Don’t you find the phenomenon fascinating of how clearly you remember every detail of where you were when something that was important to you happened? Where you were when you heard about the horrors of 9/11, about Princess Diana’s untimely death, or if you’re of a certain age, about the assassination of President Kennedy. No question, I do remember my whereabouts when each of those newsworthy events transpired.

Yet oddly enough, one situation involving a conversation I had with my mother stands out for me with equal clarity because of its eventual importance in my life.

A relationship I’d assumed was the forever one had just bitten the dust and this twenty-something was an unhappy camper. I remember calling my mom, in tears of course, smack in the midst of a full-scale pity party. Like any caring mother, mine sympathized, assuring me that I, her baby girl, was in the right and my former boyfriend, the chump, was tacky and wasn’t worth my time of day. Her empathy lasted for about 15 minutes before she became aware that a titch of self-confidence had crept back into my voice. It was time for maternal wisdom.

“Katherine,” she said, “you’ll get past this. Trust me. And probably faster than you think. What you need to know is that life is filled with ups and downs. It’s a pattern. When those good times are rolling, be grateful. Enjoy them to the fullest. Then when the tough times take over, be grateful for those, too.”

“Eww,” I’m sure I must’ve whined. “Why in the world would I be grateful for the hard stuff?”

Without missing a beat, she replied, “Because they’re full of life lessons, and if you can learn those the first time around, the next time a situation arises, you’ll know how to handle it better. The hard times can be periods of growth if you’ll pay attention to the truths in them.” She rang off shortly thereafter, leaving her daughter with an entire smorgasbord for thought.

I’d like to say I listened attentively to her words and applied them immediately. But I hadn’t yet lived long enough to do that. Now, after a number of years on a path of seeking growth, I finally get it. In this particular column “it” refers to the concepts of a) guides along the way, and b) the importance of gratitude to add ease to your life journey.

First, about those guides…It’s amazing how many teachers, mentors and experienced individuals are “out there” to assist seekers of knowledge, truth, and wisdom on their life paths. Some are obvious, as their resumes, cv’s and other items on their “look what I’ve done” lists may attest. Those may include household names, such as Oprah and Deepak. (Wouldn’t it be fun to be so famous that your first name was all that was necessary for identification?!) Perhaps the pastor, rector or priest of your church might be in that category.

The lesser-known others tiptoe quietly through their days, planting sure words of wisdom in unlikely places that must be stumbled upon to be discovered. You won’t find diplomas on their walls, but should you meet one of the latter, be open to all you can learn about life and often, about the universe itsownself. This might be a complete stranger, someone you don’t know well, or maybe even a family member.

The key to manifesting the guidance you require is fairly simple: Get still, breathe deeply to clear your mind, focus on whatever particular issue is online for you, ask for clear signs for help in resolution, believe that assistance is on the way, look for those signs, let go of any preconceived idea of what they should look like, and trust them when they show up.

Two adages that go hand-in-hand apply here. Ask for signs and they will appear. When the student is ready, the teacher will appear. In other words you can’t just sit on your couch hoping that things will get better. Even if you can’t see the way ahead clearly, start putting one foot in front of the other.

For example, I always find it amazing when a problem presents itself, I follow the above schematic, and voila! The exact issue that’s bugging me is the subject of a podcast I “happen” to tune into, a sermon I “happen” to hear, or an email I “happen” to receive from a friend I haven’t heard from in years. I stopped believing in coincidence a long time ago.

And now for the second aforementioned “it,” the secret ingredient in finding the way on life’s sometimes-rocky, sometimes joyous path…gratitude. Back to my mother’s timely advice. Being thankful can seem a small thing. Especially when life gets in the way of your plans and you have to deal with an unexpected encumbrance or two before moving on. Mom’s “hard times” and “periods of growth” with “life lessons.” You know, the ones that you’d rather have a root canal than have to deal with. It’s like she said, open your mind and be grateful.

A great way to start that process, whether you’re on the bottom looking up or having a super day, is by keeping a gratitude journal. I first learned about this on the old Oprah show when she gave away probably hundreds of thousands of small, diary-like books. Her simple instructions were to list five things you were grateful for each morning. I’ve followed her rules off and on for quite some time. Some entries are really cool, exciting things, like watching the Blue Angels soaring above on a sunny, cloudless day, while other times, I might be thankful for hot pink azaleas blooming in my backyard. The important things is to feel that gratitude. Write it and then think about it for a minute. Then move on to the next.

What I find is that on the days I take the time to be grateful, no matter what comes up, my day is easier and my perspective is clearer. Just like the days I meditate. You wouldn’t think a seemingly small thing could make such a difference, but it does. The process hearkens back to the old Irving Berlin tune sung so beautifully by Bing Crosby in “White Christmas” back in the 1950’s:

“When you’re worried and you can’t sleep,

Just count your blessings instead of sheep,

And you’ll fall asleep counting your blessings.”

Neale Donald Walsch, author of Conversations with God, states it well. “The struggle ends when gratitude begins.”