"If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough" ~ Meister Eckhart.
Two simple words. So simple that most of us take them for granted, throwing them out when someone does something for us that we feel ought to be acknowledged. Sometimes we forget, and often we don't think about what we're really saying.
Expressing gratitude - really expressing it and meaning it - is a powerful practice. The health, social, and personal benefits of being grateful, not just for what we receive from others but for all the tiny things that make up our lives and our world, are huge. Scientific studies have shown that positively expressing gratitude on a regular basis actually makes us healthier, improving our sleep, boosting our immune systems, and increasing our energy levels. It makes us more relaxed, less self-centered, less materialistic, and more focused. Ultimately, it makes us happier humans.
So why aren't we all doing it?
Gratitude, especially for those of us born, raised, and living on a diet of social media and hard-core advertising, is a tough practice. When we are constantly bombarded with subtle (and not-so-subtle) messages telling us that what we own, what we do, and how we live isn't good enough - that we aren't good enough - it's hard to be thankful for those things that we do have, or do, or how we live. Constantly striving for something bigger or "better" makes us stressed, sick, and unhappy, and yet it seems like the easy option. Going against the tide to practice being thankful instead seems too much like hard work.
But gratitude is a practice, and the more we practice the easier it becomes. The easier it becomes, the happier we become. Instead of the vicious cycle of ungratefulness, where we constantly fixate on something new, something different, something "better", we invite a beautiful, inspiring circle of thankfulness and appreciation. The more we appreciate, the more we find to appreciate. Suddenly, the world seems full of sunshine.
This isn't that voice telling you that you should be grateful for something because so many other people don't have it. (How many of us, when we were younger, were told to clear our plates at dinner because there were starving children in Africa?!). The real practice of gratitude is being able to say "thank you" without obligation, without comparison, and without expecting anything in return. It's saying "thank you", whether out loud or in your head, for anything that makes you smile, anything that you have that you'd struggle to live without, anything that brings joy or meaning to your life. True gratitude encompasses the good and the not-so-good, by recognizing that everything has a purpose. Ultimately, gratitude strengthens faith, and trust, and hope. Knowing that we are rich and blessed in so many ways brings a certainty that, whatever happens, we are okay.
So if gratitude is a practice, where do we start?
The answer is simple - start somewhere. Anywhere. A lot of self-help and self-development books sing the praises of "gratitude journals", where you write down each day the things that you are grateful for, however small and insignificant they may seem. If that appeals to you, go ahead. Otherwise, here are a few more ideas to get you started.
The humble post-it note. Write down one thing - just one - that you feel grateful for on a post-it note (cliched, I know, but I love using the heart shaped ones for this!). Stick it somewhere you will be able to see it regularly, and leave it there until the sticky bit dries up. When you think of more things, simply use more post-it notes. You'll find yourself surrounded by brightly colored, possibly heart shaped reminders of all the things you have to be thankful for, and I guarantee there will always be one of them that will make you smile!
Meditation. If you already have a regular meditation practice, then this is a nice way to start or end your session. If not, it's a lovely introduction to sitting for meditation.
Find a quiet spot, indoors or out, and get comfortable in a seated position. The traditional posture is crossed legged, but as long as you are upright (lying down or slumping on the sofa increases the chances of falling asleep or becoming distracted), with your spine reasonably straight and in a position that you can hold for 10-15 minutes, then go with whatever works.
Allow your eyes to close, and your breath to become steady and quiet. Focus the mind on the natural breath - on the inhale, and the exhale, and the natural pause in between each breath - until it feels as if your mind is riding a wave, all the way up to the top of your inhale, and all the way down to the bottom of your exhale. If thoughts come into your mind, allow them in, notice them, and then gently bring your mind back to the breath.
When you feel calm, and relaxed, and focused, consciously bring into your mind an image of one thing that you are grateful at that particular moment, and allow that image to fill your mind completely. When your mind is so full that you cannot hold the image anymore, allow it to descend into your heart space, filling your heart as well as your mind. Notice any emotions that arise, any physical sensations, any thoughts. Allow the breath to fill the image with life, so that you are breathing through your heart space, and allow it to just be.
After 10-15 minutes, allow your eyes to slowly open. Keep the image of whatever you are grateful for in your heart, and in your mind, and in your breath. Take your time in settling and readjusting, and carry that feeling of gratitude with you through the rest of your day.
Yoga. A regular yoga practice is fantastic at cultivating gratitude. Simply beginning to understand how amazing your body is and the incredible things it can do is something to be grateful for, before you even get to the peace and tranquility and balance that yoga can bring to your mind. I practice Sivananda yoga every morning, and I am always thankful for how good it makes me feel. No matter how cranky or out of sorts I am when I step onto the mat, I always feel better by the end.
Backbending and heart opening asanas (postures) are particularly good at cultivating gratitude, as they open up the heart centre of compassion, empathy and love. Try Matsyasana (Fish pose), Urdhva Dhanurasana (Wheel pose), or a few rounds of Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutations). At first, your only prayer of "thank you" might be because you've come out of the asana, but you will start to notice a difference!
Leaving you with the immortal words of Winnie-the-Pooh.... and thank you for reading.
Thank you to our guest blogger, Rukmini Ali, for the heartfelt post, and thank YOU for taking this journey with me!
Check out www.kriyashakti.net for more about Rukmini Ali Shevlin.
Loving Life and Living Love,
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