Happy Thanksgiving everyone! I hope you all have plans that please you for the holidays. It may seem trite to talk about gratitude at this time, when everyone is talking thanks, but mostly running around shopping for food and material items. But gratitude is an important practice to me, and I would like to share that with you.
Years ago, I took a class called “Awakening Joy,” taught by James Baraz, a meditation instructor some of you may have heard of. In it, we were encouraged to try a daily gratitude practice as one of many tools to help us down the path towards happiness. The instruction was to find at least one other person, or several others, and share small things you felt grateful for every day. These days, the easiest way to do this is by email. So I asked several friends if they’d like to participate, and two girlfriends outside the Bay Area agreed. Every day we emailed to each other at least three things we felt grateful for, sometimes more. I was amazed at how quickly and profoundly this affected my mood and outlook. Looking for moments when I felt gratitude helped me attune to it each day, and writing these moments down, then reading what the others wrote, filled my heart with tenderness. I began to feel grateful for everything from a droplet of water hanging from a blade of grass, to the unconditional love I received from my daughter. It was interesting to see what we found gratitude for when it was suddenly missing as well, like running water in the house when a plumbing problem arose.
We kept it up for months and then it fizzled out, but even today I’m able to call up tender feelings very quickly just by going back to thinking about gratitude. It came up today while hiking in Mount Diablo State Park, near the Donner Cabin site. I decided to rest on a rock in the middle of the almost-dry-creek, and there waiting for me was a white plastic-bead necklace with a cross at the end. A sticker attached said, “Accept a Miracle” on one side, and “Please accept this gift” on the other. Now, I am not Christian by religion, was not raised that way, and have persistently followed Buddhism for some time, but I was touched by this gift. To me, it did remind me to be open to small miracles, the good things in my life. It also inspired me to meditate, a kind of prayer. So I sat on the rock and meditated with the necklace in my lap, and among the multitude of thoughts and planning that generally tries to take over my mind, I did notice the gratitude I felt for many small things: for the beautiful day, the way the sunlight was shining at a slant across the mountainside, falling gently on the leaves at my feet; for all the people in my life who love me, my daughter, my boyfriend, my mother and brothers, my sister-in-law, my dear friends; for the chance to do what I love, to help people, and for all the kind and appreciative clients I get to work with. Afterwards, I dedicated the merit while holding the necklace, feeling grateful for the feelings of gratitude and compassion it had helped bring about, and so too the person who left it there.
I encourage you to try a gratitude practice. This week of Thanksgiving might be a good week to do it! In the midst of all the bustle of activity, take the time to write down just three things you feel grateful for each day. If you can share it with another person somehow, that’s even better. See if you can do it for seven days. You might be amazed, like me, at the power it brings. You might not want to stop.
For those who are new the practice of meditation, here is a great post on starting a gratitude practice.