The week around Thanksgiving tends to naturally deepen my gratitude practice. And I remember when I first came upon the suggestion of gratitude as a practice. I sort of thought it was funny. To call it a practice that is. Thinking at the time that it happens naturally, all by itself. But I realized over time that it doesn't necessarily take place often enough on it's own. That it's a choice, an attitude that I have to choose to cultivate, each and every day. To practice gratitude throughout the day means that you choose to pause and appreciate what is. You value, give attention to, and honor whatever is here, in this moment.
The practice has changed my way of seeing life. It helps me to be in awe instead of expecting, to appreciate all that is, and to more often then not, experience a sense of contentment. A concept that is rarely touched on in our society, to be content. I personally hardly ever hear anyone even use the word. If anything, I hear the opposite. We are in search of more of what we already have, or the things that we don't have. Some even consider it's being lazy, or without drive in life, if you state that you are content. It's funny isn't it, that a state of being that fills us with a sense of fullness, ease and peace isn't even considered worthy of striving for?
These days we have research that shows how the neurological pathways change from this type of practice, just like we have been able to show when it comes to other practices of being awake and mindful. What is also interesting from the studies is that it happens even if we have a hard time to muster up a true sense of gratitude. So even if we are living through truly painful times, and it feels like we are faking it, the fact that we are trying, that we are searching for something that we can be grateful for, creates these changes in the brain.
Yogi Bhajan is often quoted saying "The attitude of gratitude is the highest way of living, and is the biggest truth, the highest truth. You cannot live with applied consciousness until you understand that you have to be grateful for what you have." And Eckhart Tolle tells us that "if the only prayer you said in your whole life was, 'thank you', that would suffice". You see, this is not difficult, we do not need to study how to practice gratitude, but, we have to put the effort into applying it. And just like all practice, as long as it's only a thought, an intention, no matter how lovely of an intention it is, it will make no difference. It's only the practice we actually do that will change us. But as always, the beauty of it is that we can start right now. In this moment. No preparations are needed.
So, how do we do this? Well, here is what I do, just to give you an example, and hopefully some inspiration. Some of my practice happens by itself these days, there are moments during my day that I think, and therefore feel the sense of gratitude without making a mental effort to do so. But I also choose, continuously, to pause and look at the blessings in my life. I always start in bed after waking. This comes easily to me most days. I acknowledge to myself how grateful I am to get another day, in which I will be able to see, feel, taste and smell the most wonderful things around me. I get to love, and be loved. Then I continue as I get up, and a lot of my practice is about the basic things I am privileged to have. Like my warm grey sweater that I wrap around me in the cool bedroom, and the tea that I can so easily make in the kitchen. The first sip of my tea is often a moment of gratitude. What makes it a practice is that I pause, experience, and acknowledge to myself how lucky I am to have this in my life, in that moment.
Throughout the day it can be clothing, food, heat in my home, my shower, the sky and it's clouds, the river and the trees, animals and people. Anything and everything, whenever I remember to reflect. All of the things and events that are so easy to take for granted, but that is not a given to all. I end the day the way I started, in bed, grateful to have my warm and safe bed to rest in. I might remember some things from the day that I am especially grateful to have had in my day, and then I go to sleep, and start over the next morning.
If you haven't made it part of your life yet, I highly recommend it. Perhaps you also want to bring in another side of it, which is to express your gratitude, to tell people that you appreciate them. Say "thank you" whenever you have an opportunity. Let others know that you are grateful for their existence by being thankful. Not just your family and friends, but even more so, all the people that serve you one way or another, the mail man/woman, the guy pumping your gas, the teller in the bank, the cashier that rings up your groceries, the waiter. I could keep going, but you get the point. Spread the gratitude so that you remember at all times how privileged you are, instead of being, or becoming, entitled.
I am sure that if we make this a daily practice, the holiday season that is upon us, will be rich and fulfilling, no matter what practical compromises we all have to make this particular winter. It's not the external circumstances that make that happen, even though it's so easy to get caught up in that way of thinking. It's our view and attitude towards what is that brings us the richness and the joy.
"Piglet noticed that even if he had a very small heart,
it could hold a rather large amount of gratitude."