The simple practice of cultivating gratitude, an appreciative awareness, and thankfulness, can powerfully transform our everyday experience of life. For some people, this is a natural and easy thing to do. For others, keeping gratitude in the forefront of awareness requires intention and discipline. Or, it may be that feelings of gratitude seem easier to connect to when conditions are to our liking and more difficult when times of challenge arise. It is useful to reflect on gratitude and consider how to consistently open ourselves to it.
Gratitude as a Spiritual Practice
Not long ago, I had the opportunity to visit a cloistered monastery, where the monks spend their days in prayer, contemplation, work and simple living. When I asked the abbot to tell me about his spiritual practice he said simply, “it is gratitude.” He explained that lay people often approached him with interest in special mystical practices but that he found the practice of cultivating gratitude to be profound. Every day, several times a day, he would ask himself: Am I thankful? His inner response to the question would tell him a lot about his quality of heart and mind and give an indication of his spiritual health. When we are anchored in the awareness of our essential spiritual nature, recognizing God as the Source of our life, gratitude flows naturally. If we become too involved in the ruses of ego—attachment to particular outcomes, identifying with roles that we play or becoming too involved with mundane matters— then gratitude is more difficult to experience.
Gratitude is an Attitude
Paramahansa Yogananda advised, “Avoid a negative approach to life. Why gaze down the sewers when there is loveliness all around us? One may find some fault in even the greatest masterpieces of art, music, and literature. But isn’t it better to enjoy their charm and glory?” His words remind us that how we approach life and what we focus on is a matter of choice. In the same way, that finding fault can become habitual, so can approaching life with appreciation and a sense of gratitude. We need only intend to be grateful and then train ourselves to look for the good, look for what is positive and uplifting and inwardly express our appreciation for it. The monk’s simple practice, to inwardly inquire, “Am I thankful?” can help us bring this attitude to the forefront of our awareness. When we do, we discover that thoughts and feelings of gratitude relieve stress, help us be more open and receptive to the supportive influences of nature and divine grace. Soon, we notice more to be thankful for.
What are you thankful for today?