Inclining Toward Gratitude
“Everyday, think as you wake up, today I am fortunate to be alive, I have a precious human life, I am not going to waste it.” ~ Dalai Lama
I am a big believer in having a gratitude practice. This can be a simple as taking a moment each day to reflect on one or two things we are grateful for or as involved as keeping a gratitude journal. What we are grateful for doesn’t have to be a big thing. It could be for the sun shining through our window or the fact that we don’t have a toothache. It could be for the opportunity to practice the music we love or to sit with a dear friend when they’re not feeling well.
I find the best part about practicing gratitude is that it helps me feel connected to the mystery of life. In our everyday concerns, it is so easy to take life for granted. When I remember to be grateful, even for a few minutes, I sense this kind of reconnecting. It feels as if there is a larger reality in which my personal story is unfolding – not everything is about me and that’s OK. It is quite liberating. It beats complaining that’s for sure.
It’s amazing that we don’t make more of an effort to cultivate gratitude. It is really the easiest thing we can do to help boost happiness. Taking time to be grateful for a child’s smile, the kindness of others, our health, our practice, etc., helps us appreciate each moment and the interdependent nature of life. It can soften our hearts when we’ve become too guarded and builds our capacity for forgiveness. Amazing how such a simple practice can be so life changing.
So why not do it more often? Perhaps it is because we’ve inherited a brain that reacts more intensely to negative stimuli than to positive ones. Our natural tendency is to be on guard, to want to protect ourselves. Fortunately, studies have shown we can overcome this negative bias, but it takes effort. Practicing gratitude is a wonderful way to re-tune our brains to the positive and open our hearts.
By the way, I don’t mean to suggest that we should be in denial of life's difficulties. We live in troubling times. A heart of gratitude, however, enables us to live more fully into life in good times and bad. It is the antidote to feelings of scarcity, fear and loss. It allows us to meet life's difficulties with an open heart. The understanding we gain from practicing gratitude frees us from being lost or identified with either the negative or the positive aspects of life. Instead it helps us simply meet life in each moment as it rises.
With so much fear and sadness in the world, it is healthy to let our hearts delight in the blessings of life. I would like to end by offering you the following reflections. These come from former chief editor of Esquire magazine and full-time meditation teacher Phillip Moffitt. Enjoy!
- What are you grateful for? Make a list. Include “basics” you would not like to live without, like a warm shower or your morning coffee.
- Pause to appreciate that in this moment you have a sense of well-being. Notice the effect of this. Does this gratitude lead you anywhere?
- Take a few minutes at the end of each day to mentally note the many people who have invisibly served you by providing medicine, shelter, safety, food, education, and so forth.
Forrest Hill is a singer-songwriter living in the bay area of California. He has just finished his third album called River of Stars that is set to be released in May 2019. He has been practicing meditation since 2004 and is a founding member of Napa Valley Insight Meditation. He is graduate of the Community Dharma Leaders Program at Spirit Rock Meditation Center has a PhD from MIT in Biological Oceanography. He believes meditation can foster greater awareness, wisdom and kindness in our daily lives, and teach us how to respond more compassionately to the world around us.