He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not,
but rejoices for those which he has.
“Thank you.” It’s a very simple, very powerful statement – especially when it is said with true gratitude. We live in a hurried culture, one abundant with blessings even in the toughest of times, yet often we overlook or forget to give thanks for what we have.
Growing up, I had four grandparents close by. Along with my parent’s diligence and tight knit church family, gratitude was something that has been deeply instilled in me. All of them were far more concerned with ‘the color of my soul’ than whether I had the latest fashion to wear. If I frowned at the food put before me, I was reminded that there were starving children who would be happy for the food I had. Grandma June would would gladly to put me in touch with some of the children she sponsored abroad so that I could explain to them why I was dissatisfied with my options in food. During our trip to Korea (and accidental adventure in Japan) in 2016 I very much enjoyed that everyone gave a polite bow or quick nod – a physical gesture that immediately shows consideration for others.
It doesn’t matter what your faith, spiritual orientation, or cultural heritage is, acts of gratitude show respect for life and consciousness itself. It opens the Heart and mind to infinite potential and wonder. Appreciation and grace create greater depth of love, compassion and unity which rewires our brain. Studies have shown that people who live with gratitude have increased states of attention, energy, enthusiasm, alertness and live with an overall positive attitude. Unfortunately, it seems like a lot of people in our culture wait until a Facebook challenge in November reminds them to practice a little gratitude. Wow! Just think of what would happen if everyone expressed gratitude daily. The world would be a better place for all of us.
Weaving gratitude into your life
We live in a world of vice and virtue – and at any given moment we choose between the two. Taoist thought, the philosophy behind at the foundation of Asian medicines, has a simple saying, “Li proceeds Qi.” Meaning intention precedes action and manifestation. At any moment you can ask yourself – What is my motivation or intention behind what I’m doing? That’s your Li – and I’m not buying it that you don’t know what you are up to. The exception might be the very young or those with a mental disability. You know what you are doing, you may simply not be caring about what you are doing. It’s your intention that leads to the manifestation of Qi – which is form and/or structure.
To create grace and gratitude you simply practice grace and gratitude.
Here’s some ideas
Meditation – My first recommendation. All meditation helps to toss off the shackles of attachment helping us reconnect with our authentic selves and life purpose. If you’ve never meditated before, you may want to try meditation with seed – Take 30-60 minutes a day sit up straight and still, focusing on a candle or the horizon and specifically focus on what blessings you have in your life. Refuse to allow victimization to roll in. In my personal practice I use meditation without seed focusing on non-duality. If you are completely unfamiliar with meditation, seek out an instructor. And yes, you have the time, if you choose to look for it. If you find yourself using the excuse of “I just can’t” – check it. Can’t is a term that should be used only for things that you truly can not change – like who your birth mother is or the weather. You may not be accustomed to it yet, or haven’t truly tried to discipline yourself to sit still, but I guarantee there are very few people who truly can not sit still to meditate.
Wake in the morning and list 3 things you are thankful for – Hey, you woke up and you get to breath, right? These can be big or small items – get real with it.
Start a gratitude journal – Take time to journal out the blessings of your day or of your life.
Prayer and contemplation – Most paths of faith and spiritual practice use gratitude and reverence – bowing, prayer, meditation, contemplation, particular rituals, whatever that might be. Take a moment to look at your practice, do you spend enough time being thankful?
Give thanks for the food you eat – Take a moment before you eat. Whether in prayer or conscious reverence. Be aware of where the food came from, who grew it, who prepared it and the opportunities that have allowed you to have it. You want French? Ethiopian? Basque? Consider that we are fortunate enough to have dozens of choices in foods everyday.
Get involved in the community – Get involved in projects or events that give back to the community that helps support and sustain you.
Don’t wait for the holidays – Although the holidays are a great time to get together and express thankfulness, don’t wait for them. Write a card, send a letter, smile at a stranger. Be kind.
Make the holidays yours – I love the holiday season, yet some of the holiday traditions don’t quite match my family’s moral or ethical beliefs. For example part of my family is Indigenous. The image I had been given during my grade school years of Thanksgiving was really screwed up when I started looking at the history of the Indigenous people of America and the colonizers. The more clear history I learned the more I wanted to make sure that my daughter had a clear picture of her heritage and could participate where appropriate. We set about recreating Thanksgiving to be more appropriate. Don’t love Christmas? That’s totally okay, but don’t cut out the virtues of the season. This might be time with friends or using warming colors to decorate your house for the season. Create something meaningful for yourself, let go of what is no longer needed, and put something better in its place. Add some fresh flowers or pine boughs to your home. I now view the chaos of commercialism around the holidays as the weather – it’s just passing through. I can choose to participate in it or not, but I refuse to allow it to dampen my ability to embrace the joy that each season or holiday provides. Yes, I still give gifts, but they are meaningful to whom I give them to and they are useful and environmentally friendly. This year, I gave a lot of socks, wrapped in new tea cloths, because everyone needs socks and kitchen towels, right?
Say “Please and thank you.” And mean it.
Be open to wonder and amazement – Life gets hectic and we lose perspective falling into pessimism. Consider the beauty in a raindrop or the vastness of space.
Breathe – Be in the moment and take time to remember who helped you along the way. The Lungs help to regulate our Heart rate. A few relaxed, deep breaths can make a world of difference.
Be in nature – Go out for a walk, get into the woods or down by the river, or climb a mountain to look at the stars. The Japanese have a tradition called Shinrinyoku – literally forest bathing – which means spending time in the forest to create calm and restore yourself.