What would it be like to rise up out of bed each morning being grateful for the comfort and warmth of your pillow? To give thanks for the company of a loved one sleeping beside you, or in the next room? Even before your feet hit the floor, what if you were to give thanks for your breath, for your feet? Imagine... how might that set the course for your day?
This is more than giving thanks, this is practicing thanks. Driving down the highway on the way to work this morning a song came on my radio with the line “I am grateful for this moment.” I looked through my windshield and noticed the sweet handprint on the glass left by my daughter, the snow dusting the tree limbs, the sweep of the road as it disappeared into the mountains. Joy arose. My chest swelled with warmth and fullness, tears came to my eyes. In that precious moment I was simply grateful for the simple things around me. The pettiness of life, the to-do lists, the day dreaming, the problem solving, all fell away.
Joy arises in the present moment.
Practicing gratitude is one way I have found to invite joy into my life. And it is a practice. It requires intention. Our minds are not innately oriented to positive thought. Consider that it would not have been in the best interests of our ancestors to default to positive thinking when something like a charging wild boar or the exposure to winter weather was continually threatening them and their offspring. Our survival as a species required (and still requires) a critical mind. Which is why the ratio of positive to negative thought for most of us is one to five (some people might be noticing that at times their ratio can seem more like one to ten or even twenty). With intention and practice, we can work to even out this ratio and invite ease and wellbeing into our body and mind every day.
Developing a Practice
Creating a ritual. For a while I had a pocket sized journal devoted to giving thanks. Each morning, I would start a new page and write down three things that I was grateful for. The songs of the birds outside my window, my daughter sleeping sweetly beside me, the serenity of a beam of morning light coming through my window and illuminating all the dust particles wafting in the air, access to freshly running water, the promise of yummy leftovers from last night's dinner awaiting me for today's lunch. We may have an abundance in life, but our minds are wired and then trained to seek out more. Giving thanks for small things each day allows us to be ok with, and more importantly enjoy, what is. Research suggests that even journaling on gratitude once a week has positive effects on mood and well-being (read more here).
Changing habit into intention. How many times do we say “thank you" throughout the day. What if just one of those times it came directly from the heart? Instead of automatically responding “thanks” when someone holds a door for me, I have worked on stepping out of my head and into the interaction by looking and smiling at this kind being and genuinely thanking them for their courtesy. This may look no different to the other person, but I can’t help but wonder if it feels different to them. Regardless, it feels different to me.
Befriending the critic. Because it is only natural that our mind tends to be critical, we can begin to notice what our minds are saying to us, and even begin to gently challenge this subconscious dialog. Just a moment ago, did you immediately think that I needed to dust my house when you read that I was grateful for the dust particles floating in the air? I certainly did, and that can be important and productive. But how much nicer is it to accompany that critical thought with a moment of gratitude? Another example: Each night you have to do the dishes… again. What about approaching the task of washing the dishes by giving thanks for having food for your family or for hot running water? What would it be like in invite a small smile onto your face while you feel the warmth of the soapy water on your hands?
Bringing in compassion. Even in the most heated moments, with practice and intention, we have the opportunity to invite kindness. With kindness and curiosity we make space for gratitude. The bodhisattva prayer is something along the lines of, “may this serve to awaken my compassion." I often ask myself the question, where is the gift in this moment? When the blinders go up and rage is storming within, this type of reflection gets tricky. In these moments gratitude comes much later. Sometimes it's gratitude for my husband, my friends, or my journal who give me a space to help quiet the storm by talking and feeling it through. Sometimes it's gratitude for the refuge of my practice of breathing and mindfulness. Sometimes it's gratitude for not acting on my anger and doing something that is not in line with my values. Gratitude for the opportunity to begin again. Approaching these tricky moments with compassion is practicing gratitude in and of itself and can help me to approach the next storm with a stance of gratitude.
Kaypacha through his weekly astrological forecasting sums this all up for me in one particular mantra, “Sometimes I keep it together. Sometimes I fall apart. If I stay in a place of grace and joy, my life becomes living art."