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A Talk on Gratitude

06 Sep

grat

Last year I began offering what I call teaching talks (I’m careful not to use the term dharma talk since I’m not a dharma teacher) at my local sangha.  Not too frequently, as I don’t want to turn my sangha into the Nicole show, but a couple times a year seems doable.  I’m scheduled to give a talk in mid-September and I’ve decided the topic will be on gratitude.  So, much like my recent post on August 27th, I’m using my blog as an opportunity to write out what I’ll talk about in order to help me process and filter through some ideas.  Here goes…

I’m a volunteer with hospice and currently meet with a woman who’s 100 years old.  As a hospice volunteer our primary role is to to visit with patients socially and simply spend time as a friend.  This particular woman has great long term memory and has told me stories from when she was as young as three years old, in 1918.  However, she has very poor short term memory and often tells me the same things and asks the same questions over and over again in the span of our visits together.  When telling me about her upbringing or married life she’ll often stop mid-sentence and lean in a little closer to me from her wheelchair and say, “You know, I’ve had such a great life.  I am so grateful.  I had great parents, a great brother and sister, and a great husband and kids.”  I can tell she’s really connecting with her gratitude when she reiterates these words to me.  The spirit and energy of gratitude is alive within her and radiates outwards when she talks about it – I can see it in her eyes.  Her strong sense of gratitude is what ties all of her memories together – and if I had to guess it’s also part of what allowed her the capacity to live to reach 100 years old with many of her faculties about her.

Gratitude is often undervalued as a practice to cultivate in order to live a happier, healthier life.  Our ability to experience gratitude is one of the determining factors in our overall quality of life.  Developing a daily practice of gratitude is not only helpful but necessary if we have a desire to make the most of each moment and live with more joy and ease.  Learning how to be present in the here and now and strengthen our mindfulness practice requires a certain amount of gratitude – if we are not able to connect with how much abundance and beauty surrounds us, at least on some level, it will be very difficult to live in the here and now.  The stronger our feelings of gratitude are the more able we are to ‘Be Here Now’ with whatever it is we’re doing.

The more we practice gratitude the more we keep practicing, the stronger our practice gets, and the easier it becomes.  But what does it mean to actually practice gratitude?  How do we practice?    There are many ways, of course, but as I can only speak from my own experience here are a couple of ideas that I personally do and find helpful:

mindful-eating-2

One: Taking a few short moments before eating a meal to connect with the food in front of us and our appreciation of it is a great way to integrate the practice of gratitude into our daily life.  We may like to start with one meal a day in order to not set the bar too high in terms of creating a new routine.  We may also want to pick the meal that we have the most spaciousness around eating.  Perhaps breakfast is too rushed for us in the morning but at lunch we can afford to take a few moments to offer words of gratitude before eating.  We may like to close our eyes, in order to help increase our focus on what we’re doing, and say some simple words to ourselves, such as: This food is the gift of the whole universe, the earth, the sky, and much hard work.  Saying these words followed by one full breath takes about 10 seconds.  If we don’t have 10 seconds to connect with one meal a day we’re in trouble!  Come up with your own words or use the short phrase above.  The important part here is to take the time to stop and connect.  Many of us have a strong habit energy to eat on the go or while doing other things.  The good news here is that we’re starting small and simple.  You don’t have to eat really slowly or stop multi-tasking while eating – the practice here is to take 10 seconds before a meal, that’s it.  The food we are afforded is a great luxury that many people around the world do not have.  It’s important not to take our relatively easy access to food for granted.

prostrations

Two: Every morning after I practice sitting meditation I do three prostrations to the earth (see pics above).  With each one I offer a different gratitude.  With the first prostration I say, inwardly to myself, the same thing each morning, “I bow down to the earth in gratitude for this one precious life.”  With the second and third prostration I offer different gratitudes each day.  I start each one the same way, “I bow down to the earth in gratitude for _____”, and then I fill in the blank with whatever comes to mind.  There are no wrong answers here :)  The possibilities are endless!  If you don’t practice sitting meditation in the morning that’s OK.  You can simply do the gratitude prostrations on their own.  You can also alter the prostrations if you are unable to bend down on the ground by sitting erect, closing your eyes, and simply placing your palms facing upwards on your knees.  If you are able to do the prostration as pictured above I highly encourage you to do so.  While it may feel strange or foreign at first this position is highly beneficial in terms of cultivating humility, connection to the earth, and developing a spiritual reverence for life.

