”
A survivor for more than 23 years of stage 4 atypical lymphoma that she experienced
during “the prime of life,” Kristi has experienced first-hand the power of this form of grateful, “acute living.” After 11 diagnostic surgeries over the nine months that were required for her to be conclusively diagnosed with cancer, Kristi discovered that her cancer by then had metastasized to the spine, requiring her to have extensive back surgery and rods put into spine, followed by radiation and chemotherapy for stage 4 atypical lymphoma. She found that “while I was in hospital [I had] the opportunity to love the people who came in to take my blood every afternoon. If I can’t move my body out of this bed, then what can I do within this bed? [I had to consider] what is possible in this moment and then to go there. Otherwise we are reduced to our circumstances…rather than claiming our agency in that moment which is what makes an empowered patient…. How can I co-create my experience?”
“There was something for me about losing control completely…. I had to find those vestiges of what I could influence when so much was stripped away from me…. At some point I think I got very clear that I could either resist my circumstances or that I could try in whatever way I could not to be falsely optimistic or be Pollyanna-ish but to make the best of my circumstances…. What if this was all that I had? … We’ll never learn if we’re resisting the lives we are leading…. If we’re in resistance to what’s currently sown, and you want it to be otherwise, that’s the definition of suffering. So how can I break free from suffering and develop a kind of resilience to liberate myself into the moment as it actually is rather than how I think it should be?”
A Network for Grateful Living, founded by Brother David Steindl-Rast
and directed by Kristi, provides online tools and support for off-line grateful living. Through Gratefulness.org
, an interactive website with several thousand participants daily from more than 240 countries and territories, the Network is launching a curriculum
to teach the fundaments of grateful living; piloting gratefulness practice groups
around the world so people can gather in person with one another and have a curriculum to practice grateful living with one another; an online community; and tools and practices
“We really think of grateful living as a movement,” Kristi says. “[It] has the power to really change the world because we believe that when you live gratefully you treat other people differently – that you are much more curious and inquisitive and respectful about other people, that you have a sense of sufficiency in your own life and abundance that make you want to be generous and make you less longing for other experiences.”
Prior to directing the Network, Kristi helped to lead, fund, and strengthen organizations committed to progressive social and spiritual change. In 2001, Kristi started a values-based fundraising consulting and training, and leadership coaching company, and in this capacity worked with organizations such as the Institute for Jewish Spirituality
, Buddhist Peace Fellowship
, Spirit in Action
, Wisdom 2.0
, and The Center for Contemplative Mind in Society
, among others. During this same period, she was also the founding Director of the Soul of Money Institute
with Lynne Twist, Director of Development at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health
, and Director of Development and Community Relations for the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society
Kristi received her BA from UMass/Amherst, a graduate certificate in Business and Sociology from Boston College, and her Master’s in Public Administration (MPA) with a concentration in Leadership Studies, from Harvard University. She lives in Western Massachusetts with her family, and feels blessed every day to be surrounded by the glories of the natural world and a vibrant, loving community.
Join us in grateful conversation with this remarkable woman and leader!
Five Questions with Kristi Nelson
What Makes You Come Alive?
I come alive in authentic connection with values-aligned people.I come alive in genuine conversations about issues at the edge of our comfort zones. I come alive when I am creating something - whether it is dinner or a piece of writing.I come alive when I am at the edge of any body of water. I come alive when I am faced with a plate of food prepared with love. I come alive in the light.
Pivotal turning point in your life?
Being diagnosed with stage IV lymphoma at 33 years old, and facing the prospect of my death at a fairly young age changed my life forever. I learned about the power of vulnerability and receiving. I learned to release the idea that I was in control. I learned how to be present, and to savor and learn from each moment and experience. I learned to know the profound beauty and liberation of enough-ness. I learned to be more grateful.
An Act of Kindness You'll Never Forget?
I am not copping out, but there are truly too many to mention. I am who I am because of the tremendous love, generosity and kindness of many extraordinary people in my life. I have been truly blessed and shaped by the caliber of people who surround me. Without the kindness of former strangers, true strangers, family, and true friends...I know that I would not be alive today. Being able to recognize and receive the many amazing gifts that have streamed toward me in this lifetime has delivered a "quality of life" I never imagined would be possible.
One Thing On Your Bucket List?
To live another year.
One-line Message for the World?
Love as if your life depended on it - it does.