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WomanOf the Month 12-04: Sarah Ban Breathnach

Gratitude, simplicity and order-three principles from her best-selling guide to finding one###s authentic self-helped WomanOf the Month Sarah Ban Breathnach stay clear and focused on her late-October wedding day in England. "Mine was a small, intimate family wedding with about 40 guests in my home, and I did virtually everything for it. I have found that simple abundance can work in almost every situation, and in this case it helped bring harmony, beauty and joy to the day of my wedding," Breathnach says.

Breathnach###s Simple Abundance and other books became indispensable for many readers seeking to live a more peaceful existence over the last decade. But despite books such as these, which espouse a stripped-down, reflective approach to living, are we getting anywhere? "Unfortunately I don###t think we are," says Breathnach. "When I go back to the U.S., I###m concerned about the materialism of simplicity that seems to be out there. The thing about Simple Abundance is you didn###t have to have to buy anything to use the principles-you just wrote five things at the end of every day that you were grateful for. I find it fascinating that 10 years after it was published it###s fresh again, because it reminds you of the basics. But a lot of the materialism of spirituality and materialism of simplicity I see I find disturbing."

Especially as we prepare for the holidays, Breathnach suggests that women protect themselves from too many demands. "It###s the idea of putting blinders on to the outside world." she says. "Women are pulled in so many directions with family, work and trying to remember to take care of themselves, that they have to be proactive about putting blinders on."

"We are so needy," she notes. "We are information-inundated and the news is generally all bad, so if you start your day reading the morning paper, you###re not going to feel good. That###s another reason I wanted to do the column. It###s an antidote."

The column Breathnach refers to will launch in January 2005 through national syndication in newspapers. Called "Simple Abundance", it will share with readers "new ways to rethink, rediscover and ransom back moments of contentment from the chaos that seems to engulf us at every turn." Breathnach is also at work on her latest book, Moving On: Creating Your House of Belonging through Simple Abundance. "The metaphor is the rooms of the house for a woman as a reflection point. It is exactly where I am right now," she says. "My books seem to be prophetic for me as I write. Certainly getting married again, I had to learn how to move on."

Gratitude is Passionate
The holidays### approach also bring up the notion of gratitude. Why is gratitude so important in self-discovery and happiness? "The thing about gratitude that constantly amazes me is how fresh it is, and how it is a moving attitude," says Breathnach. "It is not passive, it is very passionate. I use it in different ways. If you are struggling with a particular problem such as money or relationships or family or health, if you concentrate to find something to be grateful for in that particular issue, it will open you up to the good that surrounds you. That###s the most important thing about gratitude. It###s like opening a door and finding behind it treasures that you never even knew were in this house. It slows you down and stops the whining.

"When I wrote Simple Abundance it was never intended to be a book. I woke up one day 11 years ago and I was sick of the sound of my own whining. I never complained to anyone else, but I did to myself. I just couldn###t take it, and I told myself, sit down and don###t get up until you give me 100 reasons why your life is perfect. Six or seven hours later I had done that and it really opened my eyes, and continues to open my eyes."

Preserving the Meaning of Gift-giving
How can we preserve the meaning of gift-giving and gratitude in our materialistic culture? "It really is the thought behind the gift that means the most," says Breathnach. "Getting an old photograph that you didn###t have in a lovely frame from a sibling or a cousin or a friend has to be the world###s best gift. Or, when you know a friend###s passion-you don###t have to be buying, buying, buying. I remember when one of my friends told me that she loved an eiderdown quilt on one of my beds and said, remember me in your will with that-I had found it for $25. Well, she###s getting it for Christmas! I think people ought to start shopping in their own closets and around the rooms of their house for gifts for friends."

Christmas is Breathnach###s favorite holiday. She loves decorating and creating traditions. "I become a child again," she says. She has a Christmas film festival showing a different old Christmas film every night and enjoys cooking on a small scale. "I love looking at other people###s Christmas lights. I don###t do a lot of entertaining. I used to do an open house but it got so large that I stopped. I think women need to know it###s ok to do that. Just because you###ve done something one way for the last 10 years doesn###t mean you can###t change.

"For many women Christmas becomes a tug of war between anticipation and dread, and the thing to remember is it###s only one day, it comes whether you are ready or not, and it will be gone in 24 hours!" she laughs.

Breathnach works in an unusual space-Sir Isaac Newton###s Chapel, which she purchased in 1997 and restored-and like many writers follows a routine each day. She wears a favorite sweater and works Monday through Friday from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm. After entering the chapel she puts the kettle on, lights the fire, and turns on instrumental music. The grandfather clock ticks as she rereads what she###s written the day before and then begins researching the quotes she uses to start her work.

There###s an ironic tale behind her purchase of the chapel. In 1996, the idea of a self-help book was considered silly at best by the English. So when Simple Abundance was reviewed, naturally it was a target for jibes. One writer referred to Breathnach as the "Isaac Newton of the Simplicity Movement." "He was being facetious, but I just thought that was the most wonderful quote I###d ever heard in my life," laughs Breathnach. "I have a sense of humor. I developed a crush on Sir Isaac Newton, read as much about him as a could and about a year later I was in England covering the funeral of Princess Diana for People Magazine and I heard that Newton###s Chapel was for sale. I went to look at it, and the earth tilted on its axis for me. It was 900 years old, had two rooms, and I bought it on the spot. I didn###t know a soul in England and I had just ended a long marriage. I heard a voice that said, it will all be revealed in the bye and bye, so I bought it, and then my life changed.

"I think I was being grateful for the mysteries in life."

For more information about Breathnach and her work, go to www.simpleabundance.com