After I do my three prostrations I stand up and do one final standing bow, with the same ending verse each time, “In gratitude for this one more opportunity to live today, may I be useful, may I be kind.”  Starting each day with gratitude allows me to set my daily compass in the direction of living and engaging more skillfully.

gratitude

Getting support can be extremely helpful in creating a new practice or routine.  If you’re drawn to start a daily gratitude practice but find it hard time creating the space and time to do it on your own ask a friend, family member, your partner, or a roommate if they’ll join you.  The collective energy of doing it together with someone can be very powerful and nourishing.  Perhaps you can set up a check-in system with a friend and email or text daily about your practice.  If you’re a blogger you can use your blog to offer personal motivation.  When I wanted to start a daily meditation practice I used this blog to write about the process for 21-days of sitting.  Putting my intention out there to the blogosphere gave me just enough sense of personal responsibility and it helped me to follow through.  Having someone to check in with and report back to makes it more difficult to bail on something we’d really like to commit to.  Get creative with ideas for cultivating more gratitude in your life.  Utilize your friends and support networks.  Getting support is one of the most wisest of actions we can engage in.

 

Lovely Gratitude Quotes:

“Keeping your body healthy is an expression of gratitude to the whole cosmos – the trees, the clouds, everything.”                       – Thich Nhat Hanh

“Saying thank you is more than good manners. It is good spirituality.”  ~Alfred Painter

If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, “thank you,” that would suffice.”  ~Meister Eckhart

You say grace before meals. All right. But I say grace before the concert and the opera, and grace before the play and pantomime, and grace before I open a book, and grace before sketching, painting, swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing and grace before I dip the pen in the ink.” ~G.K. Chesterton

When eating bamboo sprouts, remember the man who planted them.” ~Chinese Proverb

 

 

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8 responses to “A Talk on Gratitude

  1. the_tovarysh_connection

    September 7, 2015 at 9:00 am

    I applaud your gentle urging of your readers to live a life in gratitude. I also give gratitude every morning as I walk around my farm. I think about all that I have and my connection to the All. I give thanks to my guides for the support that I receive. I even thank the fairies and little people on the land for guiding me what to do next to help it to thrive. A wonderful way to set the tone for your day.

    What a lovely blog you have. Your peaceful, calm essence jumps across the page. Many blessings to you for all that you do.

     
    • goingoutwordsandinwords

      September 7, 2015 at 9:03 am

      What a lovely image – walking your farm in gratitude. I can picture it now :) Thank you for reading and posting my friend. May your day (and farm) be well!

       
  2. Kathi

    September 7, 2015 at 6:13 pm

    What a beautiful practice to end sitting meditation with- Thank you for the inspiring reminder- a bell of mindfulness for me! Thank you for sounding it.

     
    • goingoutwordsandinwords

      September 7, 2015 at 6:20 pm

      Thank you for reading along and posting Kathi :) Happy Monday! I’m off to sangha soon! Yay!

       
  3. stacegens

    September 7, 2015 at 8:59 pm

    Thank you for encouraging me to practice more gratitude. This may sound weird but sometimes I feel sad or guilty when I say things like “thank you for protecting my family” or “thank you for this food and for the hands that prepared it” because in that moment I’m reminded of those who are grieving over a lost family member or I’m reminded of those who are hungry or homeless. Sometimes when I say “Thank you, I’m grateful” I’m reminded of how quickly something can be taken away from me or how fragile life is. It’s like I can’t just say “thank you” and feel a complete sense of peace. Maybe it’s a personal issue of not feeling worthy of the blessings I receive moment to moment. Or maybe it’s stale-shame because I’m saying “thank you” but in my heart I’m really longing for something different or wanting something more. (Maybe I just think too much and I’m making this way more complicated then it needs to be.) Gratitude does help me accept my circumstances just as they are. It’s so much more than just “looking at the bright side of things” or “making the best of it.” You know what I mean when people say “well, it could have been a whole lot worse!?” I suppose gratitude is called a practice because it doesn’t always come easy. I’ll keep cultivating. Thanks for the forum to share my thoughts and feelings.

     
    • goingoutwordsandinwords

      September 8, 2015 at 6:52 am

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts and what comes up for you around gratitude practice. It is very serendipitous that you should mention the nature of guilt in relation to gratitude because I was just talking with my husband about this very thing yesterday afternoon. I was brainstorming with him about whether I should include the nature of guilt in my talk – I think it is very common for people to feel guilty when embarking on a practice of gratitude. I know I felt this way at first too. To me, when guilt arises it is an indicator that our seed of gratitude needs to be watered and nourished more. Guilt can arise when we are reminded how much we take for granted, especially in context of the suffering and poverty of others. When our seed of gratitude is strong the conditions for guilt are not present. When our gratitude is strong we come to see that our deep appreciation for what we are afforded is rooted in respect and care for those less fortunate than we are. Gratitude allows us not to take things for granted – it is one of the best ways we can engage with the world near and far.

       
  4. Madeline Johnson

    September 9, 2015 at 7:47 am

    What a wonderful article on remembering to be thankful and the abundance that gratitude can bring. Thank you for sharing. I wrote about a similar practice today of saying grace and giving thanks at the kitchen table. http://bit.ly/1NpFTps

     

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